I’ve spoken to three hopeful memoirists recently who were convinced that the strength of their writing alone will be enough to sell their book. They don’t need to work on their platforms, they said.
Now, this would be interesting if these people were famous or rich. But they’re not. They have either a small blog or have never been published. And in the world of memoir, being famous helps. In fact, it’s the first question my agent asks when I mention I’m working with someone who’s hoping to publish a memoir.
Since most of us are not ever going to be famous, the best we can do is build a platform. A platform is a writer’s ability to create an audience of readers who will buy a forthcoming book. In this down economy, it’s never been more important. If you don’t believe me, see the International Association of Culinary Professionals finalists for book awards and notice how many chefs and known cookbook authors are on the lists. Publishers find them a much safer bet than the unknowns.
(Memoirs are listed under Literary Food Writing. Note the finalists: William Grimes; A New York Times reporter; David Lebovitz, a successful cookbook author and mega blogger; and Tristan Stuart, a freelance writer and published author.)
These authors are among the unknowns’ competition. If these three memoirists ever send their book proposal to an agent, he or she will evaluate it not only on its own merits, but whether the writers are good and/or different enough to join the agent’s team of successful writers.
On the other hand, what is a big enough platform? I coached a writer on a cookbook proposal recently who’s a super hard worker. She’s been on television several times to demo recipes, she blogs, she’s regularly written up in the press, she has big followings on social media, and she has written for national magazines. She sent out her proposal to a bunch of agents and got this first response from the biggest one:
“It’s very well-written…but unfortunately, it comes back to the market right now and the difficulty in interesting a mainstream publisher without the platform of celebrity or a Food Network TV Show. And now, with another cooking channel in the works, competition will be even greater.”
Translation: her platform, without a national television show, wasn’t big enough.
Granted, it’s just one agent’s opinion. This writer will keep going, because that’s how she is, and eventually, she’ll find an agent. Notice she’s not trying to publish a memoir, which is infinitely harder to sell.
So here’s the thing: It’s difficult to sell a cookbook now, with a platform, so why would these three unknowns think they can sell a memoir without one? Creating and building a readership takes time, sometimes years. I can think of three possible explanations:
1. They’re unrealistic
2. They’re not serious
3. They don’t believe in themselves enough to invest.
Because if the opposite were true: they’re realistic, serious, and believe in themselves, they’d get to work.
Photo credit: Foodnetaddict