‘Data Overwhelms, It Overflows’
The writing community, as a whole, can get tired of something. Just like a person, the whole crowd, from their outlawed prologues to their too-late afterwords, can talk itself into one planetary yawn.
And this is the case with platform.
Years ago, platform was the word, and the word it was, and its buzz vibrated in our nightmares and its phantasms implied our inadequacies and its terrors launched a thousand online courses for writers, many of those seminars and webinars and training bazaars run by people who had less platform than the people paying for them.
One of the problems was that it took us a long time to get the right words to explain what a publisher or agent might mean when sending us into Munchian screams by quietly asking, “And how’s your platform, dear?” We work with words for a living, you know. And so we couldn’t find the right ones. The right words. For platform.
- We meant salability. How’s yours?
- Salability through visibility. Who knows you?
- Salability through visibility as someone who knows what she or he is doing. Why would anybody pick up a book with your name on it?
- Salability through visibility as an expert who interacts with consumers. How many followers did you say you have?
This was always clearer in nonfiction, of course. That superb medical guidebook you wrote, for example. You mean you’re not a doctor? And no one more than three blocks from your home has ever heard of you?
And yet even in nonfiction, we failed to get the right messages across. I was asked recently by a very fine writer–and not without stern indignation–whether it wasn’t the publisher’s job to supply the platform for an author on current politics. This reflects a confusion we’ve allowed to linger. The answer is no. Not even one of the Big Five can make you a veterinary surgeon Great or Small, or a Skyfaring pilot, or a Fiery and Furious media pundit.
Here’s something else we got wrong. Platform is a factor in the salability of fiction, too. While you may not be dispensing twice-weekly advice on dog health or air travel or a failing presidency, you can still be asked, How many followers did you say you have? And Who knows you? And Why would anybody pick up a book with your name on it?
Particularly in the case of a strong debut, yes, we can look to the publisher help carry the load of establishing an author’s platform. And in all cases, publishers must market their books, and vigorously, and in alliance with their authors and their agents. And this is something everybody isn’t clear on yet, either, as you may know.
But if we look at platform now, things have moved along since the days when these were our fretful focal points. There’s a new factor to consider. Allow me to scare you, won’t you?
We have some very fine, if worrisome help on that, some new data, as it were.