Sunday, June 29, 2008

For The "Unknown" Author

I have this experience over and over so I know it is common among many writers. They have a dream to get published so they write a book (fiction or nonfiction), then pitch it to me at a writer's conference or through an email query or a printed pitch that comes in the mail. Yet when you look at the section "about the author" you find they have little visibility in the public eye and if pressed they would confess to being "unknown." They may speak (every now and then) or write a magazine article (every now and then). Yet there is a disconnect because one of the keys to selling books into the marketplace (and to a publisher) is visibility. Yes, it is about the craft of telling a good story or shaping a good idea with a need in the market. If you have ten or 100 great stories in your office as an editor or literary agent, which ones are you going to champion? It's the ones from the author who has built an audience.

In fact, some of the writers who shrug the most about this topic are the fiction writers. In fact, some of them freely admit they are writing fiction because they don't have to have a platform or visibility to write fiction. Yes, storytelling is key with fiction but visibility in the marketplace and an audience who loves your writing is also important. That built audience is what drives readers to the bookstore when their favorite author has released another novel.

In this instant world, many authors shrug when I encourage them to carve out their specialty and build that audience in the marketplace.

"Too much work," some of them think.

"I don't know where to begin," others cry.

If you are looking for some insight about where to begin or need some more ideas for visibility, I recommend you get a copy of Get Slightly Famous by Steven Van Yoder. The book is not specifically targeted to writers but every author can gain ideas from it.

If you are overwhelmed with the competition in your area of the marketplace, how do you stand out and shine? Steven Van Yoder provides a cornucopia of ideas to move anyone from their anonymous unknown position to becoming a slightly famous stand out. He defines "slightly famous" as "Just famous enough to make their names come to mind when people are looking for a particular product or service, and let them reap the benefits. They get more business--not only more, but the right kind of business--and they don't have to work so hard to get it." (page 3)

While the marketplace may seem crowded (pick your market), there is always room for innovative communicators who will gain visibility, credibility and become a thought leader. Through dozens of case studies and stories, Van Yoder proves his points. The first section helps the reader think through their own distinctive, then the second portion explores different media strategies (for different types of media such as print, online, broadcast) and the final section gives a wealth of ideas for anyone to expand their own reach.

The book is well-written, easy to use and one that I'm certain you will use a highlighter and go back to review the concepts and apply them to your own business. I recommend Get Slightly Famous.

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11 Comment:

At 5:38 PM, Blogger Krista Phillips Left a note...

Ahh, this is a touchy topic it seems for many writers, especially the novelist. If the non-fiction writer is selling a book about, say, parenting, they need to have some authority in the matter. If I walk down the bookstore aisle and see a book by some guy I've never heard of, and then one by Dr. Dobson, I'll probably go with old tried and true.

The novelist has a different dilemma. Our platform is our writing. We are experts in stories, not necessarily a certain topic. It’s a daunting and difficult task to make a name for yourself when you don't have a product yet, but it's hard to have a product made if your name isn't well known.

Now, once the novelist is blessed enough to get the product, all excuses are over. They need to get their buns out there and sell it:-) I think THAT is where many fiction authors fail. The whole idea of "My writing will sell itself" is true, but especially at first, it needs a little jump start. (look at me, talking like I’m an expert! Ha!!)

Thanks for the reading suggestion, Terry. You always give such great resources!

At 6:23 PM, Blogger Terry Whalin Left a note...


I don't believe your statement, "Our platform is our writing." The story is foundational but it is not the total picture. There are some fine novelists who without a platform (visibility = sales) in the market who will not distinguish themselves enough to get published in the first place. It takes that X Factor within the publishing house to make the difference.

And yes, when the book is published they will definitely have to work to sell the book. What I keep telling writers is that nonfiction outsells fiction year after year. There are less places to publish fiction than nonfiction. Yet more people seem to want to write it = stiff competition all the way around.


At 6:39 AM, Blogger Brandy Brow Left a note...

A great way to gain platform is by writing short stories for periodicals. It gets the fiction writer's name in the public eye and circulating among editors. Many writers shy away from this because pay is often low, but if we look at it as a training ground, and "putting in our dues," we'll view it much differently and see it as worth our efforts.

This is where I am with my fiction, now. It's taking work, but it is supposed to be work, and I know it's well worth my time and energy. If nothing else, I will become a better writer for it, and that's one of my primary goals.

Thanks for another great post, Terry.

The Building Brows

At 6:29 PM, Blogger Crystal Laine Left a note...

