I’ve had some people tell me lately that they’re starting to hate that word platform. I’ll let you in on a little secret: I feel the same way. I sometimes wish the whole idea of platform would just go away and we’d be free to simply publish the books we love. Like you, I wish it were all about original ideas and great writing. I long for the days when agents and editors were simply searching for the best new talent, writers didn’t have to be concerned about marketing their own books, and platform wasn’t a word used in the publishing arena. But that’s not the world we live in.
If you want to write non-fiction, platform is CRUCIAL. The key to a non-fiction platform is your target market and what you are doing to reach them. You have to show a publisher that you personally have the ability to attract buyers for your book. You want to establish yourself as an authority in your subject, or the authority, the go-to person. Platform tells a publisher that you are not only the right person to write this book, you are the very best person to write this book.
The importance of a platform for non-fiction can’t be over-stressed… and my prediction is that the bar is going to keep getting higher and higher as far as platform requirements. There are always going to be a few exceptions to this rule and you’ll see a few books published by people with no platform. But that’s not a desirable situation for you, the author, because it means it will be difficult-to-impossible to sell your book to consumers. If you’ve gone to the trouble of writing a book, I assume you want people to read it, so that’s where having a strong platform comes in.
So what are some elements of a strong platform? They can include:
a A blog or website with heavy traffic. That probably means a thousand+ hits per day. You also want the ability to capture names and email addresses. Publishers love to see that you already have a database of 3,000 to 5,000 names (or more) to whom you can market your book when it comes out.
a Frequent or regular speaking engagements. This can be local if you live in a large metro area; otherwise you’ll need some regional speaking experience. It’s best if you can show that you’re speaking to thousands of people per year.
a Numerous articles published, whether national, local or specialized. You need at least some national exposure to attract attention.
a A regular column in a national magazine or a large metro newspaper.
a Online advice columns (if your topic is self-help).
a Regular or frequent appearances on television or radio with significant proven audience.
a Regular contact with your target audience, e.g. a newsletter.
a Notoriety and/or authority within your area of expertise. You are a known expert on your topic.
a Previous books published with high sales numbers.
Not everyone who gets published has reached these standards or even come close, but I believe as time goes on, fewer authors without platforms will find success in commercial, royalty-paying publishing.
Just remember this: You have to sell an agent and/or a publisher not just on your book but on you. Your query and your proposal both serve the purpose of selling a package—you and your book. I’ve received numerous questions from people asking, “Does it count if I have clips from anthologies? Does it count if I have theater experience?” etc. etc. You don’t have to play the what-if game and analyze every eventuality. Just sell yourself as the author of the particular book you’re writing. Got nothing to sell? Better get a hammer and some nails ‘cuz you’ve got a platform to build.
Don’t forget… the longest journey begins with the first step. You have to start somewhere, right? Get that website. Start speaking at local venues, then branch out. Pitch articles for magazine and newspaper publication. Start small, one step at a time. It takes time; in fact, it could take you 2 years or 5 years or 10 years. But it’s worth it, and it’s doable. So, do it.
Rachelle Gardner, Christian literary agent, WordServe Literary Group, Colorado.