How important is a platform for writers seeking publication?

Building a platform is one of the farthest things from your mind when you first start writing. Maybe your even still asking...what is a platform?

Well, let me start with an example. Andrew Peterson, the author of North! Or Be Eaten had a platform before he ever submitted his manuscript to a publisher or agent (Yes, agents look at platform too).

Peterson's platform...he's an accomplished musician with 12 albums released thus far. (He's also had a top ten radio hit).

So when Peterson submitted his manuscript, he had a leg to stand on. Now when I say "a leg" I do mean only one. He had to have another thing to stand on...and that's a great story! But having that combination of platform and story is a one-two punch. (To check out detailed reviews of North or Be Eaten, scroll down to the bottom of this post and check out some of the great blogs talking in depth about Peterson's book. And from what I'm hearing, its a wonderful book!)

Not all platforms are alike (most of us don't have a spotlight on us as musicians or other celebrites do) and we're certainly not popular enough to get whatever we write published. There are other ways for ordinary people to build up their writer's resume to become more appealing to publishers and agents.

1) Creating a blog is a great way to start telling people about your writing. (However, I must warn you that blogs wind up being much more than just a platform, you end up making lots of friends as well as great connections in different areas of the publishing industry). Eventually, if you have a book published, your blog can become a sort of news outlet for your readers, as well as a means of interaction with them. We humans were made to interact and have relationships; that's what makes blogs so endearing.

2) Short story publications. These are key! To have your short stories published accomplishes three things. First, they provide a credit to put on your resume. Second, they show the world what type of writer you are, and readers might be drawn to follow you along when they fall in love with your writing. Third, they help polish your own writing. We writers are constantly learning and growing, and with each story, we build upon our knowledge and stretch ourselves.

3) Networking. I personally never imagined how easy it is to network....the hardest part is trying. Let me give you some examples in my own life. Why not join a local writers group? You are bound to come away with not only great friendships and stronger writing, but also contacts who can help direct your writing path. For instance, I was fortunate to join a group in my city led by Bruce McAllister (twice nominated for the Hugo Award) and a man whose had dozens of short stories published in top magazines, and had a Hugo nominated novel come out by DAW in the late 80's. He gave me tons of great wisdom and insider info.

Another networking example. Mike Lynch and I wrote an archeological adventure novel and decided to shoot for the moon and contact a well known figure in the field who was both a published author and an adventurer who starred in several biblical archeological documentaries. It was while I was watching one of those documentaries when I thought, "hey, this guy might like my book". Well, I emailed the institute which he founded to see if I could get his email. To my shock, they gave me his phone number!!! I hardly knew what to do, and I had my co-author Mike call him (because I was too nervous to do it). To make a long story short, he wanted us to send him the novel, so we did, and after he read it, he gave us a glowing phone call in which he told us how much he loved it and promised to give us a quote for the book. He also offered to give it to his agent--talk about a recommendation! If Mike and I didn't already have an agent, we'd have jumped all over that offer.

Now the three examples above of platform building are just the essentials. Writers can use their personal skills, talents and personalities to create other platforms for their writing. But, remember, platforms provide only one leg (unless you're a celeb), the other leg is a great story with good story-telling, and in the end, it's the story-telling leg that is the most important.

I hope this little overview helps. I also want to direct you to Moonrat's editorial blog post that touches on this very topic. It's VERY enlightening about the publishing industry!


nissa_amas_katoj said...

WOW! One of the best blog tour posts I've ever seen, and I've seen WAY too many blog tour posts.

Of course now I'm going to be fretting about the fact that I gotta think about getting short stories published and I hate reading short stories so I kinda think I'd suck at writing them.

I do have a few dozen blogs, though. And some of 'em are even in English!

Robert Treskillard said...

This is very true, Brandon.

If an author has a platform of some kind, it really takes the risk out of the way for the publisher. But Andrew's stories are just SOooo good, I couldn't imagine a publisher turning them down even if he didn't have a platform.

Also ... glad to see you starting your own book. Keep writing!

Andra M. said...

Excellent post!

Building a platform, I agree is key, although for me it's still in the baby-crawling stage (I have two legs to stand on, but they're not strong enough to hold weight. Yet).

The friends we make along the way is indeed the largest benefit.

Brandon said...

Hi Nissa,
Well, the short story idea can be done away with. I've read of authors who tried to write short stories, failed to go anywhere with them, and then turned to novels and found it to be their natural talent.

Yeah, as long as the publisher bothered to READ them! Most times they don't get past the proposal. But I have heard nothing but good things about Peterson's books :)

Hi Andra :)
Thanks! Hey, that's right, our relationships are the most valuable things on this earth.

Kat Heckenbach said...

Ah! The platform paradox! It is so true, and so confusing, is it not? Newbie, unknown writers hitting the scene with blockbuster novels, no previous credits to their name, and "celebrity" novels that fall flat--a combo that sends conflicting messages. But, it's all the "in between" those extremes that holds the truth. Writing counts, very much. But if you can pad that with platform, you increase the chances of catching the eye of an agent or editor.

Great post, Brandon!

Brandon said...

I totally agree...writing is the most important. Honestly, I only know about the "platform" thing after getting published and finding an agent. I already had my blog and enjoyed short story writing...

KM Wilsher said...

As always, great CSFFBT post! You are brilliant!

Brandon said...

KM...when you one day meet me, you'll know the truth...

Krysti said...

I really liked this post, especially finding out that Andrew Peterson is also a musician. How cool is that?

Rebecca LuElla Miller said...

It takes talent to tour a book you haven't read and come up with something relevant and interesting to us all. Thanks for doing such a masterful job, Brandon.


Brandon said...

Thanks Rebecca :)
I guess I'm getting to be a pro at it, but I plan on review more books in the future (with the aid of my wife) next months tour!

Crista said...

Nice post :D Sounds like great advice. Is that pretty much how you did it?

Brandon said...

Hi Chrita :)
Nope, I had no idea about platform until after I was published. I started blogging and short story writing just because its fun.

Chris said...

Does having a very large extended family count? ;)

Brandon said...

Chris :)
That made me smile...indeed, family and friends are be our biggest supporters!

Shirley R. said...

Well I think you hit close to home for many of us- Your thoughts on this are both practical and logical, but I think it helps us all to see such things in writing. Thanks also for the links provided for North! or Be Eaten. I really wanted to buy that book for my husband, but I have heard some mixed reviews on it thus far. I'm interested to read some more thoughts about it so I can make up my mind!

Great post

Brandon said...

Thanks for your comment :)
After the blog tour was finished I also found a few reviews that weren't so glowing, but then there were others that really liked this book. Maybe it's one of those you either love or not...

Peter Stone said...

I've read about the importance of having a platform to support our writing. And from what I've read, it is even more important when writing non-fiction.

I like what you said about networking, I've made some wonderful friends through a Christian writer's forum/site too.

Brandon said...

Your right about non-fiction, it's a lot more important in that realm. Us fiction writers have more leniency :)