A Writer’s Platform – Want to Publish? Start Building Yours

by Bill Henderson

Let’s say you’ve written a novel or a memoir that you and others feel is ready for prime time. Be aware that the buzzword in publishing today is “platform.” As in “what’s your platform?”

How do I know? My agent told me.

As publishing struggles to remain profitable in a business environment never envisioned by their founders, editors (hence agents) need more and more assurance that the book you’ve brought to them will sell. This is your platform.

What exactly is a platform and how do you get one? Occupy a position of national importance. Barack Obama has a platform. Be a celebrity. Shaq O’Neil has a platform. Be a recognized expert. Paul Krugman has a platform.

The question “what’s your platform?” need hardly be asked of these guys. But what about the rest of us?

For a novelist, it would certainly help to be able to tell a prospective agent that, through a personal blog you’ve been writing for 5 years, you’ve accumulated a list of regular readers and commentators from all over the country, numbering in the hundreds.

Or several thousand Twitter followers.

Or hundreds of Facebook friends.

I can already hear most of the literary friends in my generation start to yawn. “Oh, the Internet again…” It’s been a minor tragedy for me that my oldest friends have almost no idea what I do “online” or why the hell I would waste my time doing it. For them, I’ll soon be posting about the dangers of being a Luddite, as that world shifts its informational and social locus toward the Web.

I will even print it out and snail mail it to them.

Many of them, of course, built their platforms in a previous world, and they are still as ever. But let’s face it: social media have become our new gathering places–and for writers, the simplest and surest (and cheapest) way to connect you with your readers. If you are 26 and not yet heard from, get busy.

Over the next few weeks I’ll be posting some basic platform-building tips. In the meantime, a quick platform-building reality check:

Do you have a blog? Do you have a Facebook account? A Twitter account? All three of these basic “planks” are free, relatively easy to use, and each is representitive of the most powerful media of social expression and communication in the history of the earth. Enough said for now.

{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

1 patrick June 2, 2009 at 12:18 pm

It can be frustrating to constantly prove your own existence, but that’s the name of the game. But, as you say, there are so many ways to do it for FREE now, why not put yourself out there?

2 Whitney June 11, 2009 at 1:53 pm

I look forward to reading more of your thoughts on establishing the writer’s platform. For the most part, I scribble in a journal to get my thoughts down, but I am also currently using my blog as a forum for sharing and experimenting with samples of my writing. Do you think that ultimately it gives too much away to share drafts from my writing process with others, or is it a constructive endeavor for beginning writers?

3 Bill Henderson June 11, 2009 at 3:37 pm

Platform is a huge topic. There’s a forest of resources, tools, howto knowledge out there, with new stuff hitting the internet on a daily basis. It’s fascinating, and I plan to be out there soon with my own particular slant–namely, how independent creative artists (especially novelists, of course) can tap into this resource-rich kudzu patch and pull together what they need to build their own AWESOME platforms.

As for sharing your draft material with blog readers, I’m of two minds. I’ve done it, and I continue to do it, but in a private way. If you’ve been published and already have some loyal readers, why not? But if you’re trying to get your first publication, I’d say there are two strategic points you want to keep in mind: (1) readers will care less about your posted work than they would if you were a “published author;” I can hear the howls of protest because I’m implying a certain snobbery, but it’s true. Having tried to promote my work both before and after I was published, I know this to be a fact. (2) Your goal then should be publication. (Even if you end up going the iUniverse route, believe it or not, your work will still take on some cachet simply by being between the covers of a real book.) In this situation, “best foot forward” is the rule. Be wary of posting anything you wouldn’t be confident of dropping on an agent’s desk marked FINAL.

4 Danielle Ingram July 2, 2009 at 8:19 am

As a creative writer with a passion for writing novels, it could be easy to get into thinking that you must write a novel, send it to hundreds of publishing houses and hopefully one of them will like it.

These days it does not have to be done like this, the internet is widely available to so many people meaning that at any one time hundreds of people could potentially be reading your literature.

5 Bill Henderson July 2, 2009 at 2:11 pm

True. One can even envision a day coming when fiction resembles today’s indie music scene, with singer-songwriters and bands everywhere being heard via the Internet, and the big labels wondering where their dominance went. And to those who say “but what about the big money?” I can tell you from experience there IS no big money, unless you manage to hit a rare vein of public acceptance–or else work a genre ingeniously and relentlessly. “But how could we live and work without major publication as a goal?” Ask any poet.

