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View Full Version : A marketing platform for this?!



Shwebb
08-21-2007, 08:46 PM
I know I'm showing my extreme ignorance, but I'm hoping someone can enlighten me.

Why would I need a platform of some sort to sell a memoir or a biography? I can understand, maybe, if I'm writing about something Very Serious that is akin to non-fiction; to inform someone about something regarding how I lived through something.

But otherwise, why can't I tell a compelling story? An entertaining, true one?

Cath
08-21-2007, 09:19 PM
Short answer, I think, is that you can, but it's going to be a harder sell.

My understanding is that people like to read about people they know, or stories they can identify with or have a specific interest in (autism, abuse, living abroad etc) - without those as a platform, you might have to sell your story harder to get people to pick it up in the first place.

Sakamonda
08-21-2007, 10:00 PM
A compelling story alone is not enough to sell a book these days in any genre, but especially memoir/nonfiction. The book has to appeal to a sizable public demographic or it will never get past publishers' sales-and-marketing departments, which are more powerful than editors when it comes to deciding what gets published. Unless you are a well-known celebrity or media sensation, your life story alone is not enough (not usually, anyway) to sell your book.

And even with a strong marketing platform and good writing, memoir is an _extremely_ tough sell right now. Not impossible, but very very hard.

nancy sv
08-22-2007, 12:21 AM
Unless you are a well-known celebrity or media sensation, your life story alone is not enough (not usually, anyway) to sell your book.



Isn't this a platform in and of itself? Maybe I'm confused about what a playform is??? (It wouldn't be the first time - trust me!)

Sakamonda
08-22-2007, 12:58 AM
Media celebrity alone is not enough "platform" to sell a memoir. There are numerous celebrities who tried and failed to sell their memoirs to major publishers recently---examples include Scott Baio and Amy Fisher (Amy Fisher eventually went with the vanity publisher iUniverse).

Marketing "platform" basically means:
1) There is a large segment of the population who would have an interest in the topic you're writing about (and you have statistics to back that up)
2) You have experience and expertise in the topic sufficient to generate major media interest (i.e., Dateline NBC would consider you an "expert," or Oprah would invite you to her show, or you have been directly involved in a major news/current events story, like Larry Birkhead or something)
3) You have been previously published and/or featured in the media regarding the topic you are writing about, and/or other topics
4) You are a "very interesting personality" who has either been featured in the media and/or has had significant contact with other media personalities. Examples might include Madonna's nanny (tell-all book); Christina Crawford (daughter of Joan Crawford, also tell-all book); Tony Blair; John Elder Robison (a very talented member of this board who is also the brother of bestselling author Augusten Burroughs and is featured as a character in Burroughs' bestselling books; John has also led a very interesting life that has involved many major rock bands, among other things)

My "platform" consisted of items 1, 2, and 3 above. I am not a famous person or media celebrity, but I did write a memoir on mental illness (something that affects 26% of the US population), have been previously published as a journalist and playwright, and also work as a professional health policy analyst. And mind you, this "platform" was only considered good enough by a publisher that specializes in books about mental health and addiction; the big NYC publishers were not interested in my book because in their view, I lacked "platform."

That's what you're up against, in a nutshell. Not to scare anyone---you can still break through without much of a platform----but your chances of doing so are less than 1%.

Shwebb
08-22-2007, 01:11 AM
Thanks so much for clarifying that, Sakamonda!

What it really comes down to is that when we write memoir, we do need to know what it takes. Without a platform (and I've heard that term used a lot, but never with regard to memoir, before--just other non-fiction) there's still a chance.

What it really says to me is that I will need to do my research thoroughly to build up what I can and to show statistically that my story is of interest to others, that I'm qualified to tell my story, and that I write it in a compelling manner.

Of course, I can always chip away with my essay writing, as well!

Sakamonda
08-22-2007, 02:15 AM
Without a platform (and I've heard that term used a lot, but never with regard to memoir, before--just other non-fiction) there's still a chance.
---Actually, platform is a HUGE issue for memoir right now. Unless you are lucky enough to win a million-to-one moon-lotto shot, you _cannot_ get a memoir deal without a very strong media platform in today's marketplace. Trust me on this. Memoir has become a very, very, very tough market to break into. Many other areas of nonfiction are far easier to break into than memoir.

johnrobison
08-22-2007, 02:20 AM
You can write memoir for any reason, and at any time. Getting a major house to publish it is, however, a more involved proposition.

Small presses may well be happy if your book sells a few thousand copies in trade paperback. There are many people with local or regional reputations who can write a memoir and bring home those numbers, if they have an interesting story to tell.

For example, the head of a college drama department might write, "My Life in the Theatre," and get it published by the college press, and it might sell steadily to the 5% of the thousands of alums and their friends and family. Not huge numbers but steady.

A memoir published by an imprint of Random House, Penguin, Harper Collins, Hyperion . . one of the big houses . . needs to have something more.

As a rule, the big publishers want books that speak to a nationwide or even worldwide audience. Regional audiences are not enough. And the story has to be new, and fresh, and compelling. And it has to be good, because every writer in the world (so it seems) has his/her sights set on the same publishers and there are of course only so many slots to go around. So anyone aspiring to do that faces stiff competition. And those editors have the luxury of picking the best from the pool.

As a logical and practical guy, if I had read those odds before writing Look Me in the Eye, and my brother had not paved the way with his books, I would not even have considered trying to publish a book.

So what's new in terms of story line? . . . here are some examples . . . How bout Pattie Boyd's book - married to Eric Clapton and George Harrison, and the ultimate music business insider. Barack Obama's story . . . a presidential candidate, and everyone wants to know him. And me . . an Aspergian . . and it seems Asperger's in everywhere in the news today.

