Text says Building Your Author Platform. Picture of a podium with an iPad or tablet screen for a top and a microphone.

Building an Author Platform

Once you start writing, you quickly learn that writing isn’t just writing. You find out there’s more to the craft than just putting words on a page, and you have to wear many hats on your way to meeting your writing goal. Assuming your goal is to be published, one thing you will need to be able to do is to market your work regardless of whether you self-publish or are picked up by a publisher.

Building an author platform is one critical step to helping you market your work. You can start building your platform right now even if you aren’t published–yet. Launching your platform before you are published is actually to your advantage.

What is an Author Platform & Why Do You Need One?

Simply put, your author platform is your online presence. It can include social media, a website, a blog, a newsletter, a mailing list, or whatever fits your style and target audience. It is the place where you can share what you are learning, what you are writing about, the writing class you are taking, or anything else that influences you as a writer. Your platform should be a way for you to connect with other people who might be interested in your work.

Having a platform for your work isn’t required. It is something else that you have to learn to work into your schedule, but the time you spend engaging with others will pay off in the long run. Self-publishing comes with a need to be a self-promoter to market your book and being able to show a local bookstore owner that you have 200 local followers who might want your book is a powerful motivator to put your book on their shelf.

Benefits of Building an Author Platform

Aside from the potential sales avenue, a platform has several other benefits too. Writing can be a lonely task. Your followers give you an outlet to connect to other writers and readers alike. As you share more insights or snippets of your work, the positive reactions and “where can I read more” are great morale boosters. By starting early, you can test what works and what doesn’t to make adjustments before you ever have a book out in the world.

You can also use your platform to take your readers on the writing journey. There will be people who follow you who are readers only and some of them may be reading a book or two a week–or more! Very few readers realize the book they just finished in 24 hours, may have taken the author five or more YEARS to write. Use your platform to talk about the writing process from start to finish.

Using Social Media

Your readers and followers will come from all walks of life. Social media will likely make up a part of your author platform. Where possible, try to separate your personal accounts and your author accounts, even if you are using your name as your author name. For example, you can have your personal profile on Facebook and keep it limited to people you know in real life, and build a fan Page for your author profile. Both may have your name, but the Page allows people to follow your writing updates without needing to become your “friend” to view your posts. Also, using two or more different social media sites can help you reach a broader audience as you are starting. Then you can narrow your scope to your target audience and adjust to the site they seem to favor. For example, if you are writing Young Adult, you may want to be more active on Instagram or Snapchat (as of this post anyway). If you are writing Women’s Lit, Facebook is where you may want to be more active.

Regardless of which sites you choose, use the features on each site to your advantage. Each site should have some performance measurements you can use. Check the analytics details every two weeks or at least once a month. The data can help you determine what posts get the most interaction and what posts fall flat. You can also get data that shows when your followers are online the most, and so much more.

Plan What You Post

Using social media tools to your advantage can help you save time. Another great time-saver is planning what you post and where you want to post it. Could you imagine trying to read this article on Facebook or Twitter? It wouldn’t work–this is way too long for those sites. Yes, this will be linked on a Facebook page with a preview, but you still have to come here to read the full thing.

Take some time to write down the dates you want to posts, where you want to post, and what you want to post. This list is called your editorial calendar. You can have a theme if you wish to or share information. Anything that draws your reader in and gets them to interact with you can be a social media post or blog post.

One word of caution, if you choose to share your actual writing–your short stories, poems, novels, etc.–some publishers and journals consider that to be “published.” Posting your actual work can impact your eligibility for contests, prizes, or an agent/editor picking up your work. Be highly selective in what works you share.

Building an author platform does take time to start and maintain. You have to put time into getting followers, posting engaging content, and interacting with your new-found fans. It can seem like it is taking away from your writing time, but by using built-in time savers on the sites you use and planning what you post, you can build a robust platform. Start those conversations with your fans now, well before your first (or next) book is released.

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setting up a writing room

How to Set up Your Writing Space

In 1928, Virginia Woolf gave two lectures on women and fiction. In those lectures, she said, “a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.” While her topic was specifically directed at women, I think this really applies to anyone writing. The heart of her “money and a room” theory is that you need time, a place, and some sort of financial stability to be a writer.

