Sunday, March 25, 2018

What is: platform?

I’m in the process of querying a memoir. After about a dozen queries, I’ve had three bites for more: one came back an R&R, the other two were passes. One of those passes was on a partial, and the agent responded that she found the story “intriguing” and my voice “terrific” but was concerned about my lack of platform. When she initially requested the partial, she asked if I had an MFA. I do not (stupid law school…). Now, because I have written a coming-of-age memoir of the literary sort, I was a little surprised to hear her problem was my lack of platform. Did she really mean platform—as in expertise, blog followers, Oprah connections, etc.? Or do we think she meant, you have no pub credits, and no MFA? Is that, too, part of platform? It’s driving me nuts: What did she mean? And if she did mean blog followers, is this the norm for memoir??

Well, I don't know what she meant, but I do know what platform is.

Platform is how readers know about you NOW and will find out you have a new book. So yes, it is blog followers, or a huge following on Instagram, or a gazillion followers on your YouTube channel. It's not an MFA or a lot of previously published books. It IS a mailing list.

And it's helpful for any writer to have those but most of you won't.

So, if you don't have a huge-ass platform, what do you have? Hustle. And a list of places that will want to hear about your book, even if they don't know it now. That's called "where we will find readers for this book" in a proposal. (Memoir is not sold via proposal.)

A lot of times with history and biography, the platform is for the subject of the book, not the author. A book on World War Two for example will appeal to people who like that topic, even if they've never heard of you before.

Sure it helps if they have heard of you, but you've got to start somewhere.

Memoir is a lot harder unless you're talking about an event or time period that's already of interest. If you have an MFA the assumption is you've got access to teachers or fellow students or alums who will read and blurb your book.

That's not platform exactly, that's more like useful connections.

Pub credits are not platform in that they are not ways people will hear about your book but they are very useful for establishing that you're publishable, and reviewable. Someone who's been published in The New Yorker is pretty likely to get review attention.

You haven't begun to fully tap the number of agents who consider memoir, and you're getting a pretty good request rate.

Keep querying.





36 comments:

K White said...

Off topic (but still a bit about platform):

Congratulations, Janet, on this blog being named the 'Best of the Best' in the article "101 Best Websites for Writers" in the May/June issue of Writer's Digest.

As further proof that you deserve this honor in the same issue of the magazine see the column "Breaking In" where debut author Dervla McTiernan mentions she learned to write a query by reading this blog.

Janet, thank you for performing such a selfless service to the literary community.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Yee ha for Janet, where's my issue, WHERE'S MY ISSUE.

Regarding platform: that onus from which you propel yourself into the deep end of the shark pool.

Lotta' steps up, slippery but oh so exciting.
Good luck OP, sounds like you have something the fishes want.

Sharyn Ekbergh said...

I just finished Educated by Tara Westover.
wow.

Janet Reid said...

oh wow, I didn't know!
Thanks for the heads up.

But, this award is really for ALL OF US!
Without the astute, hilarioius, and sometimes chiding comments from the readers, this blog would just be shark-yammer.

So, congrats to YOU (plural) too!

I wonder if we can get Colin's FirstBorn to make celebratory cake??
*stares at train schedule to North Carolina*

Claire Bobrow said...

What K White said: thank you, Janet, and Congratulations!!

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Congratulations, your Majesty. Well-earned.

CynthiaMc said...

Congratulations, Janet!

Between things being extremely busy at work plus the new show, I'm reduced to catching up on weekends. I will be back.

Hugs to all.

Barbara Etlin said...

Big congrats!

Cecilia Ortiz Luna said...


Woo-hoo! Congrats Janet!

Kathy Joyce said...

OP, there's your platform: "I'm a regular on Janet Reid's excellent blog." Done!

Thanks for a superb blog, and congrats to Janet (and all).

Steve Stubbs said...

OP, the meaning is, she's not interested. That's like applying for a job and being told they won't hire you because you don't have six fingers on your left hand. No means no. It's probably best not to read any more into it than that.

If they double down and ask if you have an MFA, the correct response is, "I don't know what that is, but I was vaccinated in elementary school and I'm pretty sure I don't have it. If I do, it must be a mild degree. I don't have headaches or blurred vision."

You are competing with people who will claim degrees they don't have. I used to know a technician who masqueraded as an engineer. He showed me his "resume." It was filled with jobs he obviously never had, and it showed him getting a BSEE from the University of Oklahoma. I first met him the year he was supposed to be in Oklahoma, and he was working in Carrollton, Texas. He didn't fool anybody. He was so incompetent nobody needed to call the school and check out his claims.

John Davis Frain said...

