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The Fiction Author's Platform

"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.

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Comments
6 Comment count
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Since finding an agent myself

a platform is a "new" term, though I realize with each new foray into genres, I need one.  Thanks for posting this.  Very interesting, and slighlty upsetting, but useful to remember and think about.  Publishing is a business, and no one is going to publish us just for "art" or "story."

Jessica

Jessica Barksdale Inclan www.jessicabarksdaleinclan.com

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I prefer elevator shoes to a

I prefer elevator shoes to a platform.

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This is very helpful, Karen

I'm familiar with having to be "an expert" in nonfiction, but you remind me I have to be "an expert" in my fictional area too. People seem to want the story behind the story. I could say "ugh," but I'll just say (with my new can-do attitude) okay! And in goes the "platform" to the query and bio.

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I actually demonstated

This concept with a little skit I put together at my last reading. I had one "actor" don a black hat, and another "actor" don a white hat. The guy in the white hat had an attache case with a big label on it that said, "High Technology: Do Not Steal!" I then had my actors wrestling for possession of the attache case. I then explained that this is the premise of the normal technothriller. There are no limit to the possible stories, but the premise is the same.

Then I demonstrated my own version of the technothriller, as portrayed in my Plasma Dreams, Steel Stonehenge, and Vengeance is Mine. I have an attache case with a big question mark on it. I have three guys in white hats trying to get one of the other guys to accept the attache case.

THAT is my platform. I don't think anyone else is on it.

 

eric

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update re the fiction author's need for a platform -

I just returned from a trip to New York City, where I met with my editor, my publicist, the director of publicity, and the director of marketing to discuss marketing and promotional plans for my debut novel.

A comment the marketing director made after the meeting was particularly telling: "It's a pleasure to work with an author who has done so much to prepare her platform before publication."

There's that word again! Platform matters.

 

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Flat Form

In speaking of a writer's platform (see my blog post In Medias Ray), it is worth remembering that the word platform comes from Old French meaning "flat form". My business career was spent in marketing, and I can assure you that finding out what is unique about yourself and your work, is nothing more than product differientiation. Traditionally, publishers employed editors to recognize quality work, saleable work, and the merits--to receive market promotion--of each. Good editors nabbed enough saleable work to finance the imprint's operating budget and allow for the publication of enough quality work to maintain prestige for the house.

The curse of the Internet (there was robust electronic communication before the Web), has been to enchant Wall Street with the vision that great riches only flow from media companies. Naturally, publishing houses were taken over by Wharton nerds commissioned to transform them into media companies. The nerds have been successful. The transformation is complete. Media companies cry out for content and have forced writers into the role of mere content providers, burdened as well to build their platforms and hawk their wares. Does this perversion of the publishing business mean great success for the media companies? It's too early to tell. When all is content and content distribution, and writers have computers, the Internet and POD technology, who among the Wharton nerds can say that the Net Present Value of investment in media companies will be positive for much longer? Writers unite! We have nothing to lose but our platforms!