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Does Platform Really Help an Unpublished Writer?

If we read agent blogs long enough, we're sure to come across the word "platform." According to my wonderful and lovely agent, Rachelle Gardner, platform is: The means by which YOU will help sell your book by your presence in the media and/or the public sphere, or at least within the audience you hope to reach with your book. (Taken from: Let's Talk About Platform).

In other words, platform is all of the ways we're attempting to build our readership. Nowadays, writers are encouraged to begin their platform even before they're published. From what I understand, non-fiction writers must have a platform--the bigger, the better. Fiction writers are not required to have one, but it is considered a plus.

Last week, I blogged about some of the reasons Bethany House picked up my book (click here to read). In response, Joanne asked a great question: How about platform in addition to the writing? Do you think that plays a significant part?

In other words: Did my platform play any part, even minor, in helping sell my book to Bethany House?

My answer: Platform had absolutely nothing to do with landing me a book contract.

Of course, as part of the book proposal that Rachelle initially sent to Bethany House, I stated a number of the ways I planned to help market my book once it's published. I mentioned blogs as well as my website (which is still in the works). My editor may have briefly looked over this part of the proposal and said to himself: "She's off to a good start."

But I'm fairly certain the STORY and WRITING sold the book, because in reality, my platform is non-existent. My blog and my web presence are still much too small to have had any influence in selling my book. Even if they were much larger, even astronomically higher, I don't believe they would have made a difference.

I'm convinced that for fiction, publishers look at whether they can sell our books. Story and writing trump platform every time for unpublished writers. Even published authors, with platforms much, much bigger than mine, struggle to renew contracts.

If we don't write quality, entertaining books that attract readers, then all of the platform in the world won't help us. We can have hundreds of blog followers and facebook friends, but if we haven't crafted a book they'll want to read, then we're really just spinning our wheels, dare I say, even wasting our time building a platform at the sacrifice of time spent on writing?

I didn't enter the cyberworld of networking until just this year. Before that I spent years focusing on honing my craft and creativity. In hindsight, I'm glad for those years of uninterrupted, uncluttered writing, without the pressure to build a platform.

There comes a time, however, when we need to jump in an start thinking of the future and building that platform. But we shouldn't put that pressure on ourselves until our story and craft are ready to sell. More about that in the next post. . .

Today, I'd love to hear your opinions. Do you think the emphasis placed on platform for unpublished authors is over-rated? Have you felt the pressure to build a platform yet?

*Update: Make sure to check out the comments! My agent left her opinion there!

67 comments:

  1. Congratulations, Jody. You now have exactly 200 followers. I just happened to look over and see that as I clicked on "Post a Comment."

    I think I agree with you. I believe building a platform is extremely difficult AND time consuming. All unpublished writers(myself included) REALLY need to think hard about what they are trying to accomplish with a blog or other attempts to build platform. If an aspiring author is trying to build platform to sell a novel that is not even complete, then he or she should reevaluate. But if a writer is using a blog to hone his writing skills or develop other forms of writing skills such as poetry or short narratives, maybe blogging can be good. The point is that a writer or anyone should always wonder if blogging or platform building is the best use of their time. I find myself wondering this often.

    Thanks for giving me something to think about today, Jody! Happy Monday!

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  2. I tend to think that platform for unpublished authors is somewhat overrated. I don't blog to build platform, I blog because I wanted to build connections with other writers and also practice my writing.

    I think you'd have to have a MASSIVE following for your blog to be considered a platform anyway, wouldn't you.

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  4. I guess bloging is my building the platform now. Everything we do is heading in that direction. Even when you got your exciting haircut, it helped build your platform. :O) Looks great BTW!

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  5. I think unpublished fiction writers need to work on building a platform, but I doubt most of them have enough of one to influence a contract possibility. I did hear more than one editor at the ACFW conference say that they want to hear you have a blog or are on facebook or something already, not that you intend to start doing that. So it's never too early to enter cyber networking.

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  6. Oh, so much wisdom in this post!! I blogged about blogging today and what it means to me and why I think it's important (or not). I completely, 100% agree with you. I think it's easy to get sucked into the whole "platform" thing and lose focus on what is truly important - crafting fabulous stories. Bloggins and other platform building endeavors should never get in the way of that ultimate goal.

    I echo what Donald Maass always says: The best marketing tool is a really awesome book.

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  7. I think blogging is a good way to incorporate writing discipline into our day and network.

