Sunday, December 29, 2013

Author Platforms

When it comes to an author platform, there are some things that an author really shouldn't talk about or post on their social media outlets using their author persona: politics, religion, anything considered even remotely related to either of those two topics, or any subject that could be construed as controversial. There's something to be said about an author using social networks to be social, and then there's using social networks in a social way that negatively affects an author's platform.

I just read an author's post that said the author's Facebook page had been shut down. The reason wasn't stated, but the post explained that this author, who writes male/male romance, posts "interesting" articles or links on a variety of subjects that have nothing to do with writing, but which are political in nature and include topics that many would find controversial, such as marriage equality and gay rights. The post also stated that pics of men kissing are among favorite pictures to post.

While a part of me applauds this author's courage to stand up for what he/she believes in, their author platform is not the place to do so. His/Her page was shut down because someone (probably a lot of someones) complained about the content on his/her page. Being that a lot of m/m authors don't get arbitrarily shut down simply for being an author of m/m romance, it's a good bet that it was the other non-writing related content that worked up whoever reported the author's page.

Was it worth it? Was it worth having the author's page shut down—a page he/she had built and put a lot of effort into, and which had an impressive number of likes? Just to voice his/her personal beliefs?

This is where it gets tricky for an author. I found this out recently when I posted my opinion on what I believe is an over-medication of kids with ADHD (more on this later). I never knew this topic was such a sensitive one, but as an author, I NEVER should have posted my personal beliefs and feelings about something like that using my author platform. That's not what an author platform is for. It's not what MY author platform is for. Here's an excellent post that defines author platform and what activities make up and detract from it:

I've excerpted out a couple of sections from that blog post, highlighting a couple of key points:

What platform is NOT
  • It is not about self-promotion.
  • It is not about hard selling.
  • It is not about annoying people.
  • It is not about being an extrovert.
  • It is not about being active on social media.
  • It is not about blogging.
  • It is not about your qualifications, authority, or experience, although these are tools for growing or nurturing a platform.
  • It is not something you create overnight.
  • It is not something you can buy.
  • It is not a one-time event.
  • It is not more important than your story or message (but hopefully it grows out of that).

What activities build platform?

First and foremost, platform grows out of your body of work—or from producing great work. Remember that. The following list is not exhaustive, but helps give you an idea of how platform can grow.
  • Publishing or distributing quality work in outlets you want to be identified with and that your target audience reads.
  • Producing a body of work on your own platform—e.g., blog, e-mail newsletter, social network, podcast, video, digital downloads, etc—that gathers quality followers. This is usually a longterm process.
  • Speaking at and/or attending events where you meet new people and extend your network of contacts.
  • Finding meaningful ways to engage with and develop your target audience, whether through content, events, online marketing/promotion, etc.
  • Partnering with peers or influencers to tackle a new project and/or extend your visibility.
If something has the ability to annoy another, even if it's just a faint possibility, it should not be posted. There's a reason why politics and religion are the two subjects everyone says never to discuss in social situations. They are extremely volatile subjects that can turn a friendly evening into a war. I've seen it happen. Gay rights? Marriage equality? Your beliefs on Catholicism or Islam? Nope...they're off limits unless you want to risk putting yourself—and your fan page—and your business—in jeopardy, not to mention your readership. Look at what one poorly timed, socially controversial comment from the Duck Dynasty guy did. Do you want that to be you?

Some might be saying right about now, "Well, my target audience is one that reads m/m romance, so I should be able to post about gay rights and marriage equality. I should be able to post pics of two guys making out, because my readers like that." Wrong. I write erotic romance and have a reader group where only fans of my stories are members. Even so, when another member began posting pictures that were a little too racy or provocative, some of my members grew uncomfortable. I had a few leave the group. I had another message me and tell me that while she loved the group, she couldn't have those pictures coming up in her newsfeed, even though the models weren't showing their private parts. I write pretty graphic erotically charged sex scenes. Nothing is left to question. So, shouldn't my readers enjoy pictures of half naked hot men? Why would they complain about something like that when what they're reading something I've written that's ten times worse?

