Thursday, July 26, 2007

The Definition of Platform

We hear the word all the time, but I realized today, while talking with an author, that we don’t always know what it means. As anyone familiar with nonfiction knows, a platform is critical to selling a book. I hear it all the time from publishers: “We’re looking for great new business/health/parenting/finance/spiritual/sex/etc. books, but of course the author has to have a really great platform.”

So what is a platform? And what’s enough and what isn’t?

To put it plainly, a platform means that you have a great deal of media exposure (related to the topic of your book) in national media outlets, including TV, radio, major newspapers. It could mean a Web site or blog with thousands of hits daily and tens of thousands (or hundreds of thousands) of hits yearly. It means speaking tours to hundreds of people every year. Not just one or two at your local library. It also means that you are an expert or the expert in your field. It basically means that you have the ability to sell thousands of books to an already built-in audience before the publisher even gets the book into stores.

But a platform goes beyond just who the author is. The book itself also has to have a platform. You could have a syndicated column in every major newspaper in the country, appear regularly on major television shows, and tour the country speaking to thousands each month and still not sell a book.

If your book sounds just like every other business/health/parenting/finance/spiritual/etc. that’s already been published or, even worse, sounds like every other business/health/parenting/finance/spiritual/etc. that’s already been published unsuccessfully, then you don’t have a shot at selling it to a major publisher. You need to make sure that you are going at what’s already been done (because let’s face it, almost everything has already been done) from a new direction. How can you make a book on parenting twins different? What’s your take on corporate hiring and firing that makes your book so special? Sometimes it’s in your delivery and sometimes it’s the material itself. Either way it has to be distinctly different from everything else that’s already out there. And let me tell you now, one chapter does not make a book distinct.

Now, to discredit all of what I just said. Books sell all the time by authors who have some platform, but not everything I described above. Usually they sell because the book itself is such a great idea, such a great new look at something that the publisher knows it will get the attention it needs to sell itself. In that case, though, the trick is that it can’t be too general, and it can’t be too much of a niche. It has to be a little of both.

So, next time you’re told that your platform isn’t big enough, hopefully you’ll have a better understanding of what that means.

Jessica

3 comments:

Mark Terry said...

I really don't have a feel for whether or not this is new, at least in the world of nonfiction, but the emphasis on it strikes me as being something all too common to publishing these days.

And that is: we're not really all that interested in whether or not you're a "writer" but whether or not you have a platform so we can sell the book. Hence, if you're an aging TV or movie actor who wants to write children's books, by all means do, we can get you on Good Morning, America.

That isn't to say those books might not be great, just that publishers are more open-minded about them. I noticed that actor Blair Underwood has come out with a mystery novel he co-wrote (or had ghosted, who knows?) and thought the same thing. Wonder if it's any good, huh. Guess it doesn't matter since he's already a celebrity.

Do you think there's more emphasis on this now or has it always been like this. (i.e., we can't turn the authors into celebrities, so we'll turn celebrities into authors)

Anonymous said...

Jessica said: It could mean a Website or blog with thousands of hits daily and tens of thousands (or hundreds of thousands) of hits yearly.

Love the blog and the blog post; but I just want to clarify something: unique visitors does not equal "hits."

A hit is generated by the number of files downloaded by a user's web browser (like the number of images). For example, for every unique user that visits this blog, that single person probably generates 10-15 hits. Simply by adding an image to your blog, you can increase your number of hits.

Sorry to sound like a tech geek, but often, writers assume they have "platform" because they are getting thousands of "hits" to their blog, when really, it's only a few hundred people or less.

Laura Kramarsky said...

Whoa...thanks, Jessica. I just posted on this subject on Tuesday expressing my own confusion and idea of the meaning of "platform" as it applies to fiction (for anyone interested: http://www.womenofmystery.net/2007/07/platform.html)

As usual, you answer my questions almost as soon as I formulate them, if not before!