It wasn't all that long ago that you didn't need a platform for a novel. When I published my first book in the late 90s, William Morrow and Company assigned me a competent publicist who sent out press releases, advance copies and other promotional material. She arranged signings and a publicity tour and even snagged a placement on Oprah. She submitted my novel for awards and other recognition. It became a Barnes & Noble Great New Writers selection. The American Library Association chose it as one of the ten best books of that year for young adults. Literary Guild and Reader's Digest selected it for their programs. My novel sold to seven other countries and was optioned for film before it landed on the bookstore shelves.
But that was then and this is now. The digital age has transformed the publishing landscape. The New York companies are in upheaval. Writers, both new and established, are bypassing them and releasing their books online. The publishing world is a dizzying maze of opportunities and confusion.
These days, you need a platform, whether your book is fiction or nonfiction. But exactly what is a platform? It sounds as though you're a swimmer perched on the edge of a board ready to dive into murky waters. In many ways the comparison is apt because the definition of a platform can be a bit wobbly.
Essentially, it means you have to establish an audience that's targeted specifically for your book.
And how do you go about that?
First, you create unique and distinctive work, whether it's a book, a blog, a podcast, a video, a newsletter or any other form of communication that will appeal to others. Then you make friends and acquaintances in large numbers. You don't try to sell the your book or other work. You form a large network of people who share your interests. It's not an overnight activity, and it's not accomplished by yelling "Buy my book!" or "Look at me!" It's a quality effort over time that's more about what you can offer than what you expect to get.
The biggest venue, of course, is online networking through Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, blogs, podcasts and other social media. The internet has opened an entire world. If you're interested in the history of drive-in movie theaters, you can find people halfway across the globe who have that same interest. You can google almost any subject and find a blog about it.
Yes, networking online is time-consuming but think of all the people you can meet and how much you can learn in the process. I have a friend who's writing a book about Antarctica. She isn't just connecting with other writers online. She's meeting people who travel, who explore remote places, who are interested in extreme weather, who enjoy history and so on. By the time she finishes the manuscript, she'll have an entire audience of people who will love to read a fascinating, well-crafted book about the subject.
Some non-internet venues for meeting people include attending writing conferences, offering to speak to organizations and simply making yourself visible. You would be surprised by how many groups would welcome you. I spoke to the Rotary Club, the University Women's Club, writing workshops, college classes, book clubs and anyone else who would have me. Organizations are always looking for speakers.
I mailed out postcards to my former high school classmates (my publisher paid for the stamps). We'd recently had a reunion so I had up-to-date addresses. My book cover was on the front of the postcard, and on the back was information about the novel and a quote from a New York Times review. Because I had used the names of some of my classmates for my characters, I teasingly wrote, "Buy this book and see if you're in it." I think I got away with that blatant sales pitch because it was hard to resist. That's another tip: Make it fun.
One of the major benefits of publishing a book is meeting people and making friends. When you have a shared interest, whether it's Antarctica or the history of drive-in theaters, you'll have plenty to talk about.
And when you're pitching your novel to an agent or editor and she asks, "What's your platform?" you can confidently say, "Let me tell you about it."