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A platform to stand on

I hear regularly from people writing memoir. The majority of them want to get published. But despite the dizzying amount of information about the publishing process available online, I’m still – how shall I put it? – impressed by some of the questions I get. One ambitious young man asked me how to go about extending his book, as he had only produced 75 pages and did not know what else should go in it. More common are the requests for guidance on word count in memoir, or the magical number of chapters required for a book to be published.

The answer, of course, is that there are no magic answers, no safe bets that will ensure a successful transition from manuscript to published book. One thing is for certain, though, and that is if you are not mindful of the current realities of the book publishing industry, you will have a hard time getting published. Unless you do it yourself, of course. A popular resource for those considering self-publishing is Joanna Penn’s The Creative Penn.Whether you’re interested in traditional or self-publishing, online or on paper, a great resource is the blog of Jane Friedman, the former publisher of Writers Digest magazine who is now a lecturer, commentator and guru on publishing in the 21st century. It’s called, appropriately, There Are No Rules.

Jane led a webinar last week on author platforms, which I found very useful. Platform is an ugly term bandied about a lot these days, but essentially it refers to an author’s “visibility and reach” (her words) to potential audiences. In America this is already considered the be-all and end-all but in Australia I don’t think it has quite reached this level because of a relative homogeneity in Australians’ media consumption patterns compared to those of Americans. Importantly Jane said that platform has both visible and invisible elements. Visible elements include a website, blog, and an author’s interactions on the various social-media channels. The invisible elements are the influence and relationships with relevant people who might one day be able to help you either to get published or to promote your forthcoming book.

Here is a list of Jane’s blog posts relevant to author platforms, which should cover most of what she said in the webinar. For people considering writing a book, or under way, this is a very useful page.

Happily the book industry regularly offers examples of bestsellers, decent sellers, indie-favorite and cult-hit books that come out of nowhere, defy all the hysteria about having a platform, and make readers, authors, booksellers and publishers alike happy. These are the rare exceptions that prove the rules. If there were rules, of course.

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