QueryTracker Blog

Helping Authors Find Literary Agents

Monday, July 13, 2009

Interview with Literary Agent Kate Epstein on Platform

You asked for more posts on platform, so today we have literary agent and AAR member Kate Epstein joining us to talk about platform! Kate is the founder of the Epstein Literary Agency and specializes in nonfiction for adults.

Projects she represents include: Knitting the Threads of Time by Nora Murphy (New World Library), Peter Allison's Whatever You Do, Don't Run: True Tales of a Botswana Safari Guide and his Don't Look Behind You! (Globe Pequot Press), The Day After He Left for Iraq by Melissa Seligman (Skyhorse Publishing), and Hooked for Life: Adventures of a Crochet Zealot by Mary Beth Temple (Andrews McMeel Publishing).

What is your definition of platform?

A platform is generally anything that will get you and your book media attention--but it's something about you, not about your book. That is, subject matter, no matter how interesting, isn't platform--platform is something you specifically bring to promotion that will increase your book's visibility in a way that another author might not be able to do. I don't know where the term got started, but it seems to me that it has a fairly specific metaphorical meaning in that in a crowd of people, you will stand on a platform and people will see the book you're holding up because you are higher up than the rest of us.

What do you look for in a platform? 

Ideally your platform shouldn't just be connecting you with random people but with people likely to be interested in reading what you're writing about. So if you're well-known for fishing, it may not help much if you want to write a book about crochet.

Are there any “platform misconceptions” you hear from writers?

A few months back a lot of people seemed to believe that Elizabeth Gilbert, who wrote Eat, Pray, Love, sold her book with no platform. Now, her platform wasn't such as to make anyone expect she would be so spectacularly successful, but she was a well-regarded memoirist, biographer, and journalist.

Many of our readers are intimidated by the concept of platform – they don’t know where to start.   Can you give them any tips?

A great thing to do is seek out gatherings of your market and start small. Nowadays there are so many online gatherings related to all different kinds of interests and problems; start getting in there and making friends. If you're credentialled in some way, offer to speak at conferences related to your book topic.

One thing many authors don't realize is that, depending on a book's subject matter, a small platform may be very leverageable. While the big conglomerate publishers don't take on anything wherein they can't expect to sell 15,000 copies in the first print run, mid-sized publishers are interested in books that sell 5,000 copies within 12 months.

Now, if an area is crowded in the bookstore, a small platform may not cut any ice--if your book is about how to get your baby to sleep, it may be hard to woo away ANY readers from Ferber and Pantley. And memoir is hard to launch without a really big platform, most of the time.  But if a topic is under-explored, but not too niche to have sales potential, a small platform may be enough--as good as a feast.

What separates people who are good at building platforms from people who struggle?

Generally people who are good at building platforms aren't afraid to be obnoxious. If you'd rather not be noticed, you probably won't be. It also helps I think to understand and respect your market. However, most people struggle. It's really hard to get noticed in this world.

Thank you so much, Kate, for taking the time to answer our questions!

Dr. Carolyn Kaufman is a clinical psychologist and professor residing in Columbus, Ohio. She is delighted to have Kate Epstein as her agent. She is currently working on a book to teach writers to use psychology accurately in their fiction for Quill Driver Books. If you want a sneak preview, check out Archetype Writing: Psychology for Fiction Writers and the associated blog!


Virginia said...

Thanks for this! I had a very nice rejection of my book query from Ms. Epstein a few months ago and I'm happy to read her comments on platform. The whole idea of building a platform drives me crazy while also making too much sense to ignore. It's a long process, but I do believe it will eventually pay off.

Anonymous said...

Hi Kate,

Continuing to build platform is important for those of us who have books out as well. What suggestions do you have about setting aside time for platform building?

All best,
Carol Frischmann

Pets and the Planet: A Practical Guide to Sustainable Pet Care


B.J. Anderson said...

Thanks Ms. Epstein! This really shed some light.

cleemckenzie said...

I've learned a lot about building a platform over the few months that my book has been out. My problem is time. I should have mapped all of this out before publication.

Thanks for this post.

Carolyn Kaufman | @CMKaufman said...

Thank you to everyone -- I know Kate was swamped with submissions following the post, which I thought was pretty cool. ;-)

Carol, good question. I am hoping to line up two more interviews on platform (one with a platform guru who actually does coaching to help people tackle questions like the one you're asking and one with the author of an exciting new book on platform) -- stay tuned!

And a word of encouragement to people who are still working on their platforms -- just take it one step at a time, and don't be afraid to try different things to see what works best for YOU. Things always start slow at first, but when you keep working, your efforts DO start to bear fruit, and that's really exciting!

Tara McClendon said...

Thanks for the interview. It sometimes seems like we don't just have to build a platform, but that we have to build one bigger and better than everyone else because everyone's building platforms.

Suzette Saxton said...

I LOVED this interview. Thank you, Carolyn and Kate!