Platform is one of the worst words in the world. “Platform” is what I’ve heard an author is supposed to build. It is definitely the opposite of writing.
I imagine an author platform as a kind of hammered-together, high-above-the-crowd kind of stage, constructed from the strained struts of these or those book titles. Every cross-timber is fastened firmly by pointed blogs, various on-line presences, knocked into place with the ever pounding hammers of social networking.
Even then, once set up, the author platform needs constant maintenance so it can grow brighter and brighter with every media mention. Doesn't it?
Certainly, the platform must be big, so there’s no danger of sudden plummets off the edges. At times there may be room for a few select authors alongside but essentially the author platform is a one-person kind of space.
I find that idea sad and scary. Alone up there. Think about it. Here’s a question - and a few answers.
Why does one need to build a "platform"?
A "platform" is so that others can hear you talking above all the other voices.
But when I write, I’m only speaking to one person, in their head. That’s where any of my decibels come, inside my story, not at a rally.
A "platform" is so that the audience can see you above any others.
But I want to be seen through my words and through the characters in my books. That’s where authors are properly “seen”. Writing isn’t a catwalk, not in itself. Besides, it’s an impossible task. There’s a whole crowd of “platforms” now and there’ll be more by the time you’ve read to the end of this post. Assuming you do. Thank you.
A "platform" is so the audience can watch and admire your performance.
This feels like the age of the author as entertainer, or even the entertainer becoming author, as the ill-destined TV Book Club seemed to believe. But the writing doesn’t take place while wearing the Showcoat, or not in this house anyway.
The Showcoat is all about using one’s performance skills to give them out there a good time. The Writing Coat is all about keeping one’s behind on the seat, alone, for long hours. Besides, some of the best children’s writers are not natural entertainers and why should they be? The books speak for their authors. The comfortable introspection needed to build imaginary worlds – or adapt real ones – is miles away from the “Look at me dancing!” approach.
Children’s authors often find it wearying acting the Universal Showtime person, called in to entertain during the big Book Weeks and Literary Festivals and returning home to keeping up with the next round of Showtime demands. Some are even – gasp! - hanging up their blogs and stepping back to spend energies and time on the writing.
But isn’t a "platform" there so you can go places?
Oh, platform as in Harry Potter. Now you see it. Now you don’t. Only magical people allowed. Hurry, or you’ll miss your chance.
It seems to me that that particular platform can breed the kind of anxieties that make it hard for a writer to settle into their proper writing. The hours get eaten up by admin, or preparation, or crafting just the right tone of email instead of doing the real work on the page.
(Or choosing the right shoes. Definitely not platform shoes.)
Oh, wait a moment. Who is that speaking?
Pardon, mes petits! Je suis Madam Defarge. J'ecoute le mot “platform?”
Oh yes, There’s that other “platform” effect. Ker-chunk. It’s a bad place to be when you feel you're not wanted any more.
Of course the “author’s platform” offers opportunities, fun and occasional bad pinches. However, once the platform becomes your life, you might be in trouble.
Especially when your books go out of print or when the audience is lured to something brighter (or even greyer.) The publicity platform can be a tricky, rickety place - and its wobbling under me right now.
Writing makes for far firmer ground. Keep at it – and good luck!
Penny's latest novel is A BOY CALLED M.O.U.S.E (Bloomsbury), shortlisted for the Stockton Book Award, The West Sussex Book Award and the Historical Assocation Primary Fiction Award.