I’m implementing a new series here at Living – In Theory. Every Monday, I’ll be featuring a Mom who makes things happen. Oddly enough, I’ve decided to call it: Make It Happen, Mama! The first interview is a woman who inspired me to move toward my dream of being published (there, I said it) and who continues to inspire me by just being Christina. If you’re inspired, please feel free to leave your comments below.
January 4, 2009
Christina Katz is the author of Get Known Before the Book Deal, Use Your Personal Strengths to Grow an Author Platform (Writer’s Digest Books). She started her platform “for fun” seven years ago and ended up on “Good Morning America.” Christina teaches e-courses on platform development and writing nonfiction for publication. Her students are published in national magazines and land agents and book deals. Christina has been encouraging reluctant platform builders via her e-zines for five years, has written hundreds of articles for national, regional, and online publications, and is a monthly columnist for the Willamette Writer. A popular speaker at writing conferences, writing programs, libraries, and bookstores, she hosts the Northwest Author Series in Wilsonville, Oregon. She is also the author of Writer Mama, How to Raise a Writing Career Alongside Your Kids (Writer’s Digest Books).
What is a platform, and why is it so important for unpublished writers to have one?
A platform is a promise, which says you will not only create something to sell (a book), but also promote it to the specific readers who will want to purchase it. Your platform communicates your expertise to others and it works all the time so you don’t have to. Your platform includes your Web presence, any public speaking you do, the classes you teach, the media contacts you’ve established, the articles you’ve published, and any other means you currently have for making your name and your future books known to a viable readership. A platform isn’t what you once did. It’s what you currently do. If others already recognize your expertise on a given topic or for a specific audience or both, then that is your platform. A platform-strong writer is a writer with influence.
Why is it so important to publishers that writers have a platform?
One writer can have a great book idea at the perfect time and be the absolute best person to write that book and still not land the deal if he or she doesn’t have the platform that is going to fulfill the promise to sell the book. Agents and editors have known this for years and look for platform-strong writers and get them book deals. If you want to land the book deal, today, then you need to become a platform-strong writer. You need to stand out in the crowd by the time you are ready to pitch your book.
Why did you write Get Known Before the Book Deal? What was the intention behind the book?
Most of the other self-promotion books for writers pick up with the book deal. No other book dials self-promotion all the way back to how to get started. My intention for Get Known was that it would be the book every writer would want to read before attending a writer’s conference. It should increase any writer’s chances of writing a saleable proposal and landing a book deal whether they pitch the book in-person or by query.
As I was writing the book, I saw how this type of information was often being offered as “insider secrets” at outrageous prices. No one should have to pay thousands of dollars for the information they can find in my book for the price of a paperback! Seriously. You can ask your library to order it and read it for free. Get Known outlines the complete platform basics step-by-step.
Is there a single most important thing authors need to do to build a platform?
When you think about the fact that about 500 books are published each day in this country, you realize that writing a book isn’t going to set you apart. So, the first thing you need to know is what makes you and your expertise unique and communicate that. If you don’t know who you are and what you uniquely offer, how is anyone else going to know? I call this cultivating your identity, not branding, because that word is so grossly overused these days. Identity also nods to the importance of keeping things real and staying true to yourself, while also making self-promotion a priority.
Can you give three specific tips to help writers launch their platform?
Sure. Here’s my top three…
1. Clarify the expertise you have to offer. If you don’t know what your expertise is, then mulling it over could take some time. And that’s okay. Consult experts you respect. Do some self-reflection. Get out and connect with others like you through associations or conferences. Write some articles on things you know how to do. Don’t be afraid to take time for platform development before you start spending a lot of time online…especially if you already are online but are not getting any closer to accomplishing your professional writing goals. When it comes to clarifying your expertise, taking a step back and looking within is a good strategy.
2. Carve out a distinct niche among others who are offering similar expertise. How are you different? Inquiring minds want to know. You’ll have to communicate who you are and what you do quickly. Attention spans are getting shorter, so writing down what you do concisely is critical. Platform isn’t the credentials or your resume; it’s what you currently do. It’s current, constantly evolving, and updated on an ongoing basis. A blog is a good example of a place where a writer can authentically share what she is learning to assist others. Any niche should always be a win-win proposition like this. But again, give your topic some forethought. Realize that a hundred people might already be blogging on the same topic.
3. Identify and respond to your audience. If you are vague about your audience, the whole writing process takes longer and typically requires more rewriting. This applies to books, blogs and everything else. But when you identify your specific audience and begin speaking to them directly, the conversation can spark all kinds of wonderful ideas, connections and opportunities. Small concrete steps build over time and create career momentum.
Times are tight, and people don't necessarily want to shell out money right now. Do you have any tips that are cost-friendly?
Platform development shouldn’t break the bank. My advice is don’t shell out money at the get-go. Instead educate yourself first and then take small steps. Try to avoid the impulse to slap together a platform quickly to impress others. I suggest a more long-term approach and working slowly and steadily in order to spend less and save more in the long run. This means, while you are working on your novel, you should at least be planning your platform. And if you want to write nonfiction, I suggest platform development first and book proposal development second. Platform development will help you write a stronger and more impressive proposal. The numbers of people you influence will help close the deal.
What are the special challenges for fiction writers building a platform?
Fiction/memoir/children’s writers will often spin off a series of topics they can explore to help promote themes they’ve already written about and hope to sell in book form. For example, novelist Marc Acito wrote How I Paid For College, A Novel of Sex, Theft, Friendship & Musical Theater. Afterwards, it made sense for him to write and teach and speak on how to write humorous fiction and how to write a page-turner. Note how specific his topics were. He spun them off after mastering them in his process.
Other things fiction writers often learn about involve: place, a topic from their research, a time period, a truth or phenomenon, universal human themes, a particular time or phase every person experiences (like coming of age), or the creative process itself. These can become promotional opportunities (sometimes even paying ones) that spark book sales.
How do being prolific and/or productive relate to platform building?
Many writers promise publishers that they have the ability to make readers seek out and purchase their book. But when it comes time to demonstrate this ability, they can’t deliver. This explains why so many books get into print, only to go right out of print within the year. They don’t go out of print because they aren’t well written, mind you. They go out of print because they don’t sell. My mission is to empower writers to be 100 percent responsible for their writing career success and stop looking to others to do their promotional work for them so this won’t happen to them.
Platform development is crucial to the sustainability of your writing career. Don’t think: get a book deal. Think: get book deals. A prolific writer can churn out words. A productive writer closes deals and signs contracts to write the kinds of books she’d love to read.
Are there any types of writers who don’t need a platform?
Yes. There are dozens of reasons to write but only writers who want to establish themselves as professional writers, who aspire to publish a traditionally published or a self-published book should concern themselves with platform development. If you’re writing for other reasons, such as to heal, to connect with friends and family, or just for pleasure, then perhaps you don’t need a platform.
When you're done platform building, how do you find time to write?
My career goes in cycles. I have periods that focus on writing followed by periods that focus on self-promotion. I’m in a promo cycle right now and it’s fun! I’m thoroughly enjoying myself. And I’m still writing plenty. I have noticed that these supposed “non-writing times” often yield the next book idea, which has been the case again this time. I can’t wait to pitch it.
If a writer starts today and allows platform development to be an integrated aspect of her writing career, I’m sure she will find that the two efforts—writing and self-promotion—feed each other and help her career to grow naturally and authentically. And what writer wouldn’t want that?
You can learn more about Christina and her offerings at http://www.christinakatz.com.