it’s a trip . . .

tips, quotes, insights, and lessons about writing and publishing learned the hard way

‘platforms’–not just for Olympic divers

Platform diver

Platform diver

Recently I saw the word “platform” used in an agency’s Web site with an application to fiction writers. Usually you associate platform with non-fiction. Gatekeepers (agents/editors) need to know your platform–what makes you the best person to write that non-fiction book. Are you a specialist in that subject? Is that topic part of your ethos?

Anyway, this agency suggested fiction writers provide evidence of their platform by including their publishing credentials. Call it the “bio” paragraph, the “cred” paragraph, the “I-have-the-chops” paragraph. All fiction queries need one.

If you are lacking in the cred/chops/platform department, I have three words for you.

“Get yoself sum.”

Which leads me to mention an odd and disconcerting incident that took place during an online mystery-writing workshop I signed up for this summer. We had a “free” half hour since one of participants didn’t submit her work, so the instructor announced he was using the next half hour to talk about short stories. He asked whether we were writing them.

One of my classmates stormed out of the class that evening, never to return, incredulous that the teacher wanted to talk short story. Her argument was that there were loads more relevant literary elements related to the novel, such as point of voice or character arc, that our class could and should be discussing. He never got a chance to explain himself. What a pity.

If you intend to shop that novel you’re working on so feverishly, you better make sure you have as strong a platform as you can to support your query. If you don’t have other publication credits, I have four words for you.

“Better get yoself sum.”

Now some of you may be thinking that unless you publish in Glimmer Train or the Sun or the Missouri Review, why bother including any publications in your bio paragraph?

I’ll tell you why. Few newer writers are going to be published in the elite eight of literary journals. Few of us are born writers–despite what MFA programs may tell you. It’s a craft that can be learned. Start submitting your work to less prestigious publications with an eye toward progressing along that prestige continuum.

You’ll gain more confidence with each acceptance–the validation you receive is very important and ekes into your submissions and pitch letters–all the while improving your craft.

After I wrote my first novel, I realized I had no fiction or creative non-fiction publishing credits to list in my platform paragraph. So I devoted the next full year to writing and submitting short work. Lo and behold, two years later, I had a bio paragraph that showed I was a serious writer. Have I been published in Glimmer Train? Not yet. But I have been published in the Christian Science Monitor. I never would have had the confidence to submit my work nor the requisite understanding of craft had I not submitted my work to other lesser-known journals first.

When I took an online workshop from Writers Online Workshops (WOW) with Gloria Kempton (a fine instructor who is published–see the first sidebar–tip of the week), she said my bio paragraph should get me some attention.

Though THE SHAKER PROPOSAL hasn’t been picked up yet, I’ve gotten a lot of bounce from my query letter. I’m not kidding. Keeping up with agent requests has been challenge since I started shopping the book in March. That bio paragraph was a factor.

Just this summer I applied to the Algonkian Pitch-and-Shop Writers Conference. Before you are invited to register you have to send them the pitch for your book and your author bio. In my acceptance letter, conference organizers said, “You are obviously a serious writer . . .”

I’m suffering through an ongoing short story contest this summer just to develop some new short work to pitch since I spent all of the last year working on my novels.

So, take your platform seriously, fiction writers. And to the woman who couldn’t see my workshop teacher’s connection between writing short stories and writing novels, open your eyes and ears or you’ll never learn from your betters. Not to mention that you will have missed an opportunity to better your platform.

If you want to improve your platform but don’t know where to begin, try Duotrope Digest, an electronic database of literary publications, also my tip of the week.

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7 Comments»

  Ian wrote @

Something I’ve learned is that it’s never too early to have your own website. It’s almost an essential in the modern publishing world. Agents considering you may go visit it to see what else you’ve got, to see how involved you are in your own potential career. The reason for this is that an agent is signing your book, they’re signing YOU. And if you show that you’re very focused on your work by having a good website with reasonably frequent updates, it looks very good to them. Mine is here: http://www.ianthealy.com.

Ian

  rachel wrote @

Right on Gale. There seems such a deluge of shorts out there that nobody could care less about one more, so I usually end up saying, oh forget it. But that’s imbecilic. Glad I read this. Now I’ll go back to Duotrope and that list I started and put aside for the umpteenth time.

Re listening to your teachers – yes. Even if you disagree, best to just shut up and think about it. Half an hour or two days later you may see his point. Same with criticism. Storming rarely gets you anywhere except alone, I’ve found.

Re websites – I was going to ask if they’re a plus or minus when approaching agents, so glad to hear this perspective – thanks to Ian.
Rachel

  Contests… for cash and prizes! « it’s a trip . . . wrote @

[…] I plan to shore up a few pieces to enter in these contests tomorrow when my mind is fresh. Not because I’m a glutton for punishment but because I feel as if I have a piece or two capable of winning. And winning improves your platform. […]

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  • my author bio . . .

    I began writing creatively three years ago, fueled by midlife and a Curves' addiction. Since then, I have published short work in The Christian Science Monitor and Sirens Magazine in the same year. How's that for versatility!
    Sirens Magazine

    Sirens Magazine

    Also the Duck & Herring Company's Pocket Field Guide, The Giggle Water Review, Alighted, Wet Ink Press, America's Funniest Humor, Brilliant!, Laughter Loaf, Flash-Flooding, and the Greensilk Journal where my short story, "How I Boinked John Cusack" won editor's pick.
    The Greensilk Journal

    The Greensilk Journal

    My newest novel, THE SHAKER PROPOSAL, has received numerous accolades, the latest a fifth-place in the 2008 annual NWA (National Writing Association) Novel Contest.
    THE SHAKER PROPOSAL

    THE SHAKER PROPOSAL

    I am a marketing professional by vocation (but not by choice). My husband and I live in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania—the sounds, sites, smells, and flavors of which are a never-ending source of literary inspiration.
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