11.14.2006

Platform 2

Dear Miss Snark,

Recently, I got a rather bizarre rejection from a New York agent, and I'd like to hear your take on it. Here's some background: I'm a professor at a Midwestern university with a solid record of scholarly publishing in my field. As a former journalist, I've decided to try to write a trade nonfiction book in my area. I queried a few agents, several of whom asked for the proposal, which I promptly sent. A few days ago, I got a rejection letter that read, "The major New York publishers that we deal with only acquire books that have national sales potential, and in this crowded market they want books and authors who have wide media access. Unfortunately, I just don't think any of the publishers we work with would be able to take on your project." Incidentally, my book is not focused on the Midwest--it deals with a global issue on which I am a fairly well-recognized expert.

I read the letter to mean that because I am not connected to national media outlets, they are passing on the book. Is this an accurate interpretation of the letter? What of the merit of the book itself? Or was this just a nice way of saying, "Your book stinks?"

Do we who live in "flyover country" stand a chance? Or should I read between the lines and understand that my project is to blame, not the lack of "wide media access" cited in the letter?

Thanks for any pearls of wisdom about this!


This isn't a bizarre rejection letter at all.
I write one form or another of this every day of the week.
It has nothing to do with the midwest, and everything to do with platform.

I'm sure you've heard of platform since you're not a novice, but for those who haven't, it refers to the other-than-the-usual ways you'll be able to get visibility for the book. A syndicated newspaper column like Maureen Dowd or Dave Barry is platform plus. A radio show like Dr. Laura is platform plus plus.

A nationally recognized expert is step one to getting platform. You need to have an established speaking career, a blog or a website with hundreds of thousands of hits a day and a devoted readership (ie NOT a porn site) or some other way to be visible to people on a regular basis.

Lots of people in the Midwest have platform. Lots of people in New York don't.

This isn't personal. I can't sell non fiction unless the author has platform plus.

26 comments:

Just Me said...

So, in other words: it doesn't matter what I say, it matters who I am?

I think I'll just slash my wrists right now....

John Anthony Sperling said...

Doc tor Lau ra. Doc. Tor. Lau. Ra.

No, someone as refined as Miss Snark could not possibly be aware of this "blame is the answer" profiteer. She must mean a different Doctor Laura.

After I stuck my eyeballs back in my head, I had to consider the following: would I go on a radio show hosted by a punishing, hate-spewing hag just so I could sell more books?

Hell yeah I would! Git 'er done!

Miss Snark said...

You've missed the point. It is Dr. Laura who has platform, not the people who appear on her show UNLESS they appear regularly and have their own following. For example: Dr. Phil spawned by Oprah.

Ken Boy said...

Hi, I'm a professor at a Midwestern university with a solid record of scholarly publishing in my field, and I used to think these letters were all phoney. That is, until one day when my doorbell rang and three midget amateur female lizard sexers told me their car had a flat tire and asked if they could use my telephone and my jacuzzi. . .

Dave said...

As much as I despise Dr Laura for her political views, she has an audience and if she recommends a book, people buy it. Don Imus on radio and MSNBC endorses books and although he is a self-absorbed egomaniac, he gets results. People buy the books when he abuses and mocks the authors on his show. How far would "a million little pieces" have gotten without the endorsement by Oprah?

Even the blogs create platforms for books if you have one of the big blogs on your side. Daily Kos comes to mind on the political left and I'm sure that the political right has the a similar example.

Anna said...

Would you consider an expert commentator (appears probably a little more than once every other month) on the number 1 news station in a top 15 metro area to be "platform" worthy? I'm no Dr. Phil, but the potential is there. The news station always uses my pieces during sweeps week. I am almost finished with my proposal--should I hold off on sending it to gain more of a platform to send it in? I also have a Ph.D. and offer seminars on marital communication.

Anonymous said...

The point is, platform=$. If the writer is a well-recognized name, the book will sell, even if the subject matter/prose is pure unadulterated shit.

The American public, and the publishing industry, are Nitwits of the Day.

And that's a shame.

Mark said...

And it is the rare prof or unheard of journalist who has this. If that's what you want or should I say need, you'll get damn little nonfiction work. Celebrities have platform, that's a given. First time authors rarely do. This is the most disturbing thing I have read on publishing to date. It serves every myth out there. In my view it's complete BS. Of course I don't have platform so...

Jane Doe said...

