A relatively new publishing concept is the writer's platform. Publishers are looking for writers who have established outlets to promote the book they've written: this can be a website, a newsletter, or a known reputation in their community outside of being a writer. Other examples include writing a syndicated column, giving speeches, being a well-known blogger, and hosting or regularly appearing as an expert on a local radio show. Synergy is the industry word used to describe how this platform works together with other marketing avenues to promote the book.
Writers are responsible for their platform: it's one more thing to build alongside that book proposal. According to Scott Mendel, your book proposal is premature if your platform isn't ready to go. Mendel advises:
"If your description of your platform strikes even you as slight, this is probably a sign that you have put the cart before the horse. In this case you should spend more time and resources building your platform before circulating your book proposal for the simple reason that, even if an editor falls in love with your book and convinces her colleagues to publish it, the most likely scenario for your book would be a small advance, and a quiet launch with very modest resources for promotion and publicity, resulting in part in unimpressive sales. Such mediocre or poor sales will be an albatross around your neck the next time you want to circulate a book proposal for another book. They will deflate the perceived value of your future projects, and could trap you as a so-called mid-list author when what you may want to be is a front-list bestseller. Unfair? Maybe. But today’s market-driven nonfiction publishing is driven by sales and inventory numbers available to almost everyone in the book business."
One example of a platform? Read Jenna Glatzer's story of building AbsoluteWrite.com and how it helped her reach #4 on the Amazon.com charts. Another platform? Attorney/blogger Glenn Greenwald hit #1 on Amazon.com after he posted about his new book on his blog, Unclaimed Territory.
Sources: www.wordsmitten.com (interview with Katherine Sands); www.forewordmagazine.com (article by Patti Dickenson); www.backspace.org (article by Scott Mendel); ChurchoftheCustomer (post, 10 Things About Writing Your First Business Book by Ben McConnell and Jackie Huba); Seth Godin's 19 Tips for Authors.