Recently I spent a few hours visiting a relative in rehab, and the television was tuned to an episode of the television series, My 600-lb Life. This is why I like to control the TV remote at all times.
The episode focused on a fairly young mother of two children who weighed nearly six hundred pounds and was hoping to engage a surgeon for weight-reduction surgery. Her first several consultations with the doctor didn’t go well, in her view, because he prescribed a low-calorie diet and insisted that she change her eating habits and lose thirty pounds in a month before he would approve her for surgery; otherwise, he explained, she would almost certainly continue to gain weight even after the surgery. This seemed unreasonable to her, but she managed to lose eleven pounds in the first month. When the doctor sent her home with the same instructions—lose thirty pounds in a month—she became discouraged and went off the program. The episode continued, however, and nearly two years after her initial consultation, she managed to more carefully follow the doctor’s orders, and he agreed to perform the surgery.
I’ve had my own struggles with weight and diet and donuts, so I can sympathize a little with that woman. However, it was still amazing to me that she couldn’t understand that surgery wasn’t “the be-all and the end-all” (to quote Shakespeare’s Macbeth), but that new eating habits were also part of the picture. She couldn’t quite reconcile herself to the fact that she would not be able to return, post-surgery, to a diet of fast food, ice cream, and pizza. If she had grasped that reality, she might have been able to reason, “Since my eating has to change post-surgery, why is it unfair to be asked to change pre-surgery?”
Her struggle seems to me to be somewhat analogous to those of us who write for publication—especially when we seek to be represented by an agent. Bear with me.
Just a couple days before that episode of My 600-lb Life, I spoke to and met with writers at a writers’ conference. The subject of “platform” came up, of course, as it always does. And it elicited groans and gripes, as it always does, among the many people there who had a book idea to pitch and the hope that an agent or editor would see its promise and sign them to a contract. But a book contract or agency agreement isn’t “the be-all and the end-all” of the publishing process.
All of those writers vowed that, post-contract, they would market themselves and their books via social media, blogs, website, speaking engagements, podcasts, interviews, and more. But when a panel of agents and editors suggested that a healthy platform comprised of such things can—and, almost always, must—come pre-contract, they expressed chagrin. Chagrin, I tell you!
But why? Either way, you’re going to do those things, right? Whether you sign a contract today or two years from now, you’re going to be developing a following, right? I know you can’t schedule book signings until you have a book, but nearly everything else you plan to do after your book is released, you can do before your book is released—right? So why wait? Get started—now—engaging with people about your message and passion and genre, and you (and your agent and publisher) will be so glad you did when your book is finally released to universal acclaim.