What the @#$% is a Platform?
Last Thursday, subscribers read about the actual, real, hard and fast numbers you need on social media to get a book deal. It’s actually instantaneous: editors and agents are constantly monitoring Twitter, and once your follower count rolls over to this specific number, ONLY REVEALED IN MY NEWSLETTER, then we knock on your door with a six-figure book deal.
If you couldn’t tell, I’m kidding. ButI do, in that last newsletter, give some ballpark numbers and other information about what turns my head when it comes to an author platform (and what doesn’t). (Upgrade here if you haven’t already!)
Anyway, today we’re going to rewind a bit and actually talk about WHAT a platform is (and isn’t) and why you need it. This stuff changes from genre to genre, so your platform is not going to be the same as your friend’s. And that’s ok! (Comparison is the their of joy!!! Don’t compare yourself to your friends, or anyone!!!!)
What is a platform?
Most people think that a platform is what proves to an agent or editor that they’re worthy, popular, or authoritative enough to write a book. That’s…. not really true. That is the result of a platform, sometimes, but that is not the goal of a platform. As subscribers already know, to publishers, a platform is there to sell books. When you get a book deal, you, your agent, and your publisher want you to use your platform to sell books. That’s about it.
So how do we sell books? Lots of ways, but two big ones are name recognition and what I call reason to buy. Think about how you bought your last book. Had you heard about the author (or topic) online or from a friend or in a review? That’s name recognition. Had you been browsing a store (online or off) and seen a cover or name that looked familiar, picked it up, and then bought it because someone said it was good? That’s name recognition (and the holy grail of marketing, word of mouth). Or, did you search or browse for a specific reason? Instant pot cookbook? Meditation? Funny cat book for your uncle’s birthday? Regency romance? That’s the reason to buy. It’s kinda obvious, but you’d be surprised how many books I am pitched that have no reason to buy. The generally interested reader dosen’t exist. The person who randomly buys a coffee table book (remember those?) because it’s pretty doesn’t exist. They buy those books because they follow that photographer on Instagram, because it makes a great graduation, mother’s day, Christmas gift. Especially in non-fiction, if I can’t pin point a realistic reason to buy, I can’t sell it to a publisher.
Fiction is driven by name recognition and genre (another word for topic). You’re more likely to buy a novel by someone you’ve heard of before, or if it’s in a genre you already like, or from word of mouth marketing. Platform comes into that, espeically with name recognition, but genre plays big role, too. Don’t you go looking for a new mystery, sometimes no matter who it’s by?
So how do you get name recognition, or a platform? By putting your name out there where your readers will find it. If your readers are primarily younger than 25, they probably aren’t on Facebook, so building a platform there won’t yield any useful results for selling a book. If you want to write an explainer of complicated geo-political intrigue (I have not idea what that means) than you’re going to gain recognition in the Economist, not Field and Stream. This also why your legal briefs and high school newspaper editorship is not part of your platform. You won’t get any book readers from that. You can’t harness those readers and tell them MY NEW BOOK IS OUT PLEASE BUY IT.
Depending on your genre, your platform could include some (note: NOT ALL) of these things: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, a newsletter like this one, publications in newspapers and magazines and on websites of significant readership, your personal blog of significant readership, TV appearances, other book publications related to your overall body of work, public appearances, teaching appointments (of significant enrollment) and more.
As an agent, I look at a variety of things that make up your platform and imagine how you could motivate those people to buy your book. How would you do it differently on YouTube vs a newsletter? What are those readers looking for from you on those different social media platforms? How will they interact with you and the book you want to sell? How will they recognize your name out in the world?
This is all why, as I have said before, the book can’t build the platform. If your platform is instrumental in selling your book to an agent or editor (and not all books need a platform, espeically fiction) then that has to be there from the jump. There’s no way around that. If you need a platform to sell your book, don’t wait. Start building it now. It takes time.
If you know someone who needs this information, please forward it to them, and encourage them to sign up and subscribe. Help me build my platform, y’all. I might have a book to sell you one day.
P.S. Subscribers: don’t forget to send me your questions for Q&A Thursday! Just reply to your last subscriber email and it’ll come right to my inbox.