Do “soul-searching” and “platform” go together? Maybe just as metaphors, but I’ve been doing a lot of soul-searching lately, and it does have to do with what is loosely considered the author’s platform. I’ve seen plenty of one-book blogs and websites, so it isn’t surprising that I’m also seeing a fair number of posts about the problem. You set up a blog or site to promote your first book, and then you write a second book. Crunch time. Another blog or site? That’s going to get old very fast. How many blogs or sites do you expect your readers to click to? I didn’t make that mistake because I knew it would be a mistake, but I didn’t think about it in more specific terms. Until I ran across a couple of important statements — that if you’re going to be more than a one-book author, you have to focus on selling yourself, not your books.
That sounds gross, I know. Author as literary pimp? Not really. What have most of us learned in the process of becoming indie authors? That if we push our books, but have no interaction with readers and potential readers, we’re just spamming. But that means more than responding to readers, sharing our knowledge and experiences with other writers, and telling a bit about ourselves (but not our cats, please). So far, I haven’t found a suitable way to name this “extra” step, but in some ways it amounts to a philosophy or a raison d’etre, our reasons for writing in the particular way we do about the subjects that are most important to us. I don’t see that as being terribly important if you write erotic romance or zombie novels because there isn’t much you can say that’s any different from what hundreds of other writers would say. Or maybe that’s just my personal bias. If you disagree, I won’t argue with you.
So we’re going for what’s unique, what makes you and your books stand out from the crowd. And that may be more important for genre crossers and benders and for literary types than it is for the romance and zombie crowd. Your niche is smaller, your potential audience is smaller, and it’s harder for you and your readers to find each other. I do realize that if you write in a popular and crowded genre, even if it’s zombies, you have the problem of standing out from the crowd.
But I think the problem isn’t quite the same. Zombie fans know what they’re looking for, and they can just follow the category listings and tags to find it. It’s difficult to find the right categories and tags for works that cross genres or don’t fit clearly into any genre at all. You can’t count on readers finding you that way. So it does make sense to promote yourself rather than your books. But it also means that promotion means something different than it normally does. You want to find the kind of readers who enjoy the kind of books you enjoy writing. The more they know about what kind of stories you tell, the more likely they’ll be to stick with you after they’ve read one of your books. They need to know, within limits, what to expect from you.
Here’s an example. I have a story about 2/3 written, about two adoptive brothers who are also lovers. When they’re defeated in a battle, their relationship is destroyed and they’re forced into becoming the winner’s concubines. What a setup, eh? Lots of non-consensual sex and various kinds of abuse. Except that there’s only implied sex, and very little violence. It’s a study of power and helplessness.
Or this one, which I’ve talked about before. Young man is sentenced to five years servitude to an older man. Slavery by any other name. Lots of tropes here. Slave falls in love with master. Master falls in love with slave. Or not. Master abuses slave. Or not. Happy ever after. Or not. Again, it’s a character study of two unhappy individuals in a situation not of their choosing. No sex. No romance, probably.
Both stories would royally piss off any readers who came to them expecting lots of hot male on male sex and a HEA ending. There are two ways to avoid that, though I suspect there will always be people stumbling in and rushing back out in a temper. First, avoid the tags and categories that will lead readers astray. Second, build your reputation as a writer who produces a certain kind of book. It will take longer than winning success as the best zombie creator out there, but everyone will be happier with the results.