A few years ago I was writing my first novel, ‘Persistence of Vision’. I started thinking about what I was going to do with it once finished. A friend who’d taken a shot at publishing told me that if you can’t get one of the top-tier literary agents, it wasn’t worth it. I decided to do some research to see what agents wanted.
I pulled out my most-current copy of Writer’s Market (I have three at any point in time). There is an entire section on literary agents, including a detailed listing of agents and agencies. I marked that place in the book, thinking that with the advent of the Internet it had to be easier than going through a listing that looked like the white pages (Dating myself, I know). I went to bed that night resolved that I was going to learn what it takes to get a literary agent.
I had been doing video production on ‘Hollywood-style’ book trailers and writing screenplay treatments for vanity publishing house Author Solutions. The next day I was part of a video production team. I had taken the gig without knowing what it was, as a favor to a producing partner. What it was…we drove around Southern California interviewing LITERARY AGENTS about what they were looking for. Seriously, I couldn’t believe it. What I was hearing was from their own lips.
My friend’s comment about top-tier literary agents referred to the fact that it is their contacts in the publishing houses that make them valuable to authors. They know people, they have lunch with people, and that is how literary agents make their percentage.
At the time, they collectively downplayed self-publishing, which was in its infancy. I don’t think Amazon had CreateSpace yet. Of course self-publishing cuts agents out of their commission, along with the percentage taken by publishing houses. Circumventing the establishment in publishing was a one-way ticket to Remainderville, according to these literary agents.
And yet every one of those same agents explained in no uncertain terms how the changing economics of the publishing industry was putting more and more weight on the author for promoting their books. This was the first time I heard the term ‘author platform’ and I heard it all day long.
Author platform was taking up the slack in promoting books that publishing companies could (or would) no longer underwrite. So, instead of that glamorous ten-city book tour, you blog. You blog and post to social media. Maybe you’re on Facebook. Maybe Twitter. Maybe you do Skype readings. This is how authors can interact with their fans. Without the travel expenses.
So here’s the thing: Everything those literary agents told us authors need to be doing now that publishing companies have cut their marketing budgets? Well, those are the same things an author who self publishes needs to do to promote their book. So it only makes sense to build your platform, no matter whether you are seeking an agent or you are self-publishing. The fact you have a platform and that you understand how to use social media to interact with your readers is what they want to see.
There’s no excuse. Start building your author platform!