Building a Publishing Platform
by Dani Hedlund
Any experienced writer will tell you that the key to having your writing discovered is building an impressive publishing platform. A publishing platform can consist of many elements, including:
- Published Work
- Applicable Experience
For fiction writers, previously published works form the most common and beneficial platform element. Agents and publishing houses are more likely to work with an author who has been published, because it proves that you are producing work of a high standard.
For nonfiction, education and life experiences are equally valuable. Agents will be looking not only to verify your writing skills, but also to make sure you are the appropriate person to write your proposed book.
The world of publishing creates a double standard: a writer must have published work to obtain an agent or a publishing contract, but in many cases, a writer also needs an agent to get published. To combat this catch-22, TBL specializes in unsolicited works (works that do not already have an agent). This helps new writers gain publishing credit.
Luckily, we are not the only journal that caters to new writers. There are scores of outlets in which to publish great short fiction, memoirs, poetry, and other works of art. Being published in literary journals, academic magazines, and local newspapers all qualify as publishing credit. (See “How to Submit to Literary Journals.”) Contests are also an excellent way to gain publishing credit while earning a little extra cash. (See our “Up-to-Date Contest List” for current competitions.)
When you begin the task of building your platform, remember to stay organized and motivated. (Check out our free Submission Tracker.) Since many contests charge a reading fee, make sure you budget a certain amount of money per month to dedicate toward submission costs. Also pay careful attention to when journals have open reading sessions (usually only a couple months out of the year).
It is important to keep generating new work while submitting to journals and contests, because it will often be months before you hear back.
Lysley Tenorio, author of Monstress, on submitting to journals:
“I have to immerse myself in a story. If I maintain my interest, even after that first draft, after that second draft, I keep going until I think it’s done. After I send it out to potential publishers, I immediately start a new project, to keep my momentum.”
Insider’s Tip: Once you’ve been signed and/or have a book deal, continue to submit work for smaller publication in literary journals. It shows a publishing house and agent that you are dedicated to your craft and consistently marketing yourself to the masses. An active writer who continues to seek publication puts them at ease. Also, if you’ve already signed with a publishing house, mentioning that you have a pending book deal in your cover letter to a literary journal will enhance the authority of your work.
Education, Applicable Experience, and Audience
While published work will make you reputable to an agent or house, proving that you are the best person to write your book will almost guarantee publication. Are you an expert on your chosen subject? For example, many authors who write historical fiction have studied their chosen time period extensively.
Another way to prove your writing prowess is to pursue a Masters in Fine Arts. This advanced learning degree is undertaken after the undergraduate degree and is usually achieved in two years.
Jennifer DuBois, author of A Partial History of Lost Causes, on her MFA program:
“I know MFAs aren’t for everyone, but I think it was a pivotal point because I got to immerse myself in writing…being able to have two years of your life dedicated to writing is an enormous gift. And you do learn so much. For me, it was a really precious and rare opportunity and it was hugely important.”
Bruce Machart, author of The Wake of Forgiveness and Men in the Making, on his MFA program:
“I needed my MFA program. I wasn’t ready to really start publishing nor was I on the verge of writing seriously. I love my creative writing program…No three years have been more fruitful, we lived, breathed, and talked about writing. It was in every part of my life. We were in between plays of football and would say ‘Hey did you read that new Tobias Wolf story?’ It was really nicely saturated in every aspect of my writing life.”
In addition to studying the craft, a new writer must consider his or her work’s exposure. If you’ve gone to great lengths to gain a readership, it shows agents and publishers that you are serious about making yourself known in the publishing world. Blogging, working for a literary journal, and taking part in writing groups can greatly enhance your exposure. Knowing your target audience will also aid in your discussion with publishers. Take the time to determine the demographic your writing most easily reaches.
Isaac Marion, author of Warm Bodies, on writing for his blog:
“I started writing stuff, making it available online on my blog, and spent time self-promoting those stories. You don’t want to rely on that alone, but if you can simultaneously self-market and get your stories out there, there’s always the chance that someone who can help you will stumble upon it. The other great benefit [to publishing work yourself] is it gives you a reason to keep writing because you have this immediate outlet and that’s a great motivator!”
What makes you different? In realistic fiction, what can often set you apart is writing from experience. For example, Tethered Tidings featured author Jacques Strauss, who was able to write the story of an eleven-year-old boy growing up in apartheid Johannesburg because he grew up in South Africa himself. However, the most powerful distinction can simply be a fresh idea or a new angle on an older story. When querying, make sure you make it clear how your story is different from the works that fall into the same genre. (Read more in “Writing a Query Letter”.)
When presenting yourself as a published author, your ability to self-market is an essential part of the process. Be sure to mention it! Agents look for established literary connections or fan bases when considering potential clients.
Insider’s Tip: As a writer, you have more chances to be invited to writing conferences or to win fellowships if you’ve published a multitude of work. These events can also be added to your publishing platform, making your name more recognizable and reputable in the market.
Our members often wonder when to start building a platform. The simple answer is: as soon as possible. New writers often dedicate years to a novel, and when it’s finished, they don’t have the platform needed to query for an agent. Thus, they then pend the next year publishing shorter works before seeking representation.
If you have started on a larger work, like a novel, novella, or nonfiction book, pause to work on your platform. Since many journals take up to six months to reply regarding your submission, make sure you start the process early.
Here at TBL, we would also advise working on your platform early for the sake of your craft. By producing short works, you can perfect your style and story arcs in a much more manageable size and time frame. You can fix problems with your technique early (before you make the same mistakes in a 300-page novel), and you will learn more about the publishing industry, preparing yourself for the next step into major publication.
Dani Hedlund published her first novel, Threads of Deception, at the age of eighteen. Experiencing the difficulties of breaking into the market, she founded TBL in 2007 to help other new writers perfect and publish their works. Offering free writing coaching, editing, and publishing guidance, Hedlund expanded TBL into a global community of writers, editors, and artists. In 2010, she pushed the company to new heights, creating TBL’s literary journal, Tethered by Letters Quarterly Literary Journal which has since evolved into F(r)iction Series (published by Sheridan Press), a literary and art collection that pushes the boundaries of conventional storytelling.
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