THE BUSINESS OF BEING A PROFESSIONAL JOURNALIST
When you write nonfiction books, one of the first things a publisher or agent wants to know is what kind of platform you have. No one much appreciated it when I answered “five-inch chunky heels from Payless,” so I did a little homework and figured out that an author’s “platform” is her ability to reach the masses.
You develop a platform by becoming media-worthy. Perhaps you’re the go-to expert on Internet dating, and frequently get quoted in magazines like Cosmopolitan and Maxim. Maybe you have your own radio show or newspaper column, or have made many television appearances. You might be a professional speaker, a workshop teacher, or celebrity’s daughter.
I was none of those things. But what I did have was a newsletter that reached 73,000 writers every week.
When I started AbsoluteWrite.com, I did so to help other people boost their writing careers. I didn’t realize how much it would boost my own. But as my subscriber numbers and my prominence in the writing community grew, I became a more attractive commodity to publishers.
I was able to use my site as a selling point when I pitched proposals for my writing-related books. Although there’s a crowded market for books about freelance writing, my publisher decided to take a chance on mine partly because I have a built-in audience. In the “market” section of my proposal,
I emphasized that my site had been around for several years, continued to grow at an impressive rate, and that my subscribers were loyal and eager to read my work.
Around 2000, I had released an e-book called “The More Than Any Human Being Needs to Know About Freelance Writing Workbook,” which sold mostly to my subscribers. I was able to submit impressive numbers: It had sold more than 1000 copies (remarkable for an e-book). Through my site, I also taught an online “Query Letter Clinic” course. I provided reader comments and testimonials from these, and excerpts from the many, many published reviews of the e-book. Again, this served to show my publisher that I had a fan base and that I had many contacts within the writing community who had already supported my work.
What I did requires patience; building up a newsletter base is a long process, and unlikely to bring in substantial money. If my sole goal had been to quickly build myself a platform, I probably would have quit early on. Instead, it worked in reverse for me: I didn’t realize I was building a platform until I already had one.
Think hard about how you will brand yourself; if you box yourself in too much, you may grow tired of your subject matter. For example, if you present yourself as an expert on floral arranging, you have to know that you can write a column, run a radio show, or talk to the media about this subject month after month, year after year, and not run out of things to say or the enthusiasm to say it.
But with any luck, you’re choosing a book topic because it’s your passion and you can’t ever imagine getting sick of it. If that’s the case, think of all the possibilities that may grow from that garden you’re planting: Once you’re known as a floral arranging expert, you can write a how-to book for would-be florists, one for those who take it up as a hobby, one for brides planning their weddings, a gift book about the traditional meanings of different types of flowers...
It is unlikely that you will earn your living solely through book-writing. As you develop your platform, you may find that your career branches out into many new directions. Because of my newsletter, I’ve been asked to speak at writers’ workshops countless times. It also provided fertile ground to promote my book Outwitting Writer’s Block and Other Problems of the Pen—bumping it all the way to #4 on Amazon’s charts. When that happened, the director of a major holistic retreat center asked me to teach a weekend workshop on my book’s topic. I’ve also been asked to judge writing contests, edit books, and contribute to magazines, e-zines, and anthologies... all because people liked what they saw on my website.
You have countless opportunities to get known within a niche. Pick yours, and get that platform pumped!
Jenna Glatzer is the author of OUTWITTING WRITER’S BLOCK AND OTHER PROBLEMS OF THE PEN, available at http://www.absolutewrite.com/jenna/books.htm . She is also the editor-in-chief of Absolute Write (http://www.absolutewrite.com/) and a friend to small furry creatures everywhere.