Three ‘Build Your Platform’ Resources

In a previous post (Writer’s Platform?  Where to find yours), I offered this equation to sum up the components that go into a writer’s platform:  Writer’s Platform = W (writing) + V (visibility) + N (personal & professional networks)

I mentioned, too, that I was in the rudimentary stages of developing my N component.  With so many N possibilities out there – Facebook, Linked In, Twitter, Goodreads etc.- it can be a confusing and taxing process.  Which N is most important?  Where should you devote time and energy?  How do you integrate different components?

Fortunately, help is available. Here are three resources that I’ve used and would recommend to anyone who is striving to develop a cohesive writer’s platform with a strong N presence:

imageThe February 2015 issue of Writer’s Digest has a number of articles devoted to the topic of social networking.  Among the most helpful: Get in Good With Goodreads by Michael J. Sullivan (how to tap into the world’s largest online reader hub to grow your audience) and Your Author Website 101 by Jane Friedman (everything from buying a domain name to building an effective  website). Another very useful article – Success Stories in Self-Promotion by Jessica Strawser and Tiffany Luckey – profiles 7 authors who ran successful promotional campaigns that pushed their self-published books onto bestseller lists.  Methods vary proving that one-size does not fit all when it comes to networking, but clever ideas abound in this article and, best of all, they’re free for the taking.

downloadBlogging for Writers: How Authors & Writers Build Successful Blogs by Robin Houghton (Ilex, 2014 is a colorful, well designed, and easily navigated book.  Framed around the premise that blogging is a powerful marketing tool and a worthy addition to any writer’s platform, Houghton lays out the key elements for building a credible blogsite that will attract readers. Fortunately for technically challenged individuals like myself, Houghton strips away the jargon and shows step-by-step how to set up and use the free features of WordPress and Blogger as well as their paid-for options. Lots of vibrant, successful blogsites are given as examples.

download (1)Melding the components of a writer’s platform together is made easier with Carole Jelen and Michael McCallister’s Build Your Author Platform: A Literary Agent’s Guide to Growing Your Audience in 14 Steps (BenBella Books, 2014).  Although each chapter focuses on separate aspects – using Facebook, harnessing Twitter, fostering connections through LinkedIn, strengthening your exposure through blogs and so on – Jelen & McCallister tie the individual pieces together, giving readers a cohesive picture of how the parts support one another. For newbies like me, simple step-by-step instructions, lots of examples, and flurries of screenshots make what could be overwhelming, palatable and practical instead.

Other posts you might enjoy:

Goin’ on a Blog Tour – One Traveller’s View

Notes from the Launch Pad

Make It Snappy – Writing the Just Right Book Blurb

cover - early pdfLarry Verstraete ( is the author of 14 books for youngsters.  Missing in Paradise, a novel for middle grade readers, is his most recent release.

For Larry Verstraete, an award-winning author of books for young people, writing is all about the journey and often the perfect writing storm occurs when high adventure, science and history converge. An advocate for literacy, Larry often visits schools and libraries to share his passion.

Writer's Platform? Where to Find Yours

images (6)The term ‘writer’s platform’ has been floating about for years.  Every writer needs one, we are told. You’ll never get published otherwise. And even if you have been published, it’s critical to future success. No matter how good a writer you are, you’re dead in the water without a solid platform.
Yes and no. But more about that later.
There’s no doubt that agents and publishers are attracted to someone with a strong writer’s platform, but first, what is the meaning of the phrase?  There are numerous definitions.  In mathematical terms (did I mention I have a chemistry background?), here’s my own:
Writer’s platform = W (your writing) + V (your visibility as a writer) + N (the personal and professional networks you cultivate)
A writer’s platform represents your viability, your worth on the writer’s stock market if you will.  When purchasing a commodity (the writing you produce), agents and publishers (business people, essentially) assess the value of your current work and pit the quality of your writing against potential net returns it offers in the future.  Proving that you have the ability to reach your target audience and that you have visible, vibrant connections to those who will purchase what you write makes you – and your product if it is excellent and timely – attractive to agents and publishers who might front your project.
Creating a solid writer’s platform takes energy and time. There is no one size fits all, no one right approach, and no quick and easy method.  For illustration purposes and because I can’t speak for anyone but myself, I’ll use my own situation as an example of how these components work together.

