Tips, Writing

Write the Novel: Platforms

Last week I wrote about brand, which are a writer’s personal filters.  Though a writer usually has one brand, she or he may have different platforms for different book, series, or genres.

These days platform has several meanings. Social media platforms are how a writer chooses to present herself and her work on the Internet. That is not what this blog is about.

Our platform discussion is about connecting books to a writer’s real-world skills. It’s where life meets writing. Platforms come out of our education, work, causes, hobbies, and personal interests. Platforms are important because they lead to book signings, guest appearances, and book reviews.

Plain, vanilla book-signing are dead. Bookstores can’t risk an event where less than ten people might show up. If we tell the bookstore we can add to the signing a short talk on “How I came to write this book” or “Five ways to develop your characters,” we’re still preaching to the converted. The only people likely show up for our signing are family, friends, and other writers. Kinship/friendship with the author or wanting the author to help them get published are the top two reasons that people come to book signings.

Cynical, but true.

What about reviews? I live in a big city. So do thousands of other writers. Being local and a writer doesn’t cut it any more as far as getting a review. We have to break out of the family/friends/other writers ghetto. That means we tie into current events with an article, speech, or guest appearance that has real-world relevance. If you were feature editor for the local paper, which voice mail message would you answer?

“I’ve just had my first book published. Your paper should review me because I’m a local author.”


“I’m a local chemist and I’ve got a scary perspective on the current recycling craze. People are putting their health at risk with some things they do in the name of ‘being green.’ I’d love to talk to you about a possible article.”

The editor will grab the article. The author’s platform has given her a foot in the door.

Many writers come to their platform through their day job. It’s no accident that Susan Wittig Albert, who is a gardener and herbalist, has a protagonist who is a gardener and the owner of an herb shop. Or that Dana Stabenow, who sets her books in Alaska was born, raised, and still lives in that state. Or that Alafair Burke, a former prosecutor, has police detective and prosecutor protagonists.

What we do outside of writing gives us strong platforms because we can speak on current issues from a real-life perspective.

Work isn’t the only way to build a platform. Our stories might spring from where we live (or have lived) or from our interests, hobbies. The important things are that we know our subject well and that we can convey that knowledge to other people.

So what’s a gal to do if she doesn’t think she has a platform? She builds one while she researches and writes her book.

Maybe our writer an administrative assistant in an insurance agency, but her book takes place about as far away from an insurance agency as she can get, on the glittering runways of high fashion. Writing that book requires research. Somewhere in that research our admin assistant will discover what are hot issues in high fashion.

Several years go Spain banned anorexic-appearing models from their runways. Our author—the mother of two pre-teen daughters—finds a connection between conversations she and her girls have about body image, and the fashion industry taking a stand on what body shapes should or shouldn’t be allowed on the runway. Her platform pitch would run like this.

“I’ve just written a romantic mystery set in the world of high fashion. As the mother of two pre-teen daughters, I’m concerned about how fashion magazines and television programs influence girls’ and women’s self-esteem.”

 How to develop a Platform

  • Start by going back to our brand. What qualities and issues show up there?
  • Call on personal experience and/or research to identify real-world hot topics.
  • Check out what’s appearing in newspapers, magazines, and on-line about those topics. Look especially for groups or organizations that are already addressing these topics. At the very least, follow what they’re doing. Sometimes, we might get involved with those groups.
  • Passion is the key to platform. Develop a passion. It might be something we would really like to see change.
  • As we write our book(s), continue to collect material. Seek out places to write or speak passionately. Start small. Build street cred. Think of having  writing on our front burners, and our platforms simmering on  back burners.

Whiskeyjack, the book I’m writing as I write these blogs, takes place in the late 1970s. My protagonist is a nurse in a nursing station in northern Alberta. What were hot issues for northern nurses then aren’t necessarily hot issues now, though you might be surprised that, thirty-five years later, some things haven’t changed. Instead of seeking to change a current issue, part of my platform will be about remembering and honoring contributions that nurses made to rural northern nursing. That’s often a different way that historical writers can approach platforms.

Your biggest problems and your worst obsessions contain the seeds of your own growth and development. ~Dr. Sara Halprin, (died 2006), author, therapist, teacher, and filmmaker

I hope you’ll come back on Thursday for my Level Thinking Blog on Hobby Writers. Let’s get rid of that derogatory term, shall we?

Next Tuesday on Write the Novel, I’ll discuss one of my favorite topics, Hooks.