As I started blogging this week, I realized there's a real secret to getting a book deal! And nobody ever talks about it. But it's the most important thing I learned on my book deals - and the most important thing you can do to make yourself more appealing to publishers.
And that is improving your PLATFORM!
But there's a big difference between how that term is used in traditional vs. self-publishing. If you're an indie author, 'platform' almost exclusively refers to your online presence. How many Twitter followers or Facebook friends you have, or how many people read your blog. This is good, don't get me wrong! This kind of platform is important to publishers too.
But when a publisher, agent or editor talks to you about your platform, they're referring to something other than your 'social media platform.' It's a term that predates hashtags and Instagram. And if you want a book deal, it's very important to know the difference. Because having a 'good platform' is probably the best thing you can do for your career.
In publishing, a platform is a 'hook.'
Not the 'hook' in your story! Although you need one of those too! What I'm talking about is an interesting 'hook' about you as a person that agents, editors and publishers can use to get people interested in reading your book.
Basically, a "platform" is something that will attract reviewers to write about you.
Because everyone at your publisher wants people to write about you and your book. That kind of publicity is what they need to start 'buzz' about your book. So a platform (or simply platform because it's called that in the biz too) is something that reviewers can build an article around. If there's nothing interesting to say about you as a writer, reviewers are less likely to write about your book itself.
There are lots of different kinds of platform.
So this is going to have to be a multi-post deal. But let's start with your job. That can be a great 'platform.' Let's say you've been practicing criminal law all your life and now you've written a legal thriller. There's a "fit" there - and probably lots of experience you'll have - that reviewers would be interested in. Any professional background that relates to your book will be helpful, especially if it's an interesting job.
Say you're a cop who's written a police procedural about a case you worked on.
Or a psychologist who's penned a psycho-drama about a client who's a serial killer. Or a professor who's written a romance about the forbidden love between a teacher and student. Not only does this personal experience give your novel more heft and authenticity ...
But you'll have something interesting to talk about during interviews.
That's platform. Even if a journalist simply writes a review or article about your book, your publicist will have included that interesting 'hook' about you in the press package. So a reviewer can build a story around that. But if there's nothing to say about you as a person, chances are reviewers will ignore your book - no matter how great it is. In fact, if you don't have a good platform,
...publishers probably won't be interested in you in the first place!
I know this is hard news to hear. But it's the truth, so we all might as well face it now. An average writer with a great platform is probably going to get a book deal more quickly than a great writer with an average platform. So if you've been having trouble landing an agent, it's probably because you haven't made yourself more appealing to them.
In very rare cases, being a first time writer – or making your "debut" – can be enough.
But usually only if you write literary fiction. In those cases, authors almost always have lots of letters after their names to garner them respect among the literati. An MFA in Creative Writing or a PhD in English - especially from a revered university - can be a 'platform.' And, in most cases, it's mandatory for literary novelists or intellectual non-fiction writers.
So if you want to be a literary writer, time to get to night school!
Non-fiction authors in general have a much easier time getting attention from publishers because these are generally books that relate to a person's expertise. An entrepreneur who writes a book about starting a new business. A cancer survivor who writes about how he pulled through the toughest challenge in his life.
Or a popular mommy-blogger with a million followers who cashes in on her posts.
All of those things - these personal stories about you - give you great platform. But generally, if you don’t have a platform, your book is going to get ignored by agents and publishers.
Now don't despair!
As an author, you can always improve your platform. And even without a great platform, miracles do happen. I had absolutely no platform, but I still got two book deals: with Simon & Schuster and St. Martin's Press!
My only claim to fame was that I'd been writing novels since I was ten. Which seemed like a pretty great achievement ... in my family.
But trust me, it's not very impressive in the publishing world.
Where everyone's been writing novels since they were ten ... while fighting poverty in developing nations, getting a PhD in English ... and sailing around the world with their spouse.
It's a sobering experience for a new author to step into the halls of a big New York publisher - with all these wild expectations of being 'A Published Author' - only to realize you're at the bottom of the barrel. But that's what happens!
Remember, getting a book deal might make your mom proud.
But don't expect that to impress anyone in the publishing world. That's just the entry fee. You have to do something else to stand out - before, during and after you sign your book deal!
So if you want a book deal some day ...
... just wrack your brain for ways to make yourself more marketable. Start developing hobbies and sidelines that relate to your book. Enter writing contests, work with a related charity, take night courses, start support groups for your cause. Blog your heart out. Get an interesting part-time job. Go back to school for your MFA! Sail around the world!
Just do something - anything - to support your book and give it a solid foundation – a 'platform' – to rest on. It'll make you more desirable and marketable as an author in the long run.
Because if you want a book deal, your platform is your biggest asset!
I have LOTS more to say about platform because there are many different kinds - and ideas that might help you improve yours. But it's a really important aspect of your whole package as an author, so it deserves some more attention and focus.
btw I think I finally have a 'platform.'
"I'm a traditional novelist who's gone indie on her third book!" ;) Hey, you work with what you've got. If you're into witches, style, sex, violence, spirituality, friendship, family or fate ... check it out!