I was having tea on Canyon Road with literary agent Irene Webb and she mentioned a trip to New York to visit with editors. What are they looking for? I asked. Her answer boiled down to two points: 1) A writer with a unique voice; 2) A writer with a strong a platform.
Voice? We know it when we hear it, when we read it on the page. It’s a sort of author’s thumbprint, and it lends the story its unique flavor, energy and tone. More about voice in a future post.
Platforms? Does the word bring to mind discos, ten-inch heels and enough compressed wood to double as a starter log? If so, wrong decade. So what does it mean? And do you even need one if you’re writing fiction?
Think of a platform as a 21st-century soapbox. Instead of the motley crowd around Speaker’s Corner, your potential audience is the world accessible by net. Your platform is your foundation–your core beliefs communicated, as well as what you “stand on” to get your message out: books; articles; stories; speaking gigs and workshops; your professional credentials and experience; your craft; your blog; your website; your social network. These are the same tools you use to establish yourself as an expert. Scary word? Try reframing it with the emphasis on experience. As a writer, you are driven to express yourself, to tell your stories, to share your unique view of the world. You may be passionate about child welfare or nonviolent conflict resolution or addiction or sustainable environments and sustainable economies. Your passions energize your process and fuel the creation of your narrative. Why not let them translate into expertise?
When you are proposing a nonfiction book, you want to present yourself with a platform–authentically. It is proof that you will be able to promote and sell your book. When you have a strong platform you are constantly building your community of potential readers. If you are passionate about your subject, isn’t that what you want? A readership?
Back to the question of fiction writers and platforms. If you’re writing fiction, the most important thing is the latest book or story and the one after that and the one after that. Still, it never hurts to begin or continue building a readership, especially if you can do it with ease–and without stealing time from your primary job, writing your book.