Once I started working seriously on my Civil War novel, Beyond All Price, I also began looking for ways to publish it. Waiting until you have a finished product just does not work; you have to do your homework along the way. I started with the standard approaches. I found books written in my genre (in this case historical fiction set in 1860s) and checked on their publishers and the authors' agents. These were names I could at least be sure would be open to the type of book I was writing. To that basic list, I added other publishing houses and literary agents I found listed in such resources as Writer's Market. I looked up each one on the internet to find out how they wanted submissions handled. Each one on the list received a hand-tailored written or e-mailed query letter.
Responses were spotty. Almost half never replied! Others sent canned messages: "Sorry. We are not accepting new clients." --or -- "Sorry. We no longer consider unsolicited manuscripts." Only a handful expressed any interest whatsoever, and they consistently asked for a full description of my platform before they would consider the book. At that stage, I had no idea what a "platform" looked like in the publishing world, so I had more research ahead of me.
Here's what I found. If you are a household word -- a politician, a celebrity, a sports figure, or a best-selling author already -- you have a built in platform: a fan base of people who will buy your book because of who you are. If you're just a hard-working writer, you have to build your own platform. Publishers and agents suggested that I needed the following:
(1) a personal website visited by hundreds of readers every day;
(3) a personal Facebook page, with hundreds of followers and daily postings;
(4) another Facebook Fan Page, one dedicated to my writing;
(5) a Twitter account, with daily postings and thousands of followers;
(6) a LinkedIn account, with multiple recommendations and connections within my professional community;
(7) a personal e-mail list of media outlets, bookstores, libraries, and civic organizations, all of whom would be eager to do personal interviews with me, invite me as a guest speaker, or host a book signing event.
Fortunately, I'm pretty adept at finding my way around a computer. I just had never bothered to become involved in social networking of this sort. So I went to work, particularly at building my internet resources. These outlets were not hard to create, but they take an enormous amount of time to develop their full potential. I've been working on this platform for about 18 months now, and my numbers surprise me. I have almost 400 Facebook Friends, some 700 Twitter followers, more than 80 connections on LinkedIn, and a website/blog that receives around 100 hits a day. To me, that's amazing, but the figures are still not up to the five thousand guaranteed readers that most publishers want to see. At most, I have a little soapbox that serves as my platform.
And if you are reading this, you are a very important nail in that soapbox. Thanks!
One other factor weighed into my publishing quandary. This year -- 2011 -- marks the beginning of a five-year commemoration of the Civil War. Right now, interest in Civil War history is at an all-time high, and I expect enthusiasm will last for most of the next five years. But by 2016, we're all going to be tired of the topic. My window of opportunity is right here and now. If I wanted Beyond All Price to benefit from the increased coverage of the Civil War, it had to be ready to go. I simply did not have time to spend several more years pursuing followers, then agents, and then publishers. There seemed to be only one other path to putting the book into the hands of willing readers -- self-publishing.
In the next post, I'll work through the differences and the advantages of doing it yourself. If you have questions you'd like to see me answer, please leave them in the comments below.