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W – Writing
Your current piece of writing – the one you are marketing – is the most important element here.  If it is shabby, ill-conceived, or heaven forbid in the case of non-fiction, inaccurate, then the rest of your platform matters little.  But also important in the W department is the legacy you carry. Because I frequently write non-fiction for kids – much of it from a pool of science, history and true adventure – it helps that I have a science degree, was once a teacher who worked with youngsters the same age as my target audience, and have a list of credible titles under my belt. While these details might not be important for say poets or romance writers, they add authority to my non-fiction, making the W part of the equation more attractive.
V – Visibility
What is your impact as a writer?  Can you give proof of your engagement?  For my V, it helps that I belong to several professional writer’s associations and groups, and that a number of these are specific to my youth genre.  Also a plus, I’ve maintained contacts in schools and libraries, participated in book tour circuits, presented at conferences, festivals and in schools, judged writing contests and so on. These are V components – visibility factors.  Again, these will be different for writers of other genres.
N – Networking
I have a personal website. I write this blog, too. These are evidence of a wider reach – the N or networking component of my writer’s platform.  Some of the elements in my V list could also count here – participating in writer’s groups, for example.  I’m slowly incorporating other N elements that many say are important to a writer’s platform – Facebook, Linked In, Goodreads, Pinterest – the list is long and getting longer.

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Based on my own experience, it’s easy to get sidetracked in the N department.  When I find time slipping through my fingers as I peruse Facebook, tone up my Goodreads bio, or pin images to my boards, I try to remind myself of their place in the scheme of things.  No amount of networking (or even visibility) matters if the writing I do falls flat.
According to Jane Friedman, a prominent blogger and the CEO and Co-founder of Open Road Integrated Media, building a solid writer’s platform is a career-long endeavor. In her opinion, much of the emphasis to jumpstart the process early is overblown:
If you’re a totally new, unpublished writer who is focused on fiction, memoir, poetry, or any type of narrative-driven work, forget you ever heard the word platform. I think it’s causing more damage than good. It’s causing writers to do things that they dislike (even hate), and that are unnatural for them at an early stage of their careers. They’re confused, for good reason, and platform building grows into a raging distraction from the work at hand—the writing!  (2013 post, Writer Unboxed)
Other posts you might enjoy:

Your Mission? Write a Statement
Dancing Between Censorship and Free Expression
Stepping into Nothing… Hoping for Something
Larry Verstraete ( is the author of 14 books for youngsters.  Missing in Paradise, a novel for middle grade readers, is his most recent release.
For Larry Verstraete, an award-winning author of books for young people, writing is all about the journey and often the perfect writing storm occurs when high adventure, science and history converge. An advocate for literacy, Larry often visits schools and libraries to share his passion.

The Five Commandments of Manuscript Submission

Manuscript Submission Five Commandments (2)So you’ve finished that manuscript. You’ve popped the champagne and celebrated, and now you’re ready to move on to the next step–publication.

I‘ve said this before on Vast Imaginations, and I’ll say it again. Writing is an Art; Publishing is a business. So here’s some tips for making your art shine in the business world.

1. Thou Shalt Put on Thy Business Hat. Submitting isn’t the time for touchy feely with your agents and editors of choice. It’s time to show you’re more than just a hobbyist , that you’re a professional. You need a top notch query letter that sells your story and you as a writer, and a gripping synopsis (you might even need a couple as submission requirements differ between companies. See Commandment #4). No pink stationary. No loopy fonts. No GIFs. You wouldn’t do that on a professional curriculum vitae, would you?

2. Thou Shalt Not Submit Thy First Draft or Thy Second Draft. Some people are under the impression that you vomit your story into a Word document and send that steaming bag to a publisher or agent and the editor will take care of editing it. Wrong. This is not how it works. You want your manuscript to be as close to publishable quality as you can possibly get it. When I first started querying Enslavement, I sent out my fifth draft. After rejection after rejection, I realized the manuscript wasn’t ready. I spent the next four years on roughly 20 more drafts. It’s now published–after I bled for it.

3. Thou Shalt Do Thy Research. This covers several areas. First, You need to know your manuscript inside and out, and it is up to you to determine what its target age group is and what genre it falls under. People, we have Google. These answers are easy to come by. When you submit, you need to make it easy for the editor/agent to determine your novel’s classification. And no, it doesn’t appeal to everyone. If you don’t have a target audience, your manuscript is not ready for submission.

Second, there are hosts of people out there ready to take advantage of new writers with promises of money, publication, and fame. Do your research. Editors and Predators is great site for doing a background check on agents and editors. Use it. And as with everything else in life–if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Third, agents/editors represent/work with specific literary areas. You need to do your research and only submit to those professionals that represent your type of work. This is where knowing how to classify your novel comes in. It is a waste of your time and theirs, to submit high fantasy to someone who does not accept genre fiction. They will not say, “Oh, wow, this one is so good that I’ll make an exception.” Not going to happen.

