Platform for Fiction Writers

Ah, the dreaded p-word. “Platform” is an all-encompassing term that can include blogs, websites, social media, speaking events, TV/radio appearances, celebrity fame, and other outlets that help an author connect to readers, writers, and other gatekeepers in the literary industry. Jane Friedman describes it best: “an ability to sell books because of who you are or who you can reach.”

At one time, nonfiction authors were the ones who had to worry about platform—they had to prove there was an audience who wanted to read about their particular memoir, advice, or topic. But now, most fiction writers are expected to have a platform too. The content of a story always comes first, but many publishers want to see an author’s connections in the early stages of the game. So let’s take a look at frequently asked questions about all things platform for fiction writers.

Why do publishers care about platform? This is an easy one to answer: we want to know if an author has a readership. Publishing is a competitive industry, and finding an author who is already connected to consumers or influencers is a huge win!

Do I have to have a platform to get published? Short answer: no.

I’m a new writer. Should I have a platform? Longer answer: eventually you will be expected to grow a platform to connect with readers, so it only helps you to start now! But both the you and the publisher should have reasonable expectations of what that platform will look like…for most people, it isn’t easy to build a large platform until they have a book to market! Take a look at other aspiring or debut writers in your genre, and set goals based on where those folks are.

Does a publisher look me up online? We sure do! Casual internet stalking is one of the first things I do when considering an author’s submission. I check for social media, but I also check to see if the author has attended any recent conferences/festivals, participated in events like Pitch Wars or NaNoWriMo, or are a member of nationally recognized groups like SCBWI or RWA that could connect them to readers and other writers.

What should my online platform look like? When it comes to being online, be sure that you’re going for quality over quantity. Having ten different social media accounts doesn’t matter if you’re not posting regularly and interacting with other users. I always recommend starting with the following:

  • A professional, author-centric website or blog
  • Author accounts (not personal accounts) on at least two social media sites. Which sites will depend on your book and your audience, but Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are good places to start.

How many followers should I have? Follower counts depend on a number of factors, including your publishing history, the topic of your book, your intended audience, and how new you are to a site. The two most important things to consider here are 1.) making sure you’re not just doing a follow-for-follow approach (we know what that looks like!) and 2.) following and being followed by influencers. Influencers include book bloggers, booksellers, librarians, authors, editors, book tubers, reviewers, and anyone else who is active in your arm of publishing. These folks will make a better audience than random followers you don’t know.

The internet isn’t my thing. How else can I build a platform? The bad news is, the internet kind of needs to become your thing. Having an online presence is a key element of an author’s platform, and oftentimes is their main connection to readers since it’s one of the first places readers discover new authors and books. The good news is, you can work on your “real life” platform too! Look for opportunities for public speaking (like doing a panel at a conference), join a group like RWA or SCBWI, or see if you can get a spot writing book reviews for a paper or magazine. Anything that makes you visible to readers is a step in the right direction!

What makes a good platform? Like I mentioned above, having a professional online presence is key, and it’s also hugely helpful to have connections through writing groups or conferences. When it comes to an online platform, follower counts will vary, so what I look for is engagement. If an author creates a post, does it get liked, commented on, and shared? Offline, I like to see one or two ways an author is regularly interacting with the larger reading and writing community.

Where do I even start??? Check out the links below for tips on starting your platform:

Have more questions about platform? Post in the comments field below!

Writing Conference Pitches: Dos and Don’ts

Many writing conferences offer aspiring writers the opportunity to pitch agents and editors. These meetings can be a chance to get representation or even a book deal, and as a result can seem totally intimidating. But don’t get overwhelmed—follow these dos and don’ts to make the most of your face time with a publishing pro!

Do…research the person across the table. Spend time before the meeting checking out the agent or editor on their website and on social media so you know exactly what kind of project they’re looking for. Choosing the right person is the first step to finding a home for your book. Continue reading

Seven Things to Do Before Querying Your Novel

Finished your book? Starting to query agents and editors? Wondering how you can stand out from the slush pile? Check off these seven steps before sending off your manuscript, and you’ll be well ahead of the game.

1. Edit. A book that has not been edited by a third party is not your best book, and working with a critique partner or hiring a professional editor is always a smart move for your manuscript. You can connect with thousands of other writers online or in your local community and even find folks in your genre who are willing to read your work and provide notes. A second set of eyes can provide invaluable feedback and catch those pesky typos that you’ve overlooked. Continue reading

10 Things to Do When You Have Writer’s Block

It happens to all of us, that agonizing moment when you sit down to write and…nothing happens. You try all the tricks you can think of to break the cycle, but the words just aren’t coming.

