6 September, 2010

“If you build it, they will come…” That proves to be true about a baseball diamond carved out of a cornfield in Iowa in William Kinsella’s novel, SHOELESS JOE, which became FIELD OF DREAMS, the film. And it is equally true for authors about creating and sustaining a platform.

The word “platform” began rearing its head in publishing circles about a decade ago, and it is not going away. It is what you need to snag an agent, what you need to attract a publisher, and what you need to be published successfully.

So, just what is a platform? Why do you need it?

A platform is who you are, what makes you uniquely qualified to write about your subject, who you know, and the venues and means you have already established to reach your market.

Why do you need a platform? To cut through the noise–the noise in the culture. To stand out among the 150,000 new books published each year, in addition to the ones that are already established. Yup, it is a jungle out there. You are competing not only against books, but a myriad other choices reader’s have about how to spend their time: 200 tv channels, internet, ipod, etc.

In earlier days, the writer wrote, the publisher published. The publisher was an expert. Today, publishing is a partnership. A partnership between the author and the publisher, each of whom brings particular strengths to a common venture. The marketing and selling is a joint venture. That is why the more elevated your platform, the more appealing you are to an agent and to a publisher.

The elements:
*Who you are—your credentials, your affiliations, your expertise. If you are writing on a subject on which you are not a recognized expert, you can become the expert through the original research and point of view that you bring to the subject. You may be known locally, or to a particular constituency. You can also collaborate with or cite the experts who validate who you are and what you are writing about.
*Who you know. In the course of your schooling and your career, you may have come across people who have become well known in some way that can help you gain support for your work. You may have networks, organizations, associations.
*How to reach your market— First of all, you need to know who your market is, then establish a dialogue with your market, test your ideas.
How? Through your website (a statement of who you are), how you draw traffic to your site and use it to establish a relationship with potential readers, public speaking (from rotary clubs to national conferences), media experience, knowledge of associations, organizations, publications. In the age of social media, it is essential for an author to have a presence through a variety of tools, such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Use these tools as a means of not only communicating who you are and what your work is about, but also to connect with your audience. These are interactive media. For example, if you are on Twitter, don’t just try to gather followers—follow your followers and from time to time, comment on their tweets.
So…what impresses me as an agent? That wherever you are on the trajectory, you have a vision to carry yourself forward. If you are at A, how do you get to B? From B to C? In other words, however developed your platform, keep expanding it. Demonstrating to me (and to potential publishers) that you understand that this is part of the marketing effort will be persuasive.

Many prospective authors think that once they have sold their book, they can start building a platform. Wrong! The time to begin building a platform is now.

Make sure your query letter to an agent, and your book proposal, touches on all of these platform elements, in addition to selling us on your idea.