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How to Escape the Publishing Catch 22

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.


How to Escape the Publishing Catch 22

By far the most common reason that I cite in turning down book proposals is the lack of an author’s platform. Platform is the reach an author already has into the realm of the proposed book’s subject matter.

It is fairly common knowledge that in order to get a non fiction book deal you must already have some presence as an expert in the field, be affiliated with a well known story or organization, speak regularly, and get media attention. However, many people see the book as the entre into their field and express dismay at my feedback. “But you need a book to GET all those things!” they say, it is a catch 22! Apart from the fact that this is not true, as is demonstrated by the many first time authors that we publish who do have platforms, this is also a misunderstanding of what it means to “have a book.”

“Books don’t launch movements, movements launch books” –Jeevan Sivasubramaniam

The above is one of the many pieces of advice that BK is known for. Books can amplify movements, but they cannot launch them from nothing. There are many examples of a book taking someone to the next level, but there are virtually no examples of someone with no presence or reputation in the subject area launching a movement simply by publishing a book and speaking about it at a few bookstores. If you publish a book and ALSO work to promote yourself and your idea, it is actually the platform building that is launching your movement, not the book itself.

So, how do you get the platform without the book?

The first thing to ask yourself is “What are my qualifications to write this book?” Your answer needs to reflect several years of your life devoted to the realm of the book you want to write. Your work and accomplishments, and preferably your academic credentials, need to live up. If you want to change the world, go out and start doing work that advances your ideals. You will meet people, make connections, and accomplish things. You will learn more about your message, and if what you want to do is speak about it, you can position yourself from within a movement to do that. Building a platform requires the effort of a full time job.

Yet another pop culture parallel

One of the biggest blockbuster movies of my childhood was the adaptation of Cinderella called Ever After. In this adaptation, Ella is an idealistic devotee of Thomas More’s Utopia and over the course of the movie she teaches the ne’er-do-well prince that his position as future ruler of France comes along with a massive responsibility. “With great privilege comes great responsibility” is the quote from that movie that has stayed with me through my life.

I recently attended the BK Author Co-op Marketing Workshop, and was struck by all the wondrous things our authors cited as benefits and doors that open upon publication of a book. This is absolutely the case- a book WILL open many doors for you. The benefits to being a published author are huge. However, this is a privilege and it requires the corresponding level of responsibility. Publishing a book will result in a massive amount of credibility, but that credibility must be earned first.

Ask yourself WHY does a book open doors?

A book opens doors specifically because it represents achievement already earned. When you have published a book, people assume you have done those years of work, and that an editor and publishing house somewhere has considered your message worth investing in. The doors do not open because of the book, the doors open because of what the book represents. If you don’t have what the book represents, the book might help, but ultimately people looking to hire you are going to look beyond the book cover and realize there is not much behind it. The way out is to do what so many authors have already done- stop thinking of the lack of a book as a barrier to building your platform, but rather as a mark of achievement for having done so.

There are quite a few books on building your platform, so here are the books we recommended in our last two BK Author Marketing Workshops:

This year we gave away copies of Your First 1000 Copies: The Step-by-Step Guide to Marketing Your Book, by Tim Grahl and it is getting rave reviews.

1000 Copies Tim Grahl

Last year we gave away Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World by Michael Hyatt, which has been similarly well received by our marketing department and authors.

Platform Michael Hyatt

Go forth and change the world, and escape the fallacy of the publishing catch 22!