Here is some great information that literary agent, Rachel Gardner has graciously allowed me to share on my blog...
What is a platform?
Your platform refers to the means by which YOU will help sell your book by your presence in the media and/or the public sphere, or at least within the audience you hope to reach with your book.In non-fiction, publishers want to see what the author is already doing to get their message out there—before the book is published or even contracted. In fiction, they want to see that you know what it will take to begin building a platform once your book is contracted, and that you will be an active participant in the marketing of your book. You tell them this in your proposal.
Is platform different for fiction authors than it is for non-fiction authors?
For fiction, a large platform isn’t necessary to sell your book to a publisher. Helpful, but not necessary.
In non-fiction, it’s fast becoming the #1 consideration. In most cases, it’s necessary to have some type of platform before your book can sell to a publisher. The size of platform required depends on the book, the topic, and the publisher.
In what other ways do fiction and non-fiction platforms differ?
Non-fiction writers need to have a pretty good platform prior to selling the book to a publisher. Fiction authors need to be prepared to start building one after their book is contracted (if they haven’t already) by finding ways to increase their following and reader loyalty.
Author marketing efforts are proven to help sell non-fiction books. However in fiction, nobody is really clear whether author marketing efforts translate to significantly greater sales or not. The prevailing wisdom is that it certainly doesn’t hurt, and publishers will take every edge they can get. As my friend Jeff Gerke says, “As far as I can tell, no one has figured out how to promote a novel so well that jillions of people go buy it who wouldn't have otherwise. Even secular publishing doesn't really know how to promote fiction. Everybody just wants it to be a movie.”
A non-fiction platform can be much more targeted than that of most novelists, since it’s based on a particular topic, whether it be parenting, Christian life, marriage or whatever. Non-fiction authors can target publications, websites, radio shows (etc) that address their topic. Fiction readers are more difficult to categorize.
What if I have a non-fiction book idea but no platform?
I would strongly recommend you take the time and effort needed to begin building a platform (even if it takes a year or two...or more). Without a platform, no matter how good or helpful the book is, publishers are simply not giving good books the time of day (sorry to say). Your next option is to self publish and sell the books yourself, which many authors are having to do.
Is blogging considered a platform?
I think a blog is a good tool for those who enjoy it and have the time to maintain it. I believe it gets writers used to writing everyday and engaging audiences. It helps you learn what people respond to (and what bores them to death). And yes, it can definitely build your visibility on the web. It's a great way to begin capturing names and email addresses for that all-important database that publishers want you to have. However, a blog does not a platform make. See this post by Rob Eagar of Wildfire Marketing on the dangers of blogging.
I am overwhelmed and don’t even know where to start.
Whether you’re writing fiction or non-fiction, start with good website. Not just a blog. Get a professionally designed website that tells about you. Visit your favorite authors on the web to get ideas of what a good author site looks like.
Begin getting yourself used to speaking in public. Volunteer to teach a Bible study or Sunday school class, then move up to speaking in slightly larger venues such as a women’s luncheon. Join Toastmasters if you need to. Speaking experience is helpful for both fiction and non-fiction authors, since either way, you might eventually be doing radio interviews, book signings, and other events. You want to be ready.
Try to place articles in magazines, journals, newspapers, even if they’re just local. Again, this is helpful for both fiction and non. It helps prepare you for the realities of publishing, and it can even begin to create a small following for you.
Next week I'll post Rachel's entries on both fiction and non-fiction specific platforms.
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