Reaching your audience — non-fiction

In which we use the dreaded word “platform.”


As a book author, you have to market to several audiences.  First, you have to sell your work (and yourself as the right person to write the book) to an agent, who will then help you sell your work (and yourself as the right person to write the book) to an editor.  But beyond that, you need to appeal to readers.  It’s not enough to get an editor to buy your book – you have to get readers to pick it up, too.  Otherwise your career will end before it even gets off the ground.


Successful book authors often position themselves as experts; others as journalists who can go to the experts, get information and present it in an appealing way.  (Think Malcolm Gladwell).  Some writers co-author or ghost-write books for experts; for these writers, writing credentials matter but platform building and promotion doesn’t.  The expert will be expected to promote the book.


If you’re positioning yourself as the subject matter expert or as the journalist ferreting out the information, you need to be sure to establish your credentials and maintain them by continuing your education, keeping your day job (if it’s related to your area of expertise) and acting as a consultant/coach, if that’s appropriate. 


You don’t have to have the same credentials everyone else has, though.  For example, many reporters talk to psychologists about work-life balance issues.  Does that mean you have to have a Ph.D to be quoted on the subject?  No.  I’ve been quoted on this topic because I pitched myself as someone who can show how to follow the principles of martial arts to lead a balanced life.  So, use your imagination and creativity.  Take a step back and look at how you can most favorably present yourself and your life experience.


Having the appropriate credentials to write a book is related to but distinct from the platform you need to establish to promote your book.


For example, my having a black belt is a credential that allows me to claim subject matter expertise.  But it doesn’t help me promote my books.  However, if I teach martial arts classes, that is a platform I can use to promote my books to my students (who will, one hope, tell all their friends about both the book and the class).


Once you have a publishing contract, you can work with your publisher’s publicist to develop a plan, but even before you reach that stage, you need to be able to show agents and editors that you have a certain amount of visibility in your field and a way to reach potential readers.


When people in publishing talk about platform building and promotion, they’re talking about strategies that result in getting your name in front of people who will buy your books.


Examples of building your platform before you get your publishing contract:


·        Being interviewed in print, online and broadcast media as the expert in your subject matter.

·        Giving talks, workshops and seminars on your subject.

·        Practicing your subject – as a coach or consultant, or own your own organization related to your subject.  For example, if you’re writing a book about mutual funds, it helps if you’re a working financial advisor.  Some writers earn these credentials as they establish themselves in a niche.

·        Joining organizations related to your subject matter and related to writing/book publishing itself.  You can stay on top of developments this way.

·        Starting and maintaining relationships with a lot of people, especially those in your subject area and in publishing.  Get out there and network!  You don’t have to be a smarmy salesperson to do this.  You just have to be genuine.  It gets easier with experience.


  1. Excellent information. One of my writing hangups is not having an advanced degree in a subject to establish credibility. You make it sound so obvious that such a degree is not necessary. And, your examples clarify the path to a platform.

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