A commenter on my recent post about a querier who assumed I was stupid cause I didn't understand his explanation asked "what does how to reach the market (platform) mean?"
First, this applies ONLY to non-fiction. You do NOT need platform for a novel. It doesn't hurt if you can reach thousands of people, but when I consider novels for representation, platform isn't much of a factor and certainly not the first.
For some categories of non-fiction, platform is the FIRST factor. More than writing, almost more than a good concept, platform is what I look for. Platform is the reason Snooki has a novel and Madonna has a picture book (which is contrary to what I said in the paragraph above, but we're talking about you, not celebrities)--people know who they are already.
Platform is how people know you, and why they will pay attention to you. If I were to write a book about query letters my platform is a blog with X! readers/followers, and Y! Twitter followers. In other words, people already know I am an agent, and I can speak with authority on that topic.
Platform (as we see with Snooki and Madonna) is transferable. I can write a novel and use my platform to reach potential readers. There's less correlation though: readers of this blog aren't here for my deathless prose, they're here for insight on how the agent part of publishing actually works. (And the pictures of sharks of course.)
What platform is NOT: "lots of people need this book" "every person who has children will want to read this book" "I will go on Oprah."
All of those may be true, but they are NOT how people know you NOW.
There are some excellent resources on how to build platform.
GET KNOWN BEFORE THE BOOK DEAL by Christina Katz is first on my must-have list for authors.
You can start to build platform before you have a book. In fact, you should. You cannot tell me "I'll build a platform" if you're querying for non-fiction. You must have it in place. I will verify it's there before I reply to your query. A blog with 100 followers, and a Twitter feed with 500 isn't platform.
There are some exceptions to this: history comes to mind. If you're writing about a shipwreck in 1736, you won't need much platform. If you're writing true crime, you won't need much of a platform: the notoriety of the crime does that job.
You need platform when you're presenting yourself or your book as an authority on a topic. If you're going to write about politics, you must have platform. Everyone's got an opinion on political topics, who will pay attention to yours? (Answer: people who read your tweets and follow your blog and read your articles in The Atlantic.)
Does this help?
Platform is a sneaky thing.
Ask questions in the comment column. I'll try to answer.