Tuesday, June 16, 2009


Sharon Wildwind

A platform is the writer’s connection to the real world.

Write what you know.

It’s no accident that Susan Wittig Albert, who is a gardener and herbalist, has a protagonist who is a gardener and the owner of an herb shop. Or that Dr. Camille Minichino, PhD [physics], writes mysteries with a scientific bent. Or that Dana Stabenow, who sets her books in Alaska was born, raised, and still lives in that state.

It helps if you come to your platform through your day job. Several years on the job gets you through the basic research for your characters. Robin Burcell not only knows about police procedure but how cops walk, talk, and why it’s important to take your handcuffs off your belt before going to the ladies room. Plus, when you’re ready to transform your day job into fiction, you’ve already made tons of contacts with people who can help you with further research.

Of course, not all jobs lend themselves to writing. Digging in my murky past would yield a degree that allows me to teach adults and fifteen years experience in doing just that, but for me, trying to create an adult educator as my protagonist isn’t something I’m interested in doing.

Work isn’t the only way to build a platform. Your protagonist might spring, as Dana’s does, from where you live or from your interests or hobbies. The important things are that you know it well, and that you can bring that knowledge to other people. Why? Because the reason for having a platform is to sell books.

Plain, vanilla book-signing are dead. Bookstores can’t risk an event where less than ten people might show up. If you add a short talk on “How I came to write this book” or “Five ways to develop your characters,” you’re still going to be preaching to the converted. Friendship with the author or wanting the author to help them get published are the top two reasons that people come to book signings.

Cynical, but true.

To sell well, you have to break out of the writers/friends ghetto, and that means being able to tie into current events with an article, speech, or guest appearance. If you were a feature editor for the local paper, which voice mail message would you answer first?

“I’ve just had my first book published. I know that your paper would love to review me because I’m a local author.”


“I’m a local chemist and I’ve got a scary perspective on the current recycling craze. People may be putting their health at risk with some of the things they are doing in the name of ‘being green.’ I’d love to talk to you about a possible article.”

Of course, when she talks to the editor, that platform-rich chemist is going to casually mention that her new mystery features death by recycled garbage. Score one for having a strong platform.

So what’s a gal to do if she has no platform? She builds one while she researches and writes her book.

Maybe she’s an administrative assistant in an insurance agency, and her mystery takes place on the glittering runways of high fashion. Any good author who writes outside of her life experience has to do a lot of research. Somewhere in that research she’ll get an inkling about what the hot issues are about being a fashion model.

One of the things that happened in high fashion a couple of years ago was that Spain banned anorexic-appearing models from their runways. So how about our author—the mother of two pre-teen girls–putting together a talk about the conversations she and her daughters have had about body image, and what she and they think of the stand that the Spanish government took? She may not command the audience that the producer of Project Runway would speaking on the same subject, but it may be enough to get her some speaking engagements book sales.

And that is what a platform is intended to do.

Writing quote for the week:

Your biggest problems and your worst obsessions contain the seeds of your own growth and development.
~Dr. Sara Halprin, author, therapist, teacher, and filmmaker


Sandra Parshall said...

I write about a veterinarian and a deputy sheriff, and I am neither. I know it would be helpful if I were a vet and could give speeches drawing on professional experiences, but I just have to muddle through as a writer and nothing more, relying on imagination and research. Think of all the great mysteries that would never have been published if an author were only allowed to write about his/her own profession!

Anonymous said...

Yes, but you also have a great connection to animals, particularly pandas. There's your platform tie in.