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WORDS FROM FRIENDS

BOOK PUBLISHING 101A


On October 9, 2017, I presented an introduction to book publishing to Jody Keisner’s University of Nebraska/Omaha graduate seminar—Publishing Creative Nonfiction—via Skype. I thought the information might be useful to others who hope to publish a book; thus, my next five blog entries will recap that presentation. Jody’s class focuses mainly on publishing in literary journals and commercial magazines, so my presentation constitutes only a brief introduction.

FIVE AREAS TO BE COVERED:

I. PLATFORM BUILDING
II. ROUTES TO AN AGENT AND/OR PUBLISHER
III. PUBLISHING OPTIONS
IV. COMPROMISING WITH EDITORS
V. MARKETING

Caveat: Things change from day to day in the book-publishing world, so anything I write here could well be followed by a disclaimer.

I. PLATFORM BUILDING

Definition of a Writer’s Platform:
A writer’s platform is anything that makes the writer visible to their potential audience.

A Most Important Bit of Advice: If you want to get published and haven’t started building a platform, you need to start now. As soon as you finish reading this blog post. And wherever you are in your writing career. You may also find that you already have a platform started, even if you didn’t call it that.

A Cautionary Tale: Not having a platform can mean the difference between snagging an agent or a publisher and not. I once attended a panel at a conference where one of the panelists had agented a book that bore some significant similarities to my book, To Drink from the Silver Cup. I queried him, and he agreed that my book would be a good fit for him. Then he declined to represent me because, in his words, I had no platform. The author he had agented was the founder of an international organization numbering in the thousands—a readymade audience for his book—his platform. While I disagreed that I had no platform, I certainly didn’t have one of that magnitude. The moral of the tale: Start building your platform now, even if your book is a gleam in your eye. It is not too early.

Elements of a Platform:
There are many elements that might form the planks of a writer’s platform, but here are a few of the more common ones:

• Shorter published pieces—essays, short stories, articles—are an important part of a writer’s platform. They let a potential agent or publisher know your successes, your knowledge of publishing criteria, and that an audience has read your work. Short pieces related to the topic of your book are the best.

• Agents and editors have been known to trawl the Internet, hunting for blogs that have the potential to be books. Julie and Julia is a good example of a blog that became a book and later a movie. Some things that make a blog an effective part of a platform:
➢ The blog’s topic generally supports the topic of your book.
➢ The blog has significant traffic and generates comments, preferably on the blog site.
➢ You post to the blog frequently--at least once a week. Posting frequently builds traffic. The author of Julie and Julia posted every day.

• Have a presence on social media that relates to your book. I’ve learned the most about Facebook (FB) and can share some tips about using it to promote your book. You should have a FB page (not your timeline) dedicated to your book. FB is most heavily trafficked on weekday mornings, so it is not necessary to post to your book page on the weekends. One to two posts per week can be specifically related to your book—for example, a notice about that week’s blog post, something you’ve had published, a related event you’re participating in. The other days should consist of reposts of related memes and articles by other people; this keeps your page from appearing to be “all about you.” You can, however, if you have a website, include a link to your website with every post, which may drive some traffic to your website. Other social media can be just as effective or more so. How you choose which media platforms you’ll use depends a lot on how much time you have to spend on social media sites and which media you feel most comfortable using. You don’t have to do it all, but it’s good to do some. For more detail on using FB to promote a book or your writing career, see my August 5, 2016 blog post in the archives.

• Have a website where you promote your book, your published articles, and yourself. There are plenty of free and more-or-less user-friendly website-building programs. The Authors Guild, a service organization for writers, has several membership categories, some of which include free website design, for which you afterwards pay a small quarterly fee and which you maintain yourself. To learn more about the Authors Guild, see the link on the bottom right side of this page entitled “Find Authors.”

• Your expertise is another plank in your platform. Before you think that you have no expertise, consider the fact that you are writing a book. The topic of your book, even if the topic is yourself, is an area of specialized knowledge. Ask yourself a question that will also help you pitch your book to a prospective agent or editor: What is it about your book that is distinctive, that sets it apart from other books? In the case of To Drink from the Silver Cup, which is a memoir—hence, about me—there were a few areas I could promote as topics about which I was an expert of sorts. I knew about being LGBTQ in a fundamentalist Christian world; I knew about being a third culture kid (one who grew up in a culture other than her parents’ culture); I knew what it was like for a white girl to grow up in a red world, and that meant I knew something about Navajo language and culture; I knew something about missionary culture. Those were areas of expertise I could promote as part of my platform.

• If you can secure speaking engagements in the area of your expertise or even in other areas, this lets an agent or editor know that you will also be able to speak to help market your book.

• Write reviews of books whose topics are related to your book. It’s often easier to get book reviews published than essays, stories and poems. In your bio, when you write a review, mention things you’ve had published and the book you’re working on, along with its working title.

As writers, most of us didn’t think we signed up to be advertisers, but if you want your beautifully written book to go somewhere besides into your filing cabinet, you will have to promote it and, yes, yourself. You may never get completely comfortable with self-promotion, but in my case, I took it on as a new area of learning, a little like challenging myself with puzzles, which I love. In the process, I got much more comfortable with marketing my book and myself.

A Helpful Resource: Get Known Before the Book Deal: Use Your Personal Strengths to Grow an Author Platform. Christina Katz. Writer’s Digest Books, 2008.

Questions? Please feel free to ask or comment below.

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