This interesting question comes from Diana:
Platforms continue to elude me. How to build one without pigeon-holing yourself, how to assess the best methods, how to find the time (snort). Is the scope of your platform important to an agent? Are publishers looking for genre-specific platforms or more generalized author-focused approaches? Am I worrying too much about this?
First and foremost, when a writer asks, “Am I worrying too much about this?” the answer is almost always “yes!” Not to make light of Diana’s plight, but writers do have a reputation for getting hung up on things and then swirling in their own heads until panic arises. I get it, too. It’s the curse of hte intellectual/creative type.
Now, “platform” is one of those buzzwords that you hear on blogs and message boards and at conferences. First and foremost, it’s much more important for non-fiction writers. That is a fact. When you put together a non-fiction book proposal, the publisher really wants to know how many people you can reach and sell books to. That’s a crucial concern for them at acquisitions. Professionals with big networks, popular bloggers, experts with connections, people who have caught the media spotlight…those are the types of people who can impress editors with the promise of big NF sales.
Fiction writers are different. They’re not selling themselves (an essential part of every non-fiction book is either that the author or the idea are noteworthy and attention-grabbing), they’re selling a story. In most cases in fiction, it really is all about the book and not about the personality behind it. Some fiction authors don’t even do promotion for their work.So the average fiction writer’s platform is, “I like to write fiction,” and that’s okay.
Let me repeat: Fiction lives and dies by the manuscript itself, unless you’re famous. And you would know if you were famous (hint: you wouldn’t be reading this blog because you’d already have five different types of agents).
A lot of my (unpopular) thoughts on developing platform for fiction writers can be found addressed in this previous post. I stick by what I said. Just like a query letter does not have the power to make or break you as a fiction writer (query letter writing and manuscript writing are two different things), a fiction writer’s huge platform does not have the power to land you a book deal if your book is horrible, nor does a lacking platform get in the way of an acquisition if the book is brilliant. (Unless, again, you’re Snooki.)
All that said, however, it’s important for writers in today’s market to think about platform at some point. You should start getting familiar with the idea of self-promotion, the venues for developing your marketing strategy (blogs, social media), etc. However, platform shouldn’t be the thing you need to focus on before you write your manuscript. Once you get a book deal, you’ll need to shift into two modes, a) marketing Debut Novel, and b) writing Follow-up Novel. But that’s after. Building a platform now, before you have a book, before you have anything to leverage it with, is a bit like putting the cart before the horse.
People love their blogging and their Tweeting and the communities of unpublished writers that they’ve created online. I’m not trying to take that away from you. But realize that a platform without something to sell is not something you really need to be worried about at this point. I’m all about writers getting themselves out there and starting to participate in the world, build buzz, etc., but that’s not what I’m selling when I sell your fiction. If platform is stressing you out, go back to focusing on the writing.