Like Olympic divers, braving the jump and going to the depths, writers also need platforms of their very own to take it to the limit. Are platforms carved in stone based on who you are and what you've written, or can one build one afresh?
Q) I am revising my first novel and am starting to investigate next steps. The word "platform" comes up quite a bit. Can you define this simply? Or suggest how I might define what I have, or how I might achieve it? I am a teacher and have never been published before.
As a writer of nonfiction, I’m going to give it to you straight. You need a huge platform to sell books and get paid speaking engagements. TV & radio appearances—regularly. A column or freelance assignments from major newspapers and national magazines--consistently. And events that attract loads of participants—in the hundreds. Have I frightened you yet? I haven’t meant to, but it is my intention to be brutally honest. Hear this: readers of nonfiction want to hear from experts. They want to know you and trust you before they buy. Publishers know this. So should you.
For fiction, platform takes on a different relevance, but it is relevant nonetheless. Certainly you don’t need to have the same kind of platform—though it certainly won’t hurt if you do. Your platform in this case serves a more indirect role. Do you already have contacts with television producers, radio hosts, and magazine editors? If so, you’ll be more likely to garner media attention for your fiction, though you will have to come up with appropriate pitches. (For example, with Life Without Summer, I’m pitching parenting, marriage and grief angles to get coverage for the novel.) While some may say having platform for fiction is less important, in today’s marketplace you’ll need it--and whatever else you have up your sleeve--to stand out.
Publishing being what it is, a nonfiction author needs to have a national platform related to her book proposal to get a book deal. That means if you're writing a cook book, you should probably have your very own show on the Food Network. Bam!
Fiction, well, that's a bit different isn't it? Most everyone will tell you to start building your platform now in order to get a book deal, do something related to your genre -- for literary fiction get an MFA and teach at Iowa -- or publish a magazine article related to your novel's plot -- if it's about a brain surgeon, write about your experience being wide awake on the OR table as neurosurgeons removed that non-malignant tumor.
Personally, I think people need to be more concerned with writing a magnificent story about characters readers will know in their bones. If there's a good backstory about the author coming to write that novel, great, but that's not what will keep up long into the night, reading and falling in love.
Interesting question. When I did a manuscript mart (when an agent reviewed the first twenty pages of my YA WIP), I was surprised when she told me to try to get any bylines I could in publications that deal with autism - my MC's brother has autism. It didn't make a lot of sense to me then and, if I'm honest, it still doesn't make sense now. I am writing fiction, not non-fiction.
Given that platform translates literally into the credentials you stand on as you leap into publishing, it's not too late to add to your credentials, either. Examine newspapers and magazines you enjoy to better understand their style, and pitch or submit articles or essays. Get creative and if you are not already involved with a program or non-profit that might relate to one of your themes or threads, make those connections and create relationships that way.