“Platform” is a perennially buzzy term within the publishing industry. Particularly if you’re writing nonfiction and hope to be published by a traditional publisher: chances are you’re going to need a platform. It’s helpful (but not mandatory) for fiction too.
In this post I’m going to cover:
- What is an author platform?
- Which types of authors need a platform?
- What are publishers looking for in a platform?
- How should an author boost their platform?
What is an author platform?
To my knowledge there isn’t a standardized definition of “platform” and many people in the publishing industry use the term slightly differently.
But to me, platform boils down to two things: authority and eyeballs.
Publishers want to know that you are one of the best people in the entire world to be writing and promoting this book. Or better yet, THE best person.
- If you’re writing nonfiction, do you have credibility as one of the world’s foremost authorities on the topic you’re writing about?
- Do you have the ability to summon an audience to help promote the book?
If you assume that every single person in the entire world wants to write a book (which isn’t really an assumption, it’s basically true), are you in the top handful of people who could conceivably write about the topic and give it a marketing boost?
Which types of authors need a platform?
Platform is a necessity for many types of nonfiction, and is particularly essential for any kind of prescriptive nonfiction like self-help.
It’s not strictly necessary for fiction and memoirs and you don’t need publishing credits for a novel, but it really can’t hurt to have a platform.
Why? It’s harder than ever for publishers to make a splash with debut books, and, accordingly, they’re taking fewer chances. They rely a great deal on authors to help promote their books and generate sales.
If you arrive with a significant following, publishers will see it as a boost. When I wrote the Jacob Wonderbar series I didn’t have any publishing credits, but I did have a significant social media and blog following, and I do believe it helped.
What are publishers looking for in a platform?
At the end of the day, publishers are trying to sell books. And they’re looking for authors who can help them sell those books, whether because the authors inspire trust with potential readers or because the authors can help the publisher reach their audience.
Both authority and marketing ability can take many different forms, and there’s no standard formula. And in many ways, authority and eyeballs can be significantly intertwined.
Authority can be derived from academic credentials, journalistic subject matter expertise, first-hand experience… anything that would inspire a reader to trust your perspective.
You might be, for instance, a highly respected academic with no meaningful social media following, but publishers might see an ability to get you on talk shows or pitch Op-eds around publication time because you’re an expert in your field.
Marketing ability can mean celebrity, a significant blog or social media following, media access, or a highly connected personal network.
Authority and marketing can also blend together. For instance, Gwenyth Paltrow doesn’t have a PhD, but she has built a significant wellness platform with her company Goop, and has credibility with her audience.
Publishers are also looking for crystalized and quantified platforms: A crisp author bio that demonstrates your credentials, and specific numbers of followers if you’re citing a social media or newsletter audience.
How should an author boost their platform?
If you are writing a book in a genre that requires a platform and you desire traditional publication, you should be getting started on boosting your platform yesterday.
Get going. Don’t try to wait for the book or assume that a publisher will help you. If you don’t approach publishers with a platform there may not be a book entirely, or you might need to self-publish.
There’s no standard approach to boosting your authority and audience. But much like the advice I give authors about how to market a book, I’d highly recommend that you don’t try to do everything and instead hone in on two or three activities that you enjoy and are good at.
If you like blogging and social media, spend part of every week trying to boost that audience and capture long term followers.
If you like writing articles, you could test the thesis of your book and burnish your platform by placing an article or essay on your book topic in a national publication.
If you have media connections, you can try to pitch yourself as an expert for appearances.
If you build a significant platform before you pitch your book, you might even find that agents and publishers are the ones approaching you.
Need help with your book? I’m available for manuscript edits, query critiques, and coaching!
For my best advice, check out my guide to writing a novel (now available in audio) and my guide to publishing a book.
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Art: Stump Speaking by George Caleb Bingham