Making Peace with Building Your Author Platform

A quick note about platform:

Being rejected based on your platform (or lack thereof) does not mean that the literary agent or the editor thinks your career path isn’t impressive, you’re not greatly respected in your field, that you’ve accomplished nothing, or that you do not have anything substantive to say.  They don’t even think you are lacking in talent, that you should keep your day job, or that there is no hope for you and your book in the wide world of publishing.

The reason that agents care so much about platform is because editors do.  And editors equate platform with potential book sales.  This makes sense, of course – if you have X number of fans who are already interacting with your content, then you will likely have X number of fans who will actually purchase your book.  And as the publishing house is making an investment in you with the advance they pay, they want to feel comfortable they will make their money back (and more).  Agents and editors need to know what IS happening and what HAS happened, not what COULD happen. Even authors choosing to self-publish need to have a platform and to build awareness of their “brand”: fans = money, and if you don’t have the fans, I wouldn’t quit your day job.

It may seem outrageous that someone who has worked in a field for 30 years may not be considered a platform all-star.  It may not be “right,” it may not be convenient, but that’s the world we live in and write in.  If you’d like to continue to “fight the man,” go ahead.  But a change of perspective may be more helpful (and fruitful!). 

The good news is, just because your platform may be in its beginning stages, or it may need a little work, does not mean it will always be that way.  Platform is something that people need to constantly be working on – even Oprah is consistently finding new ways to reach out to her fans.

It’s important to remember that not all platforms are the same; it all depends on where your audience is.  Some folks build their followings on Twitter or on Instagram, others through speaking engagements or a podcast.  Find out where your ideal readers are going and interact with them there.  You are aware already that knowing your audience makes you a better writer – after all, it’s all about them, not you – and this thought applies to building a platform, too.  Do your research, try, and then try again.  And yes, this can be time-consuming (I wish I could say to tweet twenty times a day and publishing success will be yours). 

It’s important to think outside the box when you’re doing this.  What are your personal strengths?  Look at your competition, or at peers in your field for whom you have great respect.  What are they doing that seems to be working?  How can you put your own spin on it and make those ideas work for you, too?  If you can’t make the process fun, think of it as an inevitable, like doing your taxes, waiting in line at the DMV, or paying off your student loans.

If you’re at the beginning, don’t be discouraged.  Writing a whole book seemed pretty impossible at one point, right?  Nothing will happen overnight.  Platform is about long term, not short term, even if you want to just write this one book and then wipe your hands clean of this crazy industry.  Slowly but surely, you will start growing your tribe.  And the people that are excited for this book will be excited for your next one, and the one after that.