Leah Komaiko on Creating a “Platform”

Leah Komaiko is a marketing consultant who specializes in building platform. Her client list includes huge iconic corporations like Disney, Dreamworks, and Saks Fifth Avenue. But she also works with writers who need to develop a platform in these times when platform is usually what is needed to get books published. Check out her website at: http://www.leahkomaiko.com/index.html.

Leah knows about issues associated with writers. She was the author of 20 children’s books by major major publishers. Several were bought by Hollywood. I suspect that she still harbors a soft spot in her heart of writers and for books.

Andy: Leah, we hear a lot about platform in the publishing business. As in: ‘This is a brilliant book, a groundbreaking concept likely to change the world. It creates a genuine paradigm shift in consciousness. That said, we feel that the author’s platform is weak and not likely to reach a large enough audience. Good luck somewhere else.” Why can’t publishers just make decisions on the merits of the book?

Leah: Good question, Andy.  I think it’s because it seems the good old days of publishing, like the good old days of so many things, are behind us.  The editor who discovers great material for a book no longer has the biggest decision-making voice at a publishing house.  Most often it’s the marketing team.  First you need the good material. Then if there’s no market, the marketing department sees no merit regardless of the material because they’re afraid they won’t make any money.  Most publishers are struggling to stay afloat.  It used to be a business that prided itself on taking big chances.    Now they’re trying and needing to change their ways.  And they’re not doing it flawlessly. 

Andy: When writers ask me to define platform, I generally say: “it means that publishers are too stupid, lazy and cheap to promote  your book. So you will have to do it yourself.”  Ok. That is pretty glib. You tell us exactly what they mean by platform.

Leah: Glib, yet eloquently put!  And I’d add to that that publishers up until a decade or so ago were not focused on being marketers.  They knew how to publish a book but not how to sell them.  The outlets for selling were easier – the venues for getting material, entertainment, information, were not like they are today. Between blogs, social networks, self publishing, all the webcasts, podcasts, information and entertainment you can get on your cell phone, hundreds of cable TV stations, books on tape, books published on demand, e-books, on-line publishers who sell only into corporations and make millions doing it, magazines (although they’re crumbling), newspapers (although they are dying), and so much more,  book  have a lot more competition for buying dollars and they’re counting on you to help them catch up and get them into the marketing business before it is too late.  What’s a platform?  As I see it, an existing audience.   Whether that’s on TV, radio, you have a heavily visited blog (I’ve heard now publishers will be interested if you have 3,000 regular visitors at your site..), a police record, etc.   You are known to people who’d be interested in reading your book.  That is, in addition to your family.

Andy: Hmm. I’m  starting to get close to 3000 hits on this blog. And I used to steal hubcaps for my police record. Maybe there is big money for me. But lets keep on subject. I believe that publishers are anxious to look at worthy books where authors have a weak platform. But getting them a contract is an unbelievably difficult challenge. What exactly can a writer do to build a platform. Drug-addled Hollywood starlets with a cellulite problem  don’t need to work on platform. Scholars with endowed chairs at Harvard already have platform. But the rest of us are platform challenged. What can we do?

 Leah: Oh yeah, and you would know better than anyone.  Editors have got to be frustrated as hell because they crave worthy books and they need a platform to sell them.  Not everybody is a starlet but plenty of them don’t have platforms that can sell a book.  Remember Vanna White?  What did she get for an advance for her memoir – I think it was $3 million plus somebody’s head after it was chopped off and they lost their job..  I think to build a platform we can start by looking and seeing what we already have.  I have worked with people who had an audience that they didn’t even know they hadTheir audience looked too small for it to make a difference to them, but small can build to big pretty quickly.  I start with authors suggesting they think of themselves as a marketer.  Most authors think of themselves as writers, not as marketers. But I try to get authors to ask a basic question, a question that needs to be answered compellingly in any book proposal “Why am I the person to Write this Book?”  And the next question which is just as important:”What’s the story of my book.”  I mean that differently than what actually happens in it – I mean what does it offer to people?  Who do you want it to be offered to?  Why did you put your heart and soul and time and hopes into doing this?  Why should a reader be emotionally, intellectually or psychically connected to you?   Looking at those questions, for starts, can lead us to who and how to reach people that can be our audience. 

