Friday, March 28, 2014

Building a Platform (Part 8 of 10)

If you don't know the already-published books in your genre, find out. Now. That's part of what agents and editors expect you to know. And this applies to fiction as well. Good fiction carries a theme—recovery after the loss of a loved one, forgiving someone who has wronged another, or solving a particular crime.

Not only do you need to know who would buy your book, but that group needs to be sufficiently large to merit a company to publish your book.

In 1988, when I first spoke with an editor about a book for people with dementia, he said the audience was too small. I disagreed. I wasn't writing for those with memory impairment, but for their families and friends. I pointed out from my research that 5.5 million people every year are diagnosed with Alzheimer's and my estimated audience would be four times that number. Every year, more than 5 million new people face dementia, and that circle grows larger and larger.

That publisher passed on the book, but another company bought When Someone You Love No Longer Remembers and the book has become one of those evergreen books. That is, it doesn't have huge annual sales, but it sells a few thousand every year. That book has been in print for four years. It will probably stay on the publisher's backlist for a decade.

I persisted with selling that book because I knew my audience and believed it would attract a large enough group to merit the publication.

     1. What are the other titles on this topic?

     2. Is my target audience large enough to merit a publisher's investment?

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Building Your Platform (Part 7 of 10)

"Who would buy your book?" If you can answer, you have begun to identify your target audience. The best titles make that clear. For example, I have an e-book called Devotions for Runners. My target audience is obvious. When a Man You Love Was Abused doesn't leave much doubt about the obvious target.

You don't have to express your target audience in the title, but you need a title that speaks to the people who will buy your book.

For example, a publisher asked me to write a book about the time-for-all-things passage from the book of Ecclesiastes. They released it as Hope and Comfort for Every Season. The book didn't do well and was out of print within a year. The title didn't define the audience—too generic. Even publishers goof.

Once you identify your audience, and you know what other books are available and who would read your book, you also need to express how you will slant your manuscript. The two questions below will help you know how to slant it.

     1. Who will buy my book?

     2. Why would they buy my book and not someone else's?

Friday, March 21, 2014

Building Your Platform (Part 6 of 10)

One of the overlooked forms of building a platform comes from attending conferences. If you go to conferences that focus on your area of interest, you can make connections. I don't mean only writers conferences, but organizations and groups that share your interest. You don't have to be pushy—be who you are and you'll meet others. (If you can't afford to attend, apply for scholarships or work scholarships.)

At conferences, don't seek only those whom you think will help. Much of building my platform has come from other people who—unasked—opened doors for me.

If you can, join professional groups. In which online groups do you participate? Publishing (like many businesses) is built on relationships. The more visible you make yourself, the more you grow and the greater your exposure and influence. That helps build your platform.

     1. What professional groups have I joined and remained active in?

     2. Which online groups or conferences have benefited me?

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Building Your Platform (Part 5 of 10)

Here's a side note on endorsements. Don't ask people to endorse your manuscript before it's accepted for publication.

Perhaps that seems obvious, but I receive many requests from want-to-be-published writers who ask for my endorsement. I refuse them.

Think of it this way. Suppose I spend hours reading a proposal and writing an endorsement and the book never gets published. That does seem unfair, doesn't it?

Also, those who ask for endorsements before their manuscripts are accepted believe that the words from a famous name will sell the proposal. That's not true. But even if it were, wouldn't you feel terrible to think that you sold your book only because a celebrity liked it?

Here's what you can do. If you know someone of influence, on your book proposal write something like this: I can reasonably expect an endorsement from . . . The endorsers don't have to be famous, only influential. The CEO of Amazon or the President of Yale carry influence, even if readers might not know their names.

As a professional writer, 
I seek endorsements only after I've sold my manuscripts.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Building Your Platform (Part 4 of 10)

"How visible are you?" my agent asked a want-to-be client in my presence.

My agent wanted the prospective client to convince her that he was extending his influence beyond his immediate circle of friends. "What about your website? How much traffic do you have each month?"

"How many people are on your newsletter list? How often do you blog?" She queried him about followers and responses. When he said he was on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and other social media, she nodded approval.

She asked about reviews for his two e-books. He had six reviews for one publication and three for the other, all highly favorable.

"What about endorsements?"

He seemed stumped. "I don't know anyone famous." However, he did have connections with a handful of people whom he felt could help him reach high-profile individuals.

"They count," my agent said.

1. What kind of web presence do I have?

2. What connections do I have with celebrities or influential people who write in my genre?

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Building Your Platform (Part 3 of 10)

"I don't have a college degree," one man said, "so I guess I don't have the credentials."


A degree (especially a graduate degree) can be impressive. But you need more than education to write on most topics. You can become an authority in other ways. A mother of nine grown children has likely learned a great deal about parenting—far more than some with doctoral degrees who write about the topic.

Work or emotional experience that produce insight are significant factors. I wrote A Walk Through the Dark: How My Husband's 90 Minutes in Heaven Deepened My Faith for a Lifetime for Eva Piper. The book is far more than her personal experience. There is an immense amount of helpful information for people who face dark periods. Before Don Piper's heaven-and-back-to-earth experience, Eva, even though well educated, depended heavily on her spouse. She had to learn to take charge of her life and also become Don's caregiver. Her experiences and her insight into those experiences are her credentials.

1. How do my experiences become credentials for building my platform?

2. What significant lessons in life have I learned that I can teach others?

Friday, March 7, 2014

Building Your Platform (Part 2 of 10)

In building a platform, credentials carry weight. It answers the question, "Who am I to write on this topic?" This is crucial for nonfiction writers, and I see a growing trend for novelists to assert their background.

For example, every fifth novel seems to be about the Amish—and some, I'm told, are grossly inaccurate. Agents and editors now ask what credentials they have to write about that population. Some of the authors have never met Amish people and base their work on novels they've read by others. That kind of second-hand research doesn't constitute reliable credentials.

If, however, you want to write fiction or nonfiction about something that occurred when the British took control of India in 1858, you would have to rely on second-hand sources. But you'd still have to prove that you did thorough research.

If you're doing serious research, a good idea is to discover the authorities others quote. That is, you need to cite the best sources on the topic.

Your responsibility is to prove you have the credentials (background, education, qualities) to write on your topic.

1. What kind of research have I done on my topic?

2. What more can I reasonably do to boost my credentials?

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Building Your Platform (Part 1 of 10)

(I write this series from my perspective as a writer. After my series, Twila will add her perspective as an expert on marketing.)

"What is a platform? How do I build it?"

Aside from the literal meaning of the word, the term has come to refer to writers who have name recognition (often called visibility) by the reading public, and who have proven they can reach their targeted audience.

Thus, here is the first thing to consider. Think of the word influence. Who will buy your books? The answer is not everybody. Agents and editors insist on book proposals because they expect potential authors to know how to reach a specific segment of the population. Do you write for women ages 25-40? Science-fiction readers? Business people?

You define your audience. That's part of your unwritten job description. Once you've done that, you need to convince editors that you can reach those people.

Be careful. Some authorities provide steps-to-guaranteed-success ideas to build your platform. Sometimes they work. Because those methods worked for five other people, doesn't mean they'll work for you.

As we move through this series, I'll pose two questions each time for you to ponder.

1. Who is my target audience?

2. If I could extend my platform, at what other target would I aim?