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.