The truth is that reading something and seeing something are two totally different things. Reading hot scenes is a lot easier to hide than seeing hot pictures. And the reality is that people view Facebook at work and in front of their families, which include kids. They want to know that they're not going to pull up a picture that could upset a coworker, boss, child, or husband who might be looking over their shoulder. And to be honest, even I was uncomfortable with some of the pictures being posted. Me. The author who writes the graphic sexy-smexy stuff. So, I'll say it again, just because someone likes to read it (or write it) doesn't mean they want to see it. It doesn't make them a prude (I dare anyone to call me a prude, because that is so not the case), but there is something to be said for good taste and reader respect.

And just because someone reads m/m romance doesn't mean they want to be exposed to your opinions on gay rights and marriage equality. Your readers follow you because of your BOOKS, not your opinions. I've had to unfriend authors who posted constantly about their political agenda, their beliefs, etc. I wanted to ask them, are you an author or an activist? I've left behind m/m authors who posted rants about anti-gay bloggers, anti-gay politicians, anti-gay everything. It was like, OMG, do you have a life outside the world of homosexuality and political activism? I hadn't followed those authors because I wanted to be exposed on a daily basis to their anger and rants about the injustices against gay people. I get that enough from the news. I mean, hey, I'm all about marriage equality and gay rights, too, but my author platform is not the place for me to throw my beliefs about those topics out into the world.

If you're an author, then be an author. If you have a strong belief about marriage equality, write it into the character development of your next book (as long as you're not preaching to the reader through your characters, using real-world controversial topics can create a wonderful plot arc. I use them all the time to great effect with my readers. In fact, my m/m romance, Heart of the Warrior won over an enormous amount of traditionally het readers and positively changed more opinions about gay rights than any post I could have written ever could, and I have the fan feedback to prove it). But don't spew your opinions and beliefs on your wall and think your readers like it, because more often than not, they don't. And it sends a confusing message about your intentions. If you're an author, be an author. Engage your readers and followers in constructive, less antagonistic ways, and you'll cultivate a loyal fan following.

Remember my example of how I posted my opinion regarding ADHD medication? I lost two readers from that post. Two that I know about. All because I used my platform to voice a personal opinion I never should have posted. How many others turned away from me that I'm not even aware of because of that five-minute mistake? All the work and cultivation I had done to build my readership, my platform, and social relationships with my fans/friends was annihilated in a blink from one careless post. Over a year of hard work and careful cultivation was destroyed for at least two of my followers over a subject I had no idea was so sensitive. My words were twisted by one into something I never even said, to the point that she called me an ignorant judgmental bitch—over something I didn't even say, but which she perceived incorrectly from what I did say. But there was nothing I could do. Nothing I could say at that point. None of the funny, witty, socially acceptable comments I'd made in the past year-and-a-half that this person had liked made a bit of difference. In less than five minutes, I killed all that with one misguided post that never should have gone on my platform.

I will NEVER make that mistake again.

So, I speak from experience when I tell all authors to watch what they post. Make sure it relates to your platform and can cause no fallout among your readers. This is especially true for self-publishers, who have no agent, publisher, or publicist shielding you and guiding your social endeavors. Be smart, guard your platform like the priceless entity it is, and leave the controversial subjects to someone else. And if you really can't NOT speak out about those political, religious, and controversial topics, at least don't do it using your author platform. Start a page elsewhere that doesn't connect in any way to your author platform. That's a lot safer.

I'll visit "author platform" again with my 365 Ways to Improve Your Writing Series coming in 2014.

Happy writing!

1 comment:

  1. DL.... I completly agree with this! Nothing irritates me more than when TV and movie stars, musicians and bands, authors and so on use the platform they've created to shove their POVs down your throat. Everyone has the right to express their POV, but not on an awards show or their fan page. Great post .... and I'm sorry you had to deal with this in such a harsh way.