In my post How to Make Time to Write–Simple Strategies, we talked about finding time to write throughout the day. By now, maybe you’ve developed a writing habit. Now let’s focus on setting up your writing space to maximize the writing time you have. Your writing space can be as simple or as elaborate as you want. The flexibility is endless when it comes to establishing a space, or a room of your own, for writing.

Your One and Only Space

There is no such thing as a writer having only one place where they write. You may have a favorite place, but it doesn’t have to be your only writing place. Even if you don’t use the space more than two or three times a week, it is still important to establish a place you can call your own for your writing. Depending on how much room you have in your home, you could have a couple of spots you can claim as your own. Setting up your writing space is important, but by limiting yourself to one spot and one spot only, you can end up stifling your creativity. Build your primary space, but give yourself permission to work elsewhere when you want to or need to do so.

You Aren’t Chained to a Desk

As you think about how to set up your writing space, remember you don’t have to work at a desk or computer. At least not all the time. Think about what makes you the most comfortable and relaxed. If you would prefer to use a pen or pencil and paper while sitting in a cushy chair, then make that your writing space. Some writers I know have converted a closet into a writing nook while others have converted storage sheds or garages into places for them to write. If the weather in your area allows for it, maybe a porch or garden would make for an ideal writing area. The area you claim really can be anywhere as long as it gives you privacy and is distraction-free so you can focus on your writing.

Your Toolbox

Once you’ve claimed your spot, it’s time to start adding the things you will need. During this phase, I do encourage you to consider your equipment. First, if you are doing to use a desk and office chair, pay attention to ergonomics. Ergonomics, in a nutshell, is arranging the things you use most in a safe and efficient way. For example, you shouldn’t have to stretch up or lean down to use a keyboard or laptop on a desk. If you are sitting in an uncomfortable position, it can interrupt the flow of your work (not to mention cause some serious health issues long term). If you are using a laptop or electronic tablet, make sure it is charged or you have access to a power outlet during your writing session. If you prefer handwriting, be sure you have an extra notebook and pens or pencils. You may also want to keep any reference guides you are using nearby as well. Remember, if the equipment you are using isn’t working properly, neither are you.

Adding a Touch of Inspiration

The tools you add to your space shouldn’t be limited to the practical. You want to add things that inspire you as well. Hang up pictures of your favorite authors and books. Put your own awards or proud writing moments out where you can see them. Think about why you want to write and incorporate that why into your space as well. Many writers have a special totem or nicknack that they keep with them as they write, and it could be something different for each project. Paint the walls your favorite color if you can. Whatever makes you feel creative and makes you feel like writing is the thing you need to do when you are in your space.

Take it to Go

Your writing space should be your go-to place for writing, but remember I said earlier that it doesn’t have to be your only spot. In addition to setting up your writing space at home, think about what you need to take your writing on the go. You have to be prepared to take back those small chunks of time to write while you are waiting in the doctor’s office, at a child’s sports practice, or whatever. Take the time to set up a writing go-bag to take a part of your writing space with you. Make sure whatever you carry your items in is big enough for your laptop, electronic tablet, notebooks, pens, reference books, etc. Don’t go too overboard or you won’t be able to carry it! If you can get the basics you need for the project you are working on in the bag, then you should be good to go.

Now you are prepared to claim some part of your home for writing and writing only. The space you choose can be anywhere in or around the house as long as you have the proper equipment in place to be productive. Don’t just focus on the must-have things like a computer or notebook, be sure to include something inspirational as well. The most important thing is figuring out what makes you comfortable and allows your muse to sing to you!

Grammarly Product Review – Write Better

  • Product: Grammarly
  • Price: Varies by subscription
  • Where to Buy: Grammarly.com
  • Features: Basic spellcheck to plagiarism detection
  • My Rating: 4.5 out 5

My morning routine is pretty simple. I get up and start a pot of coffee. With mug in hand, I catch up on news headlines and scroll through my Facebook news feed. Usually, within five minutes, I’ve found at least one grammar error either in a national news article or a Facebook post. While some of these errors are by choice—I like to slip in a “ya’ll” into my writing from time to time—most of the mistakes aren’t stylistic choices. 

I don’t consider myself an expert on grammar. You may find an error or two in my posts. I split my infinitives and use the wrong subject-verb agreement. I’ll re-write a sentence ten times to avoid having to figure out which tense of lay, lie, laid I need to use. I rely on grammar and spell check as I write and publish online. Which brings us to my Grammarly product review.

