Category Archives: platform

Platform talk

There was a blog post recently from Eric Smith that got a lot of attention around publishing circles. My colleague, Sharon, passed it around the office for all of us to see, and I thought it might be a good idea to share wider with our blog readers as well.

Periodically the conversation changes about what authors should be doing to reach their fans once they’re published or how to build up their fan base before they’re published. One of the nice things about the piece is that it gives a few examples of authors doing things that are effective.

When I’m at conferences or talking with prospective authors, I often discuss what I refer to as the “platform pie.” Years ago, you had a good book idea, you got it published and you built your platform around the book. Now, the book has to be one of the last pieces of the platform pie, with the others already in place when you sell the book. Other pieces of the pie include social media, traditional media (radio and tv), public speaking, and writing online and offline for blogs, websites, newspapers and magazines.

A good example on my own list is Amy Morin, author of 13 THINGS MENTALLY STRONG PEOPLE DON’T DO and the upcoming 13 THINGS MENTALLY STRONG PARENTS DON’T DO. Her writing career started with freelance articles, one of which, talking about Amy’s groundbreaking work on mental strength, went viral in late 2014. I sold the book that became 13 THINGS just a few weeks later after feverishly working on it over the holidays.  She then took that success and extended her platform, writing for various publications, doing radio and tv interviews, and setting up speaking engagements in front of all kinds of audiences which eventually led to a Tedx talk and many other outlets to grow her platform.

It’s the end of summer and most of us are hanging on to the last few days before the busyness of September kicks in. This is a good thing to be thinking about while sitting on the beach, sipping ice cold cocktails, all the ways in which you can make your voice heard.


Your platform (not your book’s)

Readers, by now I’m sure you’re all aware of the importance of an author’s platform (and probably sick of hearing about it), nevertheless, It’s a message that authors thankfully seem to be hearing from the start of their writing careers. Case in point: at a recent conference, I led a workshop on query letters and when I brought up how to cite one’s platform, the collective groans from the audience told me they were all well aware of the platform mandate!

Yet even so, I read a blogpost this morning on platform by fellow agent Eric Smith that raised an excellent point worth sharing: Make sure you’re building your platform for you, the author, and NOT for your book. In other words, when you set up a website/blog/Twitter feed, it should be in the service of your career as an author, not for the specific book or project that you’re trying to promote. It’s a particularly important distinction for writers looking for representation, because while we’re obviously interested in the specific project, we’re just as interested in you as an author whose career we can build with multiple books.

Lest you think the advice here is obvious, like Eric, I’ve seen writers make the mistake all the time, particularly thriller and fantasy/sci-fi writers. Fortunately, Eric provides an excellent list of authors that have done a great job of building their author platforms. If you’re struggling with how to set up that author platform, especially if you only have one book in the works, check them out for sure.


E-mail: Don’t count it out

I had lunch last week with my friend Philip Marino, associate editor at W. W. Norton’s Liveright imprint. As so often happens in this industry, we landed on the topic of social media and platform-building. He pointed out that e-mail—recently considered a bit of an also-ran in the age of texting, Twitter, and Instagram—has regained a lot of book-marketing strength. That’s because of the newsletter, which authors are finding to be a terrific promotional tool. Yes, newsletters have been around since the beginning of the internet, but they have now made a comeback.


Marino and his team at Norton have noticed a strong correlation between the number of an author’s newsletter recipients and the resulting sales figures. “As social media platforms become oversaturated with promotions and advertising,” says Marino,  “we’ve seen a shift in the past year or two in regards to what sort of author outreach actually gets traction with readers, both new and with those who are already fans. Right now, it’s the newsletter.”


That’s good to know, as is the fact that there are also plenty of great tools available to help authors easily manage the lists for their e-mail blasts. There are also equally helpful ways to measure how effective the messaging is. Not only that, but it’s becoming easier to collect e-mail addresses through social-media outreach, your author webpage, and sign-up sheets at book events.


Writers who don’t have a newsletter yet should think about starting one. Even if there’s not a lot of news to report, and the newsletter only comes out every few months, its reach can extend beyond the e-mail list as your contacts forward it, re-tweet it, and share it on their Facebook pages.