    But I've not ever suggested to my publishers that my internet presence will sell them books. Aside from one or two 'suggestions' (that I did take more as directives) they've worked on marketing mostly from their end and not asked me to do it from mine.

    Elizabeth
    Mystery Writing is Murder

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  8. Totally agree! I love blogging/twitter/facebook, and I do think it puts a WEE bit of an edge over the authors that, say, have none of those things. I think it shows that we are serious about this writing/promotion thing vs just hermits that are glued to our computer and hate social interaction.

    That said, the story sells the book 100% for fiction. I wrote my first book before doing much of the "online" stuff at all, and had edited it at least one time. But starting to blog, reading other's, joining ACFW, all those things helped me in my editing too, in my knowledge of the craft and in honing my skills, so I don't regret at all joining the social networking bandwagon. I wouldn't be the writing (as fledgling as I am) today if it wasn't for that.

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  9. Hi Jody,

    Initially I felt frustrated by the emphasis on platform, especially as a writer of non-fiction.

    Howver, thanks to reading some really good blogs, (like Rachelle's), I understand the need to build a platform. Even for fiction writers, I get it. Because the more people you can reach, the more potential buyers for your book.

    So, I'm building my platform, one plank at a time. But I'm also working on the art of the craft, because like Katie mentioned above, the best marketing tool is a fabulously written book.

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  10. Jody,
    My first contract was for a non-fiction book, and at the time I had no platform whatsoever. However, I quickly began working to build a base by speaking on that subject.
    My first fiction contract came while I had a web site and a blog, but neither were (or are) magnets for thousands of followers. I'm working to improve my platform, but I have to agree with you: good writing trumps name recognition in the beginning.

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  11. It does come down to good writing. Great post Jody. Lots to think about this morning:)

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  12. Its easy to spend so much time "building a platform" to forget what you are building it for. I think there is a time and a place for it. But I think we need to work on the craft and our writing first.

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  13. Yes, I've felt the pressure. I think you can do both if you are disciplined and are able to set good boundaries. The whole building platform thing weirds me out sometimes, so I think of it as making connections. You've been successful with doing both.

    I'm currently doing both. It's when social networking takes over where the problems creep in.
    ~ Wendy

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  14. I can see the benefit to your having years of writing only, without the pressure of building a web presence. I sometimes wish my own time as such had been longer, because sometimes it's so hard to balance any kind of following with the true writing.

    It's a great topic to discuss. Thanks!

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  15. Excellent post.

    A writer friend encouraged me to start a blog (which I did) saying it's important to "get out there". The blog has been a good experience and I feel it is helping me become a better writer. The positive comments I have received give me hope that there is an audience for the memoir I've written, since the blog is essentially an extention of the book.

    I don't think my blog will get an agent's attention. I agree with you that the well-written story is what sells.

    Here's the downside of platform building by blogging, Facebooking, etc.- I spend time on the blog that would be better spent editing my manuscript. I have to find the balance or the editing will never get done and therefore I will not be querying agents. I didn't write a book so I could blog about it. I wrote a book so I could get a story and a message to people.

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  16. I haven't felt any pressure to create a platform, since I write fiction. I just started my blog so that, once I finally did get published, there would already be a place for readers to find me, rather than a brand-new blog with minimal content. Also, it keeps me busy while I wait for The Call.

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  18. That's really comforting! I know platform is important but it's difficult to think it could make or break a contract when the writing is most important. I'm doing what I can to learn and build mine, but I'd rather focus on the writing part right now, ya know?

    Thanks for this post!

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  19. Jody, I became a published author before I'd heard of the word platform, but I had a sense that if my books were to sell well, I needed to get myself out "there" more. Though wasn't the initial reason, it played a part in my motivation to seek writing a column for our local newspaper. That, in turn, led to my blog, which was a natural result of the column. My website was set up just after publication so teachers in particular could find me to do school visits. So, I discovered platform through the back door, it seems, and before I ever knew there was a word for it. Now, I see how valuable it will continue to be as I move toward publication of my next work. I am in a slow-build pattern, with most of my blog readers coming from my region. There's a little bit of pressure to keep at it -- I know it wouldn't be wise to stop blogging (plus I enjoy it), but not too much pressure -- yet. I'm amazed at how quickly you've gained readers. Pretty impressive. I agree, though, that the work comes first, the platform is the natural (given today's publishing climate) result of having accomplished something significant that requires an audience to be fully effective. :) You're on the right track for sure!

