Let’s say you are thinking about writing a book of nonfiction and want to have it published by a major publisher.
The first thing you need to do is assume that every single person in the entire world wants to write a book (which isn’t really an assumption, it’s basically true).
The second thing you need to do is ask yourself if you are the most qualified person in the entire world to write and promote that book. This applies to virtually all nonfiction.
- If you want to write a cookbook, are you a nationally recognized chef or on the Food Network?
- If you want to write about terrorism, are you one of the world’s foremost experts on terrorism?
- If you want to write about an actual event that happened, are you a decorated journalist?
- Heck, if you want to write a book about extraterrestrial encounters, are you an internationally recognized expert on extraterrestrial encounters?
If the answer to that question is no, then sorry, chances are you’re not going to get your book published by a major publisher. If you can imagine someone out there who is more qualified than you to write a book, then that person probably already has their proposal in front of publishers as we speak.
In the publishing industry, this is called “platform” — publishers want to know that you are the best person in the entire world to be writing and marketing that book. They want to know that you have the authority to speak on the topic, that you are the type of expert that people will want to interview on TV, that you are the most qualified person out there.
Publishers are obsessed with platform almost to a fault — people who have some platform and who are great writers are often passed over because they don’t have enough platform to pass muster.
Publishers are even starting to look more and more at platform in fiction. A lot of debut novelists already have a social media following or are fixtures in their local writing scenes. Or they are a celebrity or have a good backstory.
You can see publishers’ obsession with platform reflected in the various fake memoir scandals. Great writing is not always enough, and, recognizing this, a struggling writer created an entire fictional author with a tragic (completely made up) life history just to get ahead.
Now, I’m not saying you should invent a fictional persona, but it just goes to show how hungry publishers and the reading public are for a good platform to go along with a good novel. So think hard about your platform when you’re picking a book topic.
Even if you saw an honest-to-god alien messing with your dog last night, remember that the world’s foremost expert on alien/dog interactions just had drinks with his agent and polished off his book proposal.
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For my best advice, check out my guide to writing a novel (now available in audio) and my guide to publishing a book.
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ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED 2/5/07; UPDATED 8/26/17
Art: Inspiration by Jean-Honoré Fragonard