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 based (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
* Try entering some contests. Here’s a great resource to help you find some:
For both fiction and nonfiction writers, some of the best ways to build a platform include:
* Blogging – I know I reference her all the time, but fiction writer (and QT Blogger!) Elana Johnson has a fantastic blog — so good that…well, that I reference her all the time. Which means she’s got word of mouth, and word of mouth means she’s got a platform. Her blog is just that good.
* 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 novel, Soul Purpose. Even if you haven’t read the novel, the pictures are interesting.
For nonfiction writers, find ways to speak or teach publicly.
* Writing a book on a particular kind of craft? Call your local craft store and ask how they find teachers for their classes. (In the US, consider, for example, JoAnn and Michaels crafts stores.) Arrange to meet with the person who organizes the classes, and go armed — take photographs and, if you can, pieces of your very best work. Make a handout that would help your potential students and take that along, too, to show how you would teach.
* If you have an advanced degree or specialized knowledge and are willing to spend some money to get your name into big magazines and newspapers, consider becoming a ProfNet Expert. This is just one way that coaching expert Larina Kase went from being an unknown to being a heavy hitter—not just in business, but as a writer!
* Use your website or blog to answer questions from readers on your topic.
* Read the best books on platform building. My favorites are Guerrilla Marketing for Writers : 100 Weapons to Help You Sell Your Work, Get Known Before The Book Deal: Use Your Personal Strengths To Grow An Author Platform, and Plug Your Book! Online Book Marketing for Authors.
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.