Platform-Building Tip #1: Switch Writing Hats!
Around eighty percent of nonfiction books today are written by “experts,” that is people who have a) earned credentials in the field they’re writing about, b) germinated information via articles, live presentations or other media, or c) had extraordinary, unique or memorably told life experiences relevant to their topic.
For an autobiographical work, such as a memoir, an author needn’t have any special expertise—she is the foremost authority on her own life. For a how-to or self-help book, however, the first thing mainstream publishers want to know is, “Does the author have a platform?”
Among the multiple definitions of “platform” in Merriam Webster’s 10th edition are 1) a place from which to speak, 2) a set of principles, and 3) a vehicle for carrying things. All these are important to an author’s platform. The good news is, in the six to eighteen months it will take most authors to write either their book proposal or their entire book, they can develop a platform.
Here are some things editors look for in a platform:
- publications in the field demonstrating your expertise
- a mailing list
- pamphlets, tapes or other media carrying messages related to those in your book
- teaching or leading experience on the topic of your book
- a column
- a unique point of view with demonstrable appeal
- regular speaking engagements
- courses taught at a local venue
- a well-designed website
The section of the nonfiction proposal entitled Author’s Bio or Author’s Credentials details the information about the author’s platform. Many aspiring authors I work with, at least initially, grossly underrepresent themselves in this section.
SOLUTION 1: WORK WITH WHAT YOU HAVE—THEN SWITCH HATS!
Assume that you probably already have more of a platform than you know. Instead of beginning by writing your bio in paragraph form, put on your Scribe hat and make a list—yes, that’s right, a long, tedious, unsexy list—of everything you’ve done that seems even remotely related to your book.
Once you’ve made your boring list, switch hats. You’re now a Publishing Consultant looking over your client’s resume. How are you going to make her shine? Simple—you’re going to take everything even remotely relevant to the book and change into a language that will make publishers perk up their ears. How do you know what will make publishers perk up their ears?
Switch hats again. You’re an Acquisitions Editor at a major publishing house sitting behind a desk, asking yourself, which of these 163 proposals that arrived this week is worth risking my reputation, bank account and job to publish? Then put your Publishing Consultant hat back on, and do your translation—but don’t forget about that anxious editor.
Here’s an example:
Bob Jones, who’s writing a book on personal accounting and finance for the masses, picks a phrase from his Scribe list, “Instructor at Coleridge Community College for twelve years.” With his Publishing Consultant hat on, he rewrites this phrase to read “translated high-level accounting concepts into laypeople’s language to over 3,000 adults of various backgrounds over twelve years.”
Moving right along, Bob changes “facilitated students home accounting practices, enabling them to pay bills and prepare taxes with greater efficiency” to “Over these twelve years, the author developed a series of steps, called the Number Crunch Shuffle. Students consistently report that the Number Crunch Shuffle helps them overcome their fear of numbers, streamlines their home accounting process and cuts their bill and tax preparation time in half.
guerilla tip: Bob didn’t really call these steps the “Number Crunch Shuffle” at the time he taught them at Coleridge Community College. He got help developing this tag for the technique around which his book is built. However, he did develop the method itself while teaching those 3,000 students.
guerilla insight: There’s plenty of reality to work with. Take what’s there and describe it in new and exciting ways. Find a gem that makes your book special and give it an attention-grabbing name.