A Primer on Platform

shelly-pix-in-green-023My friend Joanna called me three days ago. We’d lost track of each other for nine years after being on staff together at the same church. During that time Joanna had experienced a brain tumor and the commensurate drama. And during that same time, I’d experienced a brain lesion and all its added toy surprises.

Kinda made us want to go back to that church in our past and check out what was in their communion grape juice . . .

After a lot of hootin’ and hollerin’ and comparing twisted brain stories, Joanna got down to the point. She has things to say about life. She wants to write a book. But she’s never published before, so where should she start?

I told her to take a deep breath and sit down. I was about to dump a mini writers’ conference on her head. We talked for a long time, and I can only hit the high points here. But the quick summary was that she needed to write a lot and begin gaining credibility if she wanted to have a shot.

The firs thing any beginning writer she do is to begin to build a platform, one plank at a time. That involves a number of things:

1.     Acting like a professional: Gain knowledge of writing terminology, formats, how the industry works, and how professionals have found succes. Read blogs, books, and professional publications. Go to conferences and hang around with writers who know more than you do.

Have business cards made that include a professional head shot–of you, of course–and call yourself an author.

2.    Establish publication credits. Book publishers invest tens of thousands of dollars in new authors, and investing in unpublished authors is risky. It’s like handing the keys of your new Lexus over to a fourteen-year-old who’s never been behind the wheel.

Editors and publishers are interested in writers who’ve demonstrated that they understand the ins-and-outs of good writing, the importance of deadlines, and the rigors of marketing. In order to capture editors’ attention in a sea of competition, you’re going to need to demonstrate you know as much or more than every other published writer in the marketplace.

If you’ve never published before, begin by submitting to regional newspapers or agazines, denominational publications, or ezines. The pay isn’t as important as establishing yourself as a reputable writer and working your way toward bigger and better-paying markets.

3.    Position yourself to become an expert. Research and write articles about the topic of your book (as well as other things that interest you and that you know about). Begin speaking on the subject. Be sure not to sell all rights so you can retain your articles as chapters for a future book. Seek out experts in your field of interest and interview them for articles. Then include those people in your database for future endorsers and influencers. And always ask them who they can recommend for additional interviews or endorsements. Blog on the topic to establish a reader base. When it comes time to write a marketing plan for your book proposal, you’ll already have a number of the major components in place.

Joanna emailed me today. The subject line read, “I’m published.” With her first query to an ezine, she’d received an acceptance for an article. She’s on her way. In all her future queries, she can tout herself as a “published author.”

When aspiring authors see a book on a shelf, they don’t have the opportunity to see the pile of rejection slips, smaller publication credits, or written and rewritten drafts that typically pave the way for a book to find its way to print. But it’s those steps that help us hone our craft, develop discipline, and learn from the relationships we develop within the publishing world.

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