Non-Fiction Platforms

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.

(This is a repeat of a previously posted column.)

Rachelle Gardner, Christian literary agent, WordServe Literary Group, Colorado.

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!


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  3. Genny on March 26, 2009 at 3:13 PM

    >This was really helpful. Thanks!

  4. Anne L.B. on March 26, 2009 at 2:08 PM

    >Mike Hyatt blew me away with today’s post addressing non-fiction platform, How Important is an Author’s Platform?

    He by no means disregards platform, but he’s obviously challenging the emphasis put on it.

  5. Timothy Fish on March 26, 2009 at 5:35 AM

    >It’s like the Catch 22 of getting any new job: You can’t get a job without experience, but…

    True, but there ways out of this conundrum. We handle the lack of experience problem when looking for a job by going to college and paying experienced instructors to guide of through the early stages of experience. We take the initiative to gain experience on our own. I was once able to move into a new position at work because I was working on a program at home utilizing OpenGL. Once we have an entry level job, we build upon our experience and take on more difficult tasks. We share our experience with others and they begin to seek us out and point others to us as people who may have the answer. And at last we reach a point where people hope we will write our knowledge in a book so that it isn’t lost to the ages.

    I think many writers are trying to work it the other way around. They have written a book without the experience to back it up. Then they look for ways to fake out publishers and readers, hoping to convince them that they are creditable. I suppose like some revelation from God, but even the people who penned the Bible had to attend the school of hard knocks before they were qualified to record God’s Word.

  6. Anonymous on March 26, 2009 at 12:15 AM

    >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 & education to back it up.

    The best you can likely do before that is speak at a few local clubs and maybe local TV appearances–IF you have the right contacts. After appearing on a local talk show once in a big city, all I got was an invite to speak at a ladies' luncheone 5 hours away–with expenses paid by me, of course. No, thanks!

    It's like the Catch 22 of getting any new job: You can't get a job without experience, but…

  7. Timothy Fish on March 25, 2009 at 3:15 PM

    >Concerning Cheryl’s comment, I recently reviewed a gift book for Thomas Nelson. The artist was Ken Duncan, a well known photographer in some circles. Given the size of the book and the number of color photos, I think it would have been difficult to convince Thomas Nelson to publish something from a lesser photographer.

    My thought on Vince’s question is that if I have developed a significant platform, that platform is going to be a high priority and may be my primary source of income. While I would justify writing as a way to broaden my audience, it would be a distraction. I would gladly allow a traditional publisher to keep more of the profits for their efforts in publishing and marketing the book, since those are unnecessary distractions taking me away from my beloved platform.

  8. pam at beyondjustmom on March 25, 2009 at 10:25 AM

    >Excellent points, Rachelle. You help me understand the various directions I’m running in (writing, blogging, speaking) have some purpose. I’m building a platform–just need to shape and focus. Thanks.

  9. Vince on March 25, 2009 at 10:17 AM

    >My question is this: 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?


  10. Cheryl Barker on March 25, 2009 at 10:12 AM

    >Rachelle, how important is platform for authors of gift books, books of reflections, etc.? They are considered non-fiction, but I wouldn’t think authors would have to be known as an expert in a certain field to write them. What is your thinking on this?

  11. Yvonne on March 25, 2009 at 8:34 AM

    >Wow… Rachelle, I really appreciate your upfront honesty and tell-it-like-it-is attitude.

    I suppose, knowing this, makes authors evaluate their intentions and decide if this is what they are “called” to do.

    Do I have the “sticktoitativeness” to follow this path to the end?

    Do I have the passion to get out there and promote my “cause”?

    Do I have the time and finances to devote to this?

    Do I really want to be a published author?

    It will separate the die-hard writers from the dreamer writers, huh?

  12. Sharon A. Lavy on March 25, 2009 at 7:11 AM

    >Thanks for more good information.