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  20. I focused on my writing, decided that I would put all my energy into my writing and not worry about platform until I obtained representation. Now my book will be out on submission soon. I've discovered that I really enjoy having a blog and making connections with other writers but I'm glad I spent the last two years in a cave, writing, just popping out to learn about the query process and to participate in critiques and attend a couple of conferences. That writing time was essential. It's what I was drawn to.

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  21. I'm not blogging for a platform. I am doing it for encouragement in this difficult journey of writing. Having just begun to traverse this winding road, I know I don't need the platform. It does take up way too much time and I really need to focus on writing if I am to ever hone the skills needed to ever get a book on the shelf at the library. (My ultimate goal! lol) Thought provoking post. :)

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  22. I have been feeling the pressure to build a platform since I started blogging this year. Everywhere you turn, people are telling you to build your readership!!! Yes, but if I don't have anything for them to read, what will it matter if I have 1,000 readers or 10? Thank you for putting this in perspective. We must hone our writing skills and our story first. THEN we'll have quality stories we can give to others.

    Happy Monday,
    Jen

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  23. Hmm. I started blogging after I published my memoir because it was suggested by the publicist. So I guess I did it to build platform, as part of a marketing tool. Now, however, it's become a support system. I think it's one small part of what happens with a book to let others know about it. But without a good book, none of it matters, as so many others here have said.
    Karen

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  24. I'd agree w/ what has been said. Why I may have started to blog and why I continue are two different reasons.

    I am learning so much from others and appreciate the associations.

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  25. I think you put the horse in front of the cart when you focused on your craft instead of building a big Platform. Well done!

    And yay on 200 followers, the platform is coming along nicely!

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  26. Wow, a great dialogue going on here! I so agree, without a great story, the platform just won't work. It's almost like an icing on the cake, sweetens the deal, maybe?

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  27. I think it's a good idea to build a platform, but I worry that the changes in the publishing world will eventually trickle down and have a negative impact on writers who haven't already built a substantial web presence.

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  28. Jody, everything you said in your post is exactly right. Platform didn't have anything to do with selling your book to either me or Bethany House. But we are all super excited that you're beginning to create an audience of potential readers of your books!

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  29. I am so thankful for this post. The beginning of my writing dreams seemed so foreign to my family and friends. It was difficult to see straight. I needed a place where people understood and could point me in the right direction.

    I have discovered that in blogging. It did occur to me that it may help my platform in the future, but I really just needed a soft place to fall.

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  30. It gives me a boost every time I read posts about platform and how they (for fiction writers) aren't the primary determinant for selling a book to a publishing house. There is a lot of pressure being placed on writers to build platform before their published but I believe that's a mix of misinformation from a non-fiction outlook and simply other bloggers heightening its importance. It definitely doesn't hurt to at least do a blog and maybe even start a website. I believe this shows agents and editors that you're willing to take a part in marketing and you are able to to stay motivated in doing so.

    Thanks for the post!

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  31. Excellent post and a great reminder that really it's all about the writing and telling a good story.

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  32. No I don't think it's overrated, in fact I think it plays a part in the decision that your agent was making. I think you showed a savvy about the biz just by having a blog and talking about your upcoming conference. After your book debuts your efforts should be maximized that's where the real payoff begins. I plan to do a major portion of my marketing in addition to whatever the publishing house provides. I'm taking full advantage of the town I live in and I'm spend some serious $$$.

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  33. I found you from Roni's blog and I have to say...Your blog is pretty nifty. (: I read back through several of your posts and want to thank you for posting what you did. Some of it really helped me. (:

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  34. Another excellent post to chew on. It's kind of a chicken and an egg question isn't it?

    I think one of the reasons I hesitate to even consider writing a non-fiction book is because of platform. Perhaps that time will come, but for now I'll learn to master swimming in the pool I'm in.

    Continued prayers and blessings on your publishing adventure!

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  35. Interesting post. I'm often flipping back and forth between whether or not a platform is necessary for fiction.

    Lynnette Labelle
    http://lynnettelabelle.blogspot.com

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  36. @Rachelle - I will be shoving everyone out of the way to get one of the first copies. Jody, I sure hope you are planning a book signing in the Lansing area - say Barnes & Noble at the Lansing Mall? :D

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  37. I think building an online presence is important, but the writing should always come first whether you are or are not published.

