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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Are you getting the idea what a platform
is? Good. Let us go on to the next Bullet
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.
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. www.agathapenwrite.com
will draw more people to you than www.im-a-greatwriter.com.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
Remember: It is a performance. Lights. Camera.
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.
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 Amazon.com. (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.
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
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: www.gbpool.com. I'm on Facebook.
And I have posted several book trailer s
for my books.