Saturday, June 02, 2007

Response to Responses from Previous Response

Okay. Deep breath.

I know my original notion, which is that you shouldn't waste space on the page with non-credential credentials, or that some of them may actually harm you, is against industry wisdom. The normal advice is "list any credentials you may have." However, people have a tendency to take things to extremes, and this results in people listing every paper they ever wrote for school. I think the advice should be coupled with the more reassuring, "It's okay if you don't have any credentials."

Most novel writers don't. Most people in fiction sat down to write a novel, wrote it, and are now submitting it. They don't have "past experience." But they get nervous when they see the "writing credits" option and know they can't do it.

The general rule is that if you're not sure it's a credential or not, include it. It won't hurt you. DON'T scrape the bottom of your autobiographical barrel for something to mention. If you have something that comes to mind, great. If you don't, don't sweat it.

I'm planning on quoting the technology column (which has nothing to do with my novel) with a colleague in my query letters, because we got paid and it's a legitimate newspaper, albeit not one you'll have read if you don't live in New England. I'm *not* planning on quoting the small community newspaper for which I wrote for free for years. The key idea is that agents WILL Google on your writing creds. An agent will pull up my community newspaper columns whether she wants to or not. She will also discover I wasn't lying about the paid technology gig.

Actually, for the most part, we will not use google to search for you or your writing creds unless they're mysterious in some fashion and it's bugging us and it's a slow afternoon. Every once in a while, a guy with a terrible query writes that he wrote for a television series, but doesn't name the series. I'm confused, so I go hit up IMDB and find out he was on the writing staff of some failed cartoon show. You know, the ones that air on Sunday mornings at like 7 am on a station you've never heard of. I'm not going to hold that against him (it's a writing job), but it's still a terrible query. Reject.

I'd really like Rejecter to comment sometime on how her boss deals with PUBLISHERS' standards when it comes to author credentials. My agent and I are striking out on selling my books (fiction and nonfiction) based solely on the fact I don't have an existing "media platform." Apparently, writing well and regularly getting published in major newspapers and magazines does little for your book-deal potential these days when you don't already have your own reality show or brand of perfume, or haven't committed the crime of the century---the kind of creds that most of the big publishers seem to want from any new author they acquire (or else they won't acquire your book).

So I keep hearing this term "media platform" thrown around and I have to say I'm stumped about what it is. I think Miss Snark used to use it, but I've never heard it used by anybody else. All right, I've only worked for a few agents and only worked in an office with half a dozen more, and attended one BEA, and only read so many agent blogs, so I don't know everything. That said, it's very hard for me to give you advice on a concept that may have a different meaning than what I'll guess it means. The terms "media platform" and "platform" don't even appear in my Publication Services Glossary of Publishing Terms.

In answer to your original question, agents pitch books to editors they think will like the material. If the author has been previously published, they'll mention it initially, and where (The editor will want to know what company). There are some genres were the editor will ask about background, like non-fiction that requires heavy research or political commentary that requires some kind of media standing (because the book will sell if the person is a celebrity in that area of commentary). Otherwise, I don't think it comes up, especially not in fiction.

As for why you keep striking out, it could be because your agent is relatively new in the field (2004) with no previous experience in this country. He's gotten to a respectable start in selling commercial non-fiction titles, but it will take him time to build up his contact list with editors.

wanted to clarify the contest thing - i feel like most contests i've seen have some sort of entry fee, even from journals like the georgetown review etc. are those considered scam contests too? i always thought entry fees were just standard, but maybe i just haven't been paying attention.

also, on that subject, aside from the HUGE journals (new yorker, paris review, etc), what are some publications that are more mid-tier but would still be worth mentioning?

I'm gonna say I can't make individual rulings on the contests, so you should probably mention them unless you are SURE you got scammed. I honesty don't know every contest.

Anything mid-tier is worth mentioning, yes.


Anonymous said...

Quit talking about 'tiers'. I learned German in school and since I know the word to mean 'animal' in German, referring to journals this way makes little sense.

Go to a market search engine like, or and look for semi-pro markets. They pay a little less than the pro-markets, but they're definitely worth mentioning in a query.

Unknown said...

