Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Platform and Credentials: The Other Side

In the comment section of a recent post, newly minted Elephant's Bookshelf follower Angela Ackerman suggested I look at when a writer has a marketable book concept and a great platform but no credentials for writing the book.

To me, it begs the question: How has this person developed a platform? Well, one obvious way is that he or she is a celebrity. Think Snookie of Jersey Shore infamy. Now, I'll admit that I can be a little snobby at times and I see no value in that particular show, but it's clear that many people love watching morons who put themselves into stupid situations. Heck, the fact that the Jackass movie brought in millions of dollars helped prove that point almost a decade ago. So, Snookie's placement on the bestseller list should shock no one who keeps an eye on American pop culture these days.

Perhaps a better example came to light more recently. Kelly Oxford, who writes the Eject blog. I've never read it, and just now as I checked it out, I saw nothing worth digging into. (Top post was about her book deal, the next posts were about how ill she was feeling, and other gossipy stuff I didn't care about.) I'm not sure what she's selling, but the Canadian writer now has a publishing deal with two HarperCollins imprints.

My initial impression is that this is just more noise added to the cacophony (or should it be "caca-phonies"?) And publishers have every right to produce books that are likely to sell. This is a business, after all. If nothing else, it helps buttress the belief that we writers who don't (yet) have agents or publishing deals need to work on our platforms as well as our credentials. But I can't help but ask myself — and you, dear readers — can't we find better people to write books that will attract an audience?

And platform is no longer just a nonfiction term (though I still feel most comfortable thinking of it that way). But in the fiction world, what is generally meant by platform is having multiple access points for readers to find you; I think of them as conduits rather than platforms.

I suspect this is a topic I'll return to often. Anyone care to suggest any other points on this or other matters?


Caroline Hagood said...

Maybe you and Snookie should co-author a book together, haha. Sounds like you really appreciate her profundity.

Matt Sinclair said...

Yes, Caroline, that's the gig for me! ;-)

Angela Ackerman said...

Thanks for tackling this one. :)

I think one thing I wonder about this angle is how to convey to a publisher that 'passion for a specific topic' + 'strong platform directly related to topic' + 'great book idea' will = the right writer for the book.

Some publishers (most?) get stuck on that educational component (or that 'notoriety' component in a particular field) as
a 'must have' to get a NF book deal.

I wish it were easier for those of us who don't have the official education to claim the title of expert, but do have the 'school of hard knocks' unofficial education, you know?

Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

Matt Sinclair said...

That's a valid point, Angela. (And I wondered if you had a different idea in mind about this topic.) As a journalist who's worked in a specific field for nearly 20 years, I know what you mean. Expertise can be developed over time. Life experience counts for something, especially when combined with demonstrable talent. I think it's possible to develop at least competence if not outright expertise. After that, it's a matter of being able to prove (with platform development) that you're the right person for the project. Indeed, that's ultimately one of the most important determinations a publisher makes about an author, and the agent tends to be the one who vets the writer, at least initially.