Wednesday, November 02, 2011

More on platform

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.


Jill Kemerer said...

Excellent definition of platform and the differences between non-fiction and fiction. Thanks for the book recommendation--I haven't read Christina's book, but I'm going to change that!

Kitty said...

In other words, you wouldn't be interested if I wrote "How To Avoid Death Row," but you might be if Casey Anthony did.

Jared X said...

Actually, I do come to this blog for your deathless prose. The insights into the agent's role in the publishing world are gravy.

TC Avey said...

Wow, I've never heard it explained like this before. This helps a great deal! I have heard so much about platform and have been worried about mine but after reading your post I see it is not as important as I thought because I am writing fiction.
Thanks for helping to take some pressure off!

ryan field said...

"You can start to build platform before you have a book. In fact, you should."

I would guess this is a key factor. Not easy to do. But something that must be done first.

Colin Smith said...

"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."

Actually, I come for both. Perhaps being around great writers has rubbed off on you, but your blog is one of the most entertaining and insightful on my blog reader.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

You said you’d answer questions, here’s two; a bit specific but I’m feeling a little self-centered today.

Does opinion equal authority?

I am a published essay writer.
Do my essays, the impetus behind them, and what happened after publication, require a platform? I’m thinking that a following of more than two unmarried aunts in Omaha might do the trick. I’m joking; my aunts don’t live in Nebraska.

Seriously…if a platform is absent or not required is it then replaced by marketing?

gregkshipman said...

Actually I come here 'cause I got a crush on you (and the fact that I used the word 'crush' in a sentence without bodily harm implied means I'm 'old school')... howsoever; the second reason is you are a great read and I always learn something new (as opposed to learning something old???)

Now I'll never confuse non-fiction writer's platform with a hangman's platform or the platform on a research ship bobbing on the Arctic Ocean...

Ain't educating grand?

Elissa M said...

Excellent description of platform. I think writers often over-complicate things. We need to think like our intended audience.

If I wanted a book on how to train my horse, would I buy one by some guy who owns a horse, or would I be more interested in the book by the internationally known clinician who has a column in a major horse industry publication, a TV show, and regularly tours the country demonstrating his techniques? The first author may be just as knowledgeable as the second, but there's no way to know beforehand.

If I'm writing a book on how to train horses, I have to show agents/editors that I not only know what I'm writing about, lots of other people think I do, too.

I write fiction, so platform isn't an issue. It still helps to look at things from the buyer's angle. Whenever I go into a bookstore and see the thousands of selections before me, I completely understand why agents like query letters. Who reads the first three chapters of a book before buying it? (Not counting borrowed books you just loved and decided you needed your own copy.)

The "hoops" writers complain about on the way to publication make a lot more sense when seen from the other side.

JS said...

This is the best description of "platform" I've ever read. Would it be OK for me to link it over at Absolute Write as the start of a thread? Some of the newer writers there often ask about it. (I know you post over there yourself on occasion...)

Gary Corby said...

Oh well. There goes my plans for "Open Heart Surgery For Beginners".

JS said...

Gary Corby, you just keep writing your smart historical mysteries and leave the flim-flam to the flim-flammers!

Jeremy Myers said...

Do you have any "target platform numbers" for RSS and daily blog stats?

Laurel said...

@ Gary Corby: I just laughed so hard I'm going to go buy a book with "by Gary Corby" on it.

Totally serious.

Janet Reid said...

Laurel, may I suggest TWO books with "by Gary Corby on it!" IONIA SANCTION is coming soon, and you really want to start at the beginning of the story: PERICLES COMMISSION!

(I love both those books with unholy glee!)

Janet Reid said...

JS, yes, of course. I'm a big fan of Absolute Write and the community over there.

Janet Reid said...

Gary, I wonder if there is a "Heart Surgery for Dummies" or "Complete Idiots." I'll have to go look at the list they have of titles.

My favorite is still "How to Play the Piano for Dummies."

Loretta Ross said...

How about this one, Janet? I have a friend who, as a teenager in the mid fifties and early sixties, worked as a batboy (and scoreboard operator and all-around-gopher) for the New York Yankees. He still has tons of memorabilia and all kinds of great stories about things that happened on and off field. Assuming that I can get him to stop *talking* about writing a book about it and get him to actually sit down and *write* the damn thing, how much of a platform would he need before pitching something like that?

(Seriously, sometimes I just want to duct tape him to a chair and say, "look, just tell ME your stories and I'LL write it for you!")

Gary Corby said...

I imagine the legal department would have a for-real heart attack if you tried a title like that.

Thank you, JS and Laurel! You're both very kind.

Alyssa Everett said...

I was the clueless commenter who asked the "what does how to reach the market (platform) mean?" question after your previous post. Well, I'm clueless no longer. Thank you for providing such a clear and concise definition of platform.

Ruth Dupré said...

Thanks so much for this. It's a great definition.

What if the subject of the book has the platform? I'm working on a book with a friend of mine who's a famous musician in his country. He's got the recognition there, and we've even done an interview together-- there. I'm planning my platform here but of course the platform there is stronger than here and probably always will be.

Should I try to sell it there first because of his name recognition, or try for here first?

Mart Ramirez said...

AWESOME post! Thank you also for the book recommendation. JUst ordered it through Amazon

Steve Stubbs said...

Actually, my favorite title is THE COMPLETE IDIOT’S GUIDE TO BEING A GENIUS.

Your post got me to wondering how long it will be before novels require platform. Not that long ago any yahoo could get a non-fiction book published. Then publishers woke up. Plays and novels both sell because of the author’s name, which becomes a brand after awhile. Eleanor Porter’s name was used to sell books long after she was dead and presumably not writing anymore. I can see the day coming when you have to get on Oprah first, and THEN they will publish your – um – story.

Anonymous said...

HI Janet
Thanks for posting this. Although I had created a page on facebook for my non-fiction book idea (cookbook), as far as I can tell no one is subscribing to it, as well as the fact that I am not a "Celeberty chef".
So thinking of a platform in which I could have it marketed, although people may love cookbooks, there is still the factor that there are tons of cookbooks, as well as 'recipes' available online.
As for a fictional story. I can relate to what you mean, for if I write the story, based on its genre, again, it may or may not make the best-seller list. So therefore, I won't quit day job, that is if I had a day job.

thanks again and I do appreciate your tips.



Judith Gonda said...

Janet, I started reading your blogs for your sage advice and critical insight, but keep returning for the same reason I love some literary characters (wait, did I just call you a character?) and that is your voice, it is full of heart and humor. Taken together, a dynamite combo. Thanks for all the tips and your generous spirit.

Unknown said...

Janet - I agree that Christina Katz's book is a MUST READ for authors, whether fiction or non-fiction. I used her advice to set up my online presence, and I made a revision checklist from the book. Each quarter, I realign my "platform" to match my honed goals.

Thanks for this clarification about platform.

Anonymous said...

What kind of volume would be defined as a platform? My twitter has 12,000 followers, but my blog only gets about 2,000 hits per days. What is the goal someone should aim for his/her platform to be considered developed?