What does including myself in that short list show? It shows that celebrity can give you a platform, but so can an issue. My issue is Asperger's. What if I'd won a major bike race? What if I ran a prestigous private school, and many of my graduates went on to fame and fortune? There are many things one can do that would provide a platform for a memoir. Did you do any of those things? Do you have one of those conditions? Are you one of those people? I don't know.

Can you make yourself such a person? Certainly. But it takes time.

I set out to design special effects for the biggest bands in the world. And I did it. I set out to get a design engineer job with the leading maker of electronic games, and I did that too, and I worked on the first talking game, and the first console game (the forerunner of Nintendo.) And then I started a car business and again I dealt with the very top of the market - Rolls Royce, Bentley, Land Rover.

All those life situations gave me material for my stories. But it was my drive to take each of those careers to the top that gave me the platform for my book. The bands I worked for, the games I worked on, the cars I trade . . . they are known all over the country. If I had done those same things, but at a lower level, I would not have a platform.

An important point: The things I did are known. I personally am unknown. What you do can speak for you in terms of platform, if what you do finds wide recognition.

Now, during my time in those work areas, I had no idea of platform, and I never gave a single thought to writing a book. But my drive to be the best, and to reach the pinnacle, is what made book publishing possible for me today.

And there's another way to do it . . . shock value combined with writing talent. Running With Scissors is just such an outrageous, disturbing story that the events themselves catapulted my brother into the limelight, after which he was assured of a market for his subsequent work. And the value of a shocking and well-written story cannot be underestimated, as the five million readers of Running With Scissors will attest. That book, by a "nobody," has outsold most rock star memoirs, many presidental memoirs, and most other works by big public figures.

And that last point, the example of my brother, should be the thing that keeps everyone writing.

nancy sv
08-22-2007, 02:53 AM
Thank you so much for your post, John!! I think you made a lot of good points, and give me hope. My WIP is about a bike journey - a very extraordinary one that many families will only dream of. I am hoping that enough people will be interested in reading something like that to get it accepted!

johnrobison
08-22-2007, 07:12 AM
Nancy, I looked at your blog, and I think there could be a broad market for your bike story, provided you write it in a sufficiently entertaining and compelling manner. You've got the topic . . . it's all up to the storyteller, now.

Shwebb
08-22-2007, 07:26 AM
To be honest, I think I like the idea of needing a platform for memoir. With that in mind, it can hopefully keep the memoir on track and relevant.

And good luck, Nancy, with your cycling memoir. I hope you make me feel, whilst reading it, that I'm right there with you feeling the breeze blow across my face and forearms.

Susan B
08-22-2007, 07:34 AM
I am not a famous person or media celebrity, but I did write a memoir on mental illness (something that affects 26% of the US population), have been previously published as a journalist and playwright, and also work as a professional health policy analyst. And mind you, this "platform" was only considered good enough by a publisher that specializes in books about mental health and addiction; the big NYC publishers were not interested in my book because in their view, I lacked "platform."

That's what you're up against, in a nutshell. Not to scare anyone---you can still break through without much of a platform----but your chances of doing so are less than 1%.

Yes, I'd have to agree with sakamonda. Many of us who write memoir will have better luck in specialized presses: ie, university presses or smaller independent presses, with particular interests in our subject areas. So try to think about your memoir from various angles. It's your personal story, but it's also about--what? Mental illness? Music? A particular region of the country? The Vietnam era? You have to think creatively--and so does your agent, if you find one who is willing to take you on.

Susan

Shwebb
08-22-2007, 07:35 AM
Oh, and John, I read your brother's book--to say it was a very compelling story would be an understatement! That's one of those books that grabs one by the lapels and doesn't let go until the end.

I will also now be reading memoirs and life stories by analyzing what sort of platform each author had to attain to be published. (I'm always looking for different ways of looking at things differently, anyway.)

johnrobison
08-22-2007, 07:45 AM
If you wonder about author's platforms, for memoir from the big houses, my best suggestion is to download the catalogs and sales lit for their top memoirs. It's all right there.

The platform will always be presented in the sales literature for the book, because it's the basis for the marketing plan.

The examples I cited are from recent Crown catalogs. Here's a link to them http://www.randomhouse.com/crown/catalog/index.html

Shwebb
08-22-2007, 07:55 AM
Thanks so much, John! I'm grateful that you are willing to share you knowledge and information, here.

nancy sv
08-22-2007, 05:20 PM
Nancy, I looked at your blog, and I think there could be a broad market for your bike story, provided you write it in a sufficiently entertaining and compelling manner. You've got the topic . . . it's all up to the storyteller, now.

I agree wholeheartedly. The fact that our online journal has gotten 620,000 hits tells me there are a lot of people out there who would be interested in our story. I just hope I'm for the challenge of getting it written well. I've got bits and pieces of it done well, and hope I can get the other parts done equally as well.

Sakamonda
08-22-2007, 05:34 PM
I think the example of John and Augusten's lives show us that despite the fact the odds of success in publishing are tremendously long and the obstacles/barriers to entry HUGE, it doesn't change the fact that an extraordinary person with tremendous talent, wit, and tenacity can break through all of that and succeed brilliantly. That alone should be enough motivation for the rest of us who doggedly battle the very, very long odds.

That said, all aspiring memoirists here should feel free and motivated to set their stories to paper and do everything they can to seek wide publication. I wish everyone here much luck and success. It can be a very, very long and difficult road to publication, but if you want it bad enough, you can make it happen.