Any suggestions to add? Please feel free to post a reply.






That loud sound you may have heard last week was the collective gnashing of agents’ teeth all over New York when it was announced that Amy Schumer’s memoir sold to Simon and Schuster’s Gallery Books imprint for somewhere north of $8 million. The only agent who was unequivocally NOT doing any gnashing was Miss Schumer’s, David Kuhn, and to him all congratulations are due. (Her original agent, Yfat Reiss Gendell of Foundry Literary + Media, also deserves a shout-out for the groundwork she had lain getting the book sold the FIRST time around—in 2013, to HarperCollins, for the already-impressive sum of $1 million. Miss Schumer eventually did an about-face and bought back those rights.) The whole tangled saga of the sale was told in this article in the New York Times on October 1:

I’m a huge fan of Schumer and her brash, satiric eye. I regularly watch her TV show and made sure to catch the wildly funny TRAINWRECK during its opening weekend. But while Schumer and her camp are popping the champagne corks, I have to wonder what her enormous advance means in the context of other things.

I don’t think any aspiring memoirist, no matter how fine a writer, expects to make that kind of money right out of the gate. Fame and following, and a huge public platform, count for much in the publishing business. But when a publisher spends such an astronomical fee on an advance, how will this affect the amount they’ll be able to offer other writers who are far less well known than Schumer? If future celebrity memoirs start going for that much or even more, will it cut further into the much smaller advances that other writers are offered?

The irony is that there’s no guarantee that Schumer’s book will ultimately earn back such an enormous advance.  But as the Times article points out, even if it doesn’t, Gallery will still have plenty to gain from all the exposure and enhanced reputation they will derive. Let’s hope they will still be willing to allocate to lesser-known writers the advances they deserve.

Making the Long Wait Work For You

It’s great to be able to say that I love my clients to pieces, every last one of them. I’m lucky to have a lot of empathetic authors in my stable, people who understand that publishing often moves at a glacial pace and who are willing to take that slow ride with me.

This is a business of long-range plans. In track-and-field parlance, it’s a marathon, not a sprint. It takes time to develop a good, bulletproof proposal; time to perfect a manuscript so that it is suitable for presentation to a publishing-industry professional. Then it takes time for acquiring editors to consider it; to bring it to their acquisitions boards and to the dreaded marketing department, which often has the final Yea or Nay. And, assuming the book does find a home with a publisher, it can be a full year or two before it’s edited, designed, printed, and available for sale.  Publishing schedules are planned far ahead, with projects lined up and slotted in like backed-up planes on a runway, waiting to take off.

Many authors now realize that this lag time can be maximized to market that forthcoming book. It’s the chance to build and strengthen your platform, to size up publicity opportunities that might be available further down the road when the book is launched. Monthly magazines that work four to six months ahead have to be pitched well before their long lead times. Holy-Grail dream targets like Terri Gross on NPR’s Fresh Air or anything with the name Oprah in it need to be approached early. And all the while, you can be increasing your social media presence on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

These days, unless you pay dearly for the services of a public-relations firm, nobody is going to do all of this for you. Publishers’ overworked marketing staffs can only devote so much time to each book, each season. The more you can bring to the table marketing-wise, the better your chances of a successful book. That’s why publishers are always on the lookout for authors who bring their own strong platform with them.  If you can offer that, you’ve already won half the battle.

Do you have any of your own thoughts on how to maximize that waiting time? I’d be happy to hear them.



Those other social media websites

Over the last few years I have counseled my clients to build and/or increase their social media presences.  It is, after all, what can really make a difference to the success or lack of success of one’s book.  When I was giving this advice though, I was more often than not talking about Facebook and Twitter.  We have found over time that the more friends and followers an author has, the higher their book sales.

Now though I have discovered the effectiveness of Pinterest.  My client Sarah Kiefer ( has a large following on the site, and it is building.  We are certain this is going to be effective in selling her new book THE VANILLA BEAN BAKING BOOK.  Stacey Glick represents several authors with big Pinterest followings as well, including Jamielyn Nye of I Heart Naptime and Jessica Merchant of How Sweet Eats.

