Once upon a time, writers wrote books that publishers would then edit, design, lay out, proofread, print, promote, market, and distribute. Bookstores would then display and sell those books. The publisher would take a cut. The writer would earn some royalties. The beat would go on.
But as you have probably noticed, things have changed. Today’s writers are usually obligated by prospective agents and publishers to create a book proposal containing extensive research and covering everything from promotion to personality, marketing to media surveys, stats to analytics. And right smack in the middle of this necessary and essential book proposal lives the equally necessary and essential — though not always easily defined — author platform.
These days your platform can be among the most important factors in determining whether or not your book gets published. But what exactly is it?
Basically, the author platform is your visibility — as a writer and expert in the field you’re writing about — and why you, better than anyone else, can attract an audience and sell this book.
And yes, it’s also the people you know who can help make this happen.
Simple, right? (Okay, maybe not so simple.)
Elements of an Author Platform
It starts, of course, with the book and its intended audience. A platform is not something you devise; more art than science, it’s something that develops over time.
That said, consider these elements — or planks, if you will — of your platform, and be prepared to address the questions that accompany them:
- Expertise: Your Credentials. The most important plank. Can you demonstrate mastery over your subject matter? Why are you, more than anyone else, equipped to present your take on this subject?
- Contacts. Do you know people who have clout and visibility who believe in you and your book and will vouch for you, possibly help promote you, provide a blurb, enhance your credibility, and/or work on the project with you? This can be anyone you know personally or professionally with influence in your field or in the media. It can include peers to partner with to broaden your visibility. Or a powerful community you are connected to. It can even include a well-regarded agent who has confidence in you and your project and can convince a publisher to take a chance on you.
- Your Personality. Assuming you’re not a celeb (in which case you have a built-in platform and can leapfrog over most of this), you will be central to the brand you create. Can you connect with people via public speaking, appearances, seminars, lectures, workshops? Are you engaging or otherwise comfortable talking to people about the topic you’re passionate about?
- Existing Following. Who already knows about you, via readership, your website, blog, e-newsletter, mailing list, or podcast? What’s your footprint on Twitter or Facebook and the traffic and interaction they generate? Are you part of an organization that will not only promote your book but will buy copies of it? Can you demonstrate measurable traffic to your website, number of subscribers to your email newsletter, how many have read and/or commented on your blog or column? Have you published anything else? How did it do? Have you had any presence in print or TV or radio? Have you written a blog or a column?
- Ability to Execute. Can you deliver what you have promised? Can you create the necessary content, meet your deadlines, hire your own editor if necessary? In other words, can you write the danged book?! This may not be technically part of your platform or easy to convey in a book proposal but will figure greatly in an agent or publisher taking you on. More important, consider how you can demonstrate your commitment and determination to get the job done, especially if you have a limited track record.
You may not have all these planks covered, but few writers do at first. Take heart. Building a platform takes time and patience, and it’s a process best approached organically. What makes sense to you? What are your strengths? What are you comfortable with and what feels wholly strained and awkward? There’s a difference between pushing beyond your immediate comfort level and finding yourself forced and inauthentic. If it really doesn’t feel right, it may not be the right course for you to take.
You’re presumably writing your book about something you feel passionate about. So start by finding your community, those who share that commitment and interest, and build from there. Who’s your target audience, the people who’ll care about your subject and whose lives can be changed by it? Find ways to reach out to them, and much else will follow. Be as creative in building your platform as you are in writing and developing your book.
As publishing guru Jane Friedman says, “First and foremost, platform grows out of your body of work.” After that it’s a question of establishing relationships with people who will help you improve it and communicate it to others.
Your platform will thus build on what makes sense to you and your work. The work, remember, comes first — and out of it, the relationships that create a network of trusted connections so that your book will not simply see the light of day but go forth and multiply.
For more information on author platforms: