Mini Workshops
by Gayle Bartos-Pool

NOTE: This series is meant for those of you who either have or hope some day to have a book or collection containing your work available for sale, and who wish to be able to sell that publication to the public. This series will help you learn how to market yourself and your work to the buying public. This ain't your grandmother's platform.

Building a Platform

Platform: 1. a raised flooring 2. the flat area next to a railroad track 3. a set of principles

Now is the time to add another definition to your Webster's Dictionary. If you are a writer, or you would like to be a writer someday, definition #4 is essential.

Platform: 4. an accumulation of skills along with various methods of broadcasting that information to the publishing world and the reading public

Building a Platform in the 21st Century

It isn't enough for today's writer to merely write the novel or short story, or for that matter a non-fiction piece, newspaper article, or screenplay. Today's writer needs to get noticed. Does that mean be a flaming exhibitionist? Yeah. Sort of.

As described in definition #4: a "platform" is an accumulation of skills along with various methods of broadcasting that information to the publishing world and the reading public. And this can be started before you have a book in print. In fact, it should have been started before you are knee deep in trying to promote a published book.

If you have visions of your future publisher footing the bill for your world-wide book tour or arranging your multi-city American book tour, wake up, sweetheart. More than likely, you will be doing this yourself.

But, if you have developed certain skills and have laid a foundation (a.k.a. platform) for getting your name out in front of the public, you are ahead of the game. But a "platform" isn't just a website or a blog. It's a plethora of things.

If people (agents, publishers, booksellers, and librarians) know they can count on you to get a job done, you build your credibility. Sometimes that means just showing up at a literary event and helping out. If you exhibit this type of capability, your agent and publisher will consider you a professional, especially if you have this part of your budding career taken care of before you drop your first manuscript in their laps. And let's face it, when you sell your book, you won't have time to learn these new skills. Take the time now, while you are still polishing that second or third draft, to get yourself up to speed.

Now you might say, "But, hey, I just want to be a writer." (Boy have you got a lot to learn.) Unless you actually have the next Harry Potter book, or Twilight series stacked up around your computer, you have things you need to do now. Both Ms. Rowling and Ms. Meyer have people to handle this. Unless you have "people," you will have to do this part yourself.

Here is a Bullet Point Presentation to show you many of the ways you can build your own platform. This includes creating a web presence, getting your face out there (short of on the Ten Most Wanted list), and discovering who you really are in the first place.

Roll up your sleeves and join me as we polish the gems that we are inside.

Please note: I am primarily a mystery writer, so I will use examples based on writing mysteries. But a writer is a writer. These skills fit all shapes and sizes.
Gayle Bartos-Pool, mystery writer

Bullet Points for Building a Successful Platform
Point #1
1. Who are You? Before you can really start building a platform of skills to promote yourself and your work, you need to know who you are and what you do best. In other words, what is your niche? If you were a book, where would you be in the bookstore? Mystery section, Short Story collections, Mystery plays. When you meet people, do you say, "Hi, I'm Agatha Penwrite. I'm a mystery writer." Or are you still not sure what you want to be or write? If you can't figure out what it is you are, the person you are talking to won't know either.

Look back over the things you have already written and take inventory. At the California Crime Writers Conference in Los Angeles (June 2009), Gayle Lynds (The Book of Spies) said that you will probably have five novels under your belt before you sell your first one.

So, what do you primarily write?

The other half of knowing who you are is this: What other skills do you bring to the party? Were you once a cop, a private detective, a chef, a hooker? Hey, all of these are the basis of a good storytelling. What skills do you already have that will add credibility to your writing?

When I first started to write seriously, I wrote three long spy novels. The length alone said they wouldn't be selling anytime soon. My dear husband said to me, "You were a private detective once. Why don't you write a detective novel?" Duh.

So ask yourself, "What actual expertise am I bringing to this novel?" If you are a great cook or professional chef, you might center your stories around cooking. (Jerilynn Farmer's Perfect Sax). If you are good at research, you might tackle an historical novel. (Jeri Westerson's Veil of Lies) If you are a doctor, lawyer, or police officer, you have case studies by the score from which to draw stories.

