The hot topic today, the buzz word in the writing industry, is “Platform.” Writers are constantly told they need one, but nobody seems to have a clear idea of what a platform consists of or how to construct one. If you build it, will they come?
Here's the problem. Many writers, in the thrall of creating a book out of their imagination, haven't bothered to learn how the industry works. Everything has changed, but too many potential authors believe what they've seen in the movies--the romantic vision of art and the written word with publishing hacks doing promotion and getting their book on the bestseller list.
I doubt if that dynamic ever really existed, but if it did, it's as dead as Hemingway. The reality is that Big Publishing isn't interested in any work that doesn't have guaranteed sales right out the door. That's why Snookie got a contract and you didn't. But then again, she has a platform. One built with substandard materials, but one that exists.
Independent presses also have to try for guaranteed sales. They struggle enough without handing out contracts to people who have no sense of promotion. That's why we hope to see something in place, to hopefully hedge our bet that the book will sell. This is why we look hard for the author's platform.
Start with name recognition. Sell yourself by getting on sites where you get a page to decorate and interact with people. Book Town, Crime Space, and of course, Face Book. Put up photos, post blogs, jump into forums, initiate discussions. Have a personality that people will remember.
Start collecting your fan base. Anyone who communicates with you is a potential reader. Research each one, take notes on bits of info (do they have a cat? What part of the country are they from?). Everyone likes feeling they get personal attention. So, make the effort.
Get a website up. Create a bog. Make it compelling. Offer people something they can use, not just your idle thoughts on a subject.
It takes the sale of 200 books for a publisher to break even. Can you come up with that many buyers? Indie presses have distribution, but it's hard to get libraries and bookstores (the ones that still exist) to stock POD books. The public still has trouble seeing the economically feasible format as “real” books. That's why authors have to convince the reading public that their book is worth buying. You do that with a fan base and by physically promoting your work.
This is what a publisher looks for—not promises by writers uneducated in promotion, but those who have an established presence before publication. A platform. This is the author we are willing to invest in and hope for a return.