AWP Chicago IL 2012

A summary of…

R163. What’s Your Platform? What Agents & Editors Are Looking For in Writers. (Christina Katz, Jane Friedman, Robin Mizell, David W. Sanders) Yes, the quality of your writing still matters. But becoming visible and influential is more crucial to landing a book deal than ever, according to agents and editors in every facet of the publishing industry. Aspiring authors need to develop a platform in order to get noticed. Fortunately for emerging writers in all genres, there are more affordable, accessible tools available for platform-development and building, which make this important responsibility a pleasure and not a chore.

Much of this panel focused on what exactly a platform is, why it is important, and how an author should go about developing one. Many of the suggestions felt obvious (getting a website, establishing a Twitter feed, be on Facebook, Redroom, and various other social networks). Some, though, were new ideas to me.

Here’s a run-down of some of the best points:

Christina Katz would rather call this panel Harnessing the Artist’s Power. She explains this concept by saying that the author must use his ability to be passionate about his work to create passion among others.

David W. Sanders said that there is a connection between how known a writer is in the world and how well they succeed.  He went on to say, “a book may not sell because the writer is dead. Which is a valid reason; the only valid reason.” A writer must be a missionary for his work.” He also suggests writing fan letters to authors as a way to show investment in the literary community.

Robin Mizell says, “your platform is not your CV. Your platform is a continuing conversation with your audience.”

What are the ways to build platform?

Christina Katz offers…

  • Build website/Facebook/twitter/etc.
  • Publish eZines
  • Teach classes (even online classes, or mentor via forums or email)
  • Write for specific publications
  • Give lectures, readings, and workshops
  • Host a reading series
  • Offer contests and giveaways on your blog

Robin Mizell offers…

  • As an agent, she can guild the author, but her job is not promote the author (? Really?)

This question was posed: What are the biggest challenges with platform building?

David W. Sanders says time is the biggest challenge. An author only has so much time.

Robin Mizell  says that it is necessary to be “other focused,” which many wannabe authors aren’t. Engage in conversation before even telling someone you are a writer or have a project going.

Christina Katz offers…

  • Confusing platform development with socializing
  • Not communicating everything you offer
  • Not focusing enough on your audience
  • Thinking there is an end. Platform building ends only when your career ends.

The panel members then each offered resources for more information about platform building.

Robin Mizell recommends Christina Katz’s book, Get Known Before The Book Deal: Use Your Personal Strengths To Grow An Author Platform.

Jane Friedman recommends Seth Godin’s blog, “279 Days to Overnight Success,” and the “There Are No Rules” blog.

Ultimately, the panel left me wondering, if an author must have an established platform (re: a group of people willing to buy; a hyper-focused demographic) to sell a novel, then what is the point of a traditional publisher. Why not just self-publish?

Caleb J Ross

About Caleb J Ross

Caleb J Ross has written 23 post in this blog.

Being a multi-attendee, Caleb has had many opportunities to embarrass himself in front of important people.Caleb has been published widely. He has edited previous issues of Colored Chalk and is currently a co-editor of the Outsider Writers Collective website. His fiction chapbook, Charactered Pieces (OW Press) was released in 2009. His novels Stranger Will and I Didn’t Mean to Be Kevin are forthcoming in 2011, from Otherworld Publications and Black Coffee Press respectively.

5 Responses so far.

  1. Robin Mizell says:

    This co-blogging effort is a great resource for those who couldn’t make it to the conference this year. It also signifies a dramatic change in the way information is being shared. In 2009, it was difficult to find much informal online commentary about the AWP annual conference—at least on sites that weren’t behind registration walls.

    Thanks for covering our panel, Caleb. I find it difficult to address the concerns of a large, diverse group of writers on such a broad topic. My comfort zone, naturally, is one-on-one with each of my clients. Even when my clients and I discuss publishing and publicity as a group, it’s a very small group. I probably fumbled a question about book promotion and publicity by responding that I only guide my authors and don’t get involved in the promotion of their books or do more than offer suggestions on building their platforms. A few literary agencies offer the services of publicists, graphic designers, and social media coaches to their clients, either by having staff that devote part or all of their time to those functions or by being affiliated with freelancers. That practice could become more prevalent if publishers’ budgets for marketing and publicity continue to dwindle, but at present it’s typical for literary agents to leave the book marketing and publicity functions to talented publicists who are on the publishers’ staff and/or freelancers working for the authors. Good publicists are worth their weight in gold.

    Wouldn’t it be worthwhile to invest my time in developing a promising author’s platform? The Wylie-Merrick Agency did a superb job of answering the question in a way that applies to many agents at this moment: “Do you have an audience or a platform, name recognition that will help sell what you write? Do you blog? Does your blog have thousands of hits per day? Have you prepared yourself to be a modern author? If not, we will have difficulty placing your novel because many of your contemporaries have these qualifications and are in line ahead of you.”
    Read the entire post at: http://blog.wylie-merrick.com/2010/03/six-pack-to-success.html

    The harsh reality is that, even as a new agent, the large volume of queries I receive from prospective clients allows me to be selective enough to work with the very small percentage who write beautifully and have demonstrated marketing and social networking skills. It’s a matter of supply and demand.

    Thanks for the opportunity to expand on our platform discussion here. I hope to have some free time soon (ha!) to blog about the resources we mentioned during our panel session. I should mention that several writers have handed me their business cards, which is something none of us on the panel thought to mention—a graceful and time-honored method of building a writer’s platform.

    Enjoy the conference, and I hope someone else will chime in on the self-publishing question. I might be able to answer objectively, but who would believe me?

  2. Caleb J Ross Caleb J Ross says:

    Thank you so much for stopping by, Robin. I really enjoyed the panel, despite what my post may partially imply. I learned a great deal from each of the panelists. I’ll definitely be buying Cristina Katz’s book.

  3. Thanks for the recap of our session – I wish more writers were blogging/Tweeting information from AWP.

    You say you’re left with the question:
    What is the point of a traditional publisher if authors must market/promote? Why not self-publish?

    There are 3 reasons:
    1. Traditional publishers still hold immense authority and power when it comes to physical/bookstore distribution.
    2. Traditional publishers still serve as tastemakers, validators, and authorities. When they publish something, they take a significant financial risk, so the market perceives that as, “Hey, this must be worthwhile work if THEY took a chance on it.” We can of course debate how this is changing.
    3. Traditional publishers are still valuable for authors who need/want/deserve thorough and valuable editing. And I’m not just talking proofreading. Real editing. It still does happen.

    You can find more in-depth advice here:
    http://blog.writersdigest.com/norules/2009/10/06/TheSecretsToPublishingSuccessJanes2009ToughLoveGuide.aspx

  4. Caleb J Ross Caleb J Ross says:

    Thank you so much, Jane! Your three reasons are exactly the types of things I wasn’t considering.

    I suppose as long as book-buying still takes place on the physical shelves, #1 is still important. As bookshelves dwindle (very sad, I feel), #1 may be a less important factor. #2, I completely agree, though I’ve never thought of it in the way you state it. Time and resources equates trust and validation in most things, so why not with publishing? Good point. Thank you. And #3, of course. I’ve read plenty of self-published books that could have used a thorough editing.

  5. [...] http://www.calebjross.com/awpblog/2010/04/08/320/ At the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) Annual Convention earlier this week, a panel of agents and editors answered questions about the importance of an author platform. This link takes you to a summary of that panel. [...]

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