"I've been frantically researching what it means to build an author's platform, what appears to be the key factor in breaking into the market these days...I'm starting to think publicly about my writing instead of privately."
That's from an email I recently received.
What is a platform?
It's the audience an author can bring to his or her work.
Now, some folks might argue with me about that definition--in fact, one woman did at Love Is Murder last year--but that's the best one I can devise, and it dovetailes my personal experience.
Let's break it down...
1. Why does that matter? Because every publisher has a limited and finite set of resources for promoting any book. So...if you already have an audience, the publisher knows a.) you have established yourself as a public person b.) you KNOW how to establish yourself as a public person c.) they don't have to do all the heavy lifting.
Quickly, why should a publisher care if you are a public persona rather than a private one? Probably because the publisher hopes to sell books. If you are comfortable in public settings, if you are willing to put yourself "out there," if you are socially adept, if you understand that being a public persona means being "on" even when you don't want to be "on," then you can handle the demands of being a public persona--and think about it, who would be a better bet to sell books? Someone who goes to a conference and sits on the edge of her bed clipping her toenails? Or someone who gets out there and makes friends? Duh. (You laugh, but the first activity was reported to me by a roomie of a would-be author. The would-be author said, "I don't like meeting people I don't know." Then why on earth spend the $$$ to go to a conference? Hello?)
2. How do you establish a platform? There are a million-zillion ways. Usually it starts with becoming a known expert or spokesperson in a topic. That means you might a.) give interviews to the media including bloggers b.) write articles c.) give presentations or teach a class d.) head up an organization.
3. What media can a person use to establish a platform? Of course, the one most young people will immediately consider is social networking. But here's an important question, "Just because all those people are your friend in Facebook, does it automatically translate that they will BUY your book?" The answer is MAYBE. Only time can tell, and you probably can't. That doesn't mean I'm discounting social networking, it simply means think hard about the network you are attracting.
4. How else can a person establish a platform? Here are some ways: a.) head up a group of like minds b.) start a blog or guest post on other people's blogs c.) write articles d.) write letters to the editor or comments on prominent bloggers' blogs e.) publish a book or ebook that's authoritative f.) start a special holiday like John Riddle did with his I Love to Write Day (brilliant idea!) g.) make industry contacts--which might mean going to trade shows or helping out at a booth h.) start a newsletter or electronic magazine (ezine) i.) write a column for a newspaper j.) give speeches k.) give talks on a subject l.) get quoted by other experts m.) do booksignings n.) meet booksellers o.) make friends with prominent people in your industry (not just contacts, but friends!) p.) serve on boards q.) closely related to "p.)" is volunteer.
Basically, we're back to the old idea of networking. Yes, it's simply good old networking dressed up in a fancy tuxedo.
But it works.
I came to Midnight Ink with a platform. Acquiring Editor Barbara Moore knew that. But since then, I've worked hard to build and extend that platform. Because platforms sell books. If you doubt that, check out Joe Konrath. He's a whiz at building his platform. I've seen him in action.