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Part I: What Your Publisher Won't Tell You
By Erika-Marie S. Geiss
October, 2007, 13:59

Platform your work, then dive from that point to increase interest and sales.
In 2004, I was honoured to be contacted by a publisher who needed an art historian to write about Renaissance and Baroque depictions of the last twelve hours of Jesus' life. It was a great project and a wonderful opportunity.

The result of this assignment is The Passion Of Christ (Publications International, 2004), my first solely-authored book. The coinciding release of my book with Mel Gibson's same-titled movie seemed to ensure success.
The book came out with little fanfare. I waited for the phone to ring. Surely once the book hit the shelves, everyone from Oprah to Matt Lauer and Larry King would be calling me to do interviews. Not so much.

The phone didn't ring. I never received a single email from the media. My local Borders, which I was assured would carry my book, couldn't set up a book signing because according to their system, the book was "out of print" and didn't have a BNK-number (Borders' special coding system).

Disappointed but not dejected, I was happy that their competition was carrying the book, and friends and family members queued to get their very own copies. My husband and parents were proud of me. I was proud of myself, and despite languid book sales, overall, I was satisfied with the experience and enjoyed the kudos from my inner circle.
That was three years ago; I was completely clueless about the author's role in promotion and in working to ensure that the book gets reviewed and that press releases get sent to the right markets. Today, and with another solely-authored project with the same publisher in progress, I'm a bit savvier. I've spent some time networking with other writers and have learned that a writer — especially a nonfiction writer — needs a platform.

This key nugget of wisdom is something publishers will not tell you. You have to work just as hard to get your book sold, as you did writing it. When courting agents and publishers for Your Next Great Opus, you have to be able to prove that you can sell on paper. I am not faulting my publisher one iota — after all, they had commitments from the super-bookstores to carry the book, so it didn't matter to them quite as much as it did to me whether the book became a best-seller. 

For that to happen, the writer must open the door. What I didn't know then, was that aside from the members of the Erika Geiss Fan Club, I held the keys to any additional selling power that the book might have had.
Don't think for one second that I am bitter about this. If I were, I wouldn't have agreed to work with that publisher again. I consider this a valuable learning experience. Having that first solely-authored book published still pumped my résumé and opened the door to other opportunities. Plus, once you have one publication under your belt from a legitimate publisher, you can call yourself "an established author." Stick a feather in my cap and send me back to the laptop to mine the fertile ideas swimming in my brain. So, I'm sharing the error of my ways and my new-found wisdom with my fellow writers.
The Importance of Platform

For nonfiction writers, it is important to have a great manuscript; however, they must also be able to sell it to agents and publishers, often before the manuscript is completed. Enter the nonfiction book proposal, which includes an overview, your bio, a competitive title analysis, an audience/market analysis, an annotated table of contents, and your platform.

Aside from writing The Next Great Opus and comparing it to the competition, it is your platform that will tell the readers of your proposal about the book's marketability. To figure this out, ask yourself some questions: Who do you know? Who knows you and likes you enough to buy your book? Can you get it to people who will review it and help generate a buzz?

Sure, your agent or publisher might take care of some of this, but what are you willing and ready to do to help promote and sell your book? Beyond just writing, writing, writing, you need to be willing to help actively sell your writing to the paying public. You may be thinking, ugh, I now have to hire a publicist or marketing firm. How am I going to fit that into my budget?

Relax, there are some simple, inexpensive things that you can do to start building or refining your platform. And you'll be happy to know that you probably already have a platform and don't even realize it. Join me next month for more. In Part II, you'll learn how to find your platform and maximize its potential.

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Erika-Marie S. Geiss is a writer and editor living in Michigan. Author of The Passion Of Christ (Publications International, 2004) and another forthcoming book Fall 2008, publication credits include The News Herald, World Energy Monthly Review, IN and Speak2Me. A work-at-home mom, Geiss runs Red Pencil Editing Services and is Editor-in-Chief of the WAHMmagazine.

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