One of the things I struggled with the most during my in-house publishing house days was the number of clever, well-written non-fiction book proposals that I had to throw into the reject pile. As a bookworm and a writer, this killed me. The reason these proposals never made it anywhere can be summed up in a single word that, to this day, makes me cringe: Platform.
More than a decade later and I still spend a lot of time chatting with authors and agents about platform. Like it or not, it’s a fact of life in this business.
So what is a platform and why does it matter? Think of it like this: At the end of the day—much as book nerds like me hate to admit it—publishing is a business, not a labor of love (although it is in large part both from the author end). The publisher’s ultimate goal is to sell your book. And, of course, you want this too, even if you have other goals besides that.
Gauging the potential success of a book isn’t a science, but one of the big predictors publishing houses rely upon when making their selections is the author’s platform. How visible are you? How large is your social media reach? Do you have friends in high places or with a large social media following who will help you promote your book? Do you regularly appear in front of audiences, say, as a speaker? Do you have articles published?
Publishers look at all of these things and, combined, they are your platform.
I don’t love having this conversation with clients who come to me for proposal writing. I want to encourage and to promote creativity and big dreams. Writing a book and getting yourself out there is a brave endeavor, and I want to be a voice of support. But it’s also my job to be a voice of reason. And part of this is letting would-be authors know what to be prepared for and, if they’re not, what work needs to be done to get them to that point.
I do believe that, in every sector of life, anything is possible and, specifically, that getting a book published is an achievable goal. Sometimes it just takes some time and legwork up front to get to that point. And, in fact, I’ve come to be such a strong believer in this based on my years of experience that I won’t write a proposal until an author has built their platform to a certain degree. This is for the simple reason that I never want people to pay for a service that I know they’re not ready for.
In cases like this, I do send these writers off with some tips. They’re not rocket science, but they work:
- Build your social media following.
- Publish regularly, both on your blog/website and in the greater media. If you’re new to this, start small and build from there. You may not be published on goop right off the bat, but get some less high-profile articles under your belt, refine your craft, and you can get there.
- Get as big of a reach for these publications as you can, whether that’s building your own viral reach through social media or getting your writing in front of people who have the ability to get your voice out to a larger audience.
- Keep pointing your audience back to you. Lead them to your website by getting lots of valuable, high-impact information up there. Train them to keep coming back to you by (again) regularly posting new content.
- Build a newsletter mailing list (but don’t abuse it!).
- Actively seek out speaking engagements.
- Be consistent about all of this.
This may not be the most exciting work you’ve ever done (although, some come to find out that they love it). But what it is doing is setting you up for success and the ability to accomplish your Big Dream.