What a great blog post. Like Krista said, this is a topic greatly debated among the fiction people. We no longer say, "platform." (LOL)

It's true that if you write a great story, that story will get published and sell, but what most authors do not understand is the buzz that gets going with an editor or agent with the manuscript. Plus, MOST authors do not write a pristine manuscript(that goes to be published "as is." It takes an editor and/or agent with a good eye to recognize the good story--in the rough! (Helping to polish.)

Anyway, I'm reading this book. It's always good for more people to recognize your name if you wish to be published. If you have two similar stories/similar skill level--which story do you choose? Either the one by the recognizable name or who has resources/avenues to get recognized, I think. Competition is fierce.

At 7:52 PM, Blogger Mary B Left a note...

Perhaps I am overly dense. What is a "platform" for the fiction writer? If isn't the story, then what?

Please don't tell me sales. Sales of what?

Sales are a result, but not the platform itself.

Without the story I have nothing to sell. Without the story, I am an "aspiring novelist" which is as common as a blade of grass.

At 10:28 PM, Blogger Terry Whalin Left a note...

Mary B,

Story is key and as I said earlier foundational. But what are you doing to raise your visibility in the marketplace? Yes, before you sell your story.

Pick your story or theme for that story but you can be building relationships with people who care about that theme. Start a newsletter for them or some other mechanism to begin to form those individual relationships with your potential customers. If you do, then you will distinguish yourself from all of the other novelists. It's worth devoting the energy to think about it.


At 8:30 AM, Blogger Adrienne Left a note...

While I can see what you are talking about, I am afraid I will have to strongly disagree with you Terry. Yes I know, heartbreaking for you ;)

I see no problem at all in what you are suggesting, but I do not either see it as an absolute requirement. For example I did not have any platform, had not been published anywhere else before, nor was I sending out a newsletter. And I got an agent and published just fine. You may say I am an exception, but most of my published writing friends (and I have many) were in the same boat as I was. None of us had this so-called platform you speak of.

Now I don't think there is anything wrong with trying to make your presence known, and once you are being published, well then I definitely agree that you need to help your publisher in promoting yourself. But even though you insist it is true for fiction writers, I really believe you are approaching this blog post from a non-fiction standpoint.

Nonetheless it was an interesting read, and you make some good suggestions! Thanks for the read recommendation as well!

(Sorry had to delete my original post, needed to add something!)

At 1:51 PM, Blogger Kimber Chin Left a note...


What I'm struggling with is how much visibility to have.

I have a building online readership with my various blogs but I don't want to have my face plastered all over the internet.

Thus far, I've avoided it but...

At 2:51 PM, Blogger Terry Whalin Left a note...


I'm not contending you plaster your face all over the Internet. I'm saying to distinguish yourself through building relationships--however you build those relationships. Also build a database where you can reach out and connect with people whenever your book does get published.

Here's the difference in my perspective from most of the "chatter from writers": I've sat on the editor's side of the desk and see the avalanche of material that comes into their offices. If the editor loves your story, they will champion your cause internally. But when the next conflict comes (and it will come) will that champion reject your book for something else or insist on keeping it. What can you do to provide those reasons to keep your story no matter what?

Finding those answers will not be easy but it could be critical to whether your book actually gets published or not.


At 8:53 PM, Blogger Unknown Left a note...

As for having our faces plastered on the Internet, I had someone steal my photo on about 106 social networks. She used her own name, but my face. As flattering as that might be, I wanted "me" back, which happened after I learned about it.

Hey, maybe she helped get me known. Or not. Ha.

Still I'm focused on a central theme with my writing - this is the day the Lord has made, rejoice and be glad in it. I love the "glad" part, and I want want others to make today count, to face it head on, and smile in spite of what comes our way.

I center my speaking around that -- and will take it with me on a Christian cruise next spring. Now, none of that would have happened if I hadn't been moving, talking, writing, networking, and praying for God to open doors. No, no book deal yet, but writing in the general market for God is a lot of fun.

At 10:54 AM, Blogger Sheila Hall Left a note...

Wow! This is a very rude awakening. It never occurred to me that I should be about the business of trying to grow a patch of followers or somehow building interest in myself as a writer prior to the publication of my book. I didn't have a clue ... never heard a whisper of this notion that fictional writers should lay track for their book before dispatching it to the public.

A few days ago, I stumbled upon your site (Right-Writing) ... what a find! I've completed my first novel and have two others in various stages of development. I now see a need to circle back and perform at least a modicum of due diligence to get my name on the lips of readers in my target market.

I will order Steven Van Yoder's book and spend time sliding down links to the resources on your website. Perhaps I'll find everything I need to know and do within this great trove for writers.

I appreciate your generosity. Thanks much!


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