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How to Publish a Book as an Unknown Writer…Step 1: Don’t Be Unknown.

5 July 2010

Back in the more innocent days of two weeks ago, when I first christened this blog, I explained why I thought the topic of the book was timely and interesting. (Hopefully I’m not alone in thinking this!) And obviously, I believe I’m capable of turning this timely and interesting subject into a timely and interesting book, or I wouldn’t be here telling you about the project. But convincing someone else that your project is worthwhile takes more than stats and a few pretty words, especially if you’re coming from way down the literary food chain. If you’re also an aspiring nonfiction author, nod your head and/or roll your eyes if you know where we’re headed next…

In all the reading I’ve done about the nonfiction publishing process–and it’s been quite a bit, rivaling the amount of research that’s gone into the early stages of the book itself–one word has constantly loomed in the distance like a literary Grim Reaper: platform.

Agents and publishers, though presumably very nice people, are in the book business to make money. Obviously, this requires finding authors and books that more than 20 people want to buy. (Though if this book comes out, I’m expecting you to pick up a couple, Mom and Dad.) The easiest way to do this is to say: “Look, Mr./Ms. Agent/Publisher, I already have a ton of people who hang on my every word. If I tell them I have a book, they’ll shut down Amazon for a month!”

Granted, we’re not all Anthony Bourdain. Or Chelsea Handler. They’re both in the top 5 of the New York Times Nonfiction Bestseller List this week, and not coincidentally, have national TV shows to go along with their book deals. Now, I don’t envision anything like that happening to me before I start sending out proposals for Wonder Bugs (though my email’s always open, Discovery Channel, if you’ve got a script and a box for me to stand on…), but I’m fully aware that having a platform, a ready-made set of readers ready to buy the book and spread the gospel, is maybe the most important thing that book purveyors are looking for. (It’s probably on a par with trivial things like writing.)

As Christina Katz, author of Get Known Before the Book Deal and Writer Mama puts it, first, develop your platform, then write a great book. So while my book will never be on hold, my primary goal for the summer is building a platform. With that in mind, this Thursday and Friday, the 8th and 9th of July, I’ll be covering the meeting of the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethics, in hopes that someone important finds my analysis worth publishing. Check my Twitter feed–conveniently located on the right of the screen–for instant reaction.

Word count: 3600, sliver of Chapter 2 done, though I’ll be adding some to Chapter 1 after this week’s meeting.

Platform-building photo courtesy of the Boston Public Library.

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