My Overview

Because I know I am prone to writing mistakes, I went on a search for a robust spelling and grammar checker than the features built into Microsoft Word and other word processing programs. The built-in spelling and grammar checker will catch most things, but don’t go beyond the basics. Even after adjusting the settings, I still felt like the word processing programs weren’t offering the level of support I wanted. I needed something better. That’s when I found Grammarly.

Grammarly has several options available in their free web-based checker and offers a more comprehensive checker through a paid monthly subscription. The free version performs basic spelling and grammar checks directly through the Grammarly.com site or a browser extension. The free checker catches some of the more common errors other grammar and spelling checkers miss. You can also access the Grammarly Handbook, Facebook community, Twitter account, and blog.

Why I Opted for a Paid Subscription

You may not consider yourself a writer or a publisher, and feel the free service is sufficient for your needs. However, if you are posting on social media, hosting a blog, writing emails and reports for your job, or even hosting a podcast where you follow a script, you are a writer and a publisher. In our content-rich society, we are writing more and making it public more often than at any other time in history.

If you are regularly writing and publishing content, consider the paid premium service. You can pay by the month, or you can save money by using the annual billing option. The Premium service performs over 400 checks and allows you to use Grammarly almost anywhere you type a word. Grammarly Premium performs advanced checks for context and structure in addition to giving you vocabulary suggestions. (For example, it is telling me “checks” in the previous sentence is repetitive and suggests I use “tests” instead.) A premium subscription also checks over 16 million web pages to detect plagiarism.

Grammarly Premium has an add-in for Microsoft Office for Windows, a Grammarly keyboard for iOS and Android, and offers a browser extension for several popular browsers. Also, it works on several popular websites for posts and comments. Your subscription works across multiple devices, too making it easy to continue writing near error-free content no matter where you are. 

For those into online badges, rewards, and stats, Grammarly also sends a personalized weekly email with fun, yet informative stat. The email lists your top three errors and links to more information on how to fix those errors. There are badges for consecutive weeks of use, and the email also tells you how you stack up to other Grammarly users regarding productivity and accuracy.

Why 4.5 of 5?

My Grammarly product review wouldn’t be complete without mentioning a few minor annoyances. Honestly, these issues are nothing more than my pet peeves, but I still felt as if they are worth adding. For context, I’m a Premium subscriber and use Windows PCs almost exclusively. I use Grammarly when writing content for my website and for writing fiction. I also use my subscription at my “day job” to write emails and reports. Here’s what bugs me:

  1. In Word, Grammarly uses a flyout box to the right of the screen. You can resize it, but it still takes up screen space. You can toggle it on and off, but I like to see the errors as I type.
  2. In Outlook, when replying to an email, you have to open the composer in a new window—so the flyout box can open. You still have to open the composer in a new window even if you toggle off the flyout box.
  3. Grammarly scans the entire document or email string for errors. While you may not be proofreading other people’s work, Grammarly does. I would love to see a feature that lets you select what portion of a document to scan. Also, it flags a mistake for not having a comma after the year in the header information of an email. For example, the header will say “January 1, 2018 5:00” and Grammarly knows that in a sentence there should be a comma after the eight so, it flags it as an error.
  4. Closing out Word seems to take a few seconds longer when Grammarly is enabled. 

Small annoyances aside, of course, Grammarly isn’t perfect. As with any spellcheck and grammar program, there are instances where a correctly spelled word that has been misused will go unflagged. Still, Grammarly is one of the best grammar and spelling checkers I’ve used. I can see a long, long relationship with Grammarly. Whether you use the free version to catch critical errors or you upgrade to the Premium version, your readers will be able to see the difference in your work!

How to Handle Criticism as a New Writer

You’ve started writing. You’re excited about your work, and you want to talk about it more. Maybe even let a few people read something you wrote. There is a delicate balance between allowing your creativity to grow organically and getting feedback to help your skills as a writer improve. Sharing your work for the first time can be scary. What happens when the feedback hurts? There are a few ways to prepare yourself for constructive criticism.

