Guest Post by Tom Blubaugh
November 6th is coming quickly. We don’t need a calendar to remind us of this important date. Just turn on the TV and during every commercial break, you will see one or more political ads. Billions of dollars are being spent on, for the most part, negative advertising. I don’t know about you, but I’m not nearly as interested in the other person’s shortcomings—I want to know what the platform the candidates are running on is; where does each contender stand on important issues. We are all familiar with a political platform.
In the past six years or so, another platform was introduced. This one crept into the world of writing. Platform was first used by publishers; next, the agents began using the term, but no one told the writers what it was. As a result, there was a lot of confusion about what it is. Even today, writers are struggling with its exact meaning.
In Microsoft Word software, if you right click on the word platform—you will see several synonyms: stage, display place, raised area, podium, stand, dais, policy and proposal. If you stretch the words policy and proposal, you might get in the ballpark. Still it’s vague. I wonder why they didn’t just call it a marketing strategy. Perhaps, this was thought to be too direct. Maybe it would scare the writers. After all, we writers just want to write books, collect big advances and leave the marketing and distribution up to the publishers. This can happen, but it’s rare. It may be the experience of J. K. Rowling, Stephen King and John Grisham—did you know John Grisham sold books out of the trunk of his car until he developed a name?
I read that Stephen King threw the first three pages of his manuscript, Carrie, in the trash and his wife fished them out and encouraged him to finish the novel. It was his fourth novel, but his first one published. J. K. Rowling went from living on social security to multi-millionaire status in five years. The reality is there was a time when these three well-known authors weren’t known at all for their writing. Now each of them has a huge platform.
The publishers are looking, not only, for good manuscripts they believe will sell, but writers with a name—a following—a target market of readers. The publishing industry has changed dramatically in the past five years. We have seen a recession—people are spending less money; an influx of books—an estimated three million books published in 2011—over 8,200 per day; and a huge shift in global marketing from brick and mortar stores to online purchasing. It all gets very complex and can be overwhelming.
Let’s keep it simple. You want to write a book, you are writing a book or you have written a book. You’re debating whether you want it published or you’re going to be the publisher. I don’t believe this is too simplistic, but it really comes down to who pays for publishing—you or the publisher. If it’s the publisher—she’s going to want to know if you have a strong following on Facebook, Twitter and the other social networks. In other words, do you have a large number of followers who will purchase the book once it’s published? What is your platform?
If you choose to find a publisher, then you will go the traditional route—possibly an agent, query letters, rejections and lots of time. If you choose to self-publish, you can publish your book within a month in any quantity you choose and sell it any way you can and anywhere you can. If you’re satisfied to sell it to your family and friends—you have the freedom to print that many copies and call it a day. Most writers I know aren’t satisfied with that scenario.
I’m not promoting traditional or self-publishing—both are accepted today. Many seem to think that self-publishing is new. If you want an interesting read that involves self-publishing—go to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zane_Grey and read this fascinating history of a well-known writer. You’ll see how he built his platform. Building a platform (market) is not new, is not easy and is not fast, but it is necessary if you want to sell books.
Tom Blubaugh spent his childhood in a small town in southeast KS. He began writing poetry at age fourteen. Tom has written nonfiction most of his adult life. He self-published his first book Behind the Scenes of the Bus Ministry in 1974. Tom wrote articles for denominational and business magazines from 1975 through 1995. He co-wrote The Great Adventure for Barbour Publishing Co. in 2009. Bound by Faith Publishers published his first fiction Night of the Cossack in April 2011. In Feb. 2012, Tom was a guest writer in Unshackled by CJ Hitz, Shelley Hitz and Heather Hart. Tom is married to Barbara. They have six children and fourteen grandchildren. Both are retired. Tom has been public speaker for 40 years. He was a self-employed entrepreneur from1973 to 1995. Tom retired in 2004 and has devoted most of his time to writing and volunteer work.