Sunday, March 25, 2012

Platform Building - Part I

Penny Noyce is the author of "Lost in Lexicon" and "Ice Castle." She took the Lexicon concept from a self-published book to a fully realized campaign to package the Lexicon world with games, school visits, and, eventually, a academic book publisher. Her story is a lesson to all authors on how to build big from a small beginning. I couldn't resist bold-facing a few thoughts that I found particularly interesting. Now, here's Penny.

Building a Lexicon Platform

Marva asked me to write about building a platform—how I got from self-publishing to attending international book fairs. Basically it’s a story of grasping at any opportunities that arise.

When I decided to write a fantasy adventure about a land of words and numbers for my son, I hoped to get it published someday, but I had no idea how far into that land I would find myself traveling. Every published writer says it: marketing is at least as much work as writing the book. What I’ve tried to do is make the marketing (“building my platform”) as fun and creative as the writing. This has been all the more important because Lost in Lexicon started life as a self-published book.

First, I put a lot of thought into my book website, http://www.lostinlexicon.com/ . I even had a focus group of young readers advise me about color scheme and site features. I included blurbs about the characters, scenes from different villages, and most of all, games. Games can be expensive: various sources quoted me prices of $25,000 to $50,000 for a computer game. I had almost given up on the game idea when I found http://www.gamesinaflash.com/ , which sells inexpensive games that can be customized to particular websites or businesses at a reasonable price. Visitors to my website love the customized Rival Flowers game.

Second, I bowed to the necessity of social media. After a lot of foot-dragging, I let my advisors talk me into blogging, joining LinkedIn groups, and creating a Lost in Lexicon Facebook page. I embraced the notion of a 5:1 ratio on any social media site: offer five useful comments or articles for every one time you ask your readers for something.

What to blog about was a puzzle at first. The most popular and effective blogs for building a platform are probably those that specialize the most—blogs about quilting or wine collecting or rock climbing. I didn’t want to blog mostly about writing (too much competition), and I knew well enough to keep (mostly) away from politics. In the end I settled for an unfocused mix of education, science, family, and random social commentary. As a result, I have lots of readers but few followers.

My next step was to make Lexicon more experiential. I teamed up with Kirsten Cappy of CuriousCity (http://visitcuriouscity.wordpress.com/ ) to create a Lexicon Villages event that I can pack in a suitcase and take to any school or library in the country. At each event I set up nine stations where kids and parents interact with language and mathematical challenges (making up metaphors, playing with Latin word roots, doing Tangram puzzles, measuring pi, etcetera) that relate to challenges and villages found in the book. These events have been popular wherever kids have found them, especially when they come as a break in the school day.

Meanwhile, I worked with a publicist to get newspaper mentions and radio interviews. She helped me write up a press kit that included ten potential interview questions. She asked me to write two short articles that started off “Seven ways to…” or “Five reasons to…,” and she placed them widely. She linked Lexicon to controversies about the effects of video games and the importance of family togetherness time. Pursuing radio interviews led me to get back in touch with an old writing teacher of mine, now a publisher at a small press, Scarletta. Although at that time Scarletta published only adult books, they decided to take on the Lexicon franchise. All at once I had achieved my first goal: Lexicon had been picked up by a real publisher.

Part II will continue Penny's story on March 27th.