Have Platform, will Publish

By Carmen Comment

<a href="http://www.publishersmarketplace.com”>Publishers Marketplace’s semi-snarky headline on this story is that the NY Observer has “finally discovered platforms” and I can’t really argue – after all, a recent visit by a freelance editor at a notable writer’s site stressed that if two fiction projects came across her desk, and writer A had no platform and writer B had one, well, guess which one she was more likely to buy.

But now, as Sheelah Kolhatkar reports, the word is everywhere. “I don’t know where it comes from, but people use it all the time now” said Jonathan Burnham, senior vice president and publisher at HarperCollins. “It’s a question editors ask agents when they’re discussing a book, and they say, ‘What’s the author’s platform?’ It’s much used within sales and marketing meetings and so on: ‘How solid and substantial is this story, and how is it going to work for the media?'”

Ultimately, platform seems to be about having key talking points, built-in readership and an ability to promote oneself that makes life easier for the poor publicist in charge of the author’s work. And thanks the the internet, creating platform and – gack – “buzz” is that much less expensive.

So what about reviews? “[What it] means, in essence, is that review culture is dead,” said another publisher requesting anonymity. (The review culture may be dead, Kolhatkar adds, but that doesn’t mean this person wants to piss off The New York Times.) And for the writer lacking a platform? ‘He needs to be a really good writer,” said one unnamed publisher, practically shrugging. “Still happens.”