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  38. Well... yes and yes. For non-fiction writers like myself, platform is considered essential. To this I reply, "Rats!"

    I understand the need for a platform from a publisher's point of view, but I've known authors who had no platform under them beside God's Word, and they landed contracts and sold books.

    The pressure to build a platform angers me, harrangues me, and makes me eat dark chocolate truffles by the boat load! But I've made so many wonderful, helpful friends along the way that I believe it's worth it.

    You are one of those wonderful friends, Jody. I appreciate you.

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  39. Overrated but much needed. This from a person who reads way too many blogs, Twitters occasionally, spends time on FB, and writes for Examiner.

    None of which, except maybe Examiner, I did to build a platform. I simply enjoy community, and for me, the writing community is largely online. I enjoy getting to know and learning from other writers. With resource limitations, the Internet has made tons of craft information available to me. It's also informed me of opportunities for my writing. Out of all that platform will come, I hope.

    I think writers should focus on writing, but use "platform-building" tools of the Internet to aid them in that purpose. Then, use the platform that results to help sell those books!

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  40. So get to the end of my daily blog perusal only to find this article from Dorchester's editor, Leah Hultenschmidt, on the top five things authors can do to build name recognition.

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  41. A very timely post, Jody. I think being visible via blogging, FB or whatever can be good PR for an aspiring author, but I don't believe the visibility will convince an agent that a particular book is sellable. Only good writing can do that. At the same time, I suspect one's life experiences can add legitimacy to the author's storytelling and provide a marketing platform that may cause an editor or agent to take a second look at a query or the viability of a submission.

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  42. I agree--the writing itself is what matters most and is the real deal maker. Still, I think platform matters at some level, even if it's just a "she's off to a good start" kind of thing.

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  43. Not the P word!!! I feel the pressure, only because I feel like if I the choice is between myself and another author, then the publisher (or agent) might take the person who has a more established presence, and I want that to be me! I do know that I need to finish my novel first, before I buckle down and do it big :) Great post!

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  44. Appreciate your words of wisdom and insight, Jody! It's a bit relieving to know that good writing wins hands down over platform.Whew...sigh of relief. Looking forward to your next post!

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  45. For my humorous nonfiction manuscript on marriage, the nicest rejection I received was "Very funny and cute, but no one knows you."

    For nonfiction, platform is paramount.

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  46. I hope platform isn't too important--mine is almost nonexistent. :)

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  47. I agree with you. I think platform is more an issue for non-fiction than fiction. Step one always needs to be:write a good book.

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  48. I think non-fiction writers need to be aware of platform.
    Fiction writers... not so much. I completely agree with pretty much everything you just said. :-)

    It's the writing and the story. And boy am I glad for that. LOL

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  49. Glad I'm not the only one who feels platform should be second to writing a good book. Thanks for this post!

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  50. So if platform doesn't sell a book, the writing does...what about platform for getting your manuscript an invitation to be read? As in out of the slush pile? Hmmmmm............

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  51. Wow! Excellent subject, Jody.

    As a pre-pubbed novelist, I look at platform building the way I viewed my hope chest years ago. I'm putting things away in my writing trousseau for future use.

    I agree with you that no matter how big your platform grows, if the story and writing aren't terrific, it won't help. What's the point of having a stage if you have nothing to put on it?

    Blessings,
    Susan :)

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  52. It's tough...because when you're just starting out you don't know all this marketing stuff. I just wanted to comment that it sounds like your agent and you have a very good working relationship. I see a lot of mutual respect there.

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  53. Congrat on your 201 followers. Your platform is growing by the day, Jody!!

    I've got to agree that unless we have thousands and thousands of contacts we've not got a platform to sway an agent or editor for a first time author. But think of what we'd be missing if we didn't start networking, all the support and great advice we'd be missing.

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  54. Great post! Great comments!

    From personal experience, I can say that platform is a MUCH bigger deal for non-fiction writers.

    I struggle with knowing I need to build a platform but not wanting to come across as a blogger who only cares about getting more followers.

    Like the realtor who only comes to church to hand out business cards.

    I love the connections I've made through blog/facebook/twitter, and I don't want people to think I'm "using" them.

    Sigh.

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  55. ill link to this in my marketing roundup this friday! great advice :)

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  62. 女に生れて来たからには!!December 18, 2009 7:05 PM

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