Sharing Your Work Too Soon

There is such a thing as sharing your work too soon. If you are still getting your feet on the ground and experimenting with what kind of writer you are, hold off on sharing your work for now. Writing, even if you aren’t writing about yourself, is highly personal. Your writing is a part of you. The words on the page are your thoughts, dreams, fears, and so much more. Showing someone your work before you are mentally and emotionally ready for criticism can be a significant setback. Learning to take constructive criticism as feedback on your work and not feedback on you as a person takes time. Keep in mind most pianists don’t sit down in front of an audience at Carnegie Hall and perform within their first few days of starting lessons. Give yourself time to become comfortable with your work.

Who Should & Shouldn’t Reading Your Work

Once you are comfortable with your work, you should start showing it to someone who can help you grow and develop as a writer. Figuring out who should and shouldn’t read your work is the challenge. If you have found a writing group you like, that is a perfect audience. Each member of your writing group was a new writer at some point and, they hopefully have some skill at delivering constructive criticism. Without a writing group, look for friends who are avid readers, bonus points if they happen to read your genre. You may also consider a trusted English or Literature teacher or professor. Another option is to reach out to a local author and ask if they would consider reading a short piece of your work. In general, avoid sharing your work with close family members who think everything you do is terrific. The feedback might be lovely, but probably won’t be the most helpful.

Have Specific Questions for Your Reader

No matter who you choose to share your work with, be prepared with questions for them. What do you want to know about your writing? Before you share your work, sit down, and think about what would be the most valuable feedback for you. Do you want to know if your characters are believable? Do you want to know if a specific action sequence makes sense? Do you want to know if you developed the setting well enough that the reader believed they were on a planet in another galaxy? Even something as simple as asking your reader what does or doesn’t work for them is a great place to start. Make a list of two or three things you want to know and give that list to your reader. A list of questions will help focus their comments on your writing.

Dealing with Just Plain Mean

Unfortunately, some people are just plain mean when it comes to giving feedback. Sometimes the person isn’t skilled at constructively providing feedback. Hearing a reader say they would throw your book out a window not only hurts, but it doesn’t have any value. Learning how to handle criticism as a new writer can be a challenge when faced with someone like this.

First and foremost, don’t get defensive. Push back for clarification as to why they may want to toss your tome out the window by asking probing questions. Ask for specifics, but don’t go down the rabbit hole of trying to explain your work to that person. You may also want to ask what genres or types of books they read and enjoy. If you write horror and they read romance, they may not know who to respond to your writing. If asking clarifying questions doesn’t help clarify the comment, thank them for the feedback and move on with your life. As the saying goes, you can’t please everyone. Personally, I like to think there is just a smidge of jealousy behind the nasty comments.

Finding the Nuggets of Gold

Once you have the right, bad, and ugly feedback, you have to shift through it to find the nuggets of feedback gold. While positive feedback may feel good, it may not have any value, like fools gold. The negative comments may be hard to hear, but they may be the nugget you are looking for to become a better writer. How do you know the difference? First, think about what resonates most with you as a writer. When writing, you will start to develop a sense of what isn’t on point for your work. Maybe you can’t find the exact phrasing for something, or you feel like a character is coming across as too flat. Your readers can help confirm or refute what you see in your work. Next, think about how many times you got the same or similar feedback on a particular aspect of your writing. There’s a “rule” often attributed to Stephen King that goes something like if more than one person says to change something in your writing, then consider replacing it. Even if the passage is one of your favorite parts, your darling, if more than one reader says it isn’t working, you need to consider changing or cutting it.

As a new writer, letting others read your work can help your work improve. Learning how to handle criticism as a new writer can be challenging. There are certainly pitfalls to sharing your work too early or sharing it with the wrong person. To keep your reader focused, be sure to ask direct questions of your readers to get the best feedback. Be prepared for all types of feedback, both good and bad as you start to share your work. Take some time to think about the feedback you receive. Remember, the comments are about your writing, not you. Dig in and look for the nuggets you can polish to make them shine in your writing.

Writing a Novel Outline – No Roman Numerals Needed

If you hear the word “outline” and start imagining Roman numerals and indenting, you aren’t alone. I remember trying to write outlines by hand in school and trying to make sure all my sections and subsections matched up. I remember teachers drilling it into us that we couldn’t have Point A without a Point B, and I’d have to try to figure out where the heck to put my lonely Point A.

Writing a novel outline is much different. It can look however you want it to look. If you are a Pantser (someone who writes by the seat of their pants) or a Plotter (someone who has detailed outlines) or something in between, an overview will keep you and your novel on track.

