A Common Platform Mistake

Some time ago I received a submission that went something like this (names and details have been changed to protect the innocent, guilty, and all those in between):

I’ve published three successful nonfiction books. All three, in the area of business and leadership, are still selling very well. One of them, coauthored with Bill Gates (with a foreword by Warren Buffett), reached bestseller status and has sold more than 1 million copies to date.  My weekly email newsletter, Lead On!, reaches more than 20,000 influential and rising business leaders and government officials. Also, while promoting that book with Mr. Gates, I appeared on Fox and Friends and CBS This Morning, as well as numerous other radio and television talk shows. I am also featured in an interview in Forbes magazine, which is scheduled for next July.

I’m pleased to present to you my proposal for a 90,000-word fantasy novel, the first of a trilogy set in an alternate universe. The story eerily reflects some of the current events we’re facing in our world today.

Notice anything amiss?

Agents and editors encounter this sort of thing more often than you might imagine. A writer who has enjoyed good success and built a strong platform in one arena wants to spread his or her wings and fly … off into a substantially different neighborhood (much like my mixing of metaphors, you might say).

But can you see the problem? It’s the disconnect between the two paragraphs above. All of the wonderful and persuasive platform details mentioned in the first paragraph come tumbling down when the agent or editor reaches the second paragraph. The kind of platform that might recommend a business writer to an agency or publishing house is not transferable to what a writer of fantasy fiction would need. You could pretty much throw out all of that writer’s past reach and exposure and say, “Let’s start from scratch in building a completely new platform.”

Sure, you can probably think of an exception: a famous romance author whose book of recipes became a bestseller or the politician who also writes children’s books. But the exception proves the rule. And famous people live by different rules. (So, if you’re famous, give me a call.) For most of us, however, it takes a good long while to build a platform that is strong enough to seem persuasive to agents and editors. If you’ve managed to do that, be very cautious about expanding into new territory that will make your existing platform useless.

6 Responses to A Common Platform Mistake

  1. Loretta Eidson April 7, 2021 at 5:47 am #

    I noticed the sudden change of subject. I thought it was another example until I continued reading and realized the two paragraphs went together. Wow. Great example. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Sarah Hamaker April 7, 2021 at 6:18 am #

    From personal experience (although, no where near as successful as your example!), it’s hard to feed and maintain two separate platforms. I had hopes of turning one platform into my core business, so devoted a good chunk of time and effort into that. After crunching the numbers, I decided to let that platform go and devote my efforts into writing, both romantic suspense and freelance. I can’t tell you how freeing it is to only focus on building one platform, and I feel I’ll have more success with a singular focus.

    Just something else to keep in mind if you’re thinking of juggling more than one platform.

  3. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser April 7, 2021 at 6:28 am #

    I am a pro wrestling champ
    and truly earn my pay,
    with rabid fans within my camp,
    but it’s time now, for ballet,
    where I will leap with easy grace
    to bring the art a gilded age,
    pirouette about the place
    (but reinforce the stage!).
    The crowds will flock to see my skill
    with cheers, and not with boos,
    especially seeing ‘Born To Kill’
    as my largest of tattoos,
    and they will belly up, place bets
    on my crashing my grand jetes.

  4. Kristen Joy Wilks April 7, 2021 at 10:01 am #

    I have a weird question. As I read your example, I too was jarred by the jump to fantasy. But it did make me wonder if he’d tied the two together at all if that would have made a difference. “Set in the jungle of the business world I learned to navigate, my fantasy novel takes the barriers that trip up the wall street hopeful (malicious mergers, the glass ceiling, um … rogue NY rats ruining one’s fancy shoes in an ill-fated attack on the subway?) and explains them in light of the magic that toys with the fortunes of both rich and poor.” I don’t know, clearly I know nothing of business, but I could see a really fun book arising from his personal expertise. Would a tie-in to his real life experience make any difference?

  5. Wendy April 7, 2021 at 11:16 am #

    The dichotomy in your example is jolting. But what I noticed next is the absence of any mention of God in the query. I wonder if a Christian writer whose goal is to help further the Kingdom of God might be given some leeway to use a variety of styles to accomplish their goal. While I understand the business considerations regarding brand, I wonder if there’s room for the Holy Spirit to guide us into various venues.

    I appreciate articles that make me think, and this one made me think back to a novel I began years ago–a story that takes place in multiple decades. I set it aside because of extended family obligations but came back to it while going through a traumatic time, as a way of escape and comfort. So, although I’m currently working on my memoir about that time of adversity, I’d also like to finish my novel, at a later time. Both are from my Christian worldview. I hope that publishing the first would not exclude me from the next, from a publisher’s point of view.

  6. Sheri Dean Parmelee, Ph.D. April 10, 2021 at 7:04 am #

    I am not famous (sob). But I do get the point. I know that Larry Burkett did a great job on his novel, after great success in the financial planning world. But, like you said, he was famous (and a very good novelist, to boot!)

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