Self-promotion—transforming oneself into a brand—is an uncomfortable but necessary part of being a writer in today’s world. It’s the part of my job that I dislike the most—even more than I dislike rewriting. One of the things that my agent asked me when I signed with him—because publishers ask for it—is what my “platform” might be. For fiction, that’s not so important, but for the non-fiction books that I’ve written, “platform” is a significant consideration for the marketing people that play such an important role now in determining whether a book actually gets picked up for publication. After all, publishing is a business and the publisher wants to make a profit off the book. How good the book might be is of secondary importance for the marketing department. Editors get excited over interesting ideas and good writing. Marketing people only get gleeful over whether a new book concept comes from an author with a platform.
So what is an author’s platform? It’s the people that you have contact with, the folks that know you who might buy your book. And the more the better. So, as my agent told me, if you have a blog that gets 15,000 hits a month, you have a platform that publishers will pay attention to. You’ve already become a brand.
My agent was overjoyed to learn that the website of the small seminary I teach for receives over 30,000 hits a month. Not only does it link to my personal blog, it also links to my books on Amazon. So I have the sort of platform that the marketing people at publishing houses swoon over. My speaking engagements, my occasional preaching, and my teaching in the classroom are just icing on the cake.
One of the peculiar things about doing what my agent and editors want me to do—self-promotion—is that it inevitably leads to criticism. I once received an email from someone out of the blue who wrote “ you need to discontinue pressing to make a name for yourself like your forefather Nimrod” and “with as much self-importance as you have placed in yourself coupled with your love for the praise and honor that comes from men, obviously more so than the honor that comes from God, I doubt seriously you are able to be corrected in your pride and arrogancy.” Of course, the stranger went on in that vein for several paragraphs.
Unfortunately, that stranger simply doesn’t understand the business of publishing, or for that matter, the very nature of any business. People buy books mostly based on their recognition of the author. When you want a new novel to read, you are most likely to purchase the book of an author that you know, such as Stephen King, Dean R. Koontz, or J.K. Rowling. How often do you pick up a book written by someone you’ve never heard of? The author’s name is a brand—like Coca-Cola, Pepsi, or Kleenex. You spend your money on what is familiar. Thus, the publisher wants to turn all its authors into Hostess Twinkies, and the author, as part of his or her job, is expected to do what he or she can to “make a name for himself or herself” like that.
I am not comfortable talking about myself. But every job has its disagreeable aspects, and so I do what I have to do with each book. I send out a press release to the local newspaper, I send an email to the alumni affairs person at the college from which I graduated, and I visit all the local bookstores in my community—all two of them (not counting used bookstores, which, I’m hoping, won’t have any of my books for a long while yet).
Although the local bookstores are never helpful, and apparently are overwhelmed by local authors begging for notice (given that they won’t give me the time of day), I still make the trek every time one of my books is published. I hate it, it’s useless, but it’s part of the job and maybe, someday, the local bookstores might actually be nice to me. I also maintain a blog, keep a presence on the social networks, and even watch my Klout score. Does any of it do any good? Hard to say. My books are selling, so I suppose something is working.