Getting Your Book Published: How to Build Your Platform by Nikki Van Noy

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.

Thank you, Bali. by Nikki Van Noy

As a freelancer, the idea of travel can be a bit loaded. For most of us, if we're not actively working, we're not getting new gigs or getting paid. It's awesome being your own boss, but one of the downsides is that it’s (generally) not like there’s someone there to pick up your slack when you don't clock in for the day. Even though vacation, downtime, and exploration are unquestionably healthy things to do, it’s nonetheless a bit more of a stretch for us self-employed types.

Last week, I bit the bullet and went to Bali. It’s one of those places that’s been on my bucket list for pretty much as long as I can remember. When I had the opportunity to go there on a “workcation” with a group called Hello Adventure, I couldn’t resist. It was my perfect scenario: creative workshops, yoga up for offer, plenty of time to be creative, and, well, Bali. With just two weeks’ notice, I went on overdrive to finish up some deadlines, corralled my mom on board, and we were off for the adventure of a lifetime.

I’m so grateful that we went. Bali is a largely Hindu island, so every morning my mom and I joined the locals in offering prayer baskets (canang sari). Throughout the day, we would see these baskets scattered around everywhere—on the streets, in cars, in businesses, on the beach. No matter what your religion is or is not, these gorgeous flower offerings were just great little pause point reminders to stop for a second and be grateful.

I woke up right before the sun broke every day to the sounds of chanting echoing throughout the land as owls and morning birds sang back and forth to each other, as if to hand over shifts as night gave way to day. We dashed in and out of the waves of the warm ocean water as incense wafted over to us from the temples on the beachside; monkeys climbed all over us at the Sacred Monkey Forest in Ubud; we wandered through traditional Balinese village houses (gorgeous!); we watched the sun set over the Tanah Lot water temple; we bartered at the markets; every day was full of yoga on this gorgeous teak platform, lined with prayer flags and surrounded by thick foliage—it was the best when it rained.

Every night, I returned to this incredible, authentic village house imported from Java that was nothing short of enchanted. It was made of beautiful hand-carved wood teak and dated back to the 1900s. That house was alive. Especially at night, it was as though all of the energy that had built up in it over the years seeped out to say hello. Perhaps I should have been scared, but it felt friendly … just very, very present.

My particular village house, Rumah Toer (rumah is Indonesian for "home") was named after Pramoedya Anata Toer, an Indonesian author. It was aptly named because everything about my temporary little teak-wooded corner of the world made me want to put pen to paper. I went through a struggle that I think many writers do between sitting down and writing and going out and living life to acquire things to write about. I did a little bit of both but, in the end, I gave in to Bali and all it had to offer. I’m glad I did because I now have inspiration for days.

As tough as it can be to get away as a freelancer, it’s something we should all do. It’s healthy, it’s inspiring, it’s a re-set. I’m now back with fresh eyes, ready to take on the world, and with the muse on my shoulder. 

You gotta flip the off switch. by Nikki Van Noy

When I first went freelance, I essentially never took a break. I worked long, long hours every day, seven days a week. Holidays meant nothing to me. I was a working machine. The truth is that I was happy to do it. Coming from the world of publishing, I was used to working long hours, so it just felt good to be dedicating those hours to my own cause. And what an incredible position I was in to be able to do what I loved ... in my pajamas, to boot!

The pace only picked up when I went from freelance writing and editing to writing my own books a couple of years later. For years, it was go, go, go. I was either on the road interviewing and gathering information or writing until all hours. I would quite literally stay up all night writing, arriving at Starbucks as they opened to continue writing there. 

After I finished my second book, I remember feeling very depleted and wondering why all I wanted to do was sleep. As I was discussing this lethargy with my friend M., I realized that it had literally been years since I'd had any time off. Of course I was experiencing a crash. 

I started becoming more mindful about my work: getting in yoga in the middle of the day for a re-set and taking at least a day off every week. As the years have gone by, I've tried to pull myself more and more into a regular five-day workweek. When I do this, I'm more efficient and more present for my clients. Of course, this isn't always possible with the pressure of deadlines, but it's a good general rule to abide by. 

Lately things have been busy (always a good problem to have), and I've been working with a lot of international clients, which means working late hours because of timezone differences. The other night, for the first time in several weeks, I had the opportunity to go to my favorite evening yoga class (my favorite time to do yoga) and meditation after. I was so relaxed that I decided not to check my email as I walked home around 9:45 that night. It was glorious.

I don't think it's a coincidence that I felt both physically and creatively rejuvenated the next day ... which better serves both me and my clients. So I'm getting back in the saddle with halting meetings at a normal-ish hour (for the most part), allowing myself to do the things that refresh me, whether that's meditation, yoga, or spending time with my husband and our farm of animals, and going on an electronic blackout between nighttime and morning.

This feels like an almost revolutionary, scary thing to admit in this day and age of constant connection. But the truth is, I think that we would all lead happier, more productive lives if we did this. If we gave ourselves the time to recharge and set aside time for those things that make us feel alive. And that, in turn, allows us to enjoy our work more and to be better at it. 

We're in this together! by Nikki Van Noy

I have had two great strokes of luck in my career as an author and freelance writer and editor, both of which sound innocuous, but have made all of the difference. The first one is the chance meeting I had with two other editorial assistants, M. and C., when we all started working at Random House at the beginning of our careers. We bonded like war veterans, and our friendship has lived long beyond our tenure at RH. In the ensuing years, we have all branched off into our own freelance editorial niches and personal writing projects. The second stroke of luck is the fact that one of my oldest and dearest friends from childhood, A., went on to become a freelance graphic designer and creative director. 

Why does this matter? It means that even though I've gone it alone in my writing career, I have a constant support system of like-minded creatives who understand where I'm coming from. Yes, I work in an office alone, but I can call any of these three at any time (and in some cases many times in a day) to kick around ideas, ask procedural questions, or get a read on my current project. This off-the-cuff think tank has been invaluable to me, both logistically and emotionally. 

I often hear from creatives that they have experienced jealousy and competition among their peers. This is always somewhat confusing and sad to me. The beauty of being creative is that it's a signature thing. There will always be other creative people--and, yes, sometimes you will be in competition with them for certain gigs--but no one else will ever be you, with your voice, your brain, and your way of viewing the world. It may sound trite, but I truly believe we all win when we support one another. Creativity multiplies when we combine forces, whether that's in conversation or in craft. At the end of the day, if you work hard and continue to hone your craft and stay passionate, the projects that are meant to come to you will. And those that are better served by someone else will land with that other person (and, let's be honest, you'll be lucky they did!). 

I'm sharing this because that's what I want this blog to be: a voice of solidarity for those writers, editors, and current and would-be authors out there. I will offer some tips that have worked for me and some insight into my own experiences. But also know that just because something works for me, it doesn't mean it will work for you. I think one of the most awesome benefits of being a creative is that we get to go through this process of discovery, figuring out what works for us and what doesn't. And, so often, figuring out what doesn't work for us is an integral step along the way to figuring out what does.

I'm so excited to start this discussion, and I'd love to hear your feedback moving forward. Always feel free to leave  a comment or drop me an email!