Note: I’m pleased to feature this interview with platform coach Dan Blank as part of the Winning Edits Expert Interview Series.
Blank founded We Grow Media in 2009 to help writers and publishers make an impact and build their legacies. Building author platforms is one of Blank’s specialities, a vital skill that he teaches in an intensive eight-week online course.
Follow Dan on Twitter @DanBlank
Matt Gartland: Helping authors build their platforms is a cornerstone of your business, We Grow Media. Having worked with so many authors across such a range of talent, expertise, and genres, what have you observed to be the most common and fundamental misunderstanding about constructing and nurturing platforms?
Dan Blank: Too many writers feel that a platform is just a sales tool that you can tack on at the last minute. An author platform is about communication and trust.
When I work with writers, we dig deep into goals, their purpose, their target audience, and the many ways that they can engage with them. We also construct a process by which they can constantly optimize their efforts to develop their audience. The goal is to create a writing career, not just sell a book.
MG: You’ve conducted some amazing one-on-one interviews with such accomplished writers, publishers, media types and thinkers as Kevin Smokler, Jane Friedman and Joanna Penn. What do they do differently than the rest that empowers them to succeed in digital media/books where others trip, stumble and lose ground?
DB: We all trip, stumble, and lose ground. To quote one of the Batman movies, it’s about being able to pull yourself up again. Kevin, Jane and Joanna are passionate about their work. They are committed to it. They focus their energies to try things again and again, to be open to new ideas. And also, they are incredible connectors, always building relationships. That is CRITICAL for success.
MG: You’re a regular and prominent speaker at many of the leading book conferences in the US. Your friend Porter Anderson covers many of those same events, and recently concluded in a Writing on the Ether piece that a new breed of conference is needed, one that better unites the creative (writers) and business (publishers) halves of the industry.
Do you agree that such a void exists? And if so, what should the composition of such an event look like?
Porter makes an incredibly insightful point there, and of course, he is correct. I have built my company at the intersection of the creative arts, aligned with sustainable business practices. It’s how I help writers and work with publishers. I firmly agree that more writers would benefit from being a part of the more business-oriented conversations in publishing.
Likewise, I have been to many publishing conferences filled with hundreds and hundreds of “movers and shakers” in the industry, but very very very few writers present. Writers and readers are truly the lifeblood of what we do. They need to be a part of the conversation at every phase.
MG: Per the courses you teach, such as Digital Content Strategy for MediaBistro, and from your decade of experience as a Director of Content Strategy and Development, I have the sense that you well understand and respect the role of editors.
Given the publishing industry (including social) trends, how do you see the role of editors (independent and in-house) evolving in the next few years? In part, do you foresee them losing or gaining more influence on the quality and professionalism of books?
DB: Yes, I have the utmost respect for the role of editors. I think what editors face now, is what we all face. It is a CHOICE as to the future of our individual roles, and that of the publishing industry as a whole. It is a choice to become more relevant by evolving with the changes, or to become less relevant by building walls. Luckily, I find myself meeting so many wonderful editors tearing down walls, reinvisioning what publishing can be, for the greater benefit of readers and writers.
MG: What’s the #1 piece of actionable advice you’d give to writers energized to build a legacy with words, but that don’t know how to start?
DB: I have an 8-week online course called “Build Your Author Platform.” In it, we start with goals. I find that too often, most writers have only the vaguest sense of their goals – of where they want to go. But if you don’t know where you want to go, then no map will help you. So we work through goals, dig deep into their purpose, and then look outward to the audience they hope to engage, and their needs.
It is only then, halfway through the course that we get into things that people assume are the places to start with author platform: the channels such as social media. If you don’t have your goals, purpose, and audience firmly worked out, social media will be of little service.
The basics matter, now more than ever.
Images provided by and used with permission from the interviewee.