The Business of Fiction: Platform vs Brand

There are three main ingredients when it comes to building your fiction career: Mindset, Business, and Craft.

All three of these must work together, inform each other, and drive your strategies. If you only focus on one or two (you’d be amazed at how many authors only pay attention to one), you’ll never reach your big goals. Or maybe you will, but chances are you’ll be too exhausted to enjoy your success.

In a series of articles called The Business of Fiction, I will be discussing what it means to be a profitable author in the current climate and the biggest mistakes authors make (myself included!).

The first step is to understand the differences between a platform and brand, as well as how they both serve you. Building a platform and brand is not complicated once you untangle all the terrible advice you’ve probably gotten about how to turn your hobby into something more.

A Platform is the map of your career that you lay out for your readers. Your brand is what they can expect while moving through your map and interacting with you and your books.

Let’s start with your map.

Platform: Plan Your Reader’s Journey

This biggest mistake authors make in platform building is letting other people map out their route. They let their readers dictate where they go in their career. They join social media sites because some self-proclaimed expert told them all the readers are on {insert platform here}, or you won’t be successful unless you act like {insert famous author here}.

The only thing you need to do is what you’ll actually show up to do.

I’m going to start by busting through your objections right out of the gate because I know what you’re thinking…

But I write for my readers, why wouldn’t I be where they are?

And certain social media sites have proven and measurable success rates, why wouldn’t I want to be there?

This is the first instance where we can see how Mindset, Business, and Craft all intersect. If you are fully blending these three aspects of your career, you can absolutely cater to readers wishes and you can jump onto social media sites for fun, knowing that the article you just read will yield you some results.

But what happens when you aren’t in alignment? You maybe let readers bulldoze you with demands to write a certain way/thing and you’ve grown to resent your writing and your readers. Insecurity could be gripping you, making you change your stories for your readers because you don’t want to be criticized or rejected, but now your stories just feel like watery soup. You could be writing to market because you’re desperate to make money and wondering why you can’t force yourself to sit and write, or plan that launch.

You are so desperate to succeed that you’ve completely erased yourself from your own career…scrambling to keep up to everyone else’s expectations.

So how do you set yourself up for amazing readers you’ll love to please, and a platform map that makes you excited to engage?

It might feel counterintuitive but it shouldn’t.

Here it is:

Put yourself back in the center of your writing.

It’s your life (mindset). Your career (Business). Your voice (Craft).

The counterintuitive part is this: the more you build your career around the authentic you the more your readers will feel like it’s about them. The key is real connection.

When people think you aren’t in charge, they will try to take charge. That’s why readers begin to direct and dictate even though they aren’t really aware that’s what they’re doing. They probably truly believe they are helping. But a hundred peoples’ good intentions will get overwhelming fast. You must be in charge of your platform.

Narrow in on yourself, and expand your reach.

When you’re building your platform and crafting your readers’ journey, create your map (where you’re aiming to go) with your values at the heart of it all. The readers who connect to the real you will happily walk your route. Those who won’t, will know to move on to a different map.

Once you get readers interested in your route, and their feet on your trails, you have to be sure you live up to the promise you just made them.

And that is your brand.

Brand: Your author promise

A brand is the meeting of set expectations.

You promise your reader a certain outcome (inspiration, entertainment, education, escapism, immerse, etc), a route to get there (connection, fun, activism, feminism, authenticity, fantasy, reality, etc), and an underlying tone (serious, funny, dark, sarcastic, vibrant, peaceful, relatable, luxurious, etc).

This is an area where insecure or inexperienced authors allow their readers to set the expectations for them, but here’s the problem: How can you meet the individual expectations of hundreds of people?

You can’t.

If you come out of the gate setting the expectations for your readers and then consistently live up to that promise, you will build a readership full of happy, engaged, loyal fans.

The moment you act off brand, you fail to meet the expectations of your readers, and they will begin to mistrust you.

What does that look like? A clean romance author using a cuss word in a social post. A weekly newsletter that ghosts for two months. A dark fantasy author making a sappy gushy post. A hard hitting activist buckling to corporate pressure. Really any number of things that just don’t line up with what you’ve told your readers you’ll provide them.

This is why it’s so very important to map your route (platform), set expectations (brand) from the get-go, and infuse it into everything you say, do, and create online. If you aren’t creating your career with you at the center of it, it’s inevitable that you will lose control of your work to your readers/agents/editors which will lead to overwhelm, burnout, resentment, and a whole pile of resistance to writing.

Show up as yourself with the intention of serving your readers and you can’t fail.

Help your audience by being yourself

When you show up as you, you are serving your readers better than you ever could by trying to fit in to industry norms or follow guru advice.

When you love yourself, you give permission to others to love themselves.

When you write your true voice, you make other people feel heard.

When you are aligned with your values, you make others reflect on their own.

Being you when building your author career is not selfish, it’s not arrogant, it’s not boring, or boastful. There are people out there who need to hear the words you have to say, and you’re not helping them by ignoring, avoiding, or scoffing at your online presence.

Your platform is built around you, but for them.

Click for your free platform strategy map.

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