4. Thou Shalt Read the Submission Guidelines. This seems simple, but it’s often missed. Submission packages are not one-size-fits-all. Each agent and publisher will have their own set of guidelines, ignoring them will result in a rejection. Why? If you can’t follow simple guidelines, why would they want to work with you on something as complex as a novel? Read them. Follow them. No matter how weird they sound.

5. Thou Shalt Query Widely. This is a tough business. It’s not if you get rejection, it’s when. Be prepared because they will flow in like water through a ruptured damn. The key is to keep going. Every editor/agent has different tastes, different contacts, different holes in their lists. What one hates, another may love. It’s highly subjective, so keep going until you find someone who loves your work.

By following these commandments you give your manuscript the best possible chance of acceptance.

Do you have your own set of submission commandments? If so post them in the comments to help other writers. Have a question? Post them. This is a safe place to ask and get some answers before you wade into the deep waters of publishing.

For more about the submission process see:

Top Six Reasons Why Giving Birth is More Fun Than Querying my Novel

My Submission Sabatical


Enslavement (One Bright Future #1)Melinda Friesen writes novels for MG, YA and NA readers. Her first YA dystopian/sci-fi novel, Enslavement, has been met with fantastic reviews. Find it on Amazon. She is currently editing the sequel to Enslavement and querying her MG adventure fantasy, Snodgaard and the Mustache of Power.

Melinda Friesen authored Enslavement, a young adult dystopian novel, released by Rebelight Publishing. When she’s not writing, Melinda works as marketing director and acquisitions editor at Rebelight Publishing Inc.

Goin’ On a Blog Tour – One Traveller’s View

untitledI’m midway through my first ever blog tour. Two months ago I didn’t have a clue what a blog tour was.  Others reading this might not either, so in the interest of full disclosure let me explain.
Imagine you are going on a long road trip.  To prepare, you map out your route, plot your stops, book hotels, and pack your bags.  You load everything into the car, fuel up, gun the engine and you’re off.
A blog tour is similar, but different.  You have a route (a schedule, actually), but the stops are other people’s blog sites. Instead of a car, you travel by computer.  Rather than race along a highway, you hitch up to the Internet and travel along a virtual one where you stop at prearranged blog sites to answer questions, write guest blogs, check reviews of your book and interact with readers.
In other words, a blog tour is like a traditional book tour sans the physical demands and expense of trekking from one location to another. The purpose is the same, though – to expose the book to a wider audience and generate some marketing buzz.rebelight
My blog tour is for Missing in Paradise, a novel for middle grade readers.  Although many authors arrange their own blog tours, fortunately for me much of the grunt work for mine was done by others. Melinda Friesen, Marketing Director for my publisher, Rebelight Publishing Inc., initiated the blog tour, created a package of giveaway books to attract readers, and commissioned Chapter-by-Chapter, a blog tour firm, to coordinate it. Chapter-by-Chapter put out the word to bloggers. More than a dozen responded, each willing to give time and space on their sites to highlight the book and its author. The end result – a two week blog tour, Jan 5-19, with 15 blog stops.
Right now I have one week under my belt.  What’s it been like?  One word descriptors leap to the forefront. Interesting. Exciting. Challenging. Fun.
One of my favourite moments so far came at the start of the tour with an intriguing question asked by We Do Write blogspot:  What is the weirdest thing you’ve ever googled? Right away, I knew the answer: How to photocopy one’s butt.  Not that I’ve ever done this, but the lead characters in Missing in Paradise toy with the idea so for authenticity, I just had do the research, right?  For those with inquiring minds, the information can be found on the Internet, proving that, yes, you can google almost anything.


If you are considering a blog tour, here are a few tips based on my experience so far:
  • Having a publicist and a firm like Chapter-by-Chapter is a real timesaver, but you can set up your own blog tour. Start early – 3 or more months ahead. Research blogs and note ones that have a wide readership and spotlight your genre – youth fiction in my case. Create a list of top blog spots, contact the bloggers, pitch your book, mention your target dates, ask if they’d like to be included and what they’d like from you – a guest blog, Q & A, excerpt for their blogsite etc. Some may want to review the book and you will need to provide a copy in that case.
  • Come up with a tour giveaway as an incentive for people to follow the tour. For my blog tour, Rebelight sponsored a draw of free print and digital copies of the book, and set Jan. 31 as the deadline for entries.
  • As much as possible, prepare ahead. Weeks in advance of my blog tour, a number of blog hosts sent Q & A’s or topics they wanted me to address so I had time to prepare responses. This freed up time during the blog tour for me to respond and interact..
  • Publicize the event on your website, Facebook, Twitter or other social media platforms. Let people know what you are doing and what giveways are being offered. During the tour post updates and notify readers about upcoming stops.
  • Dish out thanks to blog hosts, organizers and anyone connected with the tour. These people extend a courtesy so reciprocate. whenever you can. Liking or following their blogs is another way to say thank you. It expands their reach as well as your ow
My tour continues for another week. If you wish to tap into upcoming or previous stops, you can find my schedule on Chapter by Chapter’s site. Don’t forget to enter the Giveway and like or follow blogs that resonate with you.


