Did I Mention It’s All About Platform?

This one’s for non-fiction authors—it doesn’t apply so much to novelists.

Ever see the movie Little Miss Sunshine?

Richard (played by Greg Kinnear) is a wanna-be motivational speaker who knows that it begins with a book, which turns into speaking, which turns into DVDs, etc. (At least that’s what he thinks.) After his agent, Stan Grossman, shopped his book proposal, here’s what happened.

You said it would sell…!

Stan Grossman:
That’s what I thought! At the time!

But it’s a great program! You said yourself! I don’t understand…!

Stan Grossman:
It’s not the program, Richard! It’s you, okay? No one’s heard of you. Nobody cares.

The nicer way to say it: Non-fiction authors need a platform. Self-published or traditionally published… if you want to sell books, you need an audience.

Non-fiction authors: How are you going to make people care?

© 2010 Rachelle Gardner, Literary Agent

Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Gardner Literary. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!


  1. TDM Wendy on December 11, 2010 at 12:14 AM

    >Real estate agents. Talent agents. Literary agents. Good ones work hard and are definitely worth their money. If a publisher ever came my way, the first thing I would do is say "You'll need to talk to my agent." And then I would go get an agent. Thank you James for sharing your experience and insight. It is interesting to hear your perspective on how things have changed – Bieber could probably use the info for his upcoming memoir 🙂

  2. Christina Katz on December 10, 2010 at 2:48 PM

    >Well, shut my mouth. I have a list of over two hundred movies about writers and I think I missed this one. Thanks, Rachelle!

  3. Claudia on December 9, 2010 at 11:30 AM

    >Just re-read the first paragraph of my comment above, and realised it sounded like I just couldn't be bothered to build a better platform. What I meant when I said I would rather be writing (as well as the obvious fact that writing is more fun) is that I don't want to spend so much time platform building that I never finish the book.

    Hope that makes more sense 🙂

  4. Claudia on December 9, 2010 at 9:14 AM

    >I remember that scene from L M S – brutal!

    It feels like a hard balance to me. I would like to be more deliberate about platform building, but I would rather spend that time writing. Like everyone, I feel like I never have enough time. It's complicated by the fact that I don't know how much platform I need to avoid ever having a conversation like the one you quoted.

    I'm writing an adoption memoir, and the main way that I'm building platform is by blogging. I didn't start a blog as a platform, I blogged to connect with people and write about what was important to me. It's only lately (after reading posts like this in the last few months) that I've realised it's my 'platform', too. It's not very big, as platforms go, but I'm not really sure what else I can realistically do. I get several thousand hits a month, and I really have no idea whether a publisher would see that as a platform at all, or just a little pile of twigs.

  5. Jodi Whisenhunt on December 9, 2010 at 12:03 AM

    >Platform is not necessarily the problem for my project. It's too niche! I have a Disney + homeschooling project that, according to agents who've rejected it, is "a great project with a lot of potential." My platform is strong, but the project is declined because it is either too Disney or too homeschool.

    My platform? I am a veteran homeschooler with 10+ yrs experience. I have visited Walt Disney World 3 times, with a 4th scheduled for January. I have been invited aboard the inaugural Disney Dream cruise before the general public sets sail! A major Earmarked travel agency sponsors and co-created the blog on which the book is based, which launched 10 months ago. We have nearly 500 blog followers/subscribers with nearly 2500 monthly hits. We have close to 400 Facebook fans. I have more than 1100 Twitter followers to whom I regularly tweet blog posts and information. I advertise and network through homeschool social sites and support groups and network in various Disney circles. More than 200 students subscribe to our supplemental Earn Your E.A.R.S. incentive program. I'm on the schedule to teach a course based on the Magical Mouse Schoolhouse material at a local homeschool co-op next fall.

    There's more, but I'd have to send you my proposal, and you're closed to submissions right now 😉

    I'm doing what I can, but I repeatedly get, "Good stuff, but no."

  6. Anonymous on December 8, 2010 at 11:35 PM

    >Jonathan is the best 🙂

    motorcycle insurance companies

  7. Jan Markley on December 8, 2010 at 10:28 PM

    >It also doesn't hurt for a fiction writer to build a platform or at least a web presence. My second middle grade mystery novel was just published and I think creating a web presence is an ongoing pursuit!

  8. Susan Bourgeois on December 8, 2010 at 8:10 PM

    >Sorry, this happens every now and then and I don't why it posts twice! Please ignore the second post!

  9. Susan Bourgeois on December 8, 2010 at 8:08 PM

    >You're right Rachelle but I did not intend to write a book from the onset. I think many good books are written by average people based on their experiences of achieving goals they felt were near impossible. If they feel they truly have something special, they feel they must share what they've learned or accomplished with others.

    That's how the book came about. It happened as I began to journal. I researched heavily during that time period in this area as I was going through the experience of losing weight and getting fit at the age of 52.