Instead of banging your head against the wall, try the 10 activities below. Some get your creative juices flowing, some engage your research skills, some are just plain fun, and all them allow you to keep moving forward with your manuscript without actually writing the text. And who knows, maybe you’ll be back at your keyboard before you reach #10.

1. Go back and edit what you’ve written. Stuck on a chapter? Go to the beginning of your book and start editing. By the time you reach the sticky chapter, you will have gotten reacquainted with your book and will be full of news ideas to improve. Continue reading

Writing with a Coauthor: 6 Smart Strategies

Thinking of cowriting a novel? A lot of folks have done it. Some recent YA examples include Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff, Will Grayson, Will Grayson, by John Green and David Levithan, Doon by Carey Corp and Lorie Langdon, Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, and my personal favorite, My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg!

Cowriting can be a blessing…and a curse. On the pro side, you only need to write half a book and you have a built-in brainstorming buddy. On the con side, think of how agonizing it is to write your own first draft, and then imagine having to share that with another human being who is writing an equally agonizing first draft. Or consider having to make compromises when you really, really don’t want to. Sounds like a recipe for disaster.

Avoid disaster with the six strategies below that will help you make cowriting work. Continue reading

How to Write a Fiction Book Proposal

A book proposal is a document most commonly associated with pitching a nonfiction book. It includes information on the content, the author, the market, and the salability of the project. But when it comes to fiction, few agents or editors expect or require book proposals. I certainly don’t, though I have to admit that I am always happy to receive one. A book proposal helps me learn more about an author than a two-sentence bio. It gives me insight into marketing opportunities. And it provides a snapshot of the project that saves me hours of work when I’m preparing to evaluate a project.

Whether or not you need a book proposal, I recommend going through the exercise. Putting together a proposal will help you hone your pitch and get a feel for being the “brand manager” of your book. A proposal makes you think like an editor, a marketer, and a salesperson all at once.

Ready to give it a try? Here are some elements I love to see in a fiction book proposal (and if you’re writing nonfiction, most of these still apply!): Continue reading

Writing Conferences: Get Your Money’s Worth

Can I just say, I can never figure out if it is supposed to be “writers conferences” or “writers’ conferences.” No one seems to use the apostrophe, but aren’t the conferences for/belonging to the writers? These are the things that keep me up at night!

Grammar existentialism aside, let’s talk about writers(‘) conferences. They are incredible places to meet agents, editors, and fellow writers, to work on your craft, and to pitch you book. However, they do tend to come with a price tag. So how can you get your money’s worth?

1. Go with goals. Before your conference begins, write down a list of 5 or 10 realistic goals you want to accomplish. Do you want to finish drafting your novel? Meet a new critique partner? Find an agent? Make an effort to cross each of your goals off during the conference. Continue reading

The 15 Books Every Writer Should Own

Take it from the girl that has five overflowing bookshelves (not counting the ones in my office or the boxes stashed away in friends’ and family members’ basements): You can never have too many books. But if you are an aspiring writer, or even a seasoned one, there are 15 must-have books that will help you take your craft to the next level. Check out the list below, and add your favorites in the comments section.

Reference

1. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary

This is the go-to dictionary for the publishing world.

2. The Chicago Manual of Style Continue reading

Hook, Line, and Sinker: 5 Ways to Create Your Novel Hook

Today’s publishing world is all about the hook. Just take a look at PW’s roundup of recent deals for any given week.

“It’s a modern retelling of Sense and Sensibility.”

“It’s a gender swap of Gone Girl.”

“It’s Jaws meets Catcher in the Rye.” (Okay, that might be interesting. Is the shark a phoney too? Will it cost Holden an arm and a leg to find out?)

Don’t get me wrong…I love a good hook. It can be make or break for a submission. It’s a great way for editors to pitch a book to sales reps and accounts. It helps make a book memorable. It can be the cornerstone of a marketing campaign. But creating the right hook is even more important than having a hook in the first place. Some things, like Jaws and Catcher in the Rye, just don’t go well together (unless you’re as anxious to see Holden Caulfield get eaten as I am). You want your pitch to fit the book, but not seem campy, confusing, or forced. So how do you master the art of the hook?  Continue reading