Author Platforms: What They Are, Why Agents And Editors Look For Them, And Whether You Need One To Get Your Book Published

What is an author platform? The term platform is generally most relevant to writers of nonfiction (especially those working with book proposals); however, novel and memoir writers can also be included in terms of their platforms. Literary agents and editors use the word platform within the publishing industry to talk about an author’s relationship with his or her audience. Let’s get into the specifics of what a platform is, why literary agents and editors take them seriously, and whether or not you, as a writer, need one.

Author Platforms in Real Life

When you write a proposal for a nonfiction book, you’re expected to have a good, strong platform. A platform involves many components: the author’s expertise in the field that he or she is writing about; the author’s preexisting popularity, notoriety, and status as a leader in his or her field; the author’s personal, already-established connection to the readership that will be interested in his or her book.

In short, a platform is the author’s background within a given field that establishes him or her as the right person to publish (and sell) a book on the subject.

Most of the time, writers of self-help, how-to, or even biography proposals will need a strong platform.

What Is A Strong Platform? A Weak platform?

Let’s say you’ve written a nonfiction book proposal to publish a book about a brand-new diet: The Lima Bean Diet.

An author who has a strong platform:

Is a highly educated nutritionist with multiple degrees and special studies about lima beans

Has written and published many peer-reviewed articles on lima beans in science journals

Has written and published many popular weight-loss articles about lima beans in major commercial magazines

Has a blog with a strong following of people who have had success with The Lima Bean Diet

Has gained some preliminary media coverage (local TV spots, articles, interviews) that suggests The Lima Bean Diet is the next big thing

Has led high-energy seminars all over the nation about The Lima Bean Diet and has a growing mailing list

A writer who has a weak platform:

Has minimal or informal education in his or her field (relies on personal experience to prove The Lima Bean Diet works)

Has published a few articles on The Lima Bean Diet with “underground” blogs, websites, and zines

Has not published anything in commercial magazines or has published only in small-circulation periodicals

Has a blog, but not many followers—and few followers are active

Has a following of family and friends (with some friends of friends and some strangers)—but that’s where it ends

Has had little to no media coverage

Has no reputation for being an expert, leads a couple of local seminars in libraries or health food stores

What Your Platform Means To A Literary Agent Or Editor

To make “big numbers” on a nonfiction book, a literary agent will look for an author who comes with a built-in audience (an audience that depends on and trusts said author’s expertise). Many writers believe that they “have a great idea for a book.” And still more believe that their personal experiences alone make them the authority about their subject.

Nonfiction writing is especially competitive. If a literary agent “falls in love with” a project, he or she may be willing to work with an author to build up a platform (in order to impress an editor), but this happens very rarely. Instead, writers should build their own platform before querying an agent.

How To Build Up A Better Platform For Your Writing

1. Be (or become) an expert in your field.

2. Establish a strong online presence via an author website, a blog, and social networking.

3. Write articles for major commercial magazines.

4. Be approached as an expert source for other people writing about your subject.

5. Offer seminars and establish yourself as a speaker.

6. Hire a publicist who can help with media exposure.

One last note: if you’re writing a memoir, it helps to be high-profile, but it’s not necessary. Memoirs are not sold via proposal, and, therefore, their authors don’t necessarily need a platform. For all intents and purposes, a memoir works like fiction: The book must be complete, not pitched via proposal.

Writer’s Relief has been helping writers of fiction and nonfiction connect with the best literary agents since 1994. We’ve successfully helped many creative writers build up their publication credits (and platforms) within the literary-magazine market. When you have a strong writing bio or platform, you’re more likely to receive interest from a literary agent. So check out Writer’s Relief today!

2 Responses to Author Platforms: What They Are, Why Agents And Editors Look For Them, And Whether You Need One To Get Your Book Published

  1. I’d appreciate some comments/ advice re platforms for fiction writers. I have one novel out, “saving Miss Oliver’s,” and another,a sequel, for which I will soon be trying to find an agent. Both novels are set in an independent school and so I already have a platform as a professional educator in the independent school community. How to broaden that to the larger community of readers?

  2. Writers Relief Staff says:

    Stephen, These days, the best way to build your platform is to build a strong Web presence. While both fiction and nonfiction writers are expected (by most mainstream publishing professionals) to build platforms, having a “built-in audience” is especially important for nonfiction writers.

    Fiction writers would do well to have strong publishing credits and, if possible, a solid Web infrastructure: an author website, lively social networks, and perhaps even a blog. If a literary agent sees that you’re prepared to interact with, encourage, and court new fans, he/she maybe encouraged.

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