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Be the gateway

When I talk with writers, they often feel confusion at how the vision they have for their book can align to the pressure they feel to have a “platform.” They don’t know what to include on a website, what to send in an email newsletter, what to share on social media, and how to make marketing feel meaningful.

So today I want to offer you the solution I share with authors I work with every day. It’s a simple phrase:

Be the gateway.

Be the gateway for how other people experience the world through the stories you share and topics you talk about. Be the gateway for how that person’s identity is shaped based on what you share.

Let’s dig into some examples for fiction and memoir authors…

Novels are gateways into worlds, into characters, into stories that help us experience our own lives in new ways, and help us develop our own sense of self. How often have you thought of a character from a book or movie as inspiration?

Think about it this way: why do people get tattoos of the Batman logo? Or a tattoo of an image from a children’s book?

These symbols — these stories — align to narratives that the reader has about their own experience of life. As an author, you become the gateway for them to experience it.

This is why fans scream and cry when J.K. Rowling walks into a room. Because she is a gateway for a worldview that has shaped people’s lives. The characters she has crafted embody who we hope to be, or someone that we deeply relate to. The stories delve into deeper issues in ways that feel inspirational and accessible.

A few years back, I met J.K. Rowling, waiting in line with hundreds of other people. She has come to represent something to her fans. She has become a lightning rod for belief systems, for a worldview.

She has become the gateway for how her fan experience the world, experience each other, and experience themselves.

Too often, I hear this line from a novelist, “Oh, I just want to entertain people!” This is an excuse they are giving that, to me, belittles the scope of what a story does for readers. Should it entertain? Sure. But that alone is not how we experience stories.

Stories help us make sense of the world. Characters embody aspects of who we hope to become. When we read about Harry Potter and his hidden gifts; when we read about Jason Bourne and his search for self and truth; when we read about experiencing true love — this is not just “entertainment,” it is something so much more.

As a novelist, consider what those things are. How what you can share in a newsletter, in an article, a blog, a podcast, a social media feed can embody these things.

Let me give you a model for how to think about this. Recently, I framed it this way with a client of mine who is a memoir writer and trying to figure out how to shape their story and their platform. These are three elements that connect the book you are writing to you being a gateway for readers in the platform you develop:

  1. STORY. The first goal is to be a storyteller — to craft a compelling story.
  2. AUTHOR. You become the gateway, the personal way that the reader experiences a larger topic. You are the way in for people. This is not unique to memoir, but I think it applies here in a magnified way.
  3. TOPICS. Then come the topics, the issues, the narratives that your story digs into. Memoirs can be about so many things, including overcoming huge challenges. Challenges that others may experience, or that come to symbolize experiences the reader is going through. No, we weren’t on that hiking trail with Cheryl Strayed, or on the trip with Elizabeth Gilbert, yet that doesn’t stop those books from resonating deeply on a personal level with readers.

These three things work together allow the “platform” to be the gateway for people.

For instance, if you are writing a memoir about your experience with cancer, you don’t have to write an email newsletter that steals content from the book. Instead, you can tell other people’s stories of their experiences with cancer. Or tell stories about overcoming the odds; or dig into the many other themes that are likely buried within your book.

The book is a perfect form. The platform you develop around it should not try to re-create the book. Instead, it should tap into aspects of the story, and then extend them in new ways that the book could not.

This relates to social media as well. Too often, we use it to comment on news stories, and merely share links. Instead: use it to tell a story — an original story — that opens up a worldview for people.

If you are that memoir writer whose book is about cancer, and a key theme is medical reform, don’t just link to articles in newspapers. Instead, find and tell stories that resonate with us. Become the voice for others… the gateway for them to share their stories with the world.

I mean, how powerful is that?

To not be the 1,000th person to share the link to a newspaper article, but to be the first person to tell someone’s story that needs to be heard?

You are a storyteller, right? Then use that gift.

The nice side effect of this? It is also how you engage others and develop the platform for your book before it is published.

I received a note from an author I had worked with last year and earlier this year, Carlen Maddux. His book doesn’t come out until October. I typically work with authors well in advance of their books coming out for exactly this reason: he sent me an update on what was happening in advance of his first book being published:

  • He is ranked #8 and #9 in two Amazon best seller rankings already.
  • He has hundreds of people on his email list, with lots of response from them when he sends a note out each week. Yes, he tells stories each week.
  • He has nearly 100 people on his “launch team,” these are advocates for his book, those who will be drive word of mouth marketing.

He isn’t waiting until October, hoping to “go viral.” Instead, one by one, he is creating advocates for his book, his story, and how it can become the gateway for others. The Amazon ranking shows just one effect of this; the more powerful one is in the emails he receives from early readers and those who are awaiting the books publication.

Awhile back I worked with author Lauri Taylor to bring her memoir to the world. Lauri is amazing — she has this innate ability to connect with people.

Again and again, she would tell me about a meeting she had with someone about her book, and she invariably described the highlight of the meeting as this:

“We cried.”

Why? Because Lauri, by sharing her story with that person, became a gateway for them to share their own experiences. While Lauri’s memoir is unique, she hits a nerve with others who have lost a family member.

Do you need to go around one person at a time, crying, in order to affect others with your book? No.

But look at the Amazon page for her book: nearly 100 reviews, averaging out to five stars. The book touches people, just as when you meet Lauri in person, you get a compelling sense of someone who is a gateway to a meaningful experience of our lives, including the crazy twists and turns.

Let’s face it: this is why a writer writes.

When someone comes to me for consulting, I always ask about their goals. Typically, they tell me about publishing their book, and selling as many copies as possible. While I agree that can be an important milestone, I never see it as the “goal.”

Their real goal?

That, in sharing their story, they become a gateway for others. To experience a compelling story. To see the world in a new way. To even shape their own identity

That last one is huge. You are a gateway to the identity that someone wants for themselves, or the highlights an aspect of themselves that they want to be more clear, more in the forefront, more real.

But maybe you can’t write your book yet. Someone wrote to me and shared her biggest challenge the other day:

“Finding time to write as a working mother of two children under 6, responsibilities running a household, and very little support beyond my husband and I.”

Maybe you wrote the book but can’t afford to get it edited. Maybe you have done both and can’t find an agent, or can’t get it published.

But you can be a gateway.

Even to one person. Or to dozens. Or hundreds. Or thousands.

Opening up their world. Their identity. Their experience. Their connection to others.

Thank you.
-Dan

  • Serena Rosetta Twombly

    Dan, this is my favorite post of yours so far. Reaffirming and true. Thank you.

  • Saranit Vongkiatkajorn

    I’ve been reading about ‘building a platform’ as an author and sharing what you write, but I still felt very reluctant about it because it still felt like maintaining something just in order to sell books. When I read the part about telling stories and that being a gateway for people, well, that made me think about maintaining a blog or online ‘presence’ in a whole different way. Thank you. 🙂