Thursday, November 5, 2009

Before the Book: Building Platform

Many an eager would-be author has formulated a book idea and rushed out to hire a ghost to help move the publishing process forward. But there's a critical step that needs to happen between those two actions, whether the plan is to court a traditional publishing house or self-publish.

The missing link is platform. Essentially, before you embark on any publishing process, you need to establish yourself as a minor celeb in your own right. (This is not necessarily true if you have starred on any of Bravo's Real Housewives shows.) In this crazy publishing environment, publishers want to know that you already have a following--people who know you and would be likely to buy your book--and that you have the ability to promote yourself and your work. In fact, some publishers look more closely at the marketing plan in your book proposal than they do at the content of the book. And if you're self-publishing, your platform may be even more important to help you find distribution channels for your book.

So, how do you build this platform? It takes many planks, but here are some of the best ways I know:

Speak. I know you hate it. Almost everyone does. But get over it. At some point--probably many points--you'll need to get up in front of a room full of people and talk about your book subject. If you're new to speaking, start small. Start at some local Chamber meetings or business networking groups. Hit a Toastmasters meeting or two. Then, build to bigger and bigger audiences. Develop a menu of topics you can cover. And look into non-member resources offered by the National Speakers Association (once you start getting enough paid gigs, you may even qualify for membership, which can be attractive to publishers). Think about it: From a publisher's perspective, if you're out there speaking to large groups of people on a regular basis, you 1) know your stuff; and 2) are probably getting people interested in what you have to say. That usually translates into book sales.

Flack. I'll probably get into trouble for using that word, but what I mean is that you need to be your own media relations person. Pen by-lined stories for trade magazines. Come up with relevant topics that will get you booked on TV or high-profile radio shows. Send out commentary to top newspapers on current events that relate to your industry. Follow the calls for sources on Help a Reporter to get yourself interviewed by reporters and bloggers. Build a healthy dossier of media appearances that you can highlight in your book proposal. Bonus points for getting on a morning show or a certain talk show that rhymes with Soaprah.

Collect. Names that is. And contact info. Whenever you speak or participate in an event, ask for permission to add your audience's contact info to your database. (Always ask permission to avoid running afoul of spam regulations.) You may wish to offer a free white paper or email newsletter from your web site--I hope it goes without saying that you need a web site--in exchange for visitors offering up their emaill addresses. Also, use social media like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn to build audience. The bigger your network of contacts, the more attractive you'll be to a publisher and the easier it will be to reach out and sell books.

Network. Get out there and find people who can help you reach bigger and bigger audiences and connect with others in your industry who can help build your reputation as an expert in your field. And you'll also want a few big names in your area of expertise who can write "blurbs," those flattering quotes you see on book jackets, once the publishing process gets underway.

Of course, there are many other ways to market yourself--guest blog on high-profile sites, sponsor trade shows or events, start an online or off-line radio show, integrate your persona into your own company's marketing, to name a few. Go for it. The best ways to get attention for yourself will vary based on your industry.

One book I really like on this subject is Get Slightly Famous by Steven Van Yoder. I interviewed Yoder shortly after the first issue of his book came out several years ago. And while I haven't read the second edition, I found that he is very knowledgeable and gives reasonable, action-oriented advice about builidng your following.

So, dear readers, have you found any platform building tactics particularly effective? Let's pool our collective knowledge in the comments section.

1 comment:

  1. Great post. I find myself explaining the concept of platform to many a new client. Once when I was finished telling the client all the things he'd have to do himself to sell his book, he was quiet a moment and then said: "So what does the publisher actually do again?"
    I had to laugh. It is a shift in responsibility, to be sure.
    I'd add to your great list: get more involved with the professional organizations in your industry. I guess this is a subset of networking. These are people who might help you, bring you in as a speaker, co-market with you, etc.