Since the beginning of this year, publishing thought leader Jane Friedman has offered an interview series called 5 On. Each discussion is conducted by author Chris Jane, who “asks established, traditionally published authors and experienced self-published authors five questions about writing and five questions about their experiences with the publishing industry.”
These 5 On articles are always very interesting. This week we hear from Nathan Bransford, a former literary agent who writes fiction and blogs (and also—authors take note—has a day job to keep hearth and home together). It’s a good one.
Take this one exchange. I get asked this question a lot, and I always say I’m not qualified to answer—I can’t spend a lot of time tracking the nuances of the publishing game. I gotta edit, y’all.
Q: Publishers want authors to have a platform. It stands to reason, then, that agents will also want authors to have a platform. Would a fiction writer without a niche-market message (and, therefore, probably without the same kind of platform a nonfiction writer might have) simply add in the bio section of the query letter, “I have a Facebook account with X number of friends, a Twitter account with X number of followers,” etc.? If the numbers are low, is it better to not mention the accounts at all? And what if a writer has instead managed to prove a different promotional skill, such as writing and sending press releases and securing interviews and book reviews? Should that be included in a query? Would it be valuable to an agent and/or editor?
A: I think it’s really important to think of a platform beyond social media and not to overthink it when it comes to fiction especially. A platform is a rough combination of your authority as an author (whether your expertise or your credentials) and the number of eyeballs you can summon to read your book to give it an initial boost. That doesn’t have to be through social media. If you have a fan base through some other platform, if you are well-connected, if you are active on a conference circuit, a platform can take many forms.
But you don’t need a platform to sell a novel. You really, really don’t. It can help, but at the end of the day it’s the book that counts. That’s not a platitude, it’s really true. So yeah, if you don’t have a platform, don’t try to convince an agent you have one, and don’t apologize for not having one. Just pitch your book. And if you do have a platform, mention it, but don’t belabor it. The book is still by far the most important thing.
It’s a good answer. And I agree: the quality of the manuscript trumps everything.
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