    I was encouraged by my peers who read and followed my journals to write a book. I did, with my co-author who was going through the same experience at the time.

    You asked a great question. Why would anyone want to buy my book when there are stars and MD's who continue to write countless books on weight loss?

    The answer is clear. Many people cannot relate to these type books. Most of these books are simply the latest and greatest theories by the latest and greatest expert of the moment. Of course, we may be able to relate to some of the information in these type books but the fact is most of us are not movie stars and we don't have the time or money to hire a personal chef or trainer.

    Our way, doesn't have to cost a dime and it's all based on common sense and expert information under one informative umbrella. We pulled together all of the things we felt were of the utmost importance for the average person to know in order to lose weight and get fit for life. We did this through a tremendous amount of research.

    I am a typical woman, no different than millions of women who put themselves on the backburner in order to focus primarily on their family. I was one of those people who was blessed with good genes. I did not have a weight problem until my children became teenagers and I decided to put myself on the backburner. For close to two decades I carried an extra 30-40 pounds and it made me miserable. I was no different than millions of people who have found no clear cut easy to incorporate solution to their weight loss and fitness issues.

    I longed to feel like me again. Honestly, I thought it was impossible. I wrote the book for all of the women and men who think it's too late to lose weight and get fit again. I wrote this book for my two adult daughters to remind all women of their ages to never put themselves on the back burner. We are examples for our children and we must always make our health a priority.

    I am proof that this plan works. My Dr. agrees and stated she will write the foreward for the book.

    We lost the weight and became fit in a structured healthy fashion. We were able to recapture the weight of our early 20's in a matter of few months by setting up a healthy eating plan based on the Food Pyramid but the book goes into great detail in numerous additional areas.

    We take the reader on a journey that shows why 68% of our nation is either overweight or obese.

    It's not a diet book; it's a book that helps you set up a healthy eating and exercise plan for life.

    It has a catchy fun title and one that most people can easily relate.

    The book is written in a voice that is easy for the average man or woman to identify. We planted short life experiences in each chapter so that others can easily relate.

  10. T. Anne on December 8, 2010 at 1:39 PM

    >I don't write non-fiction, but I tend to read quite a bit of it. Can you glom memoirs in this category? If so, I gravitate towards the ones with great voices. The only self-help type books I read are those from people with huge platforms such as Beth Moore, Max Lucado, etc.. unless the author has an ~amazing~ hook.

    For lessor known authors, the great thing about the Kindle and the ibookstore is consumers get to download sample chapters of anything that even remotely catches their interest. In doing so, I've bought books that I normally wouldn't have. I think that the e-book revolution might offer a breath of new hope to writers with weaker platforms.

  11. Keith Reynold Jennings on December 8, 2010 at 12:41 PM

    >Take risks and experiment with writing topics/styles/media to see what spreads and what doesn't. Actively work to build partnerships with other writers and bloggers. Speak to any person or group willing to listen. And architect an online engine that builds reputation, referrals and subscribers. Of course, no tactic is ever enough or perfect.

    The thing I have going for me is that I'm a marketing professional, so I know how much work, persistence and luck are involved in moving from invisibility and irrelevance to recognition. Ironically, I'm frequently discouraged knowing the odds and the work required to have a shot.

    PS: I really enjoyed that movie!

  12. Rachelle on December 8, 2010 at 12:29 PM

    >Susan: If you're pitching a book on health or weight (and many other self-help topics), it's crucial you establish yourself as an expert and an authority on your subject matter. Why would I choose your book when I can choose books by MDs or famous people I've seen on TV? What are you offering that's new, totally unique, and proven?

    To even write a book of this type before establishing yourself as an expert is probably putting the cart before the horse. You'll need to use media – magazines, newspapers, and the Internet – to build yourself into an authority. You'll need to offer something new and exciting, bring something different to the weight loss discussion. Otherwise there's no reason for any publisher to take you on, and no reason for consumers to buy your book instead of the competition.

    You are also competing with all the FREE information on the Internet – blogs and websites on weight loss. Many people writing on health, parenting or self-help are dealing with the same situation.

  13. Jean Ann Williams on December 8, 2010 at 12:28 PM

    >Rachelle has a great article titled Nonfiction Book Proposals in the 2011 Guide to Literary Agents. A must read book for your agent search.

    I've been working on platform for three years. My blog is up. I'm gaining an audience, but I am unknown and I know it.

    Recently, I started a fiction novel based on the same topic and aimed at the same audience as my nonfiction project. Before that, though, I've written several articles on the same subject and have one accepted for an upcoming anthology.

    This will take years, but for a nobody it's what I will do as I turn into somebody with a platform.

  14. Erin MacPherson on December 8, 2010 at 10:58 AM

    >This is the question that haunts me late at night after everyone else at my house is asleep! And I don't know the answer… but I'm trying!

