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.