In this short series, we’ll explore some things you must consider if you want to take your personal writing to the next level and pursue publication, whether with an agent/publisher or through the independent route. See the introductory post to this series here.
The bottom line is, it doesn’t matter how good your essays or short stories are if no one knows your collection is out there.
In the publishing industry, the term “platform” refers to everything about you that helps your publisher sell your book, such as credentials, useful connections, and public presence. Next to writing ability, your platform is the most important selling point you have when approaching agents and publishers. Without a significant platform or previous publication history, it’s extremely unlikely any agent or publisher will consider your collection.
So maybe you’re thinking, “Well, I can’t compete with David Sedaris, so I’ll just self-publish.” Self-publishing can help you build that audience and platform and possibly enable you to approach publishers later should you choose to do so, but the same foundational rules of publishing will still apply to a self-published book—you must market it and build and engage an audience. Without a platform, such as good traffic to your blog and/or an active list of newsletter subscribers, it’s incredibly difficult to sell a self-published collection of essays or stories.
Building a platform based on your personal writing can be hard, but it’s possible if you’re willing to reach out, have patience, and stay determined. One approach, for example, is to get serious about trying to find homes for your best essays, whether on respected online venues or in print publications. See if any would fit in an anthology—the Chicken Soup and similar series are popular and always in need of essays. Even a few published pieces can really boost your publishing efforts. They can drive traffic and subscribers to a blog and bring attention to a self-published book. They help a query letter stand out from the slush pile as well.
Another approach, especially if you’re going to self-publish, is to query established blogs with lots of traffic and offer to write guest posts. You could send existing essays or think up some related topics that are more how-to in nature, depending on which blogs you’re considering. This, too, can help drive traffic to your own blog (where you should be promoting your book and/or capturing email addresses in order to promote a forthcoming book) and establish some credentials for your platform. It can also help you make connections that you could use later for a virtual book tour or pre-pub endorsements.
The reality is that simply launching your writing out into the world without a platform of any kind is likely to result in frustration and heartbreak. For personal essays and stories, it’s not about credentials—it’s about exposure. Think of a platform as something to stand on so you can be seen above the noisy crowd that is the marketplace.
Next time: a discussion of some considerations for self-publishing a collection when you’re on a tight budget.
Founder of The Writer’s Ally, Ally E. Machate is a bestselling book collaborator, award-winning editor, and expert publishing consultant who loves using her insider knowledge and experience with the publishing industry to lead serious authors toward success. She and her team live to help make great books happen, whether that means showing a writer how to improve a manuscript, get an agent, or self-publish; or coaching an author on growing her platform to sell more books. Since 1999, she has supported hundreds of authors on their publishing journey and takes pride in serving as their books’ best ally.