Last week, I discovered my newest client Derek Krahn on Vine.  Here he is with a sneezing baby lion:

And here he is trying to take a selfie with a tiger named Levi:

His contributions are really effective and they attracted me immediately.  Right now, he has 420,000+ followers and growing, and I am certain this is going to help me sell his upcoming book BIG CAT.

I am sure in the months to come there will be newer and more innovative sites on which potential authors can and should promote themselves.  To that end, I would love to hear from you about any you know of and how effective you believe them to be.


Virtual assistant to the rescue!

I was reading PW online and came across this piece about writers hiring virtual assistants to help them with various admin tasks related to their writing. I was intrigued, and it seems there’s a crop of these online helpers out there in business to lighten the load on writers so that they can spend more time on what they do best – writing!

It’s a simple concept, and yet novel and very 21st Century. I’m sure there are a variety of ways in which these relationships can be developed and managed in terms of pay, hours, and the “virtual” piece suggests the person works remotely. It’s key to find someone who knows the skills required (or can learn them), can do the job from wherever they are, and can be flexible to meet your needs as a writer which can change depending on where you are in your career.

This might not be the right solution for everyone, but I do think there are some ideas in here worth exploring. For example, the list that Kati comes up with describes various activities that a virtual assistant can help with. It includes everything from answering e-mails, updating your website, handling mailings for promotions, and exploring/managing all forms of social media.

In this market, writing is only one part (thankfully it still is the most important part) of the job. Marketing and promoting yourself and your work is critical to an author’s long-term success and that’s why a virtual assistant (or any other kind of assistant for that matter) is an interesting concept to contemplate.

If you were fortunate enough to be able to hire a virtual assistant, what would you have him or her do for you?

Why some authors hate publishers

A long-time client, who is very dear to our agency, pointed us in the direction of a piece by Michael Levin in the HuffPost that I’d missed when it ran last week.  Our client was distressed by Mr. Levin’s assertions about the nefarious tactics mustache twirling publishers use to victimize authors.  Understandably, since Mr. Levin writes with such passion and seeming authority, she was concerned that the picture he paints is an accurate depiction of the culture of book publishing as 2012 draws to a close and we count down to the  Mayan apocalypse (which, of course, if it comes to pass will make this discussion irrelevant).

After reading the piece Jane and I had basically the same reaction which boiled down to “Why do the people talking trash about our business always seem to be the ones who understand it the least or who have a bag full of sour grapes they’re carrying around with them?”  And, then I got all happy because I didn’t have to scrounge around looking for a blog topic this week.

We promised our client that we’d go through Mr. Levin’s arguments and respond to them from our point of view and this, more or less (with my usual digressions and irritating asides), is what I hope to do here.

Mr. Levin’s argument boils down to four salient points:  (1) Publishers hate authors even though authors and the work they produce are their lifeblood. (2) Publishers are reducing advances and royalties across the board with the added perk of also reducing marketing and promotion for their titles. (3) Publishers’ dependence on BookScan (the tracking system for sales) guarantees that unless an author has a boffo success, their career is over faster than you can say “reserve for returns.”  And (4) by lowering the quality of the product because they refuse to pay what good authors are worth, publishers are ensuring that the public stops buying books and turns to other sources (the Internet) for their information and entertainment kicks.

Alrighty, then!  This should be quick(ish).

(1)   Publishers are the partners and adversaries of agents.  We work with and against them for the good of our authors, who have our first allegiance.  That said, most publishers (and the term includes all the people who make books happen at a publishing house from the CEO to the intern who opens the mail) we deal with daily, sometimes hourly, are incredibly hard working, thoughtful, engaged, and compassionate.  I’ve said this before and it bears repeating, very few people go into our business to achieve their dreams of Trump-like wealth.  Salaries are low in publishing compared to those in other media, and the work is painstaking and, often thankless (Exhibit A: Mr. Levin).  Publishing types do their jobs—which entail long hours after they’ve left the office sitting with a manuscript that needs to be shaped on a granular level—because they LOVE books.  Period.  With all the challenges publishers are faced with in this increasingly digital world, the level of care they bring to the curating of great (and even not so great) books is impressive.