All the people with the above job descriptions have something to talk about when speaking to an audience besides their great new novel. They have real life experience in the subject matter. They bring credibility and great insight to their latest book. Sue Ann Jaffarian (Booby Trap) is a paralegal writing about paralegals. Sheila Lowe (Dead Write) is a real life handwriting expert. Her protagonist has the same job. Doug Lyle (Forensics for Dummies) is a heart doctor. They each write about what they know best.

Not only does Sue Ann have actual knowledge of her subject matter, but she can also go speak at a paralegal convention or a lawyer conference. Her expertise carries weight. It's a great draw.

So, what is your biggest asset?

Not a doctor or lawyer? You still have resources. Mari Sloan (Beaufort Falls) comes from a long line of Southern eccentrics and visionaries. Her storytelling skills make her book fascinating. Did you hear some good family tales growing up? Bruce Cook (writing as Brant Randall) wrote a novel that incorporates some of his family's stories in a knockout book, Blood Harvest.

Now ask yourself again: "What am I bringing to the party? What else can I talk about that shows I just might have credibility in the subject matter of my book?" After all, you did research on your book. You know that.
Write a one-paragraph biography about yourself listing pertinent accomplishments and skills. You'll need this when an agent asks: "Give me a brief bio about yourself that I can send along to the publisher when I submit your manuscript."

Are you getting the idea what a platform is? Good. Let us go on to the next Bullet Point.

Point #2
2. What makes you so special? Okay, you have taken inventory of yourself. You know what you want to write, maybe even what you like to read, and you have some special skills that give you credibility and perhaps an audience down the line. So what makes you different from every other author out there?

Say you like mysteries with a food theme: chef/sleuth, caterer/sleuth, food critic/sleuth. There are other books out there with those characters. Jerilynn Farmer (Perfect Sax) writes a mystery series about a caterer who gets caught up in crime. Mysteries are notorious for having food-related themes. Amateur sleuths are constantly eating in their books. (They should all be fifty pounds overweight.) What makes your Ginsu knife-wielding sleuth more interesting than the others?
Knowing the answer to "What makes your character special?" can be the biggest selling point for your work. While you are building your platform, you will be building a platform for your main character.

When an agent says, "Yeah, you write well, but there are a hundred chef/sleuths out there." What are you going to tell him or her that makes your guy or gal sleuth unique? If you are Oprah's personal chef, boy do you have an in. If you cooked twenty years in the army, you just might have an edge. If your sleuth is a Martian with the best quiche recipe in the Solar System…You get the idea.

So, what makes your sleuth different? Have that answer at your fingertips before you submit your first manuscript. And consider using the same technique screenwriters use to sell a script: the high concept idea. Have a short, pithy term to describe your main character. Maybe you have a blind chef, or a wisecracking Yenta chef, or a bi-polar chef. Make it memorable and you just might have a winner.

My series character, Johnny Casino, is a retired P.I. with a past. He just hopes it doesn't catch up with him. I have a magnetic sign on the side of my car with the book cover and my website on it. I'm a driving bulletin board. People stop me and ask about the sign. It's (almost) free advertising. The sign cost $10, plus shipping.

Point #3
3. Get yourself plastered…all over the Internet. Create a Web presence with a website, blog, My Space, Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin - so people can find you. Even before you send out your first manuscript, create a website, preferably with your name in the title. will draw more people to you than Unless "Great Writer" will be your pen name, use your real name. You are selling "you" out there. You are the product. And you want people to buy "you." You want people to pick up a book with your name on it, recognize your name, and pay real money for that book. You want people to say, "Oh, Agatha Penwrite wrote this. This must be good."

Sign on to Twitter, find people you know, other writers, old classmates, old boyfriends, ask them to follow you. Then map your writing quest. Using those 140 characters, let people know that you finished the first draft of your new book, you joined a writer's group, you sent query letters, that you got some bites. Put a few notes on My Space about who you are. Remember you already discovered the "real you" in the first bullet point in this series. Now it's time to get your name out there.

While you are signing up for all these websites, get someone to take a good picture of you to post on the site. People want to know what you look like. The generic silhouette they use when you have "no picture available" says you don't know who you are yet. If you are nervous about having a picture taken, rent a nice looking dog and hold him up next to you. You are putting your name and face out there so people will know who you are. Get that picture on your website and all those other sites. No time for being shy. And your publisher will love you for advertising the product (you) out there in cyberspace.

