Why a Great Platform Might Not Land You a Book Contract

Anna Leinberger Posted by Anna Leinberger, Editorial Manager, Acqusitions, Berrett-Koehler Publishers Inc.

Anna is a writer and editor for Berrett-Koehler in Oakland, CA. More on killer book proposals and writing can be found on her BK Blog.


Why a Great Platform Might Not Land You a Book Contract

Know Your Platform, and Know How to Use It

It is no secret that publishers are focused on the platform of a prospective author.  In case you have made it to this blog without know what that is, platform is a term that describes the network of people that an author can reach directly. These are things like email lists, client base, number of speaking gigs you have every year, and yes, social media followers.  There are obvious reasons for publishers to be interested in this – it comes down to sales, of course.  In reading hundreds of book submissions every year, I constantly see people with strong platforms shoot themselves in the foot by not presenting them in a way that highlights their strengths.  Your platform is unique to you, and you need to demonstrate in your proposal that you know how to leverage your individual strengths.

We don’t expect everyone you know to buy your book

Platform is not about selling a book to every person in your network, and it certainly is not about finding out that 80% of American workers are disengaged, and claiming that all X million disengaged workers will therefore be interested in your book on employee engagement.  Understanding how to use your platform is an exercise in specificity.  There is no good boilerplate “here is how to write a book marketing plan” for a reason- everyone reaches their audience differently, and different audiences will do different things for a book.  I have selected several different types of platforms to show you their strengths and how to highlight them.

The Speaker

Since we publish business development non-fiction, we see a lot of this type of platform.  People who do corporate trainings and who want to write a book on the methods they use will need this platform.  These people sell books at speaking gigs, sometimes at the back of the room afterwards, or more effectively, they will make purchasing the book for every member of the audience part of their speaker’s fee.  This accomplishes two things: you sell that many books, and you get the book into the hands of a large number of people, who may become buyers themselves in the future.  This is also true of coaches and consultancies that do workshops.

The Well-Connected Organization

When you are a prominent person at the helm of a non-profit, NGO, or activist movement, like Jeffrey Clements, your platform will look a little different.  While you still may speak, you are more likely to be doing sales at the back of the room, and therefore will sell fewer books.  However, you can still roll the use of the book into your organization’s work.  You can use the books in fundraising campaigns, buying them from the publisher and using them as a fundraising incentive.  If you do workshops about activism, you can make purchase of the book required for participation. With this sort of platform, you should think about how you can use the book as leverage or as a calling card for your movement and for the organization, not just you personally.

The Journalist

If you are a writer already who publishes articles in news outlets, you want to emphasize your placements.  Work on pitching articles to major publications.  Your platform will ideally be a long list of articles you have published in magazines and newspapers that relate to your main area of expertise in some way.  The articles do not have to be all about the same thing, but you should be known for your writing on one larger subject area.  The more placements and the bigger the publications, the more impressive this is, of course.  If you have contacts in those news outlets, put those in the proposal as well, so we know you have an established relationship with the editor.  A journalist platform can also emphasize speaking engagements, but they are less likely to drive sales than the “Speaker” platform above.  Instead, the goal in speaking when you have a journalism or writers platform is visibility and awareness.  You want to use your speaking to get your face and name on people’s radar and to build credibility for yourself.

The Internet Star

As counterintuitive as this might sound, an Internet platform is not always the best kind of platform.  How you present your Internet platform is critical, since many things that seem like obvious strengths are actually not.  For example, lots of twitter followers does not mean that much to us.  Different Internet platforms measure different levels of engagement.  Hitting “follow” on twitter is a very low level of engagement- it takes no commitment, and they may never see any of your tweets. It is very unlikely that someone will buy your book (paying money and dedicating time to read it) because that is a very demanding level of engagement.  An email list is a much higher level of engagement, because someone needs to have found your work, read enough about it to want more, and typed in their email address. Instead of missing 99% of what you tweet, they will always at least see your email in their inbox, and they are much more likely to open the email and read your work.  Since these followers are more deeply engaged already, it is less of a leap to the level of engagement required to actually make a sale and have them read the book.  On a platform like Facebook, your number of followers does not matter as much as the number of comments, likes, and shares you are getting.  When discussing your Internet platform, be sure to emphasize how you engage with your followers, not just how many you have.

Whatever you do, be organized and clear

Ultimately, editors and agents are scanning your proposal very quickly.  You want your platform to be clear and easy to read.  Whether it is a list of clients, speaking gigs, or internet platforms, organize the information in a way that is easy to follow.  Spreadsheets (but not too complicated) are great for showcasing past and future speaking gigs.  Subheadings and short paragraphs accompanied by data are good for internet engagement. Long paragraphs expounding on how many people need your work are not.  Your marketing plan is ultimately an opportunity for you to think about the work you are doing in the world, and how you are already spreading your message.  Make sure you take that opportunity to demonstrate to your publisher that you know your strengths and how to use them.