Guest Post: The 4 Platform Elements That Catch an Editor’s Attention

Headshot for Stonesong website

Headshot for Stonesong websiteEditor-turned-Agent Maria Ribas has a guest post for everyone today! It’s a small world in publishing and the story of how Maria and I know each other is a reflection of that. When Maria was an editor at Adams Media I sold her a cookbook called THE WELLNESS KITCHEN. She left Adams Media a couple years ago now and is currently at agent at Stonesong Literary in NYC. Maria represents non fiction and specializes in lifestyle and cookbooks. She has a great post about platform that I think you’ll all learn something from. You can also check out her site for more great information: www.cooksplusbooks.com or follow her on Twitter @maria_ribas.

I started out in publishing as an editor. And about once a week, I would get rejected. Our acquisitions meetings were on Thursday afternoon, and I’d spend much of that morning preparing a pitch for why everyone should get excited about that book I was so excited about.

The meetings would go something like this:

Me: !!!!

Everyone Else: …..

Me: !!!!!!!

Everyone Else: ????

Me: !!!!?

Everyone Else: No.

Having your excitement be met with disinterest is terrible. I know it’s something writers struggle with every day, and it’s a thing agents and editors have to battle through, too. But after some comically sad flops, I finally started figuring out what I needed to say so that people’s ears would immediately perk up.

And what got the most ear “perkage” (that’s not a word, is it?) from acquisitions teams? A platform-savvy author.

Any great agent or editor will tell you that you don’t need a platform to get a book deal as a fiction writer—a wonderful book is all you need. But any great agent or editor will also tell you that you can only avoid these platform-building initiatives for so long. A wonderful book may get you in the door, but only a strong publicity and marketing campaign will get your book back out the door and into readers’ hands.

That’s exactly why coming into the publishing process with those skills and networks in place can make you extremely appealing as an author. I’ve sat in many strategy meetings where an author’s editor, publicist, marketing manager, and agent put all their expertise together to formulate a strong marketing and publicity campaign. Yet the author’s lack of familiarity with the online landscape, and most often, their discomfort with putting themselves out there, crippled their ability to execute the campaign. The worst part is that this makes for a miserable, lie-awake-at-night book launch, because the author is forced to battle the fears and anxieties of platform-building at a time when they can’t afford to stumble.

Don’t let that happen to you! I know I sound like a scare-mongering PSA, but I’ve seen too many incredible books be completely ignored because the author struggled with the foundational skills of publicity and marketing.

If you’re overwhelmed about where to start, here are the 4 platform elements that most stand out to agents, editors, and acquisitions teams:

1. Connections

It’s true that you don’t need to be well-connected to break out in publishing, but it’s even truer that having connections will help you. Editors and agents know how hard it is to get even an ounce of attention for a debut book, so working with an author who has access to the megaphones of tastemakers is a huge advantage.

But remember that this doesn’t mean you need to live in New York City, attend all the right writing programs, or rub elbows with the literati every day. This isn’t necessarily about knowing celebrities, bestselling authors, and high-profile journalists. It’s about forming real connections with the people who are right there with you in the trenches. Get out and meet writers in your neighborhood; join online communities; reach out to that writer you admire just to say hello. Remember that it takes a tribe to launch a book, and it’s a whole lot easier to make real friends when you’re not plying them with information about your book.

2. Press

Similar to connections, press mentions are a way to get attention for a book, and they’re the foundation of a publicity campaign. So when a book comes in to an editor or agent and the author already has press experience ? That’s a big, big plus. Publishers think of it as a two pronged advantage: 1. The author already has a relationship with gatekeepers in other media (reporters, producers, bloggers, etc.) and can call on those connections to get coverage for the book, and 2. The author has already proven that he/she is comfortable with being a public figure and understands that pitching and public speaking skills are essential to the successful promotion of a book. This shows editors that you know how to position yourself and your work in a way that receives favorable attention, and that is always a good thing.

3. Analytics

Ten years ago cold, hard numbers had no place in the acquisitions conversation for a debut author. Today, they can be the #1 reason why an author and agent hears a “yes” rather than a “no” from an editor, particularly in the practical nonfiction world. Again, this is something that’s make-or-break for nonfiction, but still a big plus for fiction writers, too. These numbers are a concrete way of showing editors that you already have a readership—that you’ve spent years building relationships across different online channels, and that those people think what you have to say is worthwhile.

