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Publishing Note: Develop Your Platform


You are serious about publishing a book. Imagine that your primary goal is to grow your business through sales and promotion of the book in its various formats. You’ve developed and demonstrated expertise in your sector through years of consistent growth, advancement, and expanding responsibilities. So you reach out to a literary agent or publisher, primed to talk about the book. However, from call to call, agents and publishers steer the conversation to your platform.

What do people mean when they ask about your platform? Jane Friedman’s description of author platform is very informative. Simply put, an author’s platform is the mix of the author’s reputation, social network, and activities that allow the publisher to promote the book and author. Online social media measures platform in terms of followers, visits, and clicks. But platform goes well beyond online activity.

An author’s platform starts with a clear understanding of who you are, what you want to be and do, what your brand is. The clearer your vision, the more effectively you can pursue and achieve  your goals. Market awareness goes hand-in-hand with brand clarity. What people, companies, sectors do you want to reach with your message, service, products, and brand? Who do you hope buys the book? And who will actually buy the book? How many people or organizations can you realistically identify as part of the target audience? You might reasonably begin with people in your social network as a baseline number, your direct contacts. Realistically, not everyone in your social network will buy the book, no matter how much they like you, but people connected to you are more likely to buy a book you write than total strangers. Of course, the spheres of influence of each member of your social network expand your reach proportionally. You don’t need to know a million people to reach a million people. Reach is what publishers are looking for in an author’s platform, as well as direct connections.

I encourage you to keep platform development in perspective. Your platform is important, though not all that matters. It is not hard to find plenty of advice about building a massive platform, as well as companies you can hire to do it for you. Whether you build your platform on your own or hire others to assist you, at the very least you must recognize the relative importance of having a platform. Having no platform results in minimal sales. Yet there are diminishing returns on the size of your platform relative to the cost of building it. Author #1 may have little to no presence on social media channels such as Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, LinkedIn, YouTube, Twitter, Twitch, etc. While Author #2 may have 20,000 followers on Twitter, post blog entries weekly, repost and connect with people on Linkedin, is active on Facebook, and possesses a strong platform. How much time, effort, and money does Author #1 want to spend to build and maintain their platform to be on par with Author #2? How many book sales will their current platform account for compared to those of the author with a robust platform? If the cost of building the platform far exceeds the return in sales—units, revenue, and most importantly royalties—is it worth investing all that time, effort, and money into platform development? It depends on how valuable your platform is beyond publishing your book.

Social media and online activity have become a large part of business and personal life. Even so, your platform goes beyond the online realm to include in-person contacts. It is the old-fashioned notion of a network—some you know fairly well, directly or indirectly, and others you don’t know well but may offer mutual benefit (e.g., someone you meet at the airport while waiting for your next flight). Don’t forget these offline relationships, analog relationships, when building your platform.

As a publisher, authors with a sizable and dynamic platform are on first blush more attractive to me than authors without much of a platform. I temper my enthusiasm for such authors, however, with knowledge about promoting and selling books, along with experiences that demonstrate how authors can succeed by leveraging assets they have other than a large social media presence. In the end, think of your platform as the foundation on which your brand is built. Your network of relationships existed before you wrote and dreamed of publishing a book. They will continue to be a springboard for ongoing business and personal success after you publish your book. You are more than your platform. When it comes to book publishing, though, platform matters. So, develop a platform well in advance of publishing and leverage its potential to promote and sell you and your book upon publication and beyond.