Thank you everyone!
Other posts you might enjoy:
Dos and Don’ts of Book Cover Design
Fact Stranger Than Fiction?  Maybe
Say What, Mary Poppins?  Wise Words for the New Year

Larry Verstraete ( is the author of 14 books for youngsters, the most recent being Missing in Paradise, his first middle grade novel. Currently in a lull period, he is searching for the next great idea.

For Larry Verstraete, an award-winning author of books for young people, writing is all about the journey and often the perfect writing storm occurs when high adventure, science and history converge. An advocate for literacy, Larry often visits schools and libraries to share his passion.

Is Children’s Non-Fiction in Decline?

imagesN3URCGZYNot long ago I had a back-and-forth email conversation with an editor at a major children’s publishing house.  We’d worked together on a number of non-fiction books and I valued her opinion and her gentle, but firm approach – even when it meant, as it did in this case, that she was rejecting my proposal.

Children’s non-fiction is tough sell right now,” she wrote. She cited a few reasons.  The high cost of production.  Stiff competition from big leaguers like National Geographic.  Print-on-demand and ebooks taking a slice of the publishing pie. The rise of the Internet where every child with a computer, tablet or cell phone has access to information in an instant.

My editor-friend added that of dozens in-the-works projects on her desk, only a few were non-fiction.  Those were of two types.  Books about sports, especially hockey (no surprise there), and books about military history (cross-hairs are locked on WWI and WWII anniversary dates). “Our marketers,” she added. “are reluctant to invest in other subjects.”

Is this an accurate assessment of non-fiction’s current status?  In a letter to The Guardian in 2012, a group of twenty-six British children’s authors argued that almost overnight, the market for children’s non-fiction had ‘vanished’. “We got to the end of our collective tethers,” Jenny Vaughan, one of the twenty-six said. “We thought that something had to be done – that we’ve got to start making a noise about this before children’s non-fiction is obsolete.”

Many reasons cited in the letter echo the ones my editor-friend mentioned, but the group also blamed shifting library and school markets.  Rather than simply being repositories of books and information, libraries were redefining their purpose in the face of new technology, shifting their focus away from being guardians of information to becoming conduits in the information-gathering process.  With a greater chunk of the budget going to purchasing computers, tablets, smart boards and software, fewer dollars remained to purchase books.

images1S5AN90TOn a recent book tour, I noticed this trend in many of the schools I visited.  Instead of libraries, many schools had ‘learning commons’ – open spaces peppered with computers and surrounded by only a few shelves of books.  Instead of teacher-librarians, ‘technology assistants’ manned the places. The focus was no longer on pulling dusty books off the shelf, but on manning students with the means of finding current information for themselves.

So is children’s non-fiction really in decline?  If we’re talking traditional book publishing, perhaps. With so much available online, with access so easy, and with the focus changing to do-it-yourself research of daily fresh sources, traditional book publishers face stiff competition.

That’s not to say that the market has dried up completely, but it does mean that non-fiction writers have to be clever.  There will always be a need for current, clear and concise information and writers who can deliver it in a palatable and interesting way to children.  But we have turned a corner and there is no going back. To survive, writers must adapt and seek new venues beyond traditional print forms, or at the very least produce material that surpasses whatever young readers can find so easily for themselves with a click of a mouse and a leap on to the Internet.  Creative slants, fresh takes, inventive forms, vibrant writing, new topics that challenge, entertain, and raise questions beyond the obvious – books with these ingredients, I believe, still have a place on bookshelves.


Other posts you might enjoy:

Hot Topics Made Palatable for Kids

Batting 1000 With Kid’s Non-Fiction

Nothing But the Truth

Larry Verstraete ( is the author of 14 books for youngsters, the most recent being Missing in Paradise, his first middle grade novel.  Currently in a lull period, he is searching for the next great idea.

For Larry Verstraete, an award-winning author of books for young people, writing is all about the journey and often the perfect writing storm occurs when high adventure, science and history converge. An advocate for literacy, Larry often visits schools and libraries to share his passion.
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