A Twist on Traditional Outlining

When you think about writing a novel, or even a short story, another concept from your school days may come to mind too. You think of the plot structure diagram with the rising action, climax, and falling action. That plot diagram lends itself very well to the traditional concept of an outline.

Instead of setting up your story introduction as item I. on your outline, challenge yourself to change it. Try using a specific character or place in the story you are planning as your main points. See how differently your story develops by shifting the focus of your outline. For a character outline, make your top three headings something like childhood, teen years, five years ago, or 15 years from today. Work out a similar framework for your settings as well. For a place, think about what that place looked like in the past, how it has changed, what changed it, and how do all of those things play into your story.

When it comes time to write your story, take the overarching plot outline along with any character and setting outlines you developed to guide you. Keep all of your outlines within easy reach when you write and refer back to them often. Use those to help guide your story and keep you moving toward the next big plot event in your story. The critical thing to remember is that in the process of actually writing, you may find your characters are leading you down another path. Give yourself permission to go with them and revise your outlines. You may end up writing a novel outline based on the new direction, and that is great.

Beat Sheet

Using layered outlines like the ones described above is very similar to using a beat sheet. A beat sheet gives a snapshot of your story scene by scene. It could be a bullet point list, a chart, or just a simple numbered list. This method is sometimes more helpful when you know certain things will happen or have to happen in your story, but you aren’t entirely sure how or why those things happen. For example, your main character may wake up in the back seat of a Buick in a car impound lot, but you aren’t sure how or why this happens yet.

There are a few important terms you should know when writing a beat sheet. Most writers are familiar with the opening and the hook—or the “gotcha moment” where you grab the reader with the story. For a beat sheet, you will also add things like plot and pinch points in the rising action and the falling action. Plot points are things or events that drive the story forward and are usually stronger than a pinch point. A pinch point is a smaller scale event the character faces and overcomes. These points happen in predictable spots along the novel diagram.

Writing a novel outline using a beat sheet works well for fiction as well as screenplays, stage plays, memoir, biography, and much more. For more information on beat sheets, check out Larry Brooks—he is the master at using beat sheets. (Story Engineering by Larry Brooks)

Grid Sheets

Another approach that may work for people, especially those who tend to be more visual is a grid sheet. If you are a Harry Potter fan, chances are you have seen the picture of the J. K. Rowling’s notebook page with the lines and scribbles that she used when writing about the adventures of Harry and his pals at Hogwarts.

This variation on an outlining theme is nothing more than a sheet of paper or an Excel file if you want to be fancy, broken into boxes to track chapters, story timeline, scenes, and characters and events in the story scene by scene. Where a beat sheet could be a word, phrase, or sentence to identify a scene, a grid sheet lays out more detail about who and what is going on in a particular moment in your story.

Having a column for each character can help you identify plot holes and logistical issues within your story. For example, if you have a character hiding something in a Louisiana swamp in one scene, but then three pages later that same character is on a research mission in Antartica—you probably need to go back and do a little explaining for your reader.

Write the Synopsis First

One method I like and have used a couple of times now is writing my synopsis first. For those who may be newer to writing, a synopsis is a dreaded task for most writers that becomes important when you start to send your finished manuscript out to publishers or agents.

Most writers wait until they have at least the first draft of their novel before they tackle the synopsis. The purpose of the synopsis is to give a publisher or agent a detailed overview of the story, up to and including the actual ending. This summary of your story allows the publisher or agent to decide if they want to read your manuscript.

I think of it as working backward. I write a short paragraph for each significant event I believe will need to be in my story. I leave some space between these short paragraphs. Then I go back and fill in the spaces between the principal points with short sections detailing the scenes that will help get me from one major scene to the next. Of course, this changes as I get into the actual writing, but the synopsis is easily adjusted to keep pace with my story.

Which method is the best?

That is a question only you as the writer can answer. There are endless options for writing a novel outline. Some authors put everything down on index cards or post-it notes on a corkboard. You can devote an entire wall to plotting out a novel and connect the pieces with different color strings. Some writers have mountains of notebooks with their book notes. Some use things like Scrivener (see my review here) or other software to help organize their thoughts.

The key, as with most things when it comes to writing, is finding the method that works best for you. While the desired outcome is the same—to finish a brilliant novel—there are several ways to get there. Don’t be afraid to blend methods or change your approach for each project. There is no right or wrong way to get to the end of a novel.