Congratulations on what is not a surprise. Thanking your guests for showing up to the party is kind of you, Ms. Sharkey, but we know where the real thanks goes.

Regarding today's post, I think OP should be ecstatic about the success of her/his query. Those are great numbers. And since this is partially a numbers game (It's also a patience game and a talent game and a hustle game and a lot of other games rolled together), put the numbers in your favor: Keep querying.

(Ha! Maybe I should take a dose of that prescription. What we learn here when we open our minds!)

Keep writing, y'all. Great opportunities await.

Kitty said...

CONGRATS, Janet! Wow!

One Of Us Has To Go said...

OP, best of luck to you! Your request numbers seem to be great!! How encouraging for you. I'm envious ;).

Real-thanks to the Shark, I also learned how to write a query on the sharky blog, as well as here. Thank you so much and congrats, Janet!

Oh, and if there will be a chocolate cake celebration in North Carolina, could you schedule it for the second week of May, please ;) (I will hit the US East Coast by then, as part of my "Grand Return to Europe"... going all the way from Western Canada by coach, and boat, to the UK...).

So, see you there ;) 🍰 🎂.

Lisa Bodenheim said...

Congratulations, Janet!! And thank you so much for being the keeper of this blog (and QueryShark). I have learned so much at both places.

Great writerly support from the Shark herself and from this community here too.

Karen McCoy said...

Mucho congrats! I'm so glad this blog is getting the recognition it deserves.

Donnaeve said...

CONGRATS to you, dearest Shark Yammerer and to this special place we love! Even though I'm not commenting as often, I steer people here all. The. Time. I am always so happy I have a resource for those learning, or just wanting more information about publishing.

I point them to Query Shark too.

And to the OP, I think what you've experienced so far with a memoir is, as Janet said, a pretty good request rate. Now you know what to do to clarify that platform thingie. :>) Good luck!

MA Hudson said...

OP - that’s such a good success rate with your query, especially as memoir is supposed to be such a hard sell. In regards to platform, agh, that’s hard for the majority of us who aren’t celebrities or experts in our fields. You can only do what you can - be social on social media, build an email list, read ‘Your Book, Your Brand.’ All things I need to remind myself to do too!!

Sam Hawke said...

Congrats Your Sharkiness! Completely deserved.

One Of Us Has To Go said...

Since today's subject is about platform and being social, may I ask the dear Reider community for advice on something?

There was a comedy cartoon by an illustrator, working on books published by one of the big-five & represented by a great angency, with the wording "obsessive compulsive editing disorder support group" and a "funny" drawing.

I found this offensive, since OCD is an illness, and I sent two FRIENDLY tweets out, trying to educate them that editing a manuscript again and again is not equal OCD and that this association trivializes an illness that affects millions.

I didn't get a response from the responsible people, but got rather blocked by one.

I'm now considering to release (on my blog) one particular excerpt from my novel to show what a real compulsion looks like.
Am I going to shoot myself in both feet with this?

It really hurt me when I saw an agent, who I had just queried, liked that cartoon on Twitter, but she might just be innocently ignorant. But, I still need an agent...

I don't want to annoy any writer-friends but I also 'have OCD-friends'.

Nobody would laugh at cancer, would they?

Thank you for your advice (if you have any, of course 😘)!

Julie Weathers said...

OP,

I don't know if you realize it, but those are really good numbers. If a person is hitting that kind of rate, they are doing very well. It bodes well.

To platform, I despise Facebook. I keep it only to keep someone else getting my name like the last time a Chinese outfit hacked it to sell and spam God knows what all. I had emails blocked and all kinds of crap over those yahoos.

I have a twitter writer account I need to get active on, say something intelligent once in a while, and go dark on my personal twitter.

What does that leave? My blog. I'm going to have to promote it like a business, write interesting articles on a steady basis, and build up a following.

Julie Weathers said...

Miss Janet

I am utterly thrilled for you. It is so well deserved. I'll have to buy a copy. I'm surprised they didn't interview you. They should. We should make that happen.

Julie Weathers said...

Ha,while trying to find an article on the I had to read this article.

Directly under the article is a book on creating a platform. Not that I am advocating the book, but it just seemed strange given the topic today.

Steve Stubbs said...

Congratulations on well deserved recognition as having the #1 site for writers on the net. I already knew your blog was the best, of course, but it is gratifying to see that others have noted it as well. I am surprised Writer's Digest even bothered to acknowledge the other 100 sites for writers, since this one is clearly such an outler. Well, yes, they should acknowledge the #2 site, which is of course the Query Shark blog.

Much appreciation for the work you do. Keep blogging.

