Lately I’ve been working closely with a client on a book proposal for a self-help book. A proposal, if you’re unfamiliar, is a marketing document used to sell your book. It includes everything a publisher will need to know about you and the book in order to acquire your project for their company—or not.
One of my talented kn literary associates is ghostwriting the proposal for our client, but the client herself is doing the research for the marketing sections. This entails envisioning her audience, figuring out which books hers will compete with on the bookshelf, and outlining her platform.
Which is where she’s stumped. What exactly is a “platform,” after all? How does she know if she has one—much less how big it is? And why are publishers so obsessed with it?
I’ll answer the last question first. Publishers are obsessed with the size of your platform because, well, money.
With a relative few exceptions, publishers buy books for one reason, and one reason only: because they believe those books are going to sell lots and lots of copies. Before they commit to putting your baby into print, they want as much evidence as possible that it’s going to sell.
As the publishers continue to consolidate, fewer and fewer books are getting published. To make it through the acquisition funnel, a book must be practically guaranteed to be profitable.
Here’s where the idea of a platform comes in. A platform can be defined loosely as “an author’s reach”—the number of people who already know about the author and are likely to purchase her book as soon as it publishes.
That platform translates into sales. In other words, your platform shows your publisher the proverbial money.
If you can kinda sorta guarantee you’ll sell at least 5,000 copies of the book yourself, within 18 months of publication, that mitigates a publisher’s risk significantly. They’re more likely to take your book on, because they know at least they won’t lose money on the first printing.
So what is a publisher looking for? Here’s the straight skinny on what a publisher is scanning for when they read your book proposal:
- The size of your email list—they’re going to want upwards of 20k email names, minimum
- The size and engagement of your social media following—tens of thousands of people following, commenting on and reposting your content on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter
- Whether you have any media presence—an ongoing column in a popular magazine, a regular spot on TV or broadcast radio…that kind of thing
- The scale of your speaking schedule—either a lot of speaking engagements (say 20+ per year), or impressively large audiences (in the hundreds to thousands per talk), or both
- Whether you’re speaking to your audience regularly through a podcast, YouTube channel or on Periscope—ideally thousands of people are listening to and/or watching you each week
- Your affiliations with book-buying organizations—this may be your church, business association, corporate clients or service organizations who might buy books for their members or employees
If your stats aren’t going to impress anybody anytime soon, don’t get discouraged! We all start somewhere. Here are three of my personal favorite resources for accessible, helpful platform-building advice that you can get started with today:
- Read Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World by Michael Hyatt. You’ll get so many good ideas you won’t know which one to implement first.
- Listen to The Online Marketing Podcast with Amy Porterfield. This woman gives away so much free information I feel like I’m going to combust every time I listen.
- Learn how to write winning online content by following Darren Rowse’s info-packed blog, ProBlogger.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to great, free platform-building information available on the web. Just google “build a book platform” and you’ll be astounded by how much great information is available, right at your fingertips.
As it turns out, information is not hard to come by. When it comes to platform-building, the most precious resources are time and elbow grease.
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither is a book platform. If you devote just a half an hour of your precious life energy to your platform-building adventure every day, you will generate a following.
So, what are you going to do first? I want to hear! Tell me about it by commenting on the Facebook page!