When I first started out as a writer, I heard often that what editors, agents, and therefore readers, wanted was someone with a fresh or engaging “voice”. Whatever that meant. There were articles and workshops on nearly everything to teach the aspiring, young novelist how to write, accept on the subject of voice. To my young writer ears “voice” was a concept that seemed just out of my grasp. Yes I knew something of what they meant, because an engaging voice is just one of those things that you know you’ve heard it when you hear it, or when you’ve read it as our case may be. But, can you spell that out for me, please? How do I, as a writer, recognize what makes my voice unique? And how do I improve upon it to insure that you the reader are not tempted to close my book before getting past the first pages?
Fast forward to decades later. The answer is somewhat less elusive to me, but still not clearly defined. I still do not see much instruction on the matter of a writer’s voice. But I do know that voice is something intrinsic in the way I approach the written word. I know it comes down, a lot, to what word choices I make, what tone I infuse in my stories, or strike in my articles. It is in the concepts that I express. It is more simply put, me. It is the product of all the things I bring together to write with honest expression, and preferably when I am at my best. I know that voice is subjective. One might like my particular way of turning phrases and sharing ideas, and another might not.
But now, as the digital age rushes us along into a new paradigm of authorship and publishing, we hear new buzz words that have to do with the business of writing. BRANDING and PLATFORM.
Once again writers are trying to pin down the seemingly elusive meaning of these words. It’s all well and good to write the next best thing since Lord of the Rings, (insert your own admired favorite) but if you don’t have proper branding, they say, if you don’t build a platform, your story will disappear into the crowd of a saturated market.
These days, getting seen is everything.
No, getting heard is everything, because when you look closer at what the marketing gurus are saying that brand and platform mean, it comes down to two words that have been in the publishing business all along. Voice and audience.
Let’s take a closer look.
I have recently heard definitions for these two words that have brought me to this conclusion. Here they are:
Branding―Branding is you―your product―and the experience your audience takes away from engaging with you and your product.
Just before hearing this I was thinking about the way we engage with the internet. We want to hear a voice. And we all have our favorites. That’s why we are here, that’s why we read everything from books and newspapers, or blogs, or follow our friends in social media. It’s why we watch movies, news and talk shows. It’s why we listen to songs. We want to hear a voice that reflects back to us what we think, or how we feel. We want a voice with authority to teach and inform us. We want a voice with talent to entertain us, and when we take the risk of putting our voice out there for everyone to hear, we want a voice, maybe many voices, to tell us how we did.
And among all those voices, we remember most those who strike a chord in us, offer us the experience side of the equation that I mentioned above. We stake out our favorites and return to them again just to hear more.
I have a voice, I put it down in books or blogs, or on social media, it offers my readers an experience whether it is positive, negative or just bores them. All of that together is my brand, for good or bad.
But what about platform? Simply put, your platform is the audience who returns to hear you speak, or read what you wrote, or in any other form, experience your creative work, and then looks forward to the next time you have something to share. The term is used in publishing to gauge how effective a book release will be, and these days, factors into whether an editor wants to take a chance and publish your book.
So you see, these are not really new concepts. At least as far as I can see, but then I am still listening to what my favorite media gurus have to say on this subject.
So then only the words are new, the concept behind branding and platform have been around for ages.
Writers have always needed to have a voice, a product and experience to share, and an audience. But now there is the digital revolution and the way of going about getting your voice heard, the way of building your audience has changed. The way the audience engages has changed too.
The publishing industry is different. Reader expectation is different. And the technology of word and story sharing is certainly different. All things worth reflecting on in the future. In the meantime, I hope this has helped you understand these terms better.