Thursday, October 08, 2015


The first draft of my nonfiction history of Topic is complete and there is an interest in Topic from a few literary agents. But most agents say that a platform is a must, and I don't have one.
While I know the Topic well, I don't have a blog for it and don't do public speaking about it. Just last week a literary agent told that she is really like to represent it but without a platform she can't submit it to editors.
So in my new queries I write something like this: My current platform is Twitter and Facebook. With my twitter account I chat about Topic, while mentioning that I write a book about it. On Facebook I make comments on relevant pages for Topic, that include references from my book. Every time a few people like it. Once my book is on its way to publication, I will increase significantly my activity on Twitter and Facebook talking about Topic with references to my book. I don't plan to create a blog and bring people to it. (I am not sure that Twitter and Facebook are an effective platform to market a book but I need to show that I have some platform ).

What problems do you see in writing the above in my queries. Thanks.

Well, there aren't any problems with writing that in your query. It doesn't solve the problem though. You don't have any platform, and platform is essential for most non-fiction.

Platform is two fold. Platform is the answer to "how do people know about you NOW?" and "why are you the person to write this book?"

Let's look at both answers.

How people know about you now is a way for editors to measure how much interest there will be in your book. If people don't know you, why would they buy your book? Some topics come with platform built in: if you write about your stint as a hair and makeup consultant for the NY Yankees, the Yankees are known, and so your topic has some built in platform.

More abstract topics like ideas and analysis of history, not so much.

The other question, Why are you the person to write this book, covers credentials and expertise rather than visibility.  If you're the doctor who has documented success in achieving thinner thighs in thirty days, well, people will be interested, even if you practice in Either, Oregon.

If you're talking about an abstract topic like an idea or an analysis of history or historical event, you need to come equipped with some serious academic credentials starting with a Ph.D and a fistful of research on the topic.

The only exception to this is memoir. If you're writing your memoir, you are by default the expert. Thus someone wanting to write about their time in an Irish convent doesn't need a degree in theology or Irish history. They just need a compelling thesis statement and a good story.

Essentially platform is: who are you and why should anyone pay attention to you. The answer is NOT "cause the topic is interesting."

Publishers will be asking someone to part with $27.99 for a hardcover, so they are VERY motivated to make sure the answer to the question is "cause this author is a recognized expert, and she's got some interesting ideas, and she's not a whack job who thinks the sun rotates around the earth."

But, you need this only if you intend to submit your work to a publisher.
If you feel strongly about your topic, and you can't get over this hurdle, there are ways now to publish your work yourself and do exactly what you described: talk about your book on blogs and social media.

A book with a major publisher requires a more robust marketing plan however. Those marketing plans often hinge on reviews in trade journals. Trade journals pay close attention to who is writing the book. Reviewers have to winnow down the books they receive for review by 100:1 and platform is one of the ways they do it. They do that because a book without platform from author or topic isn't as attractive to readers/buyers as a one with platform.

Without trade reviews, it's hard to sell to libraries, and there's not much buzz to spin to get the attention of other review sites.

There's a reason agents tell you that you need platform: it's almost impossible to sell non-fiction without it.


KariV said...


KariV said...

Yay!!! I guess there is something redeeming about being woken up by a cockroach in my bed at 5 am!

Great answer!!! It's nice to nail down some specifics on what platform is. Good luck building it OP!

nightsmusic said...

Clearest example yet of what 'platform' is and why I don't necessarily think it's the most-important-thing for my genre.


E.M. Goldsmith said...

Day 2 of fever so apologize if my comments are incoherent. I don't write non-fiction but I read it, and I do check out authors to determine their expertise. I recently read Lynne Olson's Citizens of London. She's written several books that involve the British and American journalists serving in UK. She is a journalist as is her husband. Her books are flat out brilliant, but I imagine, to get them published, credentials were required. Anyhow, you must develop a platform for non-fiction. What the queen says is simple common sense in order to establish credibility with the readers.

Damn this kale tonic is not helping at all. Flu on Carkoon is the worst.

DLM said...

This is exactly why I get into debates with my brother. He sez to me, he sez: YOU ARE AN HISTORIAN (no he doesn't, he says I'm A historian, we're Americans) - and I say, "NO I AM NOT" because, as extensive as my study and research have been in an awful lot of subjects, many having nothing to do with my novels, there has been no discipline involved, no *course* (they call 'em that for a reason, kids), no goals other than gratification, and no testing of my knowledge nor expertise. I blog about some of the things I study or analyze or even question, and some of my readers accuse me of writing intelligently, but none of this is platform for me to graduate (har) from saying "I am a historical fiction author" to saying "I am a historian."

