When discussing nonfiction proposals with editors, the question that I am asked most commonly is: What is the author’s platform? Editors want to know if the authors have written for any publications, whether they have an established website or blog, and if they have recently done any media appearances or speaking engagements.
It isn’t always enough to simply be an expert on the subject you are writing about. In order to catch an agent’s or editor’s attention, you want to already have a built-in readership. The best proposal not only proves that you are the perfect person to tackle the topic at hand, but also shows that people already look to you for the answers.
Obviously, being a recognized name helps matters when selling a book. Stephen Colbert, Alan Greenspan and Bill Clinton did not need to do much to persuade their publisher that they could sell books. Sometimes a celebrity can help build buzz around your name without you having to do a thing. Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin’s SKINNY BITCH was selling nicely, but Victoria Beckham ensured that they hit the bestseller lists when she was spotted carrying a copy of their book.
Of course, not every author is this lucky. Very often it is the authors’ responsibility to get their own name out in the public eye. There are some simple and inexpensive ways to do this. Pitch articles to publications. Get endorsements from recognized names in your field. Start a website or a blog (of course, you also have to make sure people are actually reading them.) In AUTHOR 101: BESTSELLING BOOK PUBLICITY Rick Frishman and Robyn Freedman Spizman emphasize the importance of platforms and discuss in detail how to create your own promotional campaign for a book.
Of course, there are still many cases where an author’s stellar credentials or inspiring memoir will ensure that a book gets sold, regardless of whether or not anyone has ever heard of the writer. The strength of the material will always be the number one reason a book ends up getting sold.
It may seem logical that a platform can only be established after a book is published, but when trying to get an agent or editor’s attention it is not a bad idea to come to them with a built-in audience. Perhaps Victoria Beckham will eventually pick up another book, and perhaps that book will be yours, but until then it never hurts to work on building your platform.