5 Encouraging Reasons To Build Your Writer Platform

PhotobucketThis 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.

I understand why people don’t get enthusiastic about platform building. Writers want to—shocker—write, and then (maybe) spend time talking about their writing journey. But building a blog? Tweeting? Volunteering to be a guest contributor to local radio stations all in the hopes of impressing literary agents? “If I did that, I wouldn’t have time to write!” is something I hear writers often say.

Building your writer platform means increasing your visibility, reach and network in the marketplace. It means creating channels through which you have the ability to sell books. The planks of platform include a successful blog, social media, article writing, public speaking, and more. In today’s publishing environment, nonfiction authors need platform to get the attention of publishers, whereas fiction authors simply want platform, as it will increase their value.

While creating a platform is not something writers generally get excited about in the morning (“Today, I’m gonna build my platform! I’M SO HAPPY!!!!”), I often tell people that there are definite upsides to the endeavor. Here are 5 off the top of my head:

1. Platform gives you a degree of control. In a previous WU column, I discussed how frustrating it is to have such a lack of control over the sales of your book. But platform building means you’re establishing concrete, solid connections through media outlets, with other professionals, and/or through social media channels. If you build these avenues, you can use them to sell books later. Creating a platform is an opportunity to, as writer Alexis Grant once put it, “make your own luck.” If you host a contest on your blog or speak at a writers conference, you are taking matters into your own hands, not waiting on an outside party to possibly have some luck spreading the word about your work.

2. You are your book’s ideal marketer. No one knows the audience(s) of your book like you do. Have you talked to a publicist about marketing a book? What’s the first thing they ask of you? Your list of e-mail contacts! They know you’re the best person to have contacts, so they mine you first. You know who will buy the book; you know where those people live online; and you know the best message to craft to market your work.

3. Platform is a break from writing. If I sit down to the computer one evening and the inspiration isn’t flowing to crank out a new screenplay, I don’t have to give up on the night’s work. I can still produce by platform building. I can add website elements, or format a blog post, or engage some people over Twitter. It’s easy work that can always be done to further my career. (A word to the wise: Do not get lost in the platform monster. Platform building can be considered “easier” than writing. So it may be tempting to dedicate a disproportionate amount of your time and energy to it.)

Photobucket4. Platform = money. When you build your platform, you are constructing channels that will help you sell books. And when you do that, you are helping yourself by putting the means in place to sell more copies and make your royalty statement a little bigger. Not only that, but the size of your platform could also influence your advance (upfront money from publishers) — even for fiction. Young adult novelist Elana Johnson previously said that she attributes an amazing $25,000 of her total advance to successful blogging platforms she had built.

5. Opportunities to build your platform are everywhere. As you build an online presence and network yourself, always be thinking: How can I use this to get me closer to my goals? Is there a way to use this to help my brand, meet new people, or sell books? Consider this: For years, I’ve posted videos of me playing music on YouTube.com. As view counts increased, I realized that the clips served no larger purpose. So I went into the description for each video and added a note about my first humor book, How to Survive a Garden Gnome Attack, then included a link to buy. I don’t know if I’ve sold five books through my adjustment or 150, but I am making an attempt to put all my efforts to good use. (And even if 99.9 percent of those who view the note do not buy the book, they do see the title and therefore learn about the book, building awareness for it. In the world of writer platform and book promotion, it all adds up.)

Consider this other scenario to see platform building in action: Let’s say you run a blog all about local businesses in your hometown and want to interview three owners of printing companies in a roundup for your site. If you can make a clear case to owners about how being interviewed is a great opportunity, then you should have no trouble getting people interested. So whom will you interview? I suggest you find three candidates who are on Twitter and have more followers than the rest of the possibilities—then go after those three first. If they have a solid Twitter presence, they will logically spread the word to their followers to notify others of the roundup. This way, they get more eyes on an interview all about their business. Meanwhile, you’re getting more page views because you’re not the only one promoting the post. Everyone wins, and you get new followers because of whom you strategically chose to interview when you had options.