(2)  Not sure which publishers Mr. Levin is talking about but our agency has had its best year ever.  We’ve sold over 100 books this year and have been paid advances, ranging from five to seven figures, on every one of them.  Perhaps there are some tiny houses that are embracing the “no advance” model but we work with the Big Six as well as many, many smaller independent publishers and have not seen this no-advance/lower-royalty model Mr. Levin describes.

(3)  We depend on BookScan too when we are considering signing up an author.  It’s a tremendous tool that lets you know what you’re up against when trying to find a new home for a previously published author whose book didn’t do well.  Has BookScan ever been a deciding factor in not signing up a book?  Probably, but only if we were very much on the fence about it anyway.  I’d venture to say that this is the same process publishers go through because we’ve had numerous authors whose BookScan sales, how to put it delicately?, were in the toilet and we still sold their next book and the book after that.  Bottom line, if your next idea is great or your genius undeniable, or your platform has reached critical mass, BookScan will not destroy your career.

(4)  Really?  Take a look at the best books of the year lists that are cropping up all over the place right now and tell me if you think important, brilliant, exciting fiction and non-fiction isn’t being published any more.  And, given the fact that book sales have risen in the digital age, it seems that a new generation of readers is turning to…books…for their information and their entertainment kicks!

Seems to me that publishers don’t hate authors any more than authors hate publishers.  In this complicated new world we live in, we all (on both sides of the business) need to take responsibility for our own failures and flaws as well as advocate for our strengths and successes rather than succumbing to paranoid fantasies about how much “they” hate us.


Book promotion sure ain’t what it used to be

In “the old days,” as recently as five years ago, it used to be that book publishers were instrumental in helping  authors with their publicity, promotion, and (for the major authors) advertising.  But, sadly that is no longer true.

Very few publishers these days do anything substantial to support their authors in these areas.  Especially their first time authors.  This lack of support often results in minimal sales and then, of course, the publisher doesn’t pick up their author’s next book because the last one didn’t sell.  It’s a frustrating and vicious circle.

So in this really troubling climate, what is an author to do?

Last spring, my client John Locke wrote and self-published a book titled How I Sold 1 Million eBooks in 5 Months.  In a nutshell, this book describes John’s marketing system for becoming a bestselling author.  Among other things, he includes information about how an authors needs to identify their audience even before they write their books; how to create a memorable and creative website; how to use Twitter effectively; how to create a simple, no-nonsense blog; and how to write life-changing blog entries.

John’s system worked for him and for many, many he has shared it with.  I strongly believe it can also work for those who publish their books more traditionally as well.

Just last Friday, one of my publishing colleagues, an editor at an established publishing company e-mailed something that I have found to be very important and I think it worthwhile that I quote him here:

“About the digital and social media outreach, the one thing I’ve learned from experience is that it’s a little too late when the book is just launching to start an initiative.  You build those followings over months, even years and then blast them when you have a new product.”

I hope that all of those currently writing books will pay attention to this sage advice.  In this day and age where publishers are pulling back this kind of very important support, the authors themselves must step up to the plate.

Of course, I am always eager to hear your thoughts.


Advice from a published author

by Stacey

While reading today’s AOL headlines, I came across this concise summary about getting published written by Lisa Johnson Mandell, a published nonfiction author. I don’t think she says anything we haven’t heard before, but it still bears repeating, and she does sum it up pretty nicely for the novice author. Plus she offers some direct advice from her reputable agent, which is valuable and right on target. The title of her piece is a bit misleading since she talks at the beginning about self-publishing a book, which she’s right might be easier than you’d think, but the suggestion that going the more traditional agent and publisher route is easier than you think is a bit of a stretch. It’s harder than ever in many ways with the market being so competitive, and finding an agent and publisher requires a lot of things to go write (a pun, not a typo). Enjoy!