Platform. What's yours?


Recently, I was asked about the need for credibility as a writer. In a way, I think this relates to platform, about which there has been a lot of comments on writing websites lately.

In nonfiction, credibility is your platform. If you've done extensive research into your subject matter, are a known expert in that field, or have a PhD after your name, you probably have credibility, and for those interested in your subject, you have a built-in audience, or instant platform as well. Consider the well-known radio advice personality, Dr. Laura, for instance. In addition to her PhD in physiology, she has done research in human behavior, religion, and has expressed her views on her radio program. Because of this, she has automatic credibility and platform. Anything she wants to write would be immediately picked up by a major publisher.

For fiction, credibility and platform are very different. A writer does not need to establish himself as an expert in some field of endeavor, though it can help, but more needs to write material that is at once credible and entertaining. To be credible, the writer needs to research the subject matter, the setting, characters, etc., and must be able to craft a compelling story. That, to me, constitutes credibility for fiction. Platform, then comes to the writer as his writings gain respect and following from his readers.

At least that was how it used to be.

Today, writers, in addition to writing and crafting compelling stories, are also expected to be marketers, or salesmen if you will. Many writers, who are timid by nature, find this expectation difficult to bear. For whatever reason, publishers are unwilling to expend a lot of money on publicizing works of new and unknown authors who lack platform. Thus, it is important for a writer to become also a salesman. One way to do this is by establishing himself in the writing community as a known commodity even before his writing is accepted for publication. If he can also establish himself with his genre's reading group, i.e. young adults, readers of fantasy or science fiction, mystery readers, etc., he will be that much further ahead when his work is finally accepted for publication. So, where do you find these reading groups? I'm not an inexhaustible source of information on that subject, but think about places you've been, organizations you've been part of. Consider old school friends, people you may not have heard from in many years. I'm finding more old friends nearly every day on Facebook, ClassMates, Twitter, etc. I'm also a member of several writers forum web pages. In all my signature blocks, I've got a reference to this blog, and as soon as my book is accepted for publication, I intend to contact everyone I know, and hopefully word of mouth will take care of the rest. And, if I can get a small allowance for advertising, that will be a help too.

Happy writing and reading.
More on:  ,

About Paul West

Paul West is a freelance writer and novelist. Born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, Paul claims to be a "Prune Picker," though he now makes his home in Taylorsville, Utah.

You can follower him on Twitter: @PaulWWest

Published: Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Share this PostPin ThisShare on TumblrShare on Google PlusEmail This

Post a Comment

To all my faithful readers (all 1 or 2 of you),

This morning as I checked my email, I found the following comment from “Anonymous” to a blog posting I wrote two years ago regarding an interview I had with Ellen Hopkins, who is a friend of mine, and author of CRANK, BURNED, GLASS, IDENTICAL and other NY Times bestsellers (I can’t recall all her titles at the moment). It appears the interview is no longer available, sorry. I had no idea someone would go that far back to make a comment, but still, I appreciate this person’s comment and want to respond in a way that she (based on her comments Anonymous appears to be female) will hopefully see it, as well as let you, my faithful readers, understand how I feel about a couple of important subjects.

Here is her comment, followed by my own:


Dear Paul,

I've recently read CRANK and GLASS, and both were novels that I could not put down. I see a lot on here about her being "explicit" but I don't think that's the issue. I think the beauty of her novels is the pain that she shows. She doesn't glorify drug use, like so many books and movies do (the electric kool-aid acid test, anyone?). She gives you the raw truth, about how bad drugs can screw you up. I'm 20 years old, and I've been through severe depression and the suicide of a best friend. I am in a much better place now than I was in January, when I attempted my own death. Reading her interview makes me realize that maybe I can begin to accept his suicide by trying to write from his perspective, instead of just my own feelings about loving him and missing him.

Explicit or not, her stories tell the truth about using drugs, about what can really happen to you. I can't imagine anyone who would read that novel and want to try meth. And THAT is what's really important.


Dear Anonymous,

I truly hope you read this response.

I think you missed my point. I love the way Ms. Hopkins writes about drug abuse and suicide and several other very important subjects. She has a beautiful way of portraying through her “free verse” style of writing, the truth about the horrors of drug abuse that cuts to the soul. I don't have any trouble with her subject matter or the way she presents these issues. The trouble I have is two fold:

1. Explicit use of the so-called "F" word. I know that is supposed to portray realism. She uses it sparingly, I admit, and only for its shock value. But to me it is not necessary, and as adults, we ought to show a better example to our youth.

2. In her book BURNED she refers to a Mormon family and comes dangerously close to portraying this dysfunctional and abusive family as normal of Latter Day Saints, and as a Latter Day Saint, I take exception to that. I think this would have been better, and totally acceptable, if she had not mentioned the denomination.

Aside from those two issues, I think her books are great and I recommend them to every youth who is depressed, tempted to try illicit drugs, or worse, suicide.
Read More »
If you think about it, you have to admit the overwhelming number of young adult (YA) books are targeted toward girls. Think teen-romance novels, novels with girls as main characters, such as mysteries and suspense novels, even YA fantasy novels. Very few novels are ever targeted to boys, and I think that is in part a result of too many female editors and female agents looking for novels written by females, or male writers who are willing to cater to the female sex, erroneously thinking boys don’t read YA.

I think it’s not a matter of boys not reading YA novels, it’s more that there simply aren’t many books geared toward them. In my opinion, male writers should be encouraged to target their writing to boys. Then, we male writers need to send our queries to male agents and editors, or at least to female agents and editors who understand this issue, and see whether boys will read YA novels.

I think it may be a while before agents and editors get the point, but we need to start somewhere. There are a lot of great male writers. I think they are every bit as good writers as female writers (and some argument could be made that some are even better than most female writers). They just need to be encouraged to target their talents toward boys.

I’ve written one complete YA novel and am working on a second, both with male protagonists, and I have several more YA novels with male protagonists in mind. I suspect they are likely to be a difficult sale simply because they are written with a male audience in mind and most agents and editors are under (in my opinion) the false impression that boys won’t read YA.

To that I say, try it and see.
Read More »
My daughter Rebecca is visiting from Nebraska with her 2 kids, Andrew, Emma, and Olivia. Brenda and I are having a wonderful time with them and are going to hate to see them leave.

Last week, my eldest son, David, with 2 of his 3 boys (Matthew and Nathan) took Becky's 2 oldest kids (Andrew and Emma) on a train ride on the FrontRunner. Its a commuter train between Salt Lake City and Ogden. While there we visited the railroad museum. The kids are all train fanatics (anyone heard of Thomas the Tank Engine?). They were thrilled. Wide-eyed. The trip was a bit long and by the end they were exhausted, as were David and Me, and little Emma fell asleep on my lap, but I suspect they would do it all over if given a chance.

The photo on my sidebar shows David and me, with the 4 kids in front of the FrontRunner train.
Read More »