Point #4
4. Is anybody out there? Now you are thinking, "OMG, this writing stuff is harder than I thought it was going to be. Do other people really do all this?" Find out by joining several writers' organizations in your chosen writing genre. (Mystery writers have groups like Sisters-in-Crime and Mystery Writers of America.) After you join, talk to other members and find out if they are going through the same things and are they as nervous as you are. (The answer is yes, but still ask.)

Go to events sponsored by these groups. Meet other people who are going through the same things you are, and be sure to talk to those who have progressed a little further and learn more of the ropes from them, and share your experiences. Say hello to the featured speakers. Make contacts. There will come a time when you will be selling your book at an event and you will want people sitting in the audience listening to you. Be there for others and maybe they will be there for you.

Point #5
5. Acquire the 'Write' Type of Friends. Join a hands-on writer's group in your area. Knowing you aren't alone in this very lonely business is good for the psyche. You might have to join more than one before you find one that fits your age group and temperament. (There is a difference.) Some writers still appreciate proper grammar and spelling. (Some don't.) And remember: you aren't married to these groups, so leave if one doesn't click. Or start your own group with people sharing your values, temperament, and needs. You want to improve your writing skills, so make sure this is a learning experience. And be very generous with your skills. Sharing your writing knowledge with others is part of the "platform" building. And you will improve all your editing skills by critiquing other people's work.

Join on-line writers groups to keep your finger on the pulse of the business, and to make contacts and maybe get a few readers when your book comes out. This is another way networking pays off.

Point #6
6. Stand Up and Be Counted. After you have joined a national writers organization like Sisters-in-Crime or Mystery Writers of America, and you find you like what they offer, ask what you can do to help out. Volunteer. People will learn that they can rely on you. If the board members see that you are a good worker, you might find yourself on a committee or two. Get that face of yours out there. If you are willing to go the extra mile, see if you can get on the board and be one of those deciding what that group of writers can do to help each other as well as the community at large. This shows that you are a mover and shaker.

If you have a talent for teaching, you might try your hand at giving a class about writing or the business of writing. Kate Thornton, a short story writer with over a hundred short stories to her credit, has taught a course in "How to Write a Short Story." Pamela Samuels-Young has teaches a terrific class on "How To Write a Novel and Still Keep Your Day Job." She also does a presentation on marketing your book. Their expertise has led to them sharing their knowledge with others. You just might have a class in you, too.

Keep notes of your writing progress, experiences, and things you have learned. They just might be the basis of a class you can give at a local library or at the next writers' conference. It's another presentation where your skills will come into play.

Your leadership skills are being polished and you didn't even know it. It's another "platform" to add to your collection.

Point #7
7. Paddle Your Own Boat. Submit articles to on-line writers' magazines or write for your local weekly newspaper. You can submit book reviews or articles on local writers like yourself, or maybe cover community news or write special interest articles. Write newsletter articles for the groups to which you belong. You will be writing and people will be seeing your name in print.

As a freelance reporter, you can get out there and talk to people, the very people who just might show up at your first book launch. You will be somebody who is doing something in your community rather than sitting back and waiting for things to float your way. Paddle your own boat and you will get to your goal a lot faster.

Point #8
8. Planning Ahead. Okay, you have honed a few skills, maybe you have even sold a short story or two. You are contemplating the time when that brilliant publisher realizes that you have a publishable book and snaps you up. You will finally have something in print with your name on it. Hooray.

Question: What will you do then?

Answer: Find people who want to read it.

Problem: You didn't think about this part earlier.

Solution: Let's think about it now.

Selling one book at a time at a local bookstore might be a little slow. How about finding a group of people who might be interested in your particular subject matter? Sue Ann Jaffarian's protagonist, Odellia Grey in Booby Trap, is a pleasantly plump paralegal. Sue Ann speaks at paralegal conventions. And lawyer conventions. She parlayed her real life job skills into a series of novels and then doubled down to promote herself and her books at conferences featuring the vary same people. That's a good marketing technique.

Say you wrote about a "super chef/sleuth." You might try asking a cooking utensil convention to let you come and speak. Or a food convention. Or a cruise line that caters to caterers. Find groups of people with whom you have a connection. If your protagonist is over forty (or maybe even in their sixties), try senior citizen groups. If your plot centers around the aerospace industry, ask NASA if you can speak at their next get-together.

