The definition of platform from Merriam Webster describes it as a raised surface; akin to a stage; and “as a declaration of the principles on which a group of persons stands.” When I started in publishing I never heard this word used to refer to an author. By the time I left and started my own business, “platform” was nearly as common as “the” in conversation.
I was on the pub board or committee that makes publishing decisions, and with non-fiction especially the question was “well what’s his/her platform” and “what’s he doing to keep his name out there” and in moments of desperation “can we get him one?” I could tell you stories, but let’s stay on point.
When we (those of us on the promotion and production side of the book business) talk about author platforms, I would like to say that we are very specific and there is a clear set of items we are looking for. But there aren’t. Like so many other things in the business this also becomes subjective and frankly also has to do with the subject of the book itself and how well it can sell on its own merits.
So to help everyone get a better handle on having a platform, I will list some of the things I think are included and in my experience do help with promoting an author or any spokesperson for a brand or a book.
1. Professional affiliations and credentials: Are you a Ph.D. or an MD? Are you a member of any organizations or think tanks that have regional outposts and built in audiences or are weighty enough to warrant getting requested to comment on things by the New York Times (Brookings would be one of these, but so would your local rotary club)?
2.Visibility: Do you have a speaking schedule or are you invited at any time to talk about your subject to groups? Are you a “go to” person in your field. Has any of your research (if this applies) been published in peer reviewed journals?
3. Media Experience: National television these days is sooooooo competitive, primarily because every Tom, Dick, and Harry including those residing in the White House like to appear on it. Producers want to see tape of you in an interview on a reputable television program or station. Have you been interviewed on the radio? The newspaper? Online? In general have you ever been exposed to the media to talk about your subject or story. (This also can be tricky in that overexposure isn’t good in advance of a book’s publication, but that’s for another post)
4. Contacts: Who do you know? Are you in a book club? Do you know your local librarian, bookstore owner, etc.? How many people could you bring to a live event in your community; in any major city? We want to know if you already have some ground laid (there’s that platform reference) with potential media, influential people, or just a significant quantity of “fans” in your community who will help spread the word about you and what you are promoting.
Clearly the definition of platform as it has been used in public relations is not the exact Webster’s edition. Yes, it is about principles and ideas, but it is also, for our purposes, about how well and by whom you are known for them. If you are an author with a book or a business owner who wants to grow your business, think about how you are contributing to the broader conversation and public opinion. Then, find a way to insert yourself so the rest of the world can’t squeeze through without stopping by.