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.
Wonderful blog post, saw on…
>S. Denny —
If you can prove that there’s a pretty strong chance the company (or companies) would buy significant numbers, it’s indeed a plus.
>Rachelle: I’ve been told by several published authors (non-fiction/business) that an often overlooked platform is the companies quoted – one author told me he sold 6,000 copies out of 19,000 sold to date to a company he prominently featured with a case study. I’m shopping a proposal at present and have several dozen strong cases in hand – one case study as already asked me when the book will be published so he can buy copies for his company – how strongly does an agent view this angle as a platform?
>A couple blog posts back you asked for suggestions for things to blog about. I’ve been curious lately about what exactly happens when an agent decides to represent you. Does he/she email back and let you know, or call you on the phone or something? Is there a critical time in the process when you have to meet face to face, or does the agent just try to sell your book and keep you informed about it? I’m having trouble finding the answer to this anywhere. Thanks!
Actual text: no (bad idea).
Ideas: yes (good idea).
Keep the two separate in your mind (text and ideas) because they are COMPLETELY different things.
You can write about your topic in many different ways, with different angles, different spins for different audiences. Target each article specifically for the audience of that publication, and don’t use anything verbatim from your book. With that article, you want to leave readers hungering for more (your book).
>Another great post — plus you answered one of my questions. Thanks!
May I ask another? You mentioned that writing magazine articles on a topic is a great way to increase platform, but is it a good idea or a bad idea to use actual text or ideas from a work-in-progress manuscript to do so?
>Thank you, Rachelle.
Would you blog on the subject of backlists, too? What is it? Why is it important in a proposal? Where do I find a backlist? How do I interpret it?
>I have to tell you it makes me slightly crazy when people say, “Oh woe is me. I can’t have a platform without a book, and I can’t have a book without a platform.” Rubbish.
If you are a writer, write. Blog, get a monthly column on one of the thouseands of website in the world on what you are an expert on. If you can speak, speak. Go to MOPS groups and talk on your subject, if your target audience is business people, there are thousands of groups across the US that need speakers.
The cold hard truth is that is your are not willing to be creative and hardworking enough to learn new things (the ins and outs of blogging, going to Toastmasters or CLASS to become a better speaker,)put the effort into creating a platform (which may not come naturally to you,) you are not going to be able to market your book. So why would a publisher invest in you.
I know that what I am saying here does not apply to 95% of the readers of this blog. You are all hardworking and creative and it will happen, becuase you are getting great advice and taking it.
>After 26 years of marriage and a lifetime of juggling baggage, I’m an expert at learning how to do things the hard way and how to stay humble by making lots of mistakes. I’m thinking I need to share my expertise with young single-but-hopefuls and especially young marrieds.
I’m partly serious about that. In talking to the many newer, younger moms in my church, I’ve realized that by coming from a dysfunctional background to raise 3 fabulous, well-adjusted, God-fearing kids to adulthood and maintaining a long-term, healthy marriage in spite of where I came from, by the Grace of God, I have something to share. But just because the message is valuable does not make it captivating. Marci Laycock’s post on Novel Journey on 4-26-09 is about using our gift of words and turn of phrase to touch lives with story. I am currently pouring my love of phrase into noveling, but I think there may be speaking and non-fiction books for me one day. It probably wouldn’t hurt to weave a few of my colorful, personal threads into my novels, keep the door for dialogue with an audience open in everything I write, right?
>thanks for mention here, Rachelle! Gail
>Nice questions and answers, Rachelle. Platform is such an interesting topic.
>Great advice, as always!
>Great and helpful stuff here, except for the very first sentence. “Monday” and “good” should never be in the same sentence. 🙂
>Platform is one of the issues I struggle with a bit, so thanks for highlighting it! I feel like I’m trying to be all, “Hey, look at me so WHEN my awesome novel is published you can buy it!”
I loved your #queryday tweets about fiction platform as well, that it all begins with a good STORY and to focus there. So that’s what I’m doing. I’m focusing on bettering craft (which I think all should be doing no matter what level you’re at), writing killer stories (I hope!) and doing the things I *know* I can do for my platform, like the social networking, blogging, writer’s groups, etc.
>Great post. Thanks!
>Rachelle you have such a great way of explaining these things. Thank you.