Using A Different P-word for Platform

If you want to write a business book and have it published, you won’t get very far into a conversation with an agent or editor without the word ‘platform’ coming up.

Right after you explain your idea, they’ll start to ask you to describe to the consulting business you have built, the clients you have worked with, the speaking you are doing, the size of your email list, and the number of Twitter followers you have. As you do that, those folks are constructing the size and reach of your platform in their head.

And it may sound strange but they want to estimate how many books they think YOU can sell. Business books are somewhat unique in that their authors generally arrive with people ready to buy their book and your platform dictates how many copies that might be.

Now lately, I have been writing about how the words we use matter. Platform is an interesting word to use in this instance. The term implies an author’s platofrm can be built, that it is sturdy, and the platform raises the author above others around her. The trouble is that platform is a emotionally neutral term, something we can talk about without anyone getting uncomfortable. The word has a jargony feel to it.

What we are really getting at when we talk about platform are things like this:

  • How in demand are you as a media source in your area of expertise?
  • How sought-after are you as a keynote speakers at industry events?
  • How commercial is the idea you are trying publish?
  • How marketable are you as an authority on this topic?
  • Does this proposal feel like the next cool, big thing?

All the terms highlighted above are thesaurus alternatives for the word that fits the real question. Agents and editors want to know about your popularity.

Popularity is about your following, your tribe, your cult. The word popular comes from the Latin popularis or ‘people.’ You can’t avoid the emotion when you talk about the topic using these sorts of terms. Robert Cialdini’s book Influence is a one framework for thinking about how to build popularity.

What I also like about popularity is the word carries some negative connotations in American culture. We are forced to think back to high school and being in or out of the cool crowd. Many authors don’t like the effort and attention popularity requires and brings. They prefer to write books that magically find an audience. You also can’t avoid the fleeting nature of being trendy and fashionable when you use the wordpopularity, something that is counter to the concept of platform.

If an agent or editor asked you “How popular are you?” would that change what you were doing now? And is it possible to become popular without sacrificing other values that you hold? Both of those questions are very important in considering your approach to publishing.

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