Platform is one of the most difficult concepts to explain, partly because everyone defines it a little differently.
But one thing that I know for sure: Editors and agents are attracted to authors who have this thing called “platform.”
What editors and agents typically mean by platform
They’re looking for someone with visibility and authority who has proven reach to a target audience.
Let’s break this down further.
- Visibility. Who knows you? Who is aware of your work? Where does your work regularly appear? How many people see it? How does it spread? Where does it spread? What communities are you a part of? Who do you influence? Where do you make waves?
- Authority. What’s your credibility? What are your credentials? (This is particularly important for nonfiction writers; it is less important for fiction writers, though it can play a role. Just take a look at any graduate of the Iowa MFA program.)
- Proven reach. It’s not enough to SAY you have visibility. You have to show where you make an impact and give proof of engagement. This could be quantitative evidence (e.g., size of your e-mail newsletter list, website traffic, blog comments) or qualitative evidence (high-profile reviews, testimonials from A-listers in your genre).
- Target audience. You should be visible to the most receptive or appropriate audience for the work you’re trying to sell. For instance: If you have visibility, authority, and proven reach to orthodontists, that probably won’t be helpful if you’re marketing vampire fiction (unless perhaps you’re writing about a vampire orthodonist who repairs crooked vampire fangs?).
What platform is NOT
- It is not about self-promotion.
- It is not about hard selling.
- It is not about annoying people.
- It is not about being an extrovert.
- It is not about being active on social media.
- It is not about blogging.
- It is not about your qualifications, authority, or experience, although these are tools for growing or nurturing a platform.
- It is not something you create overnight.
- It is not something you can buy.
- It is not a one-time event.
- It is not more important than your story or message (but hopefully it grows out of that).
Platform is not about bringing attention to yourself, or by screaming to everyone you can find online or offline, “Look at me! Look at me!” Platform isn’t about who yells the loudest or who markets the best.
It is more about putting in consistent effort over the course of a career, and making incremental improvements in extending your network. It’s about making waves that attract other people to you—not about begging others to pay attention.
What activities build platform?
First and foremost, platform grows out of your body of work—or from producing great work. Remember that. The following list is not exhaustive, but helps give you an idea of how platform can grow.
- Publishing or distributing quality work in outlets you want to be identified with and that your target audience reads.
- Producing a body of work on your own platform—e.g., blog, e-mail newsletter, social network, podcast, video, digital downloads, etc—that gathers quality followers. This is usually a longterm process.
- Speaking at and/or attending events where you meet new people and extend your network of contacts.
- Finding meaningful ways to engage with and develop your target audience, whether through content, events, online marketing/promotion, etc.
- Partnering with peers or influencers to tackle a new project and/or extend your visibility.
Side note: Some people have an easier time building platform than others. If you hold a highly recognized position (powerful network and influence), if you know key influencers (friends in high places), if you are associated with powerful communities, if you have prestigious degrees or posts, or if you otherwise have public-facing work—yes, you play the field at an advantage. This is why it’s so easy for celebrities to get book deals. They have “built-in” platform.
Platform building is not one size fits all
Platform building is an organic process and will be different for every single author. There is no checklist I can give you to develop a platform, because it depends on:
- your unique story/message
- your unique strengths and qualities
- your target readership
Your platform should be as much of a creative exercise and project as the work you produce. While platform gives you power to market effectively, it’s not something you develop by posting “Follow me!” on Twitter or “Like me!” on Facebook a few times a week. Use your imagination, and take meaningful steps. It’ll be a long journey.