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.” “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 a hard-working writer, you have to build your own platform. Publishers and agents suggested that I needed the following:
Fortunately, I'm pretty adept at finding my way around a computer, but I had never bothered to become involved in social networking of this sort. I went to work, particularly at building my Internet resources. These outlets are not hard to use, but they take an enormous amount of time to develop their full potential. I've been working on this platform for about eighteen months now, and my numbers surprise me. I have almost 400 Facebook friends, some 800 Twitter followers, more than 290 connections on LinkedIn, and a website/blog that receives around 200 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. But for a self-publisher, that's enough.
Want to know more? See "The Second Mouse Gets the Cheese."