6 shilpa September 8, 2009 at 7:47 am

True. I am writing my first novel and I am quite wary of the rejections that would flow through. Building a platform definitely seems a must nowadays. However, imagine every writer doing the same thing for the same purpose, how long can one survive in that crowd where everyone wants to be followed? Agreed that we have cheaper options on internet to build a platform, but are there new ways to do it anymore? Wouldnt people move on to greener pastures?

7 Bill Henderson September 8, 2009 at 11:57 am

There are always new ways. Right now there are many social networks you’ve never heard of, small but doing fine. Worlds within worlds. Five years from now people will have moved on, but so will you. I’m not sure whether it’s the increased pace of change or being lost in a crowd that’s dismaying. There’s nothing new about change itself. As for survival, the point is, even though the noise level of platform activity is up, there are more ways than ever to build your own following online, more ways than ever to attract people to your writing–more ways to survive.

8 Jerry Lopper September 26, 2009 at 4:08 pm

I’m starting a new website exclusively for fiction writers to give an easy platform for those reluctant to blog/twitter/etc. and as an addition to those who are using other venues.

I’d like your approval to link to your blog, perhaps quoting some of your ideas, etc. I hope to hear from you.

9 Bill Henderson September 26, 2009 at 5:26 pm

That would be great, Jerry. I’ll email you.

10 Jill Pickle March 29, 2010 at 4:55 am

Thanks so much for the tips. I have 4 published books, but couldn’t figure out what a “Writers Platform” was. I wondered if it was who you are and what you stand for, or a place from where you speak. After reading your comments, I think it’s a little of both. Now I believe it has something to do with building your credibility, establishing yourself as an expert and getting your name out in the speaking world and on the internet.

I think I’m on the right track, with two websites, school vistits, several blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Myspace and Linked in.
Many Thanks!!

11 Bill Henderson March 29, 2010 at 5:14 pm

Glad to help, Jill. You seem to be up to speed, but here’s a quote from agent Noah Lukeman’s excellent book, How to Write a Great Query Letter:

“An author’s platform means the venues he already has in place to promote his book. For example a TV or radio show, or national column would be considered a platform. Someone who speaks frequently would be considered to have a platform, albeit a smaller one, as would someone with a fan base of 20,000 people.”

Lukeman is speaking mainly of nonfiction here, but any of the above would certainly help you get serious consideration with a new novel.

He was also writing before the massive growth of the internet as a buzz medium, so I would have to add: a healthy internet presence, especially on social sites (you’re already there, I see).

12 cathy November 4, 2011 at 1:15 pm

Thx for your informative site. I have become a reclusive writer and that was a mistake. I will make a course correction, and build a platform.

13 sachin November 28, 2011 at 11:16 am

love this platform

14 José January 22, 2012 at 5:41 pm

I think that in this time of creativity and a globalized world, being great at what you do is not enough to succeed: you need a tribe to follow you. That’s what platform building is all about: show your work and engage and lead your tribe.

15 Bill Henderson January 23, 2012 at 10:33 am

I agree, but be sure to get to the point where you’re great at what you do. That is much harder than building a platform.

16 Dipika August 27, 2012 at 5:05 pm

Today something cool happened. I sold some zines. In real life, by walking into a bookstore I used to shop in when I was in high school.

I don’t know how this stuff happens, but it’s really amazing to live in the era that we do.

My first book launched a month ago, on my own Web site, with a tool called E-junkie that I read about at another writer’s site.

So far the best thing about this is knowing that there are people buying, reading, and responding to my memoir right NOW versus a year+ from now.

(Plus, I never agreed with what 9 out of 10 of my editors said. So it’s nice to not have to bother with them.)

Cheers!

17 Craig Brown February 4, 2013 at 12:16 pm

I went to the first ever Writer’s Digest Editor’s Intensive and heard about this platform issue. I found it hard to believe back then, but now I see that it really is necessary. Not fair, but necessary.
I have a facebook presence with lots of “friends” who are writers and illustrators. I also have a blog and podcast, but the interest in my writing has not taken off.
I’m getting pressure from family to just self publish, but I fear that would be the kiss of death for my writing career.

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