I love turning to the last page of a book to see a picture of the author who wrote what I’m about to read. I want to know what they look like, where they live, even how many children or cats they have. Does she look like my idea of a romance author? (Nope, she looks like my 95 year old grandmother, whom I adore but don’t want to read about sex with!) Does he look like a historical fiction author? (Yes. I like the addition of the black-rimmed glasses – nice touch.)
Am I stereotyping? Yes. But do most of us judge a book by its cover? Yes.
Why does this matter? Most of us need that extra link. We subconsciously connect more deeply with the book in our hands when we feel we have some insight into who wrote it. That connection increases the chance that we’ll buy the book.
I come from a generation that still learned to type, albeit on an actual computer, not a typewriter. We didn’t have laptops. I remember learning what the Internet was and how to use it, and I found it a lot more difficult than the Dewey Decimal System. (You could find me between 800-899.) I had pen pals in different countries and wrote them actual letters with a pen before licking a stamp and making my way to the mailbox.
Technology is now omnipresent, media platforms are constantly growing, and social media can be accessed from something as small as a wristwatch. Authors today have unlimited opportunities to build relationships with their potential readers.
If you want to be traditionally published, it’s no longer enough to just send in a manuscript and hope for the best. Those days are loooong over. If you’d rather go the self-published route, you’re not going to find success just putting your book up on Amazon and waiting for the sales to come in.
You need a platform of your own. Everything you do, both on- and off-line to create a name and identity for yourself as a writer, is part of your platform. It’s about boosting your “brand,” your image, your selling points. It is about making yourself visible to potential readers. It’s about asking yourself a lot of questions. How do you plan to sell your books? What are your professional and personal connections? What outlets are you going to use?
Jane Friedman sums up a platform with this: It’s an ability to sell books because of who you are or who you can reach.
Your platform should be included in your submission package as part of your book proposal. This usually happens when you have been asked for a full manuscript, although some agents request it in their query submission. You might see it called “Author Platform,” “Marketing and Publicity,” or “Author Promotion.” Whatever its name, that agent wants to know what you, the writer, plan on doing to promote your book. They want to know what types of social media you use, how many followers you have, and your level of interaction; basically, where are your face and words being seen?
When you write your platform, it should be maximum five pages, especially for fiction. You need to detail how you are going to promote your book, why readers are going to want to buy it, what your plans are for marketing, and why a publisher should sign you, an unknown. What research have you done? What articles or blogs have you written, what magazines or online journals in your genre have you contributed to? Have you applied to any writing contests? Are you part of a writing group or union? What does your Twitter feed say about you? How have you built up suspense among your following about your book release? What is it about you that’s special or unique? This isn’t just about your book, anymore. It’s about you. It’s personal.
Sally Collins is a proposal writer who worked for HarperCollins. She’s often featured in top writing journals and blogs and is widely respected for her knowledge and experience. After a recent industry event, she reported that she heard one agent say he doesn’t get excited unless an author gets at least 50,000 hits a month on their website. Another agent told her a potential sign-up needs at least 1,000 Twitter followers and 10,000 email subscribers. The agents were probably exaggerating; it takes time and dedication to build these kinds of followers and there are many different approaches to do so to ensure that your followers are qualified and legitimate. But the fact remains (dare I say this?): size matters.
An agent wants to see that you have a plan for building your platform, are in the process of executing it, and are going to do the work to make you a valued partner, which means making the publisher money. They want to see your ideas for bringing your book to the attention of readers. They want clarity.
You might be thinking, “This doesn’t apply to me – I’m going to be rep’d by a traditional publisher and they’ll take care of that for me.” This is, to put it simply, delusional. Publishers don’t take any more risk than they have to with a first-time, unknown writer, and spending their money on marketing you is a risk they Do Not Take. They will do something, usually for the first month of your release. These techniques will include things like trade and online advertising, and advanced copies. But in most cases, after that first month, it’s in your hands. And that’s where your platform comes in. You’re going to want some numbers – followers, fans, email subscribers - to carry you through.
You might be thinking, “I have time. My book won’t be ready for another year. I can start then.” Well, as the poet Andrew Marvell so wisely wrote, “But at my back I always hear/Time’s wingèd chariot hurrying near;/And yonder all before us lie/Deserts of vast eternity.”
You might also be thinking, “I’m an introvert. I like the solitude and safety of expressing my ideas alone.” Or maybe, “I’m too old to do this stuff. I refuse.” Maybe you’re a technophobe, unsure of, or dismissive of, using technology’s latest advances to “get out there.” These attitudes need to go. If you’re uncomfortable with technology, there are people you can hire to build you a website, set you up a Facebook or Twitter account, and teach you how to use these things. I can even recommend someone reputable.
You might be thinking, “All of this social media stuff…is there nothing else I can do aside from it?” Yes! (But please don’t discount it – I promise you that it is very influential and important to your platform.) To find out how to build your platform sans social media…you’ll have to read next month’s blog!