"We keep hearing this phrase, 'What's the platform?' . . . Well, what it is is this: What does the author bring to the table? Talent is not enough. The number of slots open to fiction on a publisher's list is being reduced all the time." -- Literary agent Nat Sobel, quoted in Poets and Writers Magazine
Three years ago, when then-editor Marcela Landres visited the Backspace discussion forums for an online Q&A, she claimed the fiction author's platform was absolutely imperative. At the time, a number of our published authors objected, saying they didn't have one, and they still got published. Their thinking is understandable - an author wants to believe their novel sold because it was good.
But then we started looking more closely and realized one of them was a midwife who'd written a book that featured a midwife; another was an animal lover who'd written a novel about horses; another was a stay-at-home soccer mom who'd written a novel about - you guessed it.
Marcela put it honestly if somewhat bluntly: If she had to make a decision between two equally good novels, and one author had a platform and the other did not, she'd choose the author with the platform every time.
Why? Because an author's having a platform means the likelihood of the publisher selling many copies of that novel increases.
After a novel is written, it's all about sales. The agent has to convince potential editors that THIS book is different from all the rest. The acquiring editor has to convince the marketing committee and the editorial board that this book is the one on which they should take a chance. The publisher in turn has to convince the booksellers in order to get them to stock it; the booksellers have to convince their readers that THIS is the novel they should buy.
Before any of that can happen, the author has to sell themselves. It’s not as hard as it sounds - all it means is that you find out what makes you and your novel unique, and then work with it so that you too, “bring something to the table.”
Just as a real platform elevates a speaker above his audience, if fiction authors can find a way to make themselves stand out from the crowd, the odds of their fiction being picked up by a major publisher increase.
The fiction author's platform could be a unique subject matter that has mass appeal. They could be well-connected. They could show potential publishers early on that they're marketing savvy by including a marketing plan along with their novel.
I know aspiring authors don't like to think about the business side of things, and the idea of positioning themselves to look attractive to potential publishers turns them off. But if someone aspired to become an astronaut, they wouldn't think twice about doing everything required to get the job. If an author wants to get published, they need to understand and accept how the publishing business works, work with it, and turn it to their advantage.
Writing is art, but publishing is a business. Publishers need to make money on the books they buy, and doing that depends on choosing books with the potential to sell well. Particularly for a debut novelist who's just breaking in, the publisher need something to make that book stand out from the thousands of others - something that'll make the novel get noticed, and purchased - a platform.