Monday, March 03, 2008

Climbing the Platform

So I posted something last week about whether or not you should have your agent land you magazine pieces, and my answer to said question was no, almost universally. But it was mentioned in the comments section that one reader was told by a perspective agent to wait to pitch magazines until she'd sold her book, the thinking being that as a soon-to-be published writer, she'd have an easier time landing gigs.

I wanted to take a second to talk about why I think this is terrible advice and why having a platform is so critical to selling a book these days. (Courtney - please note that this post totally isn't aimed at you! I just think it raised an interesting topic that I wanted to elaborate on!)

To begin with: platform: defined as a presence, ideally national, at which you are recognized in your area of expertise (maybe you're an master florist or more likely, a famous doctor) or your work (maybe your byline is in every magazine known to man).

Establishing a platform certainly raises the chicken or the egg conundrum: how on earth are you supposed to get famous if you need to be famous to get famous in the first place? Follow? In simpler terms - a lot of aspiring writers worry (partially justifiably) that they need some name recognition to get published but getting published in the first place is what will give them the name recognition. Chicken. Egg.

And that's the problem I have with the advice that sparked this whole post. These days, like it or not, it is incredibly hard to land a book deal. That's just the truth. If you're aiming to publish non-fiction (self-help, etc), you'll have almost an impossible time of it without a platform or without a co-author who has a platform. So to wait to aim for magazines until after you've landed a book deal...well, you might be waiting until you're old and withered because it likely won't happen. While a platform isn't as critical for nabbing a fiction deal (and maybe a memoir deal, though it certainly helps to be famous), it can still help immeasurably. Did the fact that I am relatively well-known in the magazine world land me my first deal? No. The manuscript did. Did it help boost my advance significantly? Without a doubt. My publisher was paying me for my connections and for the fact that I might gain more national exposure than someone who hadn't written for all of these magazines.

Building a platform isn't easy. But I think that's a discussion for another day. And one worth having. But to wait until your platform comes to you...well, foot meet trigger, and pull.

What say you readers? Has your platform (or lack thereof) helped or hindered you in your quest for publication?

4 comments:

Suzanne said...

Hi Allison,

Would you consider the fiction equivalent to platform building akin to attending conferences or networking in genre specific group, for instance RWA, or entering writing contests, short story, first chapter, etc?

In those instances, do you have to walk a fine line between the value and exposure of those experiences against allowing those venues to keep you from finishing the novel, or the query, to ultimately get you published?

-Suzanne

Jen A. Miller said...

I think my experience writing about the South Jersey shore was a big part of me landing a book contract to write about the South Jersey shore. Those clips (and my time editing a magazine about South Jersey) showed that I knew the area, and that I knew how to write about it. Even though I'd consider my history of going down the shore every summer since I was born better validation that I knew the area, if I were the publisher, I'd be more interested in my experience writing about it.

That being said, I didn't write those magazine articles with the book in mind. But for what I hope to be my second book, I'm pitching articles about the topic while I'm writing the proposal. This not only builds platform, but allows me to do research for the proposal and get paid for it at the same time.

ALEXA YOUNG said...

I guess having a bit of a platform (probably a 3-inch one at best!) helped me get an agent and a book deal with my nonfiction--but sadly, all my (and my coauthors') connections and publishing experience didn't really translate into book sales. The experience with my forthcoming fiction has been completely different. Specifically, I didn't have a platform (at least, not one that could be used to market these particular books), and the deal was based almost entirely on my writing. I guess we'll see what happens with those sales soon enough! :-O

Courtney said...

Thanks for the reply, Allison. I guess I should've mentioned that I'm a fiction writer with non-fiction creds in trade mags. I'm hoping to leap from mags with a circ. of 50,000 to ones with a circ. of 1/2-1 million (i.e. Elle and the like), so perhaps this was advice specific to my situation. I agree with you though on the chicken/egg thing. I'll be honest and say I'm trying my hand on both things and for me, finding an agent is feeling much easier than breaking into the well-paying women's mags. Though maybe your more recent tips on being aggressive will help (I am with agents, just not with editors... go figure).