So, planning ahead sounds like a good idea, doesn't it? You might even rearrange your plot to put some big business entity in it (in a good light) just so you can be invited to their next convention.

Market your book and yourself. Examine your skills, talents, interests, previous or current job and see how they can be used to promote that book of yours. Remember: you want to sell books, but mostly, you want to sell yourself.

Point #9
9. Your Inner Ham. This one might be scary, but if you really want to cut the mustard as a writer, you have to be able to stand up in front of strangers and read your work out loud. If you haven't passed out from the mere thought of that, you might think, "Oh, how hard can that be?" Practice it. Have some friends watch you and honestly critique you. Try reading stories to a children's group. If they start laughing or fall asleep, maybe you should improve your technique. If you mumble in a monotone with your head down, it's time to take a Toastmasters course.

Reading to an audience is more than saying the words. You must be able to project to the back of the room. You should use varied tones and moods. Your face should suggest the different characters you are portraying. In other words, you should give a performance.

Many books are sold at author readings because the author made his or her book sound like a movie. It can be done, with practice. Read your own work out loud as you are polishing that final draft. Pick the most exciting parts and perfect your act.

As a bonus, while reading your work out loud, you will detect mistakes that you had overlooked while just reading the words off the computer screen. To kill two birds with one stone: record yourself as you read. You will hear your literary errors and you can judge your own presentation.

Remember: It is a performance. Lights. Camera. Action.

Point #10
10. Mr. DeMille, I'm ready for my close-up. If you have anything published, even self-published, do TV interviews to get face time and experience. Local TV stations in many areas do segments on local authors. Public access stations do round-tables with authors. Call them up, tell them what you have done. Suggest doing a panel of several of your writer friends for their station. It never hurts to ask.

Point #11
11. Don't Drop the Ball Now. If you have gotten this far, take time to update your website, keep people informed on your My Space page, or Twitter your latest event. Let your targeted audience (chefs, lawyers, senior citizen groups) know what you are doing. Visit all those Internet communities you have joined and let them know what you are up to. Leave a comment on a fellow writer's blog when they have a new book out. Review somebody's book on (Wouldn't you like somebody to do that to your book?)

As you learn new skills, like doing a TV interview, let people know about it on your website. Polish old skills. (You can always improve.) You should have learned a hundred great writing techniques and mistakes to avoid in that writing group you joined. (We can all learn from other's mistakes as well as our own.)

Update your short, one-paragraph biography often, so when someone is doing publicity on you (or you are sending out your own Press Release) you have the latest news on yourself at hand. Something you did in college probably won't interest anybody five or ten years later, but guest blogging on someone else's blog is Big News. The fact you wrote poems in high school isn't very interesting. The fact you interviewed a fellow writer on your blog is exciting. Read other people's biographies on their websites. You'll spot the pro from the novice by what the pro leaves out.

Point #12
12. Go for the Gold. Once you have a book in print, try creating a video book trailer for your website. Hey! If you have done all the previous points, you can do the book trailer. It's the toughest "new thing" out there, but other writers are doing them.

Tough love segment: Agents and publishers are looking for any excuse to say "no" to you and your manuscript. If you have most of these twelve bullet points under your belt, they are going to find it hard to turn you down. You show initiative and you follow through. That means they won't have worry about expending time and money on a newcomer. (Let them spend their time and money when your efforts pay off and you have a Best Seller.) Do your homework now and maybe your publisher will spring for the book trailer later.

A Final Thought
You aren't alone out there. There are plenty of people who are at the same level in their career as you, some a little further along, some even more of a newcomer than you. Writers today are learning that they need to learn these same silly skills to get themselves noticed. Why not you?

These bullet points are meant to give you a heads up in this business and to urge you learn them, try them, and to get your name plastered all over the Internet along with your terrific face. You have a vested interest in getting a book published and selling those books. You are also the best salesman of your work. Nobody knows you like you.

Use all these "platforms" to climb up to the top of the heap and shout your name from the rooftops. Each one will make you a better writer and more interesting to an agent or publisher.

All the best with your writing career.

Gayle Bartos-Pool, mystery writer, former private detective, former newspaper reporter, teacher, blogger, member of the Writers in Residence writing group, member of Sisters-in-Crime and MWA, former Speakers Bureau Director of SinC/LA (I set up over 80 events), my web page: I'm on Facebook. And I have posted several book trailer s for my books.