Interesting that the word platform is popping up all over the non-fiction writing biz right now. I first heard it at recent writer's conferance, and when everyone in the audience got a "huh?" look upon hearing the word, the agent giving the workshop explained that anyone writing non-fiction these days better have a platform or turn to their diaries.

I take platform to mean not only solid credentials, but also the writer's audience reach and pull-in factor for their particular area of expertise.

I guess a famous names trumps all, but it's not the *only* valid platform.

Although I'm still not sure I have the definition right . . .

Zany Mom said...

So in order to write non-fiction you need a built-in fan base? Like you already need to be sort-of famous, but not a household word (though that would clinch it?)

There goes my non-fiction idea. I have 18 years experience in my field but I'm not well known or even hugely financially successful.

Shoot.

bebe said...

I'm sure someone who's already commented but hasn't been approved yet has said so, but...

dave, A Million Little Pieces sold a gazillion copies before Oprah even touched it. After Oprah, it sold a bajillion gazillion copies, and was exposed as fraudulent. It's hard to say, but without Oprah, Frey most certainly would have written at least one more successful book, and possibly could have enjoyed a lifelong lucrative writing career without anyone being the wiser.

Now, where would Dr. Phil be without Oprah? That's another story.

skybluepinkrose said...

I agree that "platform," the word itself if not the concept, seems to have popped up out of nowhere. I first got wind of it eight or ten years ago, though, when a writer I know pubbed two nonfiction books and then her publisher said that unless she could get a longer string of letters after her name, or some way to get media recognition, it was all over. She sank out of sight.

That's when I began to realize trade nonfiction would no longer be "easier" to publish than fiction. In fiction, you still have a fighting chance if your writing is spectacular. In nonfiction, platform trumps all. Many big-name-"author" nonfiction books exist because print form is another way to reach the audience, because publishers want to cash in on the money that person generates, not necessarily because the person is a writer.

I don't like this, but I get it: Publishing is a business trying to put out the most attractive, salable produce possible. It is not, for the most part, a patron of the arts.

Sarah said...

Yes, that's the bottom line: non-fiction is easier to sell as long as the author has some sort of base. But keep in mind one thing: non-fic almost always sells on proposal, and if a publisher's going to buy a book that hasn't been written yet, there has to be a damn good reason to make the investment.

I don't see what the problem is, though - if you're an expert in something, prove it. If you have something to say, back it up with evidence that you're the person who should be saying it. What makes YOU a cut above everyone else? That's platform.

Ryan Field said...

I'm just curious about this...as a reader.

Don't publishers ever stop and think the public would love (we CRAVE)something new in non-fiction every now and then? And, why the hell can't the "platform" (how I hate that cliched word)come from the published book?

I don't write non-fiction and never will,so I have no prefessional interest in this, but I know what I won't buy anymore as a consumer...and that's another tired, over-promoted non-fiction book by some creepy, platformed, quasi writer who uses the word "that" so many times in a sentence you can't concentrate on the material. C'mon, they are giving publishing contracts to people who LOST on American Idol these days.

To whoever wrote this letter to Miss Snark: I'd buy your book, and pay extra if the bookstore placed it in the front window and shoved Suze Orman in the back row with Dr. Phil and Rachel Ray and Taylor Hicks from American Idol.

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

I get why non-fiction require a "platform". Like one of the above posters said, non-fiction is usually sold by proposal. So it better be a great idea/subject and the writer has to have a way to reach out to an audience that would care about such idea/subject.

You are not submitting a full MS, so the agents/publishers have no idea what type of writer you are.

That said don't freaked out. You don't have to be a nationwide huge name like Oprah/Dr. laura etc. The writers that wrote "He's Not That Into" were not household names but they had a great idea and a platform (a little show they wrote on called Sex and the City).

The writer of "French Women Don't Get Fat" is another example. Outside of the wine industry who knew Mirelle? She had a great idea and a platform via being very well-respected person in her field.

Anonymous said...

University guy: I would suggest trying to sell your book to a smaller press or a university press. Big non-fiction publishers put out a lot of crap that yes, unfortunately, needs a stupid platform to sell from. It absolutely does not matter how good your writing is.

Now small and university presses--these still publish interesting non-fiction. The advances are smaller but you can always try to publish hardcover with them and then sell the trade paper rights to a big publisher to make some actual money. If your book sells very well as a hardcover, that can become your platform.

Kaylea said...