Or AN historian, even.

So it's a good thing I write novels, because all I need is for people to be interested in the story, and to know it exists. I don't need to prove I was the right person to write it, if it's written well and compellingly. And I don't need to prove I'm not a nutbar out of left field.

Indeed, being nutbars has historically (har) proven to be an asset for some authors ..

S.D.King said...

Just today two other blogs I follow talked about this same topic - and it is a topic at least weekly on each blog. Platform.

Allen Arnold (someone I admire in the publishing industry) said today as a guest blogger:

"Publishing houses – once acclaimed for being influencers of popular culture by finding new voices to introduce to readers – now look to popular culture to tell them whom to publish. That’s why the first question asked in acquisition meetings is almost always: “How many followers does this writer have on social media? What is the size of their tribe?”"

That pretty much sums it up. I am so glad that in he world of fiction, the story can trump popularity. I didn't want to fight to be popular in 8th grade and I don't want to do it now.

Popular? No, because I don't really care who "likes" me on a piece of electronic equipment.

But I have something to say. Something to write.

Laura Mary said...

Twitter and facebook are a place to start, but you would need to set up an 'author' page at the very least. Lots of writers (both fiction and non fiction) do this to separate their personal life from their audience.
For fiction writers its something to do after you get published (I'd feel like a right wally doing it now) but for non-fiction it's a place to start talking about yourself and your work. It gives all those people who 'like' your comments more to go on, and more importantly, it gives them a place to direct other people who may be interested.
Once you start posting on there everyday, a blog/website doesn't seem like such a challenge.
Start small and keep building - the rest will follow.

angie Brooksby-Arcangioli said...

Well, if Julie M. Weathers writes a book about bronco riding or horses or life in Texas I'll buy it, non-fiction or fiction.

And non of those subjects will ever be part of my life, unlike mothering or cooking or configuring the hellatious wordpress platform.

mythical one-eyed peace officer said...

So you are saying that a memoir writer...either a single volume or a collection of memoir essays....does not need a platform?

Jenz said...

Just to further clarify a point that seems to cause confusion--platform does not always mean popular blog or social media following. If the Ph.D historian Janet mentioned is widely known in their field and is a popular speaker at conferences, that's a platform. A friend of mine who wrote a few books about programming was known by other programmers. He didn't need to be known by the general public, the books weren't aimed at them.

But, trying to read between the lines here, it kind of sounds like the OP actually doesn't have much of a platform. And like E.M. said (and probably more people by the time I finish typing here), a lot of us check out a nonfiction author's expertise, and we expect them to have more credentials than "I know a lot about it."

Shaunna said...

Either, OR. Had to think about that one for a moment. Thanks for the surreptitious laugh this morning. :)

DLM said...

Shaunna, thank you for that - my wee and paltry brain could not puzzle out the Either mention ...

Reasons it is best for me never to claim any manner of expertise as my platform, right there.

Janice Grinyer said...

"The...The NY Yankees have a hair and makeup consultant?"


"Platform is the answer to "how do people know about you NOW?" and "why are you the person to write this book?"

JR can knock down a difficult question with one sentence. Her delivery plus her background compels me to visit her blog, and I will read her blog to the end of my days because of this. If she were someone else without the background, the information she provides would make me question it. I believe that is why platform is so important to the publishers; they want to have a non-fiction publication that will not have controversial issues after it is published?

Also, You can have thinner thighs in 30 days???

BJ Muntain said...

No, social media - by itself - is not a non-fiction platform. It's a networking tool. It's a way to get the message out there. With fiction, it's a way to garner interest in your work. But as Janet said, a non-fiction platform is not 'interest'. It's what you bring to the table.

Let's talk marketing, because that paragraph you're thinking of putting into your query letter is not platform. It's a very short marketing plan.

As I understand it, publishers don't want to know what you're going to do for marketing. They want to know what you are doing. Anyone can say, "I'm going to do this and that and soooo much of this" - but how does the publisher know that? And how does it help them now?

Regarding Twitter. 'Chatting' about a topic and mentioning you're writing a book about it isn't bad, but it's not going to build interest. In what way are you 'chatting'? And when you mention you're writing (or have written) a book, how do you keep their interest? A conversation on Twitter is ephemeral. If you don't have a blog or website to send people to, how will they keep up with your progress? How will they know if your book is published, even if they're interested enough to buy it?