Analytics can be anything from traffic on a website or blog to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or other social media followers.

4. Email List

Yes, you could put this under analytics. But I’m breaking it out for a reason—it’s a breakout number. That means that even if your social media numbers are middling, having a significant email list can get an agent’s or editor’s attention. This is because sending an email is the most direct way to reach potential readers, and it’s also the only way you can (nearly) guarantee that the recipient will see an important announcement. With so many changes to social media algorithms lately, it’s hard to guarantee that important updates (like a launch announcement!) will actually make it to the people who want to know about it. That’s why I preach the gospel of the email list to all my authors—it’s the best thing they can focus on building, because it’s the only channel they can themselves own.

I know platform-building can be overwhelming, fraught with emotional pitfalls, and overall more pleasant to ignore than to face head-on. But the business of publishing, in any genre, always hinges around sales, and the sooner authors can build marketing and publicity skills, the sooner they’ll find their readership. And the less often that their exclamation points will be met with a cold, hard “No.”

Maria Ribas began her career on the editorial side, first at Simon & Schuster and Harlequin Nonfiction, then at Adams Media, where she was an associate editor before moving to the agency side in 2014. At Stonesong, she specializes in practical and narrative nonfiction from authors who understand how a thoughtfully produced, proudly promoted book can grow their brands and their businesses.

She also writes about writing, platform-building, publishing, and cooking her way through books at www.cooksplusbooks.com

 

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The 4 Platform Secrets No One Has Told You

Platform.

Platform.

Platform.

It’s all anyone in publishing wants to talk about! Writers are feeling this top down pressure to check all the boxes publishers and agents are looking for. Including platform. But we’re talking about platform for a reason. (Need a platform primer? Try Jane Friedman’s here.)

Let’s be clear: non fiction authors understand that platform is non-negotiable; it’s a must. However, fiction authors don’t require one–but we won’t be sad if you have one. Now that we’re all on the same page. Let’s breakdown the secrets to platform that you probably haven’t discovered how to leverage. Ready?

The secret to a meaningful platform is engagement. It doesn’t matter how many tweets you send or pins you post. If there is no engagement on the other side you’re wasting your time speaking into a black hole.  You don’t always need to go searching for more, more, more. Try focusing on the small fans you’ve cultivated this far and work with them. What does your current audience require to be more connected to you? Be authentic, be honest, learn from online greats like comedians, authors, and journalists. See how they’re doing it. Guess what? They’re out of their shells and interacting with people, tweets and memes. Platform is not self promotion, it’s engagement.

The secret to building a platform is following other people. It goes against our desire to be “cool” when we follow other people hoping to get followed back, but guess what: it works. Following other people is a signal to the world that you exist. You’re not a satellite circling alone, you’re a compass pointing visitors to your brand. A vacant platform can be a sign of fear: are you afraid to follow other people because you’re afraid you won’t be any further ahead? It’s also a sign of disinterest: are you too “busy” for your brand? Then a publisher isn’t going to make time for you. Many of today’s success stories revolve around authors who have understood what their fans expect and want from them. Never before have you had a water cooler at your fingertips. A missing platform is a sign that you don’t understand technology and that scares us: how can we expect you to market your book if you don’t have time for social media? So to build that platform you have to tell the world that you are here and you have something to say.

The secret to platform isn’t just primary social media sites. Everyone thinks Twitter and Facebook are the only platforms that matters. Guess what (depending on what you do) there are many platforms for you to leverage: YouTube, Instagram, Vine, Pinterest, blogging, journalism, podcasts, or online TV. Where can you show your voice, expand your brand, and engage with like-minded people best for your message? That’s where you need to be. There is no right or wrong way to develop platform, but the success comes from the most authentic way to share your voice. What do YOU want to say? And how or where can you say it best?

The secret to platform is numbers. Do you know yours: Followers? Impressions? Shares? Sales? Subscribers? As soon as you learn to quantify your platform you know how to transition to leveraging your engagement. How many people clicked on your links? How many people signed up for your e-newsletter? How many people do you speak in front of per year? Numbers means audience. Audience means sales. Sales is what business is all about–even publishing.

