Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Fiction Platform: Two Parts Easy, the Third...

We say that publishers don’t care about platform with fiction. In theory, a great story is all that matters, but hey, if you happen to have a loyal following then even better. For a while now, I’ve been trying to think of a way to explain this. At first, I thought that we might look at fiction platform as different from non-fiction platform. You may recall that the non-fiction platform is composed of expertise, recognition and public interest. My thought was that two are these are missing from the fiction platform and then I realized, it isn’t that they are missing, they are non-issues.

Look at expertise and recognition. If a novel were true, we would expect the author to be a recognized authority concerning the events. Since the novel is made up by the author, he is the recognized authority. There is nothing he can do to increase his expertise or the recognition of it (aside from telling more people about the novel). That means that any weakness in the platform is in the public interest component. Meaning that authors with an established readership, those with interesting story ideas and those with a writing style that draws readers into the story will have an advantage. If you hope to succeed in the fiction marketplace, you must work to develop these three things.

Of the three, establishing a readership appears to be the hardest. I’m not sure the evidence bears that out. I have seen a number of authors with an established readership with weak story ideas and a shabby writing style, but don’t assume you can get by with that. Establishing a readership is partly dependent on story ideas and writing style, but it is largely dependent on everything we learned in school about making friends. You know, the stuff we really learned when we were supposed to be learning reading, writing and arithmetic. We call it networking now, but back on the playground we used to call it being nice.

The thing we run into when trying to establish readership and the thing that will make publishing industry professionals question the value of author’s efforts in that area is that to gain a reader we have to make a significant investment in the life of the potential reader. Suppose Jane attends a meeting with one hundred people in attendance, hoping to sell a few books. Let’s say the meeting takes five hours that she could have spent doing something else. While there she gives her speech and talks to several of the people afterward. She does pretty well by selling twenty books. If her time is worth $25 an hour, she spent $125 in time, not to mention the gas money and any other expenses. Let’s say she gets $3.50 for each book she sells, giving her $70 for her trouble and leaving her $55 in the red. It’s even worse when we consider the efforts of an unpublished author, since there is no monetary return on the investment.

What we hope to achieve is somewhat similar to the Bernoulli Principle. Just like we can inflate a bread sack with a single puff of air, because a fast moving stream of air will pull many additional air particles with it, we hope that for each hand we shake there will be many more readers whose hands we haven’t shaken. In practice, it works differently. We can shake the hands of and respond to e-mails from many great people of whom not one person has any interest in our writing. And then we meet that person who not only thinks our writing is great, but thinks everyone else should read it too. Yeah, she could be called Mom, but there are other people as well.

It could be anyone. When we meet people, we don’t know what the result of that meeting will be. We may talk to someone and think, “that didn’t go well” and then a few days later find out that this person has written a rave review for our book or has told a bunch of people how impressed he was after meeting us. Now I would hope I don’t have to tell you that we should treat everyone, even the least influential, as important. But when we’re talking about building a platform and marketing, we must treat everyone as important whether we are sold out on the idea that everyone is important or not. It is impossible to know which person will influence people in our favor.

Be sure not to miss tomorrow's post. It will tell you how you can win up to a $35 gift certificate.