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What’s an author platform? Part 1

Frequent references to “platform” in politics, beauty pageants, beds, and shoes can confuse the author struggling to understand how that concept applies to book publishing.

In politics and beauty pageants, your platform is a message or goal – “We have got to get more people working!” or “Stop bullying in schools.”

With beds and shoes, it’s about height.

But for authors, “platform” is the word the publishing industry uses to describe your built-in sales network. Who is waiting to buy your book as soon as it’s available? What’s your fan base or following? A publisher might ask, “How many books are we guaranteed to sell because of the author’s platform?”

Is “author platform” a Catch 22?

Sometimes the need for a platform feels like a Catch 22 – you’re expected to enjoy a certain level of celebrity status in your niche to get a traditional book contract, and yet, getting that status can be difficult without a book as a credential.

Not too long ago, an agent told me that she loved my unique nonfiction book idea, but wouldn’t be able to get a publisher for it until I had done several high-profile national media interviews on the topic. Could I get on “The Today Show” based on just my topic knowledge and a handful of successful workshop presentations? Of course not – I needed “author of . . .” after my name to snag that contract-generating exposure.

The social media explosion makes it easier to work around that “you need a few big national media hits” obstacle, though. If you’ve got enough blog or YouTube channel subscribers, Twitter followers, and Facebook-fan-page-likers, your platform might be big enough without a steady stream of national media interviews.

How are you going to build your platform so that people are ready to buy your book when it’s published? Think of it like a stool – the more legs you have under the seat, the safer you feel when sitting on it. Tomorrow, I’ll share a list of 12 platform-building elements to consider.

(Editor’s note: This post was updated in June 2018.)

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  1. Sandy,
    We can always count on you for focused, relevant articles of value!
    I’m almost ashamed to admit that when I sent my first query to literary agents, several responded, asking me what my platform was. I had no idea what they were talking about…thank goodness for your workshop, Sandy, where I learned that valuable piece of information, along with many others that have helped me in promoting and marketing my book.
    I’m looking forward to the next post in this series and will share all of them.

  2. Thanks, Vivian! You’re not alone, believe me. I also think that platform is more important for self-published authors than for those going the conventional route.

    Let me know what you think of Part 2 when it goes up, OK?

  3. I am the self published author of a medieval fantasy “Jasmine and the Lamp of Spell” and I have been working diligently at developing an author’s platform. But this endeavor has proven far more difficult than I ever imagined. I have a website, Facebook page, Youtube video and a host of other efforts and I am still waiting for a bump in sales. Can you share with me the maic word. Thanks.

  4. Unfortunately, Leonard, there’s no magic word. [Sigh.}

    Platform relates more to the fans you have in place before the book comes out — people ready to buy your book when it becomes available. Your comment here suggests that these are tactics you implemented specifically to promote this book. Is that correct?

    Platform relates to more than one book — it supports your latest book plus the ones that came before it and those that will follow.

    How active is your Facebook page? How much do you engage with other authors in your genre? Have you done a virtual book tour with sites catering to your book’s audience? These and other tactics could help you sell your book (if people find the book’s concept appealing). Some book promotion tactics can help with platform building, but they’re mostly related to letting people know about your current title.

  5. I can’t believe in 5 years how my platform has built. I’m a speaker on “The Effect of Alcoholism on the Whole Family” after losing a husband and daughte from it.

    I’ve since teamed- up with another author and speaker, and more importantly, a recovering alcoholic. We’re reaching out for talks with the blend of AA and Al-Anon for our journey through alcohol abuse from both sides.

    Now I need important people to realize this.

  6. Congratulations on the platform success, Alberta, but I’m so sorry about what you’ve lost.

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