Gaia is the word for "unity-of-life-processes". The experiment here is to unify the various threads of voice and sense of self together into an undivided unity. Spirituality, economics, politics, science and ordinary life interleaved.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

The Published Writer's Platform

Rick Frishman and Robyn Freedman Spizman have authored an excellent book entitled "Author 101", subtitled "the insider's guide to selling your work". It charmed me right from the start.

Before I talk about it, I want to mention how much I love the frank, integrous style of American books and authors. Here is a whole system set up to produce want people want, and, remarkably, what people in America want much of the time is actually really fine quality. This book is just what I mean: it is frank, funny, and worldly.

As an Australian, I notice that values are often submerged and contextual - my friend Dan explains how the Australian Aboriginal use of gesture and silence indicates significance and unspoken values - and to a great extent the same is true of the rest of Australia. In the United States, by contrast, values are explicit and numerous: freedom, liberty, innovation, philathropy, personal responsibility. I could go on about it, but the main thing is that there is an appreciable difference between how Australians embody values and American express values.

The key concepts of the book for me, as a mainly fiction writer, are the second and third chapters, "Think Like A Published Author" and "The Author's Platform". The former chapter is essentially for me about obedience: the process of being a published author involves submitting to the market one's work, then simply obeying the requirements of both market (as embodied by agent, editor, publisher, and publicist) and concept (as expressed in the work). The latter chapter is the "how to" aspect of being a published author: the essence of being a published author is authority - in the sense of being authoritative but also in the sense of fully being the originator or source of the work.

Obedience and authority are not real friendly sounding words, and nowhere in this book do I find them. So this is more my sense of the essence of what I take from the book, rather than what the authors themselves have to say.

One builds a platform by volunteering to become an authority in the subject one writes about. Publishers look for books that are aligned with the writer's everyday work and practice, so that the writer's activities can support sales of the book.

This immediately makes sense in the context of nonfiction, but in the world of fiction this concept is a little harder to define. Stephen King in his book "On Writing" gives a great portrait of platform building in fiction writing. The composite writer he features simply publishes 6 stories; one wins an award; then he writes a friendly, personable, professional letter to a few agents and suddenly he's in business. It stands to reason that the short fiction arenas that publish fiction would be read by the same folk who read the long fiction of the same kind.

The approach - which has been successful with Dean Koontz's work - seems to be that one attracts a loyal readership from book to book whilst attracting new readers at the same time. But given the somewhat slimmer midlist of publishing these days this seems to be less like a journey of discovery where greater numbers of readers tag along, and more like a mountain to climb where the readers must be dragged along behind!

Perhaps the solution is to take a detour from the conventional and time honored route of fiction publishing by self-publishing, giving the book away online, or creating an attractive website on the subject; but simpler alternatives are just to write fiction and nonfiction about the material or topics of research, which bolster the platform and increase the chances of attracting an agent for fiction.

The book was fascinating for the fine grained detail of how to write an excellent proposal.


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