QueryTracker Blog

Helping Authors Find Literary Agents

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Building YOUR Platform

What is a platform?

A platform is name recognition of some kind. Celebrity, if you will.

Why do you need one?

A platform will help you attract the attention of an agent and later a publisher. Why?

Because having a platform proves that you

  • Care enough about your project to promote it
  • Have some marketing savvy
  • Come with a built-in fan base (read: guaranteed sales)

More importantly, a good platform will help sell your book when it comes out. Fewer and fewer publishers are putting money into promoting books — especially books by unknowns and newcomers. That means that the onus of promotion falls almost completely (and sometimes completely) on you, the author. You are the one who’s going to be making people aware of the book, and convincing them to buy it. You are the one who’s responsible for making the book a success.

Just sit with that for a minute.

Your job doesn’t end with writing the book. It doesn’t end with landing an agent or even a publisher. These days, you must also be a marketing expert.

The good news is, you can learn how if you don’t know. And I'm going to help you get started.

Do you already have the makings of a platform?

If you’re writing nonfiction, do you have any of the following in the area you’re writing about?

  • Advanced degrees or certifications (e.g. MA, PhD)
  • Teaching experience
  • Speaking experience (e.g. you’re the pastor of a large church, you give presentations to large corporate groups)
  • Professional (i.e. on-the-job) experience
  • Expert experience (i.e. have you been quoted in newspapers or magazines as an expert on your topic?
  • Published articles in local (good) or national (better) magazines or newspapers
  • A polished, professional-looking website or blog
If you’re writing fiction, do you have any of the following?

  • Advanced degrees or certifications (e.g. an MFA)
  • Published short fiction
  • Writing awards from local, regional, or national contests (see below)
  • A successful website or blog that spotlights your writing

Help! — I don’t have a platform!

Let’s say you don’t have a platform. You don’t even have a shoebox to stand on. Now what?

Now you sit down with a piece of paper and answer the following questions.

  • Why do people need my book (as opposed to the thousands that already line the shelves?) What makes my idea unique? (Everyone must be able to answer this.)
  • Why must I be the one to write this book? What about my background or experience makes me the only one who can write this? (This is particularly important for nonfiction writers.)
  • What do I do really well? (Go ahead and list everything you can think of here, even if it doesn’t seem relevant.)
  • How much time and energy am I willing to commit to building this platform? (e.g. I will blog three times a week on my book topic, every week)
  • What would I like my platform to look like in a year? (e.g. my blog will have 1000 subscribers)

After you answer these questions, you need to decide how you’re going to get from point A (don’t even have a shoebox) to point B (a real live platform). Look again at the skills you listed — can you use any of them?

For fiction writers

For both fiction and nonfiction writers, some of the best ways to build a platform include:

  • Blogging 
  • Using other social networking sites, such as mySpace, Facebook, and Twitter. The trick is to provide information that’s really going to intrigue other people and get them invested in your book. Don’t tell them that you wrote 1500 words today — tell them that you did some fascinating research for your story on bondage furniture for that S&M dungeon in your story. Don’t just tell them you’re interviewing people for your nonfiction book — give them outtakes from the interview, or at least tease them with what kinds of nuggets of wisdom are going to be in your finished manuscript.
  • A website that provides information related to your story or nonfiction book. Writing a story about psychics? Give people some information about real psychics and how you got interested in the topic. Mary Lindsey provides photographs of real places mentioned in her novelSoul Purpose. Even if you haven’t read the novel, the pictures are interesting.

For nonfiction writers, find ways to speak or teach publicly.

And do all of these things BEFORE you send your query. Don’t tell the agent you’re going to build a platform; tell her you already have a great one in place. Rachelle Gardner puts it this way:    
I DON'T want to see in your proposal, "I am willing to start a blog and join social networks to market myself."
I DO want to see: "I've been blogging for a year, with my readership growing steadily. I use Facebook and Twitter to create relationships with potential future readers of my books, and to drive people back to my blog. I'm currently making contact through the blog and social networks with several hundred (or several thousand) people a day."
Still have questions?  Have other ideas on building platform? Feel free to use the comments area below!

Dr. Carolyn Kaufman is a clinical psychologist and professor residing in Columbus, Ohio. A published writer, she runs Archetype Writing: Psychology for Fiction Writers and an associated blog. She is often quoted by the media as an expert resource. 


Stina Lindenblatt said...

Great post! Something I'll have to give some serious consideration to. As a fiction writer, I thought I could skip on the platform part.

Wow, talk about a wicked homework assignment. Groan.

Sherry Dale Rogers said...

Building a platform is the scariest part..."Living in the dark corners calling my name...Sherry...Sherry. I slowly creep into the unknow places,searching for this creature. I am afraid yet longing to know. I see a faint movement. I walk closer. It turns around.Its horrible, gross, and coming for me.
I scream..."It's a platform."

Thanks for this wonderful info, I love QueryTracker.

Later Guys

Eileen Astels Watson said...

I'm struggling with this platform thing. Trying to build a blog presence, but beyond that I'm kind of lost. I'm going to check out Elana Johnson's blog, thanks for linking her here.

Cindy said...

It must be platform day. I am seeing this topic everywhere and I am thankful for it. I got into this late in the game--much later than I should have. I really didn't know any better before but now I am having to deal with somehow making a name for myself. Every little bit of advice helps so I appreciate this post. Thanks!

Paul West said...

Great food for thought. After reading Rachelle Gardener's blog I thought I had it pretty well down, but now I see there's much more to it.

Bardmaid said...

This is good info. but I'm not really scared about building my platform. I have a blog which I try to keep fun and friendly. Sure there aren't many readers yet, but I only started blogging this year. With a little time and effort platforming should pay off. We've just got to stay strong and facr it.


Suzette Saxton said...

Stina, I beg to differ. You have a fantastic online presence, and therefore, platform.

Great article, Carolyn. I loved the "sit with this for awhile." I'm going to do just that. ;)

Kirk K said...

Question: I have been maintaining a personal blog detailing our baby's diagnosis with a liver disease up through her eventual liver transplant. Is it even possible to use that experience as a jumping point for blogging on other topics or to use as example of my writing style? I imagine it would depend on several factors.

Any thoughts?

Carolyn Kaufman said...

Kirk -- I'm not sure exactly what you're asking, but I'll answer as best I can.

The blog would be most relevant to platform (and some might argue only relevant, sorry) if you were going to write a memoir or about other health or family issues.

And you can always direct the audience for one of your blogs to another of your blogs; if people enjoy your writing, they'll often check out your other work.

Hope that's helpful!