Photo courtesy Flickr’s by The James Kendall

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About Chuck Sambuchino

Chuck Sambuchino is a freelance editor of query letters, synopses, book proposals, and manuscripts. As an editor for Writer's Digest Books, he edits the GUIDE TO LITERARY AGENTS and the CHILDREN'S WRITER'S & ILLUSTRATOR'S MARKET. His Guide to Literary Agents Blog is one of the largest blogs in publishing. His own books include the bestselling humor book, HOW TO SURVIVE A GARDEN GNOME ATTACK, which was optioned by Sony Pictures, as well as the writing guide, CREATE YOUR WRITER PLATFORM. Connect with Chuck on Twitter or at his website.

Comments

  1. says

    I hadn’t thought about the control area, but it’s true. Before Twitter and blogs, we had to rely on the publishers to set something up. If they didn’t bother, we were stuck. So it’s a huge opportunity to get out there, even if we don’t have a book out there yet.

    One of the things I’m experimenting with is science fiction conventions. There was a self-published 15-year old who just got picked up by a publisher — in a large part because she and her father went out to science fiction conventions to promote. They participated on many different panels — and the panels don’t need to be about writing. I went to one about the zombie apocalypse and what the military would do and a discussion of disabilities as they connected to steampunk. The opportunities are what you make of it.

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    • says

      Chuck, your blog is informative and encouraging. I am one who doesn’t find time to write because I spend so much time trying to market the two books I’ve published. It’s hard to balance my time, but I’ll keep plugging along.
      It’s encouraging to hear I’m not the only one with this struggle.
      Your up-coming book sounds fascinating. Lorena

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  2. says

    Platform building is indeed a break from writing. Truth to tell, I really enjoy writing my blog posts. I consider that these posts not only reveal something about me but show off my writing, and therefore count a lot towards marketing my forthcoming book.

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  3. says

    I think platform building is especially important for self-publishing//indie-publishing authors. We need lots of marketing since we don’t have publishers to do it for us. Twitter, Facebook, blogging, etc. are extremely important for reaching out to readers.

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  4. says

    When I started trying to build a platform as a (mostly) fiction writer, I felt pretty intimidated and overwhelmed. Concentrating on the connections, on being genuine and just making real links with people, helped to take the stress off. I have a blog and a small but respectable twitter presence. Like you, I find that the platform building can be a small respite from writing when I need a mini-break — as long as the break doesn’t stretch too long. Thanks for the further inspiration here.

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  5. says

    Platform building is vital for any author who isn’t already established. And even for those who are, I don’t think there’s anyone who couldn’t benefit from having more ways to connect with readers.
    That said, I’ve never enjoyed marketing or anything that smacks of it. The result is that platform-building usually ends up tied to my rear bumper, well past the back seat, and I do everything I can to start real conversations with people instead of trying to put advertising in front them.
    It’s slow going and I’d probably have more eyes on my stuff if I took a more aggressive approach, but I *have* succeeded in making platform-building a little more fun and a lot less frustrating.

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  6. says

    What a great book title, and cover! I love it. If I don’t win it here, I’ll definitely buy it! Thanks Chuck for your generosity and your fantastic advice!

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  7. says

    I lurked around awhile before I starting really thinking about my book. I bought your book 2011 guide to literary agents and I read all I could find about building the platform.

    I’ve been building since September when I launched my blog. I’ve already started writing and my goal for the summer is to start the agent search.

    I feel so ahead of the game because of all that I learned from you and others you suggested and those who suggested you.

    Thanks for helping us new authors!!

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  8. says

    Chuck,
    Thanks for sharing your insights. Platform building is essential and the strategies you have outlined can maximize a writer’s exposure to build a following. The greatest challenge I’ve found, though, is reaching readers. I am active on Goodreads but to date I have made no real connections. Thanks again.

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    • says

      CG: Looks like you’ve done some connecting with other writers. How about partnering with a fellow author in your genre to expose each other to each other’s audiences?

      Finding a good partner is the key. One where the stories from each author actually would be of interest to the audience of the other. If done right, both writers would benefit by getting new readers and the readers would benefit by finding a new author they like.

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  9. says

    Thanks for not only encouraging us to work on platform building, but making it sound appealing, too. (Anything that can tempt us to spend too much time doing it must be wicked-fun, right?). It seems good to remember with platform-building, as with much of life, you just don’t know in advance how it’s all going to work out.