I think writers gain probably also gain some platform by magazine or radio work -- it's a way to become a "nationally recognized expert", and you can start small and work your way up. Look at all the books published by NPR commentators and Newsweek commentators. Plus your publication will probably help you sell your book ("exclusive excerpt" anyone?).

elaine said...

Dave said...As much as I despise Dr Laura for her political views...

First, I've listened to Dr. Laura off and on for a number of years, and I've never heard her discuss politics. Perhaps you meant her moral and ethical views.

Second, are someone's political opinions really a good reason to despise them? If I did that, I would have very few friends and wouldn't be on speaking terms with half my relatives.

Termagant 2 said...

Wow, that means if we wanna write nonfic, all we have to do is get a job at NPR or one of the major H'wood studios, or on a show that everybody watches--pack my bags, I'm on my way!

Not.

And don't look now, fiction writers, but in my niche market they're starting to talk about platform, too.

Maybe we oughta write the books, edit it (professionally, of course), do all the marketing, draw/photograph the cover art, print the thing, take it out in a semi-trailer and hand-sell it to the chain stores? Huh? Then the publishers wouldn't have to do ANYTHING but rake in their fair (and large) share of the $$$.

T2

Anonymous said...

Looks like OJ has platform. I'm appalled. How he would have committed the murders if he'd done it. Can somebody please tell me why this guy deserves ink?

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20061115/ap_on_en_tv/simpson_interview

Dave said...

Elaine,
I apologize for offending you but you missed the point.
It doesn't matter what we think of Dr Laura, Oprah, Don Imus, C-SPAN's Book TV, Tim Russert, Anthony Bourdain or any celebrity author or celebrity promotor. They have a platform from which to sell a book.

You know, there's a good example of "platform" on TV News right now. Some company sells talking dolls of biblical figures. I never heard of them and have no reason to even look for that product. BUT, the marines Toys for Tots decided to refuse a donation of 4000 (for some reason unknown to me and I suspect the mariones, too). Now they changed their mind and will accept them. Do you see the platform forming underneath the stories on the news? It's the ability to publicize for free. The ability to create an audience.

Anonymous said...

Just another argument that the publishing industry has gotten completely out of whack. The talent, authors, glean sub-sub-minimum wages for their creative work, while the no-talent—-forgive me, non-talent-—people make a good wage shopping and selling their work. Tell me if I’m wrong, Ms Snark. I love to hear agents and editors whine about having to deal with authors, and how they have to go to any these meetings and read all these stuff in their spare time. Poor babies!

My advice to authors: don’t feed the parasites. Don’t give away your hard won efforts to people whose “business” is to exploit you. Don’t sell and above all don’t buy, and you will soon see a revolution in the way the book business is run. The clerks will have to find useful employment. If you must publish, self-publish and let readers choose what they like. You think B&N won’t change their policies, if sales drop 30% and buyers say “I’m not coming back in the store until at least 25% of the shelf space is POD.” Never happen? Call your local B&N and tell them it is happening. People can choose what is good and bad. We do not the need the no-talent clerks claiming 90+% of the fruits of our creative efforts. Tell me if I am wrong.

Anonymous said...

I think I see what Miss Snark means by a "platform", a mixture of familiarity and credibility. It's not enough to be an expert or even knowledgable in your field, you have to have a way to move the book in a competitive marketplace. Like I'd probably be more inclined to buy a diet book by Heidi Klum's trainer than I would a book by John Nobody, even if John Nobody's book is far superior. I don't know John Nobody but I do know Heidi has a body I envy and want to attain so that's where my $25 would go.

rameau said...

(hmm, I understood that the reason was that the dolls might wind up going to Jewish or Muslim kids, or others who might be distressed or offended by a Jesus doll. I didn't realize they'd changed their mind.)

elaine said...

Dave,

No, I understood what you were saying about platform. I just chose to hare off on another trail when I saw your remark about Dr. Laura. It surprised me, that's all. :)

Fuchsia Groan said...

I would rather buy a diet book by Heidi Klum's trainer than by a nobody, but if I'm looking for a book on something like Middle East politics, I'd rather buy one by a no-name professor who is well-respected in the field than by, say, Jon Stewart (and I mention him because I love him) or the pundit of the day on CNN or Fox News. Yet books where celebrities pontificate on some topic they know little about seem to sell just fine, so I see the appeal to agents and editors.

I agree with the poster who suggested trying university presses-- some of them are large and will really try to publicize a book on a hot issue, because they want to have a couple of modest sellers among all the books that nobody but academics reads.