Andy: Leah, you are a consultant. You work with some of the biggest names in American business: Disney, Dreamworks, Mattel. It seems to me that these companies have platform up the wazoo. Why do they hire you?

Leah: They hire me to help them figure out the story of their brand.  I believe they hire me because I understand  that the “voice” of writing and the voice of a business idea to be the same.  I have seen over and over the best, most successful brands are based on someone’s simple story/vision/reason for being and ability to connect with an audience unseen.  As writers, we have the leg up here.  This is what we do naturally.  This is why I love to work with authors. 

Andy:  And what can you do for my clients, brilliant writers who have made a difference in the world, but don’t have the big platforms that will get them a book contract?

 Leah: If your clients have great books, which I know they do in order to be your clients, I can help them shift into a marketing frame of mind and still be authors.  I can help them discover the story of their brand and build their book as a brand just like a company.  (without all the expenses and employees).  I help them pull from their material chapters, aspects, ideas that could resonate with audiences they may not have thought of.  This starts to build their platform.  I  help them design worthwhile strategies from Facebook to corporate partnerships and sponsorships to public relations  strategies to leading them to excellent on-camera coaches who can help them with media appearances,  to non-profit affiliations, journalists  and more.  You have to be willing to see your book as a small business.   That is the way too that many of the most successful authors have made real money and ancillary product from their books for years.  Knowing your audience and keeping it relevant is far more important than having a zillion “tweets”.   When you know your story, I truly believe your message is unique.  And who doesn’t want to say they know someone unique – who is not uniquely a criminal?  And even then… fast way to build a platform.  But I think you can’t earn money in prison. 

Andy: Ok, Leah, I’m off to prison. And here is the $64,000 question? What are you reading right now? Do you have anything good to recommend to readers?

Leah: Right now I’m reading Julia Child’s My Life in France. I can’t cook but I can read and it’s inspired.  I’m also reading In Search of  the Common Good, by Paul Newman about building his business (I like business books) from a sane and humane “platform”.  Also on my table is Two Lives a memoir by Vikram Seth, and a wonderful new middle grade reader book called Matisse on the Loose by Georgia Bragg.  For writers I think Paul Newman’s book about how he marketed his business is encouraging because he shows that even though he was selling salad dressing he was first and foremost selling a vision “flying by the seat of his pants” which in truth, most publishers and businesses seem to be. Nobody knows ultimately what will sell or not.  So we can have some fun with the mystery of it all.

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6 Responses to “Leah Komaiko on Creating a “Platform””

  1. Polprav Says:

    Hello from Russia!
    Can I quote a post in your blog with the link to you?

  2. andyrossagency Says:

    Sure go ahead

  3. Meghan Ward Says:

    Great post, Andy! Very informative, although quite depressing for emerging authors like me.

  4. Meghan Ward Says:

    P.S. Something I’d love to ask Leah: Does your platform have to be directly related to your book? What if you wrote a book about dogs, but you have a well-read blog about tennis, for example? Does that matter to publishers?

    • andyrossagency Says:

      I’ll try to answer that. Here are some thoughts.

      1) Platform is a first hurdle. Having one isn’t sufficient to get a book published. I have had several projects from writers with very good platforms. But they failed because the publishers decided that either the writing wasn’t good enough, that there were too many books on the subject, that there wasn’t an obvious market for the book, or the “just didn’t fall in love with it”.

      2) To answer your question, platform usually is directly related to the book that you are trying to sell. But not always. If you have large public recognition (as in being a celebrity), then you will certainly have an edge in getting your book published. But if you have a very successful website on fishing, and you are writing a chick lit novel, it isn’t going to help much.
      3) There is one area where platform is not necessarily important. That is fiction. If you have a book that people really fall in love with, they are not so much concerned with platform. Obviously there are also the “name brand” writers: Stephen King, Barbara Kingsolver, James Patterson. These guys obviously have fiction platforms.

  5. Tommy Schnee Says:

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