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  10. says

    Chuck, yeah, yeah, yeah to all those things about a platform. But your book…the red side is a bulldog, the blue is a pointer? Are you foreshadowing an opinion here? And you have the stubborn one on the left, and the intelligent one on the right? I’m confused…

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  11. says

    One of the things I find most difficult about building a platform is the plethora of good articles (such as this one) about writing/blogging/self-publishing. I want to read them all and comment on them all! Limiting myself to seven a day keeps me on the straight and narrow.

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    • says

      Thomas,

      I am with you on this about so many blogs that sound interesting and wanting to read and comment. I’ve been working to come up with an organized way of both limiting and stretching my time spent on this part of social networking/platform building. I haven’t hit a good stride for myself yet. Any other tips besides your seven-a-day? Thanks.

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    • says

      I agree with your approach on keeping the platform (writing) information to reasonable amount. I limit the numbers of newsletters subscriptions. I still look at quite a few doing research and bookmark just in case but if I read too many there is no time to write, work on platform etc.

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  12. says

    When I first heard the term ‘platform’ a few years ago at a writer’s conference I was confused and a little terrified. I’m a fantasy writer, we don’t have platforms! Um, yes we do. Now that I’m much more comfortable with my brand, my platform, my writing, I embrace everything with an enthusiasm I didn’t know I’d have. I now enjoy having an online presence, writing blogs, surfing the web for interesting pictures to put on Pinterest, tweeting, facebooking, etc. But I also know none of it will matter if I don’t write a damn good book. So it’s write first, play later. I’m sending a few of my still-confused writer friends over here to read your post. It makes the word platform not so scary. By the way, I love the premise of your book! Political pooches are funny.

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  13. says

    Thinking about it, I have been doing more “platform building” than “writing” these days. I’m doing some writing, and I wrote some long-hand last week, but it’s laying next to me, waiting for the opportunity to be typed.

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  14. says

    I enjoy blogging and social networks and pretty much all the aspects of building my platform. I find them much easier than writing! My difficulty is that when I am on deadline with a manuscript I end up neglecting my blog, etc. So I have a very uneven presence online. Anyone have suggestions for how to even this out more?
    Also, I love the tip about checking out someone’s twitter presence as a way of choosing who to interview for an article. I have been disappointed a few times when I have featured a book I love in a blog post and the author has done very little to help get the word out.
    Thanks!

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    • says

      Mary: One way is to write a lot of content ahead of time and release it according to whatever schedule makes sense for you. This works well for blogs but I know people who do it for Twitter, Google+, etc. as well.

      Obviously the more content you have in your buffer, the more flexibility you’ll have when faced with other demands on your time.

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      • says

        Great idea! I tend to “get in the zone” with whatever task I’m working on, then resist changing gears. Writing ahead would probably work well for me.

        And maybe a loud timer to get me out of the “twitter twilight zone!”

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  15. says

    Thanks for sharing concrete examples of why platform building is so important to current and aspiring authors. This shifts my perspective on the process.

    Also, thanks for the heads up on devoting too much time to this activity. It can certainly be tempting to do the easy work when you are stumped with your manuscript.

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  16. says

    I love anything “dogs”, so I’m anxious to see your book. I also agree with your points about getting ourselves “out there” which is essentially making friends and connections. I think the best advice I ever received was to join online writers’ groups. I’ve found the support and knowledge there invaluable.
    Patti

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  17. says

    Dude…you had me at “Pooches”. On behalf of dogs and their dog owners everywhere – we are part of the Puppy Platform! Cheers!

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  18. says

    John Maxwell once wrote, ” Nothing is more distressing than seeing people with great ability sitting on the shelf of life.”

    Realistically, it’s a competitive world out there and, at times, the outcome of our pursuits are discouraging. But we’re responsible for developing our own potential and disappointments are not dead ends.

    The author encourages me, “there are other ways” and “persistence pays.”

    Let’s go for it!

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  19. says

    Chuck: I appreciate the solid points you make about platform building for writers and striking that gentle balance between the actual writing and the social media.

    It is extremely difficult to gauge how much of one’s time spent doing various Internet activities (leaving comments on blogs such as this one, engaging folks through Twitter, having a Facebook presence, etc.) will really pay in dividends towards one’s author platform.

    In any event, you provide good food for thought. Congratulations on the publication of your new book! My husband is a federal lobbyist and a political pundit. He’d love it!

