What the heck is a platform? Writers in my classes ask this question regularly. Some are submitting their manuscripts and hear this back from agents they contact. Platform used to mean something to stand on, a stage. Now it means the place from which your book's message goes out into the world.
Platforms are built over time and eventually let you be visible to a wider readership. They let people see you and hear you above the crowd.
A very wonderful agent gave me some great advice.
When I began Your Book Starts Here, I sent her the proposal. She liked it, but she advised me that my platform was not strong enough. "Take some time," she said, "and get yourself known out there. Make what you offer different from what everyone else offers." She sketched out several steps for me during our phone conversation: start a blog, get your website more current and update it regularly, build a following by offering something really unique, get more visible on the Internet by writing guest articles for other sites. In other words, create a buzz.
I had to go back to the drawing board, or writing desk, to start this process. I knew that what I offered in my book-writing classes was unique. Not too many teachers focus on the ways to structure a nonfiction book, memoir, or novel. I began a list of writers who'd been in my classes over the years and had published their books. I also looked at my list of teaching colleagues who knew my work. I asked them to write down why my particular service, as teacher and writing coach, benefited them. I got flooded with responses.
When I looked over their comments, I was able to get a sense of what platform I could build. A platform begins with knowing what you offer. First step accomplished.
2. Ask your friends to write down some reasons you're unique, your book idea is unique, and you are a great all-around person, worthy of standing on a platform. Seriously. This is a great exercise to find out what is unique about what you offer.