Kendra Bonnett--Getting Read #14
Okay, so an aspiring author attends a writing conference and signs up to pitch her manuscript to several agents. Here's what transpires:
Aspiring Author: "I've finished writing my memoir and would like to find a publisher. Can you help me find a good publisher?"
Jaded Agent: "I have some good news and some bad news. The good news is that memoir is more popular than ever. Some argue that it's supplanted fiction as the most popular genre."
Aspiring Author: "Well that's great, but what's the bad news?"
Jaded Agent: "All that popularity is creating a very crowded field. To succeed you need to offer something special and you need to have an audience. What's your platform?"
So far, so good. Our aspiring author is feeling encouraged. She's starting to envision HarperCollins, Time Warner or, perhaps, Scribner as her publisher. She's worked closely with an editor; she knows her book is well written and timely. She begins to answer the agent with her well-rehearsed elevator speech. Her voice is strong; inside she's trembling with anticipation:
Aspiring Author: "I am the oldest of the 8 children adopted by Joyce and Bill BigHeart. I've written the heartfelt story about growing up in this amazing family. It's a heartwarming story; it's insightful; and above all it's inspiring because every one of my sisters and brothers has a physical, mental or emotional challenge. In spite of our problems, today we're all leading successful, happy lives thanks to the hard work, compassion and boundless optimism of our parents, Joyce and Bill. This is a book that will appeal to everyone."
Do you see the disconnect? Our jaded agent asked about the market first--platform is just another word for audience, market, readers. But as with many before her, our aspiring author is so caught up in her story that she has trouble imagining anything trumping her theme and message. The story has been her Number One focus for the past three years.
Alas, our jaded agent knows better. Given today's publishing climate and the fact that few authors can expect any marketing assistance from the publisher, she has to cut to the chase and ask first about the audience--the customer base that will buy the book--rather than the subject. It wouldn't matter if the aspiring author had said she'd written about how she was eight years old when she and her family climbed onto a raft to make their way from Cuba; only she survived (her brother drowned and her parents were eaten by sharks); and she washed up on a beach in Florida, ready to make her way in this new country with just the few silver coins her mother had sewn into the hem of her dress. It wouldn't matter because the agent needs to be able to sell prospective publishers on how many books the author can sell based on her platform (who she can reach).
It wouldn't have mattered if she'd said her story was about how she stowed away on the Space Shuttle or won the Kentucky Derby at the age of 12. Okay, that's not entirely true. These last two would be an easier pitch but only because if she'd done either of these things she'd be a celebrity, and even an agent would know something about her platform.
There's nothing wrong with any of these subjects, and I'm sure the same goes for most of your stories. A well-written book, well-organized, with a strong theme and message should appeal to some set of readers. But to whom? And how large is that market? These are the business questions every author must ask...the sooner the better.
There's No Such Thing As the "Everyone" Platform
While my little story here is hypothetical, it doesn't deviate far from the truth. When I ask an aspiring author about her audience and see a grin starting to light up her face, I know what's coming next: "Everyone will want to read my story." "It's a book for every American." "Everyone who's known tragedy will find solace this book." "Everyone. Everywhere. Forever."
I'm sorry to break the spell, but no book is for everyone. Not the Bible. Not the telephone book. This is not to take anything away from your topic, your message or your writing because I don't believe that anything, anywhere appeals to everyone. I've made lists of popular subjects and things...even of the most basic necessities...and I still can't find something with universal appeal. We must eat and drink water, but not everyone is interested in food. They fuel their bodies; nothing more. Dessert. Everyone must like dessert, right? I'll concede that the market is large, but no, not everyone likes dessert. Not sex either. And suicide proves that not even everyone loves living.
Now, with your feet planted firmly in reality, it's time to identify your platform and collect all the information you can about WHO that platform is:
- How many members of that platform.
- Median and average age of members.
- What they like to do.
- What kind of information they want/need.
- Where they hang out online.
- Organizations they belong to.
- Magazines they read.
- And more.
Let's get started. Come join me for the second half of this post over on Women's Memoirs. I want to share the last part of our interview with memoirist/therapist and founder of the National Association of Memoir Writers Linda Joy Myers. She answers two questions from our audience about platform and book marketing. Her answers explain why Matilda Butler and I have focused so many of our Women's Memoirs Book Business posts on the dual topics of platform and blogging. They are the two most important topics when when it comes to marketing and selling your book today.