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  20. says

    With a new book coming out in September and a couple of previously published books languishing in the back blocks of Amazon, I had a good hard think about author branding and platform and realised that the principles about marketing and communication that I had learned through my paid employment needed to be employed in me as Alison Stuart Writer.
    It’s the package…website. blog, twitter and facebook (add in Good reads and other networking sites)…working together and it’s a long slow build. You have to make people want to engage with you as a person/writer before you can make them buy your books.

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  21. says

    Some very good points on why we all need to think about building solid platforms. I have definitely been thinking about this lately! Love the concept for your new book too!

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  22. says

    I had never thought about having a presence on the web until I watched Sarah Megibow’s fantastic webinar, “How to Hook an Agent with Your Query Letter,” on Writer’s Digest. Now I have a website (http://www.julielcasey.com/), a Twitter account (@JulieLCasey), a Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/julie.casey.750) and I’m working on starting a blog. I find it interesting and fun, but I have to be careful to schedule time for writing books, as well.

    Great points, Chuck! Thanks for the insight.

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  23. says

    I’m nearing completion on a biographical novel of early-colonial America and England, 1630-1660. Nearly every ‘character’ was a real person, so I anticipate that one of my largest chunks of market share will be genealogy hobbyists. To that end, I created a Facebook profile and post in my protagonist’s name; there’s also a research blog about the culture, politics, religion, and events of the characters. When the book is published, I’ll advertise in Ancestry and other heritage sites.

    Because it’s historical fiction backed by intense research, I’ll include book club guide and a high school teacher’s discussion guide.

    Suggestions to build your platform: Facebook interest groups (if you can’t find one, create one), Twitter hashtags, Pinterest (growing fast), Google Plus (no sparks there, sadly), tweeting in LinkedIn, and forums. Build social media relationships with other authors in your genre, and do guest blogs for one another.

    And why have I not completed my manuscript? Um, I’ve been building a mile-high platform. I believe it will pay off, though.

    Please enter me in the draw for the “Pooches” book. I’ll share it with my Border collie.

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  24. says

    Totally get and agree with the importance of a platform, and I’ve slowly been building one (while working on my writing). My big problem is I never know what to say.

    Writing a story? Doable. An article? Easy. A twitter update? WTF!

    Ah well, I’ll keep plugging away at it in my spare time, and focus on writing. Figure if I keep at it long enough, I’ll figure it out.

    (on twitter @jessicaburde blogging on alternative relationships http://www.practical-polyamory.blogspot.com )

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  25. Elliott says

    An excellent post! I had to laugh…I only came across this because I’ve (very) recently started building my platform and I saw this on Twitter. This stuff works!

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  26. says

    Red Dog Blue Dog sounds great fun. Meanwhile I’m trying to balance writing, marketing and platforming. Having a platform’s help me “meet” lots of people but what if you’re a dreamer, not a controller. That “degree of control” thing means you just have more to blame yourself for.

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  27. says

    I am a new aspiring and emerging writer. I am working on a book, have an idea for a second book, writing a couple of articles, and a sermon and/or speech. I also write two blogs: Incorrigible Nonconformist (http://incorigiblenonconformist.blogspot.com/) and Whispering Circles (http://whisperingcircles.blogspot.com/). I have no idea if anything that I am working on is saleable or not. I hold good thoughts and images that I will be published but have not been so far. But I am not really writing for the fame or money it may some day bring me. I am writing because I retired from my job that I absolutely loved on disability much earlier than I had ever planned and needed to find some passion in my life to replace that job. I write to live, to breathe, to be present in each moment of my life.

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  28. says

    I have a book ready to publish, but never thought about the possiblities of blog, twitter, I do write about it on facebook to my friends. So, now i’ll start a different platform to build on. I really like the name of your book Red Dog/Blue Dog. If I don’t win. I’ll buy it.

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  29. Yvonne Kochanowski says

    I like the idea of tying in other features through the platform. For example, a character is a chef, and if you’re handy yourself in the kitchen, you can make up and post some recipes. Or your character is a gardener, and so are you – presto, photo ops! I believe that these kinds of activities give your readers a chance to know you – and your characters – better, and it gives them a reason to keep visiting your site if you update regularly.

