This column excerpted from my book, CREATE YOUR WRITER PLATFORM (Nov. 2012, Writer’s Digest Books), a guide on how to build your visibility, brand, and network to better market yourself and your books. The book includes lots of interviews with literary agents and platform-heavy authors.
Ah, platform. It’s that dirty word writers hate. It appeared several years ago like a bad dream — a word publishing bigwigs used to describe a writer’s ability to sell their own work through a writer’s social media, networking and visibility. The bigwigs made it clear: Writers would not only have to write books now, but be the main marketing force behind them, as well.
Let’s be clear: If you’re a fiction writer, you want a platform. If you’re a nonfiction writer, you need a platform. In fact, if you’re writing nonfiction and you don’t have at least a modest platform, literary agents and editors probably won’t even consider your book idea, no matter how good it may be. If you can’t sell your own book, they ain’t interested in your pitch. In fact, I’ve been speaking so much about platform lately that I wanted to write something here about it here on WU — my thoughts on “current platform” vs. “future platform.” See, building a platform is difficult and takes time. But some good news, in my opinion, is that if you get off to a solid start, you can use realistic, down-to-earth predictions when pitching your book regarding where you will be in the future. After all, your book won’t get published for a year and a half or two years. Surely by that time your platform will have continued to grow — so feel free to mention where you think you’ll be.
ELEMENTS OF A PLATFORM
Off the top of my head, here are some elements that contribute to a writer’s platform:
1. A successful blog
2. A successful newsletter
3. Article/column writing with bylines
4. Contributing to large publications/blogs/etc.
5. Networking and who you know
6. Public speaking, such as presenting at writers conferences and retreats
7. Social media (Twitter/Facebook/etc.)
8. Organization membership
9. Media appearances and interviews
These are all things that a publisher will want to hear about if you’re pitching a nonfiction book. These are your weapons in pitching to a publisher as well as selling your book to readers.
YOUR “FUTURE PLATFORM”
When you’re writing a nonfiction book proposal, you will be examining all of the above elements and listing out the weapons at your disposal. Now, after that section is done, feel free to include some quick notes on where you think your platform will be in 1.5-2 years.This is your “future platform.”
For example: How many page views does your blog get a month? Perhaps 7,500? But what was that number three months ago? Six months ago? A year? Discover those numbers and chart its monthly growth rate. After you do that, your nonfiction proposal can include the line. “My blog, (URL), currently receives 7,500 page views a month, and is growing at a rate of 12% a month. By spring 2013, even using a more conservative growth rate, the blog should receive more than 20,000 page views a month if not more. The author is committed to blogging at least (X) times per week and will be continuing that frequency in the future…”
Another example: “In 2011, the author presented on (topic/specialty) to two trade conference: (conference name and other conference name). He/she is already contracted to present at least three events in 2012 with more invitations expected. In 2013, the goal is 6-10 major speaking appearances at industry events, with audience numbers ranging from (number) to (number)…”
The catch regarding all this is: Do not bullshit a literary agent or editor. If you bullshit us, we see through it immediately, and discussing your future platform unrealistically will actually work against you. When uncertain, err on the conservative side with numbers. Even a conservative growth in blog figures or public speaking appearances will aid your pitch.
(Looking for agents handle nonfiction? Peruse my growing list of nonfiction agents.)
Last important note: Your current book promotion ability (your current platform) is all that you are able to do right now. Your future platform is a realistic prediction as to your platform growth in the next few years. Note that in neither definition do I want you to discuss what you would be willing to do. By that I mean: “I would be willing to do radio interviews in support of my book. I would be willing to discuss a book tour. I would be willing to be interviewed by Oprah.” All those possibilities are hypothetical, pie-in-the-sky scenarios that you are not able to make happen. When discussing your platform, only discuss what you are able to do. If you cannot make it happen for certain, do not discuss it.
Photo courtesy Untitled blue