Experiment: take a week and follow a few hundred new people (and engage with them!) and then report back to me how many new followers it got you. Deal?

What happens if your book gets cancelled or series doesn’t continue to get published?

contract signingThere are many reasons to have an agent in your corner, but the dreaded book cancellation–or having the plug pulled on your series–is a big one. Your agent will be your shoulder to cry on and help you with next steps.

Unfortunately, it happens and it’s not fun for anyone. This is not legal advice, but some experiences that you might have heard about.

Here are a few scenarios: 

1. Your book gets cancelled before you sign your contract. This is heartbreaking, especially for debut authors. You’re so thrilled to have a book deal. Your agent negotiated the terms and accepted the offer. Next is the contract. However, sometimes things happen in this stage that stop it in its tracks (the publisher gets bought, the editors leaves, the publisher shutters an imprint, you can’t agree on terms etc). This is why agents usually like to wait until publishing contracts are signed to announce deals: to prevent this heartbreak from being too public in case we need to shop it again. But yes, we can shop it around again. Until the contract is signed, it’s nearly impossible to keep anyone accountable without suing them and even then you might not win if you don’t have a paper trail. So instead of taking legal action we dust ourselves off and continue to seek out a new home. You want a book deal because a publisher is crazy about your book (and will promote it with excitement), not because they have to.

2. Your book gets cancelled after you sign your contract. This can be a breach of contract if done without reason, but also could be that someone didn’t hold up their end of the bargain. Did you deliver late? If so, you’re the one holding things up, but because publishing is an art not a science editors are usually okay with this sort of thing (for a few weeks, not a few years!). Being honest is always the best policy. Did you deliver really, really late? Then publishers are less forgiving. If you deliver a year late and it’s not quite the book the publisher hoped it would be (more the case with non fiction) then the project can be cancelled. (I won’t get into the scenario if someone cancels a book without reason. That’s another publishing law issue. Follow Susan Spann on Twitter for more copyright law.)

3. Your series stops after a few books and you hadn’t wrapped it up yet. This scenario is hard to attribute to anything other than low sales or a publisher closing its doors. One is somewhat in your control and the other isn’t at all. Publishers will offer a multi-book deal for a series, but that could be 2 books or 10 books and they’re only required to publish those under contract. If your books didn’t find their audience it’s hard for a publisher to continue to invest in your storyline. It’s purely a business decision and not personal. They signed it up originally because they loved it. If so, you can shop around the rest of your series (which can be hard because the new publisher can’t cross promote easily and it’s hard to find a new audience for something they can’t rebrand) or self publish it.

Publishing is time-intensive endeavour and careers are long. The best thing to do is get sad and get mad (to your agent only) and then learn from the experience and start on your next project. Everyone is trying to make the best business decisions they can–even if they’re not the ones you want to hear.

Feel free to share experiences or concerns in the comments below.

Click here for more on US copyright law. And remember each country has their own rules.

Manuscript Wishlist May 2014

Here is an updated manuscript wishlist for my slush pile.

Please send me:

  • Women’s fiction, commercial, historical or upmarket  (i.e. THE ARRIVALS, GIRLS IN WHITE DRESSES and THE GIRL YOU LEFT BEHIND)
  • Upmarket fiction like THE LIGHT BETWEEN OCEANS, THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU and SEATING ARRANGEMENTS
  • Literary coming of age novels like ARCADIA
  • YA and adult books about: revolutions (i.e. French, South American), cults and communes, family secrets, settings that feel like characters (i.e. BURIAL RITES).
  • Southern and Southern Gothic novels (i.e. TUMBLEWEEDS, SAVING CEE CEE HONEYCUTT and TRUE BLOOD-type but not paranormal)
  • YA contemporary, light sci fi or low fantasy novels (i.e. GRACELING, POINTE and DANGEROUS GIRLS)
  • Literary Thrillers like GONE GIRL and NIGHT FILM
  • Health and Wellness Non Fiction
  • Memoirs from people who have a platform (newsworthy story, blog or social media following is helpful)
  • Business Books
  • Pop Science Books (like GULP)

Send to query(at)psliterary.com with the subject heading For Carly Blog Wishlist BOOK TITLE.

Note: I am open to all diverse works including LGBT and stories by and about marginalized groups. And I don’t do Middle Grade.