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  30. says

    I enjoy the information in you blog, and I’d love to see your book. Thanks for the giveaway.

    I recently started joining relevant-to-me groups on Linked In. It seems like a way to get in touch with a lot of new people, and it is all business related.

    The other way I am getting new eyes on my work and expanding my network is Pinterest. Creating boards that would be of interest to my readers – in my case they would be mostly crafters and parents – has been great. You could create boards about dogs, dog training, pets in general, pet supplies or accessories, and other political visual humor – cartoons for example – maybe even about patriotic home decor, picking up the themes of the colors.

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  31. says

    Chuck – thanks so much for this posting. It is very timely. I’m in a writing slouch and about to really begin my writer’s journey in earnest… instead of jumping in completely blind, I’ve been trying to use all the information and inspiration and insight I’ve seen from other writers, both in print and online. To that effect, I’ve created a separate email account, set up a space for a blog, signed up for a Twitter account, and created a Facebook Page for myself. I’m trying to set up my platform before I jump off into the ocean, so to speak.

    This post is such a timely reinforcement that I’m doing something that will help me in the long run.

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  32. says

    Thanks for making five excellent points, and for including humor. I’m in love with your book already and hope I win it here! I love dogs no matter what the color and even more, I love humor! :)

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  33. says

    Thank you for taking the time out of your busy writing schedule to “lay-a-few-planks” with us. To steal a line from real estate, and paraphrase, it’s all about “network, network, network.”

    All the best on the release of your new book, and happy writing!!

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  34. says

    I am in the process of building a stronger web presence. I am about to start an online store for the literary community, and I am a freelance writer and problogger. Being a wearer of many hats means I have an excellent opportunity to harness modern advertising power to spread the word about my various business entities.

    As a writer, it was hard for me to branch out and teach myself basic web design and social networking. However, I recognized quickly I would have to build a basic working knowledge of cyber-marketing if I wanted to be a competitor in my field. As you pointed out, the opportunities for promoting your business or web presence are many, and only limited by your ingenuity.

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  35. says

    Thank you for the wonderful advice. I am in the process of writing my first novel, but read in many places that I needed to establish an online presence. With my research in hand, I opene a Twitter account, created and launched a blog, and then made my first attempt to market my subject matter on both Facebook and Twitter. Not too many people know a book will be coming from this, but I thought I should start my marketing early in case I have to adjust a bit. Once again, thank you for the advice. Sheri

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  36. says

    Appreciate the insight! Twitter is great for keeping my mind sharp when I don’t feel like writing a ton. Learn a lot just in the way people express themselves differently in short bursts.

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  37. says

    In a pluralisttic society where there is so much shoving and pushing, and where morals have faded so much; people are dealing with so much stress and strain in a rapidly changing world, few have time to go the extra mile to achieve their goals. In a society that is wracked with change overload and burn-out, so many things seem to become a burden. As a society, we seem to have lost that pep and zest for the things that made life meaningful. Perhaps, in order to understand writers’ disinclination to work hard at that author’s platform; we, as Americans, need to retrace our steps to somewhere in the past where we dropped some very important things that are absolutely necessary for true and lasting meaning and success. After a long, Herculean task of writing a book; one needs much encouragement to build a writer’s platform on top of all that work. But, in world flooded with faded morals and exhausted values; it is so easy to become disillusioned. It is good to see writers reaching out to one another and trying to lend a helping hand somewhere where it is needed so greatly! Formerly, sitting down and reading a good ole book was a fantastic American pastime: All that has faded in the whirling fog of change overload. Society has changed so much, people have forgotten who they are; they feel lost in the turbid smoke of a world that makes no sense and one that has no meaning. We write because the flame of passion is burning in us; but in a world replete with exhausted people and shreded dreams, so many omit the things that matter the most; but, as writers, we must push beyond that knoll and build that much needed author platform. just some food for thought. Leave me a line at http://www.crashingstreamsofchange.com

    Moulton Mayers

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  1. […] Building your writer platform means increasing your visibility, reach and network in the marketplace. It means creating channels through which you have the ability to sell books.The planks of platform include a successful blog, social media, article writing, public speaking, and more. In today’s publishing environment, nonfiction authors need platform to get the attention of publishers, whereas fiction authors simply want platform, as it will increase their value.  […]

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