  15. Jan Cline on December 8, 2010 at 10:46 AM

    >Ive been colaborating on a book that will be for young mothers, so I have sought speaking engagements with Moms groups. It's not always easy to find an open door in your target area, but you have to get creative and be willing to step outside your comfort zone. Im also in the process of planning a writer's conference in my area. I didn't originally do it to build my platform, but to help other writers in the area have an affordable conference to attend. But in the end, I suppose it will be a plank in my platform as well. I say that to say – helping others with their dream can bring good things back to you too. Platforms are sometimes built one nail at a time. That seems to be the case with me anyway.

  16. Susan Bourgeois on December 8, 2010 at 10:23 AM

    >Sometimes we simply learn as we go. My co-author and I did not realize we needed a platform for our non-fiction book. All we knew was the great passion we felt for our project and the knowledge that millions of people would immediately be able to relate.

    We polished up our book and we were filled with enthusiasm until we began to research the submission process. That's when the dreaded word "platform" repeatedly surfaced.

    Here's a question? I don't have a platform but I am strong in the area of speaking and sales. How in the world do I reach out in my area to begin the process of building a platform when I don't have a publisher for my book?

    Realistically, do I call up a local magazine editor and say, "Hi, I'm a local resident and I've written a wonderful book on weight loss and I'd like it to be highlighted in your magazine?" I'm afraid the first question would be, "Is your book out yet; has it been published or is it in the process?"

    I didn't feel I could go forward in this area so I continued to research and learn all I could about the submission process. I sent out a query for the non-fiction book to about 10-15 agents.

    I know I could have gone further but something told me that I needed to take another route.

    My thought process is to write a book of fiction first, where I don't have to have an established platform. After my book of fiction is accepted, I will be in a better position to get my non-fiction book viewed by agents who may be more receptive because I will then have a platform.

    I feel I unknowingly put the cart before the horse when I enthusiastically wrote my book of non-fiction.

    A part of me feel God may have guided me to write the first book of non-fiction so I would be led to write my book of fiction.

    I'm going to continue to write my book on fiction with the goal of getting my book of non-fiction viewed again after my book of fiction is accepted.

    More importantly, after I have established a platform in fiction.

    That's my plan.

    • David Rericha on June 24, 2011 at 10:58 AM


      I liked the way you pursued your passion. It sounds like you have a great book. Why not pursue self-publication at Lulu for instance? If your book does well (which it sounds like it might), there is your platform. It would be a shame to put it off by writing a fiction book (unless that is what you want).



  17. Joanne Sher on December 8, 2010 at 8:57 AM

    >I blogged on this YESTERDAY. I'm working on it–like crazy 🙂


  18. David A. Todd on December 8, 2010 at 8:52 AM

    >"Non-fiction authors: How are you going to make people care?"

    Wish I knew. Time and money. Throw both at platform building in an informed way and see if it works. I have my doubts that it will.

  19. Timothy Fish on December 8, 2010 at 7:50 AM

    >To summarize what I said before, the important thing is that we write what the reader is interested in, not to persuade the reader to be interested in what we write. For example, most of the writers who are writing memoirs shouldn’t be. But a former President is a natural person of interest and it makes sense for him to write a memoir. Our task is to find something that people are interested in but for which the market isn’t already saturated and write about that. To write something and then try o use marketing to convince people that they want it is getting the cart before the horse.

  20. Margot on December 8, 2010 at 7:38 AM

    >I'm tweaking my website so that there's VALUE there for the reader. Though I don't have time to put lots of content out on social media, or even my lame blog, I am starting to rephrase book & speaking descriptions to make the value for the "customer" OBVIOUS.

  21. Timothy Fish on December 8, 2010 at 7:16 AM

    >Okay, now I'm really frustrated. I know I posted something here and it was brilliant, but I don't see it now. I'm beginning to think there's a conspiracy to remove all of my comments today.

  22. Jevon Oakman Bolden on December 8, 2010 at 6:54 AM

    >So very true! Thank you for restating. Not sure it can be said enough.

  23. Nicolette on December 8, 2010 at 6:21 AM

    >I also find that linking to your publisher's websites on Facebook and Twitter and commenting and linking on many of their forums, also helps. You can build a facebook page for each book, too.

  24. Pam Perry, PR Coach on December 8, 2010 at 5:26 AM

    >That's it. Hard cold reality. YOU Gotta build buzz before they buy your book. Bottom line.

  25. Ca88andra on December 8, 2010 at 4:53 AM

    >Good question and one I ask myself all the time as I work on my book. I'm planning some strategies to get my blog out there and known, hopefully that will help!

  26. Nicolette on December 8, 2010 at 3:28 AM

    >When I wrote each of my non-fiction books, I sent press releases to all the local radio stations and got invited to speak on BBC radio three times to promote my book and the issues within. Since then, I've been called back by the stations to see if I want to take part in phone-ins that dealt with the issues, etc. It all helps!