Your Author Platform: Do You Have What it Takes to Sell a Book?
In the publishing industry, the term “platform” refers to everything about you that helps sell your book, such as credentials, useful connections, and public presence. Next to writing ability, your platform is the most important selling point you have when approaching agents and publishers and also for selling your book as a self-publisher. Even a few key elements, referred to as “planks,” can improve your chance of success.
Sure, you’ve got a great idea for a nonfiction book, or you’ve written a gripping page-turner of a novel or memoir…but do you have what it takes to sell that book to a publisher, or to an audience?
Do you have…
a website or blog where people can find out more about you?
a means for interacting with your potential readers?
a mailing list and a way to capture contact information?
connections to influential figures or institutions in your field or genre?
relationships with booksellers or media outlets?
awards, contest wins, or prior publishing credits?
relevant credentials and/or demonstrated expertise in your subject area?
A nonfiction author’s background is critical for two reasons: History shows that potential readers will choose books by authors perceived as experts; it’s easier for credentialed authors to get media attention. Those credentials need not include an academic degree if your other planks are significant, but the right degree always helps. For example, if you’re writing about heartburn, being a gastroenterologist or a nutritionist is a strong advantage. If you aren’t a certified professional, getting one to write your introduction and endorse your book will help. Ultimately, your platform must illustrate that readers can trust you as an authority.
Marketing fiction, however, relies more on visibility than credentials, but the right creds could still be helpful. A degree in medieval history, for example, would be an advantage for the author of
a novel set in the Middle Ages. A master’s degree in creative writing or previous publishing credits and awards also helps you stand out. It means you may have connections to published authors who might provide endorsements. It also conveys a devotion to writing as a career, thus increasing the possibility that you’ll produce more than just one novel (in other words, that you’re a better long-term investment for a publisher). Finally, it gives you more opportunities to teach at universities and notable conferences, which further increases your visibility and opens venues for sales.
The more planks you have, the stronger your platform; a great platform takes a lot of guesswork out of an essentially risky process. Your platform lets publishers know that you understand book promotion, which is increasingly an author’s responsibility, and building one helps create the foundation you’ll need to promote and sell your book. Your platform also indicates where you can expect to gain some relatively effortless sales, or at least some valuable attention. And perhaps most importantly, a sturdy platform gives an indication of where your audience is—bigger audiences equal greater expected sales, which can get you a bigger advance. If no one’s heard of you, publishers may be more cautious—hence a smaller advance, if you get an offer at all.
Same deal for self-publishers, of course. Readers are more likely to buy books from people they’ve heard of, who have endorsements from people or organizations they’ve heard of, or whose bios reveal an appropriate level of expertise and experience. Just think of your own habits when you purchase a new book. What factors influence your decisions?
At this year’s Mid-Winter Conference West, I’ll be leading a workshop to help you identify the planks you already have in your platform and find ways to build on them for maximum success. Hope to see you there!
Allyson E. Machate is the chief editor, writer, and publishing consultant at Ambitious Enterprises and has worked with small and large book publishers, including Simon & Schuster, where she acquired and edited books. Ally loves using her insider knowledge of the publishing industry and more than fourteen years of experience to help others reach their publishing goals, whether it’s showing a writer how to improve his manuscript, get an agent, or self-publish, or ghostwriting a book to help an entrepreneur skyrocket her business platform to new levels. Grab Ally’s free white papers and learn more about her services at www.ambitiousenterprises.com and www.allymachate.com.