Author Platforms...Can Collapse

By: Jeff Herman

If you have spent any time pitching your work, you've heard the mantra about "platforms". My definition for the term in context is: assuming the publishing does nothing to promote your work, will you still be able to sell a reasonable number of copies through your own efforts and resources? If yes, how many and how will you do it? 

Let's deflate the elephant in the room. The so-called assumption about the publisher's absence as a marketer is what usually happens in reality, which explains why the publisher is dependent upon the author's platform. The obvious outcome is that publishers will judge books on the basis of author platform at the expense of editorial quality. But there's nothing new about this; what's changed is that publishers explicitly demand platforms more than in the past. Naturally, many books that aren't the best will get published anyway, and many books that are the best might not ever get published. A profit based market creates a wide spectrum opportunities and consequences. Here's a situation I experienced as a young hungry agent 20 years ago.

She was a high-priced matchmaker. $20,000 and up. For the money She provided many valuable services. All suitors were vetted by top-notch private investigators. You would only be set up with individuals who were deemed to be ideally suited for you. She wanted to write a dating book consisting of all her proven "secrets". She promised to promote the book through her own $million marketing budget, and to get herself on all major media. There was a marketing plan, but no proposal to speak of. No problem, publishers were fighting for the book. If She hadn't offended some of the publishers we met with, the low six-figure advance might have been much closer to seven-figures. A ghostwriter was hired. 200,000 books were printed and ready to ship. And then the NY Attorney General publicly announced a huge class-action lawsuit against Her for millions of dollars. All kinds of fraud, false advertising, embezzlement were alleged. It turned out that most of the "well vetted" suitors were actually married, bankrupt, ex-cons, you name it. Her face was all over the media, but it was the wrong story. All advance book orders were cancelled. The publisher had to eat the 200000 hard cover printing. Her platform was perfect; Her, not so much.

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