Monday, January 14, 2013

What Is a Platform and Where Do I Find One?

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.

30 comments:

marja said...

I have a friend whose first book is about to be released. I'm forwarding her this link immediately. Excellent post, Sunny!
Marja McGraw

Billie Johnson said...

Well said, as usual, Sunny. As you know, at OTP we put a lot of work and commitment into helping the authors develop and execute their platforms and we have a PR person whose only job is working on promotion WITH the authors.

Key word...WITH! Our policy is that we will support any author who is in the game with us, but we cannot do it all, and we cannot do it alone.

Authors who take your advice are the ones we are looking to add to our list!

Billie Johnson, Publisher
Oak Tree Press

Leanne Stowers said...

Great post. I've been compiling a list of readers and their emails. It grows every day. Networking definitely works!

robakers said...

Sunny,

This is great. I never thought about reaching out to my visitors. I know my friends and what they like and I am always glad they stop by my blog. But I don’t greet visitors the same way. I know this is a business and it needs to be viewed as such but there is also a personal aspect that I tend to forget about. Maybe it isn’t about sales but about growing a group of friends.

I will have to consider this aspect of my platform. I must say for the record that when I visit your site I don’t feel like a visitor but like a long lost friend. That is something I want to work on. You are very inspirational and informative. Thank you for being a friend and mentor!


rob akers

Anonymous said...

I've been thinking a lot about this new buzz word PLATFORM and you have given me a shot in the arm in both pieces you've published recently! I've never met you - and may not anytime soon, but I feel like the reader above on this list - I feel you are a friend! You make the whole wide world of writing and publishing sound so personal and when I read your blogs I feel I'm surrounded by intimate friends in this very competitive field of writing novels!
Thank you for sharing your insights! Thelma Straw in Manhattan

Lesley Diehl said...

There's the creativity of writing which is fun and work and the creativity of developing a platform which sometimes feels more like work than fun, but every now and then a reader contacts you to let you know how much she liked your book. That takes the pain away. It's the best pay off.

Velda Brotherton said...

Sunny know and shares what she knows. Thanks for getting out the word about platform. So many writer are in denial over this and they need to wake up and smell the chocolate.

Eileen Obser said...

Thanks for all the good information, Sunny. You say so much in a rather short space -- unlike articles that go on and onand lose my interest. I'll be sharing this with colleagues, for sure.

J.L. Greger said...

Sunny,
You give good advice. In a way, I wish you weren't right.

I'm old fashioned. I think that a platform should mean that you have (or had) a life to write about. For example, Gresham was a lawyer before he wrote legal thrillers and Cook a physician before he wrote medical thrillers. Today many writers "create" a platform that is as hokey as the platforms of candidates for Miss America.

Congrats on telling it as it is.
JL Greger

Paula Petty said...

Very well said. Thanks for putting a number in sales needed to break even. I am not Snookie and will have to work creatively not to sell 200 books but to sell 200,000 and be at the top of the bestsellers list. Thanks for posting this advice to increase my fan base.

Stephen L. Brayton said...

One of the best things to receive in you email (and I just received one of these a few days ago) is someone saying, "Sure, I'd love you have you as a gust blogger. I've seen you name several places around the 'net."

Theresa Varela said...

For the past two years I've been developing my 'platform.'.In actuality, I am continuing to develop a stronger sense of myself as a writer, learning about writing as a product and gathering a wonderful network of friends. Sunny, following your lead all along, I am now about to have my first novel published. Being open to guidance in this arena gave the pre-contract blues a definite rosy glow!

Nan Mahon said...

It's
all part of being a writer in today's world. I find it helps to join several organizations not connected to the writing world as well some that do.

James R. (Jim) Callan said...

As always, great advice, Sunny. You are such a good mentor to so many of us. I can't be such a good mentor. But I'm sure I can do other things that will help build my platform. I'm speaking at some events. In the past, I only did that when someone invited me. For 2013, I'll be more proactive. I think that is the word we need to add to platform -- proactive.

marta chausée said...

As someone just starting out, it can seem a little daunting, but posts like yours and comments from your readers give me courage.

i want people to like me and my book. I want them to buy my book. The publisher and I are going to go forward successfully TOGETHER. it's exciting to watch us build something together.

Marta Chausee

Sunny Frazier said...

Rob and Thelma,
Yes, this is above all, a people business. I think sometimes people lose sight of that. With the Internet, we have the opportunity to reach a vast number of people and hopefully influence them in some way.

Many of you have heard versions of my thoughts on various posts. You have to understand, I'm constantly examining my ideas, trying them out with my own work. This is a fast-moving industry and it's important to stay on top of changes.

Patrick Linder said...

Thanks for the post, Sunny. I like to think of platform as "community." It's a subtle shift, but an important one: platform sounds more standoffish, remote, and technical; becoming part of and building a community around your writing has a different feel. And feels less intimidating too. Even better, writers are often very supportive of one another--we all know what it's like to write alone, worry alone, edit alone. It's easy to bond and talk about similar experiences. So, as I put together my marketing plans, participating in and building "communities," rather than a platform, is central to 2013.

Terry Ambrose said...

Good post, Sunny. And I think your last comment sums it up nicely. This is a changing business and what works today may not work tomorrow. Platform can be a difficult concept to wrap your head around. It took me a long time to "get it" and even when I did, it was even harder to gain some momentum. No doubt, it's a tough business.

WS Gager said...

Platform is something that takes constant attention. Good post about the ins and outs of building it.
Wendy
W.S. Gager on Writing

Cora said...

Always good advice, Sunny. I agree that being a successful writer is being open to change.' This business is constantly in flux. It may not have been so when writer's wrote in pen and ink, but we have moved into the instant information age and must be open to change and revisiting our beliefs and habits in order to stay current. Good article.

Sunny Frazier said...

Someone's going to tweet this, right?Cora, are you listening>>>

Charles Gramlich said...

I bought my original platform at Walmart but it fell apart pretty quickly. Now I'm looking at moving up to Home Depot for my next one.

I don't really know what platform is either, and it's particularly hard if you write in a variety of genres and fields.

Julie Luek said...

I feel like this article needs an "Amen Sistah!" We can't hear it often enough how important it is to create a brand with WHO we are. If we're compelling, it sure helps make our product attractive.

Radine Trees Nehring said...

Great information, Sunny. And good for all of us because even the best promoter can find his/her platform a bit shaky at times!
Radine @ http://www.RadinesBooks.com

john M. Daniel said...

Sunny, you're a great coach, and a great cheer-leader. Thanks for all you do!

Sunny Frazier said...

Charles, your platform must have been made in China!

You are your platform, no matter what the genre. It's getting your presence out there to the public and becoming a valuable asset to a publisher.

Augie said...

Sunny, thank you for this valuable information. To "Platform" is the answer. We all have to start someplace and knowing one self is the key to selling our work.

Great work as usual. Augie

Liane Spicer said...

Sunny, every time I feel the need of a kick in the pants you deliver one. Thanks for reminding me why we do what we do. Too often we begrudge the time we spend on platform building because we could be doing other things--like writing. The reality is that we can't avoid the promo part of this job, so we might as well learn to enjoy it.

Wonder how Hemmingway would have handled Facebook...

Aaron Roark said...

This is all well and good, but an author who does all this will have little time left to actually write.l

Sunny Frazier said...

And, what is the point of writing if nobody knows your work is out there?

Plus, any savvy publisher is going to be looking for your platform. Authors have to come to the table prepared. Even if you self-pub, you are going to have to market. Too late to start learning the process and picking up a fan base after your book is out.

Of course, if the objective is not to make money, keep writing and ignore platform building.