Tuesday, October 06, 2009

The Platform Primer

I recently conducted an interview with Martha Cook, Managing Editor at Trafalgar Square Books and Horse and Rider Books. In the interview, I posed questions that I often hear from new and struggling writers about how best to break into the publishing industry.

One of those questions had to do with the elusive, necessary, and oft-misunderstood platform:

Q: I keep hearing about a “platform.” How important is having one? What do you look for in a platform when considering an author’s book proposal?

A: A platform – a significant, credible, sphere of influence – significantly improves an author’s chances of getting our attention! If we have a choice between two projects similar in subject and the writers have equal qualifications, we are always going to go with the author who has worked to gain recognition among people who are the audience for his or her book.

Authors who present at expositions, write articles for magazines, participate in online forums or have joined associations or groups that build their reputations make the publisher’s job of promoting and selling a book much easier and generally more profitable.

The real question is not "how important is having a platform?" Instead, it is, "how do I get one?"

Note Ms. Cook's definition of platform: "a significant, credible sphere of influence." The key to developing your platform is in the definition. Decide what you want to talk about, write about, expound upon, and be known for. Then get out there and do it. Write articles, keep a blog, comment in forums, Tweet -- but do so with the ultimate goal of developing a readership that shares some quantifiable, common theme.

Non-fiction platforms are somewhat easier to build. You determine your area of expertise (whether it's building bird houses, relationships, or virtual worlds...). Then you actively look for ways to spread the word so that YOU become inextricably linked with that topic.

Building a fiction platform can be somewhat dicier at first -- probably because it's a relatively new requirement in the ever-changing world of publishing. (I don't believe that a publisher ever asked Margaret Mitchell what her platform was when she was shopping "Gone With the Wind" around.)

But be not dismayed. Perhaps building your FicPlat -- a word I just invented because I like the way it sounds in my head -- is easier than you think. If you are already online doing research and contributing to forums, simply start paying closer attention to the posts you leave.

1. Decide in which "sphere of influence" you wish to leave your mark. Romance? Horror? Cutting-edge gritty urban poetry?

2. Establish a blog, website, and / or Facebook Fan Page. (Ideally, do all three...)

3. Make posts in forums, tweet, do some guest blogging, or write short online articles that have something to do with your chosen sphere.

4. Post regularly enough that you start building a readership that values what you say and that turns to you for "spherical" inspiration or information.

5. Continue writing your book. Then, when you approach agents and publishers with it, mention your platform and launch yourself to the head of the "consider" pile.

So there you have it: a simple 5 Step Plan for building a workable FicPlat.

Joanna Penn, who writes The Creative Penn has an excellent primer on building an online writer's platform. And hers is only 3 steps!

Also from the Creative Penn (which often has useful writing-related posts), comes this interesting downloadable podcast with Roger C. Parker on how to successfully build an author’s platform.

There is no time like the present to develop your platform. Here's to yours!

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