Dear Miss Snark,
Even though I have tried to educate myself on the publishing industry by reading everything I can get my hands on -- especially your blog since it contains a wealth of information -- I can't seem to get a handle on the term "platform" as it applies to writers.
Obviously I know what a platform is with respect to political candidates (I mean besides a false promise), e.g., a promise not to raise taxes. And I understand the term when a Miss America candidate states that her platform is Type I Diabetes. But when I see "a writer must have a platform in order to be successful," I'm confused. Does it mean: target audience?; a cause (and if that's the case, how does it apply to genre fiction?); does it refer to a viable marketing plan?; or is it none of these.
I would appreciate knowing your definition since I'm tired of feeling so nitwittish about this term.
Platform means you have a way to reach book buyers that doesn't involve "the ususal suspects" like "I'll go on Oprah" or "I'll visit bookstores".
Platform can be a syndicated newspaper column, a speaking career, a blog with a LOT of hits, a career as a movie star, or lots of guest appearances on Oprah. Suze Orman's platform was infomercials; Bob Greene's was Oprah appearances; Harvey Mackay's was a very very succesful speaking career.
Platform is what you bring to the table for sales outlets.
You don't need platform for novels. You need it for almost everything else.