Sunday, March 21, 2010

Building Your Platform--Key to Selling Your Manuscript in Today's Publishing Industry

Do you want to see your name (or your book's title) in lights someday? You may need to get a platform.

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.

Not all writers--including me--feel comfortable with the idea of a platform at first. Can't we just write? Can't we just create something wonderful with words? Do we have to stand out? Platforms smack of being called a leader, an expert, someone who knows whereof she speaks.

In my decades as a published author, I've sold lots of books without platforms. Books were based on my expertise (nonfiction) or my experience (memoir), and that was good enough. Three years ago, I sold my novel without any platform at all. The publisher fell in love with the story.

But things have changed. I'm editing my next book, Your Book Starts Here, to be published later this year. It has propelled me into the world of platforms.

Think of a Platform as a Solid Place for Your Book to Stand
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.

Next, I wanted to begin offering some of Your Book Starts Here's ideas for free--a test to see if people outside my classes would like what I offer, in terms of book-structuring methods and inspiration to keep going on the book journey. Two years ago, I began this blog. My idea was to give a weekly exercise that writers of all skill levels could try. Maybe they would tell others, if the exercises worked well for them or if they liked what I offered.

This blog (the one you're reading) has been pretty successful. Over 25,000 visitors and many weekly subscribers--not a runaway bestseller compared to some, but good enough to keep me encouraged. Second step accomplished.

I'm still working on other ideas--such as teaching my book-writing classes at more locations (this year I'll be offering workshops at the New Hampshire Writers' Project at University of New Hampshire, the Sharon Arts Center, and the Madeline Island School for the Arts, as a start). I've got a whiz kid web site person revamping my web site. I'm researching lots of other writing sites and would love your recommendations--what sites or e-newsletters on writing do you love and visit often?

What Does This Have to Do with Your Book Journey?
This week's exercise challenges you to stretch in a non-writing way. Is there anything in my experience above that might encourage you to take a small step toward building your own platform this week? Here are some ideas:

1. Start a blog. Really. Consider it. It's free. It'll give you practice at talking about your book-to-be. You can post weekly, ask a few friends to visit, and see what happens. Two great sites to check out are http://www.blogger.com/ and http://www.wordpress.com/.

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.

3. Read a book by Christina Katz called Get Known Before the Book Deal. She talks about platform. You can read an excerpt at http://www.writersdigest.com//article/get-known-excerpt.

4. Visit some author websites. What do they include? What might you include, if you had one of your own?