Kara Ringenbach said...

Janet, congratulations! What a well-deserved honor. I can't believe they didn't even notify you?!

OP, I wanted to add my 'congrats' to your request rate as well. That's a fantastic start for sure.

One Of Us Has To Go - I would read that. Let me know if you put it up. Not sure if you meant this, but I would NOT tag the agent or illustrator as that might come across as too assertive.
But if you want people (I mean the general public) to know what you're talking about, show them how it is.

AJ Blythe said...

It's wonderful to see your blog get the recognition we all know it deserves, dear Queen.

Beth Carpenter said...

Congratulations, Janet, and well deserved. It's usualy my first stop in the morning.

Colin Smith said...

I've got nothing much to add about platform, but I do want to add my CONGRATULATIONS to Janet for a well-deserved award!

FirstBorn's considering a red velvet cake to represent Ms. Shark's victims. Maybe served with kale ice-cream in honor of all those poor souls lost to Carkoon? ;)

One Of Us Has To Go said...

Kara Ringenbach, thank you so much!

Yes, I meant "relating" to the cartoon. Not the agents directly. But on the cartoon, the name of the illustrator is shown. Maybe I could crop it but I had still thought about tagging the picture itself, because without it, I couldn't make a point.

The point is trying to explain to people that laughing at and about OCD isn't funny for those who suffer. I personally don't suffer too much (ANYMORE!) but I used to A LOT, so I know exactly what it's like for those who (still) do.

Okay, I will let you know :). Thank you again. I won't tag the cartoon then, just saying something more in general like "please don't laugh unless it's about your own OCD" (I joke about my own but not others')

LynnRodz said...

Congrats, Janet, so well deserved both here and for QueryShark!

Btw, what is considered a good size list? (I have close to four thousand emails so far.)

Craig F said...

My Queen: Congrats again. Your blog continues to to float to the top. I understand because I am a much more sophisticated than I was when I began to read your work. I recommend it often.

OP: Blow that crap off. That agent was impressed but not quite enough. Maybe the next one.

>b: The first thing: That illustration was not aimed at you. Every case of OCD is different. Most people only think of it as something that makes you wash your hands every five minutes. It seems like something simple to most people. Since most of us are tetched in some way or another, it seems simpler than those things that affect us.

American TV hasn't helped because someone with a light case of OCD has often been comic relief, moving every napkin an eighth of an inch and using a ruler to make sure the wine glass is in the right spot.

They don't know that it can be completely debilitating. You have to learn that you can't cure ignorance. Learn to live as you were made and strive for what happiness you can find.

One Of Us Has To Go said...

Thanks Craig, but I don't have to learn what you suggested. Ignorance can be cured through education.

If people with mental illnesses don't raise their voices, ignorance will cause real disadvantage for them.

And black people would still have to find their happiness in the back of the bus...

morganhazelwood.com said...

Congrats Janet!

Hey, @Colin, who's invited to come for that cake?

Best of luck to the OP. Maybe just having a twitter/website/fb page and share a short snippet or two from either cut scenes or a different time period could help?

BJ Muntain said...

Sorry to come late to this. First:

Congratulations, Janet! Well deserved!

Second:

OP: It seems to me that the agent was asking, "Why should I care about this memoir?" How many people will read your memoir, and why? People would read Kim Kardashian's memoir because she's famous. Perhaps THAT AGENT thought that the topic wasn't enough to get people to read it, so wanted to know who you were, that people might read it. However, you seem to have enough other people interested, so don't worry about THAT AGENT.

Third:

One of Us and Craig: The problem here is that the term 'OCD' has come to mean, in ordinary culture, a tendency towards perfectionism, while in truth, it is not. One of Us is right to complain, because if people don't complain, readers get a wrong idea of what obsessive-compulsion disorder truly is. OCD is a debilitating anxiety disorder, not a need for perfectionsim. There is an Obsessive Personality Disorder, which is related to perfectionism, but is NOT the same thing as Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.

There is a lot of misinformation about different mental illnesses out there, and it's important that people understand what the different mental illnesses are. Recently, a study in the US showed that more than 50% of people think that those with depression are more dangerous to others than those without depression. The truth is that those with depression are usually only dangerous to themselves. If people believe that OCD is the same as perfectionism, it's not going to be treated as a debilitating illness.

One Of Us Has To Go said...

BJ Muntain, you echo my thoughts and attitude!!!!!!!!!

Thank you so much!

So glad we both know the earth is NOT flat.

Ginger Mollymarilyn said...

Congratulations, Janet, and thank you so much for your invaluable help with so many things writerly. We are all forever indebted to you.