Today I want to share a case study of exactly how I helped one writer develop her author platform. We just finished working together for three months, and in our last call, were reflecting on the transformation that happened for her. She said:
“Our work has helped me think about what I want to say, and to whom. I feel positioned to write very differently than I did before. The fact that it happened during the pandemic is miraculous! This is one of the smartest things I ever did, it has changed the way I think about a lot of things, and it’s been fun.”
The experience has indeed been a joyful one for many reasons. Today I want to discuss exactly what we did to develop her platform as a writer, and the impact it has had already.
What did we do in three months? We setup various aspects of her author platform, got radically clear on her messaging, identified who she hoped to reach, who her colleagues in the writing space are, and established some rock solid habits to get her writing, sharing, and connecting. Oh, and she now has nearly 200 brand new subscribers to her newsletter and got three essays published in that time.
Let me first introduce you to Judith Fetterley. She spent more than 30 years as a professor, teaching American literature, feminist theory, and expository writing at the University at Albany/State University of New York. There, she also developed a doctoral program focused on writing studies.
She published her first book in 1978, The Resisting Reader: A Feminist Approach to American Fiction, followed by an anthology in the 1980s, and another book in 2003: Writing out of Place: Regionalism, Women and American Literary Culture. She has also published essays in various literary journals.
15 years ago she began a second career to become a Master Gardener, and created her own garden design business. Her writing today is at the intersection of all of these things: she writes about gardening to tell stories about being human.
So what were our goals at the start? Well, it all started with a cancellation. She had a long-planned overseas trip that was cancelled due to the pandemic. She made the decision to invest in her writing goals by working with me instead, spending the spring focused on how she can better share what she creates. She described it as, “I decided to take a different kind of journey.”
At the time, she was submitting a lot of essays to literary journals, and facing a lot of rejections. That is common for most anyone who tries to get published in journals that have very limited space, and a staff that can only review and edit so many essays a year.
The rejection didn’t necessarily bug her, but knowing that she wasn’t connecting her creative vision to other real people did.
Below are details on some of how we worked to solve that:
Getting Radical Clarity on her Messaging Plus a Website Redesign
One challenge Judith came to me with was how to effectively communicate what she writes, which is at the intersection of practical gardening advice with deeper reflections on what gardening teaches us about living.
So we rebuilt her website from scratch. A brand new template, design, images, and we rewrote nearly every page.
We crafted a new bio, connecting her past to her present in a way that highlights what she writes and why. We defined the messaging that always seemed to elude her, a clear narrative that frames her creative vision, while also honoring her past achievements.
Her previous website was outdated in terms of how it looked and the content. We landed on a website that accurately expresses who she is and where she is going.
In a few short weeks, she has nearly 200 subscribers to her newsletter list (more on that below). This is way more than the nine people I started my newsletter with 15 years ago! What’s more, she said:
“I have some ideas for how to increase that number. Even more important, I have absorbed the concept of human-centered marketing and the idea of actually thinking hard about who my readers might be and what their lives might involve. I think specifically about readers now, and in ways that I did not before our time together. And I have a clear sense of the central questions: who are my readers and where do I find them? ”
She and I went deep here, doing a full marketplace research to identify who her ideal readers may be, where to find them, and what resonates. This work happened across channels, from online retailers, to social media, to events, industry organizations, comparable author websites, and more.
The result addressed a key issue she had at the start, of feeling like she didn’t exactly know where her people were online and off. Now she has a clear sense of who they are, and where to find them. Plus, she has actual readers of her weekly newsletter to experience her writing and connect with!
Three Essays Were Published in Online Publications
Judith was very generous here, but said this of placing her essays in online publications this past quarter:
“During our time together I have gotten three pieces accepted for publication. One of them would have happened anyway, I think. But the other two owe a definite debt to our project. You have helped me to think differently about what I send out and where I send it. You have helped me rearrange my thinking about the whole publishing situation.”
“I am prepared to be a lot more out there in my writing. Your steady emphasis on identifying who I am as a writer, what I have to offer, what I want to share, my beliefs and my mission have inspired me to be more dynamic and more clear. But I think I am also prepared to take a lot more risks.”
I can’t tell you how much that inspires me. How much this opens up her writing and its connection to others. So many of my clients tell me that they wished they worked with me while they were writing their books, because our work helped them hone their message and understanding of the reader — they feel they would have benefited if their books reflected this more.
I talk a lot about the value of having Radical Clarity in one’s creative work, and this is what I mean by it. It’s that place that allows you to create with greater conviction and ensure it reaches more people. Okay, I also love that she said she wants to take more risks!
Weekly Email Newsletter to Connect with Her Biggest Supporters
Like many writers, Judith had always dabbled in how she used email to share her writing, but never had a formal way of doing this. Together we created a weekly email newsletter. This included the technical aspects of learning Mailchimp and integrating it into her website.
We also developed an editorial calendar, a newsletter template, and she invited her colleagues to subscribe. She crafted the first few issues and sent them, honing her own process to do so. She now has a system in place to keep this going.
Finding the Fun and Usefulness of Social Media
Judith was not really a stranger to social media when we began working together, but it felt distant to her. Through our work she say she now has a familiarity and comfort on social media, is a fan of Instagram, and uses Facebook regularly.
In some ways, there is nothing unusual about that, people join social media every day. But when I see a transformation like this, someone feeling comfortable in a place they weren’t before, it feels like it opens up new channels to connect with readers. It’s like gaining an entirely new kind of literacy, how to show up and engage in social settings that once felt unwelcoming.
A 20-Page Newsletter Opt-In Incentive to Introduce New Readers to Her and Her Work
As a bonus to new subscribers, we created a 20-page PDF that shares an essay on her gardening life, as well as her best tips for gardeners. It’s honestly like a mini-book.
It is meant to take you deeper into who she is, and what she offers in terms of her perspectives on the intersection of gardening and life. So much of platform is strengthening that connection between writer and reader, and this 20-page PDF is just one step in that process.
Why is this PDF so long? I encouraged her to be “ridiculously helpful” to readers, and this is what came out. Not just some flippant single page, but a resources that was 100% unique to who she is and how she helps people.
Before we began, Judith had reservations. Not only was the pandemic starting to take hold, introducing incredible uncertainty to the world and her life, but we were also moving into her busiest season for gardening, the spring.
But she said, “I’m proud of myself for throwing aside my usual cautions. I’m so glad I did — it has helped me think about what I want to write and who I want to reach.”
For me, it has been a total joy and honor to work with Judith.
If you want to explore how you and I could work together on your goals, you can learn more about my consulting process here.
PS: You can find Judith at perennialwisdom.net and on Instagram at @judithfetterley.