Monday, October 13, 2008

Platform: Defined

Last week I mentioned the writer’s platform. It is a term that is thrown around a lot, but it isn’t always used in a meaningful way. The dictionary definition of a platform is a position of authority or prominence that provides a good opportunity for doing something. Let’s consider what this means. A platform is not the same as a fan base. Many people look at celebrities. A movie star’s platform is based on his prominence. He can be as stupid as a fence post, but people will listen to him because of his prominence. People start to think that this means that how many people you can get to listen is more important than what you know.

If we look at the other piece of the definition, a platform is a position of authority. Do people really listen to the political statements that movie stars make? Not really. Some of them have a lot to say, but most people just ignore them, but if a Senator gets up to speak, people listen. They may not agree, but they listen. The Senator has a position of authority that the movie star doesn’t. Likewise, if a movie star who has been divorced several times talks about how to have a successful marriage people will just laugh. If a couple, who have been married for sixty years writes a book, some people will listen. What is the difference? Platform.

Publishers aren’t just looking for someone to draw a crowd. Publishers need writers who are experts on the subject they are covering. The fan base is a natural result of the platform. The saying goes that if you build a better mousetrap the world will beat a path to your door. If ten thousand people want a book about a better mousetrap and they have a choice between a movie star who pays people to catch mice and one by an unknown exterminator who catches mice in rural fields, it is obvious which one they will choose. They don’t care that the exterminator has never appeared on television, only that he knows what he is talking about.