If you do find people interested enough, though, get their e-mail addresses. Tell them you'll let them know when their book is published. Keep a list. Publishers like e-mail lists. NOTE: Do not send them anything besides what you told them you'd send them.

Now, Facebook - You said, "On Facebook I make comments on relevant pages for Topic, that include references from my book" and I cringed. If all you're doing is commenting on a post with some knowledge you've gleaned, then you're okay. If you mention your book in a comment - unless the post specifically asks "Is anyone writing a book on this?" - then you're not okay.

If you want people to follow you from Facebook, you need to set up your account so they can check you out and see you've written a book. You never try to sell a book in the comments of a Facebook post - that's a good way to get blocked.

All for a few 'likes'? Don't bother.
A) Likes on comments mean less than diddly-squat.
B) Likes on Facebook posts mean a bit more - but you've got to have a LOT of likes to get that post visible, let alone to prove a platform.

And then: "I don't plan to create a blog and bring people to it". There's a bit of a red flag. Why the heck not? It's the one form of social media that could possibly contribute to a non-fiction platform (though it would have to be a pretty famous blog to make up an entire non-fiction platform).

But let's go further: You're willing to go chat people up on Twitter and Facebook, but you're not willing to give your followers anything to sink their teeth into? You have to give your followers more than a tease here and there - you have to give them information, or they won't stick around.

Some people use an 80/20 rule: 80% of your social media posts must give something to your followers. Only 20% of your posts should be sales pitches. That's kind of an arbitrary number, though. Basically, you just want to give your followers a lot more than you ask of them. Because why should they follow you if they're not benefiting from it?

Social media does not a platform make - especially for non-fiction. And if you're going to use social media, use it correctly and smartly, or it's a waste of time.

BJ Muntain said...

Regarding Facebook fan pages: They're not as useful as they used to be. Facebook has rigged their algorithms to make them nearly useless. You have to make sure your fan page followers know how to choose to see everything you post, because Facebook sets fan page followers' settings to 'only what we want to show you' by default. That way, only about 20% of your followers will see it. If that. There are ways around that, though. Setting up a discussion group is far more useful. The default settings on groups is 'send all the notifications'. Not all Facebook users know the defaults, or how to change them. I know it's not hard, but not all users realize they need to know these things.

KD: A non-credentialled historian is still technically an historian... but an amateur one. And if you're an amateur anything and call yourself something that implies you're a credentialled whatever, you're going to land in hot water or at least wind up looking not as intelligent as you obviously are. :)

MO-E peace officer: As Janet's mentioned in other posts, a memoir is treated like fiction by the publishing industry. That is, you don't need a platform or a publishing proposal. You just need to write a good story. Now, if you've got some specialized experience spoken to in your memoir (such as being a mythical one-eyed peace officer), that could add interest to your story.

Panda in Chief said...

Damn good advice from the shark tank, once again!
Should I feel smug because I got the "Either, Oregon" joke instantly?

Pam Powell said...

Thanks, Janet!
Thanks BJ!

Lots of good information.

Panda - definitely you should feel smug. That's a great one Janet! I got it instantly but that's because I'm in Either, Oregon. Or Springfield, anyway. (And the yogurt shop that had the Simpsons characters out on the sidewalk just closed. Sad! We're still the official home of the Simpsons but we just don't see them as often. Doh!)

Unknown said...

I got Either, Or right away - but I didn't know it was a real place! I thought it was out there in the imaginary sea, possibly just east of Carkoon.

Some years ago I read a nice little blog about knitting. Cute, cosy, short little musings about the craft and the blogger's opinions on this and that, well-written and liberally sprinkled with pictures. I read the blog every day - and there was a new post 4-5 times a week - but I didn't know how many other people did, too. Then one day the blogger announced she had written a book - and that it was being published that day and click here to order it. And lo, a few weeks later the NYT bestseller list came out and she was on it. With her first book. And it was meditations on knitting. It can be done.

Theresa said...

Loved the Either, OR joke, too!

DLM, I appreciate your resistance to being called a/an historian. I'm particularly touchy about that because I am a PhDed historian and I write and publish history. But if I didn't have that credential and I still wrote about historical topics, I wouldn't call myself a historian. I would call myself a writer of historical books.(Would a writer who focused on health and medical topics call him/herself a doctor solely because of publications?) Nevertheless, writers with different specialties and different backgrounds can successfully build platforms in a variety of ways. With nonfiction, they have to show how and why they are the expert.

