The Game of Platform Development

Written By: Timothy Fish Published: 6/26/2009

The whole world has been talking about platform lately, or so it seems. Thatís the way it goes. The web is just one massive conversation going on all over the world. Iíve noticed that when people talk about platform, they also talk about marketing. Even Christina Katz, who is supposed to be telling us how to Get Known before the Book Deal, Uses the word market 23 times. Itís no wonder that wannabe authors grow so frustrated when literary agents tell them that they need a better platform. Many of the things people talk about when they talk about platform building do not apply to an author who doesnít have a book in print.

Platform = Sales

Thereís no question that there is overlap between platform and selling books. If you have a platform, you will do better at selling books, but as long as we keep those two joined, I think it is hard for authors to see the benefits of developing a platform before they have found an agent. Would it not be better to devote our efforts toward improving our writing? From a project management point of view, if all weíre worried about is selling that book, there is plenty of time between when the author signs the contract with the publisher and when the books are loaded onto the trucks for the author to develop a blog, do some interviews, all that stuff we associate with selling books these days. Publishers, we would hope, have more experience with selling books, so they should be able to educate their authors on the finer points of developing a platform and doing publicity. So, if platform equals sales, we have to give that point to the authors. Publishers are idiots for requiring authors to have a platform before they sign them. (Score so far, Publishers: 0 Authors: 1)

Platform Reveals Sales

Imagine you are and agent who is trying to pay off that boat in the back yard that your husband bought, but never uses because the motor is shot and thereís this leak that he canít seem to find. You go to your electronic slush pile and you pull up the next in line and ask yourself yes or no. What are you looking for? Youíre looking for one that 15% of the advance will give you enough to sell the boat in the back yard and buy your husband a boat that will actually work. You immediately delete the strange stuff, none of that will work. You find several with writing that is decent. These guys are skilled writers and the publishers wouldnít have to do a lot of work to whip the book into shape, but can the author sell enough books to get rid of that boat in the back yard? You see one, ďI am the mother five children who have all become missionaries. Please consider my book, Raising Apostles.Ē Not bad. Writing is good. The woman clearly has experience in the subject. Title can be changed. You put that in the maybe pile.

You move down the list and find another. ďFive years ago, my eldest son announced to my husband and me that he felt Godís calling to go to Africa as a missionary. We were torn between wanting him to follow the Lordís leading and wanting to keep him near us. Months later, we saw him off at the airport and though we spoke to him by phone a few times after that, we never saw him again. We fear he may have been killed by a tribe near one of the villages where he was working. Since that time, our other son has also gone to Africa, working in the same area. Many womenís groups have asked me to speak to them about my experiences. Many ask how we were able to let our younger son go. I speak at two or three churches a month, with about 15 to 25 women in attendance. Please consider representing my book Raising Martyrs.Ē

These are similar books. Maybe you find it interesting, maybe you donít, but what will everyone else think? With the first, we arenít sure. She has a story. She has experience. But we arenít sure. With the second, it is obvious. Forget the story. Forget the experience. This woman has two or three churches a month calling her up and asking ďWill you come talk to our women?Ē Yeah, 360 to 900 women per year doesnít seem like that much, but it wouldnít be so difficult to make a case for these women representing thousands more who might be interested. And it also shows us that this author is willing to put her story in front of people. That boat might disappear yet. (Score so far: Publishers: 1, Authors: 1)

Platform = Influence

Why do we write? Do we write so there will be a historical record of our thoughts? I doubt it. Do we write because it is therapeutic? Some people do, but why seek publication is that is all it is? I believe that the main reason people write is to influence people to take action. We want people to read our words and to be changed by the experience. I like nothing better than to see someone comment about something I have written on this blog, saying I hadnít thought of that. Iím going to try that to see if it will work for me. Most of us arenít trying to rule the world, or something like that, but we want our words to make it a better place. We want our words to help people. We want people to treat others better. We want people to be better parents, teachers, writers, etc. We want our words to influence people.

Consider the second author in the example above. Why does she go to various churches, talking about her experiences? Money? To sell books? Hardly, since most of these churches probably canít afford to pay her expenses. She wants other women to learn from her experiences. She wants women to understand that its okay to send their children off to be missionaries, even though they may not come back. She wants to influence people in such a way that it makes the world better. Thatís what her platform gives her. It gives her a way to influence as many as 900 women a year to raise their children as God would have them to. What that means is that persons of influence are people with a platform. Weíll give this point to the publishers because they are looking for people who rock the world around them. (Current score: Publishers: 2, Authors: 1)

Game, Set, Match

Forget the book deal. Forget book sales. Do you want to be a person of influence? Do you want to influence people to help make the world a better place? Work on that platform. Don't do it because you need to beef up your query letter. Do it because it helps you attain the more important goals. Yes, if you have a platform, it will make you quest for traditional publication a whole lot easier. It will sell more books, but if you think that is the biggest benefit of a platform then you are missing the whole point. Be a person of influence. Lead people to make the world a better place. Lead people to do the right thing. Let publication be the sideaffect, rather than the ultimate goal.