I had to laugh today, when I was reading the publishing news. I’d been telling editing clients and blog readers alike for years than when brainstorming about their qualifications to write particular books, they should not be afraid to bring in resume points that have little to do with the topic at hand.
I love it when I am proved right.
One’s collected selling points as a writer are known in the biz as one’s platform, and the higher it is, the better, generally speaking. Usually, though, writers limit themselves to their expertise only as it relates to the book at hand, as though platform were synonymous with credibility: one’s 25 years as a marriage counselor, for instance, would obviously add credibility to one’s self-help book for couples experiencing problems sharing the medicine cabinet.
Don’t sneeze at unrelated qualifications, however, if they are interesting. My doctorate has absolutely nothing to do with the subject matter of my memoir – but you’d better believe that it was part of my platform for marketing it.
Why? For the same reason that any skilled lawyer would establish my credentials if I were called as a witness to a crime: my Ph.D. would certainly not make me a better observer of a hit-and-run accident, but it would tend to make the jury believe that I was a reasonable human being.
A platform, I have been known to say over and over again like a mantra, is like a pitch for oneself, rather than one’s book: whereas a pitch makes it plain to people in the industry why the book is marketable and to whom, the platform demonstrates why a reader – or, more to the point, people in the media – might be interested in interviewing the author.
So while your extensive background as a supermodel might not be relevant to your credibility if you are writing the definitive book on weevils, for instance, it would most assuredly mean that you would be a welcome guest on TV shows. Perhaps not to talk about weevils, but hey, any publicity you can garner is bound to be good for your book, right?
Case in point, as reported today on Publishers Marketplace:
“Jenna Bush’s ANA’S STORY: A Journey of Hope, based on her experiences working with UNICEF in Central America, focusing on a seventeen-year-old single mother who was orphaned at a young age and is living with HIV, with photographs by Mia Baxter, to Kate Jackson at Harper Children’s, for publication in fall 2007 (Harper says they’ll print about 500,000 copies), by Robert Barnett at Williams & Connolly (world). Her proceeds will go to UNICEF, where she is working as an intern.”
I find this listing a miracle of platform-raising, both for what it says and what it doesn’t say. Plenty of people write books based upon time living and working abroad, and a YA book of this sort is certainly a good idea. However, this is an unheard-of run for such a volume, so we must look elsewhere for an explanation of what made the publisher decide that this particular YA book is so very valuable: the author is, of course, the President’s daughter, presumably following in the well-worn footsteps of Amy Carter, the author of a YA book herself.
Amy Carter, however, was not summarily ejected from any major Latin American country for hardcore partying at any point in her long and colorful career, unlike Ms. Bush and her sister. (How much carousing would one have to do to be declared undesirable in Rio, one wonders?) Ms. Carter did occasionally turn up chained to South African embassies next to Abbie Hoffman during the bad old days of apartheid, though, if memory serves.
It just goes to show you: when you’re building a platform, any kind of fame is a selling point.
So keep those credentials flowing, and keep up the good work!