Anonymous said...

Hooray! I can tell people I'm an expert!

(Yeah, that's the first thing I got out of this blog post. I am an expert on me! Well, lucky me!)

It occurs to me to wonder, though, what the OP has against blogging? I know some people think it's a time suck and not worth it, but surely a non-fic writer must see that it's anything but? It's pretty unlikely that non-fic is going to flourish based on Twitter and FB alone- especially if, after you've interested a person, there's nowhere to direct them for more. I mean, at LEAST a website. If you're not a PhD, Person Of Importance, or Famous For Being Famous, you're going to need all the platform you can get. Why not engage with potential readers by blogging (or running an engaging, informative website) and by so doing practise your writing?

This is one of the reasons I LOVE writing fiction. I don't need a platform. Heck, if I wanted to, I could hide out completely and not engage on social media at all. I might not sell huge amounts of books, but I could do it. As it turns out, I've met a LOT of awesome people through FB, Twitter, and my blog, and I love the interaction. It's highly unlikely I would have sold as many books as I have, if I hadn't been on all three of these. It would at least have been a much more gradual increase.

So I guess what I'm saying is, you know what the problem is, OP. The agents have been telling you. Janet is telling you. What I got mostly from your questions is that you're hoping you DON'T have to do what you know you have to do. You need a platform. So build one. The tools are out there, you've just gotta pick 'em up and get to work.

Anonymous said...

Also, KariV, you have my deepest sympathy. There is nothing in the world that makes being woken by a cockroach in your bed at 5am worth while (Sorry, QOTKU, but a COCKROACH....)

Had enough of that sort of thing while growing up in QLD. Little buggers just don't die.

John Frain said...

Maybe that was Gregor Samsa you woke up in bed with KariV. Or Franz Kafka. Minimally, you could start a rumor.

Anonymous said...

Lol at John Frain

Maybe it was archy the cockroach. You'd know, cos he'd be reciting free verse in your ear instead of tapping it out letter by letter on your typewriter :D

Colin Smith said...

Just got back from Day 1 of Bouchercon. Yes, I met Her Magnificent Sharkliness! AND I met Terri Lynn Coop!! AANNDDD I met Patrick Lee!!! THE Patrick Lee!!!! And we had drinks together and laughed and... well, I'll write a blog post about it. But all these folks are as delightful in person as they are here. Moreso (and that is a word, Blogger), in fact!

Oh, and I met Alafair Burke. She was delightful too. :)

Anyway, on the topic. As Janet said, platform is all about why I should buy your book. If it's fiction, it's because I like your stories. So you don't need to prove you know anything. Just write good stories. For non-fiction, there has to be a reason why I would read YOU over someone else on the topic. What qualifies you to write on this, and what makes you a better read than some other, equally-qualified person? It could be that you have a huge social media following, or you've had a life experience or have a background that gives you a unique angle on the subject. But it's really as simple as that.

That's all from me for today, you'll be glad to know. I have a ton of books to read. Tomorrow, I hope to meet Donna...

Anonymous said...

It's kind of an odd line about calling someone a historian. Shelby Foote certainly had no degrees in history. I don't think he even graduated from college as he wasn't that concerned with the end result and more with the process of learning.

Still, it would be difficult to find many people who knew more about the Civil War and its players.

I don't know what the answer is, but it's a fact you need to be recognized to sell a non-fiction.

Angie, you are so sweet.

"Well, if Julie M. Weathers writes a book about bronco riding or horses or life in Texas I'll buy it, non-fiction or fiction."

I'm not sure how much demand there would be for a Tom Bodettesque Julie Weathers book.

AJ Blythe said...

Colin, very jealous of you at the moment. Not only those you've met today but I saw your agent appt as well! Plus just being there. One day...

WR, totally sympathetic about the cockroaches. A born and bred Qld I get it (one of the few benefits of the freezing ACT weather being no cockroaches).

JEN Garrett said...

Another way to attract an agent when you don't have a platform is to join up with someone who has a platform. For example, if your book has your name AND the name of an archivist with a Masters degree, then you'll bring to the table the excellent writing and the archivist will bring the credibility (and marketable platform). The downside is that the archivist gets a cut of the profits. If that bothers you, then consider self-publishing as Janet suggested.

Whether you self-publish or get an agent, you want to start building your readership. There are other ways to do it than a blog. How about contacting historical societies and museums, speaking at libraries, writing articles for historical periodicals, participating in reenactments, and getting to know college professors?