Answering Questions about Platform
Good morning and happy Monday! Let’s address some of the platform issues that have been coming my way lately:
Q: If you have developed this wonderful platform and can do all the promotion you suggest, why would you want to give the lion’s share of the profits to a publisher? Why not use a Publish on Demand solution?
A: Who is going to distribute your book? If you’re happy with strictly online orders, selling through your website or back-of-room sales at your speaking engagements, then self-publishing is a great option. But if you want your book to appear in actual bookstores, you’re going to need distribution.
Also you need to realize that (in general) self-pubbed books don’t get major media reviews or any other kind of PR such as radio interviews or any other kind of media appearance.
In addition, with a traditional publisher, you get editorial expertise along with professional book design (interior and exterior). If you’re comfortable doing all this on your own, again, self-publishing is a great option.
If you have a non-fiction book on a specialized topic with a niche audience, and you are regularly in touch with that audience, then self-pubbing can really work for you.
Q: What about a memoir? Platform or no need for platform?
A: A memoir is primarily driven by the quality of the writing, and how “big” the story is. If there’s no platform, the story has to be incredibly unique and fresh, whether in the events portrayed, or the compelling nature of the writing, or hopefully a combination of both.
Many of the biggest bestselling memoirs were written by journalists, i.e. people with platforms as well as years of experience writing professionally. All Over But the Shoutin’ by Rick Bragg. The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls. Marley & Me by John Grogan.
There are plenty of memoirs by people without a platform; they’re sold on the basis of the amazing story they contain and how wonderfully written they are.
Agents receive numerous queries for memoirs about overcoming huge tragedies or illnesses. Be aware that, while this may the be experience that has defined your entire life, in the context of publishing it may not appear as fresh, unique or compelling to others. You’ll need to make sure you have a truly fresh take on whatever your subject is.
Q: Now, let’s say I had a book with which I wanted to query you. This April I am presenting a paper at a large conference, but it has nothing to do with above mentioned book. Does my presentation still add to my platform?
A: It’s really important to understand the purpose of a “platform” in publishing terms. It’s to begin building an audience for your book. It’s to have a large group of people who already know your name and are interested in your topic and may be predisposed to buy your book. So, based on that definition, YOU decide whether your presentation (or anything else you’re doing in your life) adds to your platform or not.
Q: I have read on your blog and elswhere that the chance of getting a personal experience story published is small. What can someone with a great story and who has genuine writing talent do to give his book a fighting chance?
A: In the first place, make sure your story is really “great.” In the context of all the experiences people have in life, how unique is yours really? If it’s not that unique, how unique is the angle from which you’re approaching it? How special is your writing?
For example, you may have a personal experience story of overcoming cancer. It’s not all that unique since millions of people get cancer every year. But if you’re Gail Konop Baker, you write a book called Cancer Is a Bitch: Or, I’d Rather Be Having a Midlife Crisis and boom, you have a fresh take on it.
Once you’ve done everything you can to make sure your story is indeed compelling, then you can begin building a platform based on that story. Start writing and selling magazine articles on that topic. Write a blog and develop a strong following over a year or two. Set yourself up as a speaker and begin speaking to groups about your topic. There are always things you can do to build your audience. Another idea is to hook up with someone who’s already famous or has strong platform. Get them to co-author or write a foreword, and it can go a long way toward selling your book.
Q: All great advice but it seems like the other way around: You only get a platform AFTER you’ve published a book. That’s what gives you credibility, unless you have the experience and education to back it up.
A: Sorry, but this is completely a misconception. You can do so many things to build yourself an audience, as I’ve already talked about here. In addition, if you’re truly an expert in something, with credentials to back it up, then you’re already ahead of the game. Doctors, CPA’s, counselors, nutritionists, attorneys, PhDs of all kinds, educational experts, the list is endless of professionals whose education and occupation is already a great start on a platform.
Rachelle Gardner, Christian literary agent, WordServe Literary Group, Colorado.