In the past, when someone said you needed a platform for your book, they, first off, meant your nonfiction book. Only nonfiction books were required to have platforms. What it basically meant was that you, the author, were an expert on some subject others want to learn about.
Expert + important topic = platform.
Over the last few years, platform has come to mean more than that. It no longer is enough to be an expert on some subject people want to read about. You now have to have a built-in audience or a way to get publicity.
Expert + important topic + ready audience = platform.
The sad thing is this last part of the equation (the ready audience) has taken on great significance, so much so that it can be more important than the other two parts. That’s why you see so many celebrities writing books (or having them ghost written). It sometimes doesn’t matter they know no more on the subject than you; it doesn’t matter the subject is superficial. They have easy access to TV shows, radio, magazine and newspaper exposure, and hundreds of thousands of people who will buy the book based solely on their name, regardless of subject or even need.
You can have a platform without being a Hollywood celebrity, though you still need the platform part of the equation. Not the promise that if published you’re willing to make speeches, conduct workshops, appear on TV and radio, and do book tours. A platform needs to be in place prior to getting published, even prior to querying. Not what you would do in the future, but what access to publicity and book sales you already have in place. You are already a recognized expert; you’re already doing speeches and workshops; you have a blog visited by thousands every day; you have a following based on prior sales, your work, your newsletter, your mailing list; you have name recognition – the wider the better.
Another way the meaning of the term platform has morphed is that it now applies to fiction, as well as nonfiction. Agents and editors now look to see if fiction writers have a platform. They want good writing, a genre that will sell, and a new and interesting twist to the book – all the things they’ve always wanted. But now they also expect the author to have that third part of the equation – a ready-made audience. If you’re not a national celebrity then a local celebrity will do. If you’re not a celebrity, then you need to have already set up ways you can get yourself out there to sell your book. You’re already doing speeches and workshops, or you have an active, highly visited blog, or you are involved in so many organizations, groups, and activities that you can count on big sales. OR – you are so cute, young, and personable that the camera will love you and you can be made into a celebrity. OR – your book has a unique twist (that is anchored in you) that will make it easy to get publicity. For example, a heart-wrenching story with a fictionalized protagonist based on some new, highly reported event that involved you. What you can contribute to publicizing the book has taken on almost equal status with the subject of the book and your ability to write.
Good writing + unique, interesting topic or plot + ready audience = platform.
Agents will tell you they only care about the writing. They say they look at the pages and whether it hooks them. The hard truth is publishers – and agents – look at the bottom line – will this book sell.
So when you think of platform, imagine an actual platform in a room. You, the author/expert, are standing on that platform. You’re holding your book, ready to talk on this intriguing subject/ idea/plot. That used to be the platform.
Nowadays, you also have to imagine the audience you bring along with you. They’re up there on that platform with you. The bigger your audience, the bigger your platform. The bigger your platform, the more happy an agent or editor is going to be to see you, read you, sign you, buy you.
What are you doing to build your platform?
The late Helen Ginger (1952-2021) was an author, blogger, and the Coordinator of Story Circle Network's Editorial Services and writing coach. She was also a former mermaid. She taught public speaking as well as writing and marketing workshops. Helen was the author of Angel Sometimes, Dismembering the Past, and three books in TSTC Publishing’s TechCareers series.