Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Taming the Evil Monster! (Platform)


Guest Blogger: Dean Sault

Countless hours spent revising, editing and polishing your manuscript led to query letters and nerve-racking long waits for responses from those literary gargoyles that regulate admission to traditional publishing houses. In a twisted logic, quick rejections become desirable, providing relief from the mounting anxiety of waiting. Then, it happens! One of the literary agents requests a full manuscript reading and actually likes the story. You’re on cloud nine.

Evil lurks just around the corner, though. You and the agent begin talks about representation, and a contract seems imminent. Suddenly, your surging literary locomotive derails! The agent asks about your “platform.” She warns that publishers want to know your credentials. Without a platform, she claims, they’re not going to accept you as an author. Soaring expectations crash under the evil assault of the platform-monster. Why? Because you have no special platform. You’re commonplace. Perhaps, you’re a stay-at-home mom and wife, or maybe, a lifetime insurance broker who spent twenty years kissing customer asses in order to support the family’s needs.

What are you going to do? Hopes fade.

My commoner examples of a homemaker and insurance agent are not random choices. JK Rowling was a stay-at-home mom, on welfare no less, before she and Harry Potter became household names around the world. Tom Clancy was a boring insurance broker before The Hunt for Red October exploded into the book world. Neither author offered much “platform” for publishing companies to consider.

Let’s strip the frightening fangs from this platform-monster. When a publishing company, or literary agent, asks about your platform, what is the real question lurking behind those ominous, red-glowing eyes staring at you from the literary abyss? It really comes down to, “Can you sell books?” Pretty simple, huh? All platforms boil down to the business of selling books. Publishing companies balance potential for profit against money at risk. They are not philanthropic or not-for-profit agencies. Every aspect of an author’s platform must suggest, or prove by historic results, that the author is a good business gamble.

So, what happens if mythical author, Karen Stoddard, wrote the world’s best romance novel, but this is her first foray into the publishing industry? She has no sales history. She dropped out of college, got married and started a family. Her life experience revolves around PTA meetings, soccer cheering, shopping and wiping noses until her spoiled kids get over their colds. She feels she has no platform to offer an agent.

Is she right?

Depends. Let’s start with her “business” experience. She runs a family. That involves all kinds of valuable skills. When she dropped out of college, she had been a police science major and performed volunteer work as an intern in juvenile hall for extra class credit. PTA meetings forced her to stand up and be heard on school issues. What about leadership skills? Yes--leadership! Turns out, organizing that annual PTA Pancake Breakfast makes her an experienced community leader. Now, let’s re-visit her “platform.”

“Karen Stoddard, author of romance novel, Delinquent Love, offers a background in criminal justice with experience in community leadership. Her management skills include organization, scheduling and public speaking. She looks forward to using her life experience and public persona to actively market her books, both in person, and through active internet promotion.”

Sound better? I will admit I was tempted to add “skilled in hostage negotiations,” but I worried that she might have to explain that it meant negotiating with her 12-year-old son for the return of her 8-year-old daughter’s hidden Barbie doll. That might not quite fly if asked.

Here’s the good news. Everybody HAS a platform. It might take a bit of creativity to identify it, but all the publishing industry wants to know is, “Can you sell books?” It is that simple. And, if you don’t have a rich history of marketing-compatible experiences, then go make some. That’s right. You can build a platform over night. Join Toastmasters or volunteer as a teacher’s helper at school. Set up a volunteer-student daycare program at your local community college. Anything you do to show publishers that you ARE a public figure with community involvement will improve expectations of your book-selling potential.

You can also borrow prestige. I know a woman who writes serial-killer thrillers. She set up an internet-based, discussion group for writers in her genre. She attracted the attention of one of the most well known serial killer profilers who agreed to speak with the group on a regular basis. It’s a big deal! Her platform borrows prestige from this guy’s awesome reputation and obvious endorsement.

Have I defanged the platform monster? While your bio can make or break your marketability to publishing companies, if you understand their motivation, it is much easier to build an acceptable platform. Let’s see, how can I redefine cleaning toilets? I’ve got it! “Extensive knowledge of the Coriolis Effect in the northern hemisphere.” (For those who don’t know, flushed water in the northern hemisphere always circles clockwise. It’s called the Coriolis Effect.)

16 comments:

  1. This is something my publicist taught me from the very beginning of working with her three years ago and it's something I hammer on and feel it's easy to do, really. I've been passing this info along to MY writers at Sizzler so the newer ones can get a better understanding with your examples. Great article. I'll have to guest post here sometime!

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  2. Very nice post! Thanks so much for sharing. Certainly gets me thinking...

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  3. awesome post. This is the very thing that plagues me as an author, but luckily I'm already learning all the tricks just by experiencing them and reading great posts like this one. Thanks for the insight!

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  4. Good post! Looking at your strengths and what you already do, and then supplement that with what you can do--will do to get the job done. The biggest factor, I think (and it showed in the examples) is to step out and take a chance or two.

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  5. Wonderful information Dean...thank you for spreading your wealth of knowledge :)

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  6. Great post!! Very informative. Will send people to see this. Thanks so much!

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  7. This was both fun and informative. ;D I hadn't thought about expanding my yahoo group to include speakers on our topic, but now that you mention it. . . .

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  8. informational, funny, thought provoking and interesting. Thanks for sharing!

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  9. Very informative. I can totally relate being a first time author with two books under my belt anxiously seeking representation. In this vast and mind boggling literary world every little bit helps.
    Lisa

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  10. Very interesting post. I can totally relate being a first time author with two books under my belt anxiously seeking representation. I have worked with one of the best editors and my books are intriguing comercial fiction. In this crazy and vast literary world any little bit helps. So thanks for your thoughts and ideas.

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  11. Excellent post Dean- Informative and funny.

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  12. This post, along with Toby Neal's book I just read (Building an Author Platform That Can Launch Anything . . .) is really helping me to see components of "platform" that had escaped me. Thanks so much!

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  13. This post, along with the book I just read by Toby Neal (Building an Author Platform That Can Launch Anything . . .) is helping me grasp more clearly what a "platform" is. Thanks for a great piece of the puzzle. Information dissipates fear!

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  14. I've actually cleaned toilets in both hemispheres, so that's a good angle for me to play! Thanks!
    (Said cleaning being in on a ship in the Navy, which I never thought of as a platform builder before -- that's a very big body of readers to have an in with. Thanks, Marisa!)

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  15. Oops... I mean: Thanks, Dean!

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