I've had one agency ask for a biogaphy which left me puzzled - what kind of information would you find useful for a fiction author? What might sway you or turn you off?

This 'platform' thing reassures me - it seems that some agents are just as prone to look for secret handshakes as the next man... (It wasn't my lack of contacts, honest. Your book is great, you just don't have the platform. Sorry.' ?)

My verification starts with 'omg'. How fitting.

Dave Kuzminski said...

Excellent response, Catja.

Regarding contests, there are some very significant, prestigious contests that charge fees. However, unless those are known by the writer then the safest option to the writer is to avoid any contest with an entry fee.

Scams rely upon making themselves appear legitimate by pointing to anything legitimate that does what they want such as collecting a fee. The difference is in how that fee is used. For reputable contests, the fee is used to compensate the judges, who should not be staff members. For scams, the fees generally go only to enriching themselves and providing the prize(s). The really reputable contests often provide the prize out of their own special funds simply because the prize is often larger than they expect to receive as entry fees.

Maria said...

I think "platform" the way Miss Snark uses it (and the way we used it in the computer industry) means that you already have an audience of some sort and a way to distribute your book or a mentin of your book. For example, you might have a radio show, be a radio announcer or have a regular appearance on a radio show on the topic related to your book because you're an expert. This "platform" allows you to mention the book.

In the computer industry a "platform" was: People that had ties throughout the industry--not just with a single company. They might sit on technical boards (boards that decide various computer standards for the industry). These people get asked a few times a year to give a talk or consult--some had books published and sold these books either at the back or as part of the package deal that came with the talk. In other words, a computer company would pay 100+ dollars per head--each attendee would get a nice ad bag that included the book.

This "platform" thing is also true in the Wall Street arena. Maybe you're Gary Kaltbulm and you have your own radio show. So you would let the agent and editor know that "hey every day I have a radio show and I can talk about my book."

You might have an occasional guest spot on CNBC or Fox News Business block. If you're in good with the people, they throw out, "And her book..."

Jim Rogers has a platform because he gets invited as a consultant EVERYWHERE in the world...etc.

Just my understanding of platform.

Anonymous said...

When I published my first book, I had no significant writing credits (certainly no book). I agree 100% with the Rejectress that it's a much better strategy to leave out legit but subpar credits from proposals -- they smack of desperation and defensiveness.

After all, your writing sample directly follows. The purpose of the proposal is to excite the publisher with your book, not to convince them you are qualified to write a book -- your deathless prose will qualify you. We're lucky that we are sending our proposals to folks who might actually read them.

Anonymous said...

I was a contributing writer for a technical article published by the Association for Healthcare Research and Quality. I wouldn't think to include that since I was one of three who put the segment together, the nature of the publication and I am writing sci-fi/fantasy.

Don said...

Not all illegitimate contests lack entry fees. There's the notorious poetry contest where everyone who enters wins at least publication and then you get the opportunity to spend an outrageous amount of money on the hardbound anthology that they put out.

Rei said...

Miss Snark says that platform only applies to nonfiction.

Picture, for example, the people you see hawking their books on The Colbert Report or The Daily Show (okay, I just gave away my TV-viewing habits... ;) ). Those people have platform. That's how they sell their nonfiction. Note that you don't generally see people hawking fiction there.

Jill Elaine Hughes said...

You said re: "media platform":

"Otherwise, I don't think it comes up, especially not in fiction."

Yes, it DOES come up in virtually EVERY nonfiction topic, and it is also starting to come up in fiction. And I don't think my agent has anything to do with that. He has 100s of editorial contacts at major and minor houses, and all of those editors have been careful to say that the "platform" issue isn't usually an obstacle for them per se----it's an obstacle put up by publishers' sales-and-marketing departments, who now usually have final say (OVER editors) on what publishers actually acquire. (Indeed, I've had editors initially state they wanted my books, and then had their decisions overridden by Marketing). My agent isn't the only agent (or editor) out there who is frustrated by marketing types' commodification of publishing.

Anonymous said...

Quit talking about 'tiers'. I learned German in school and since I know the word to mean 'animal' in German, referring to journals this way makes little sense.

Well, y'know, in English, it makes perfect sense. Crack open your dictionary, nitwit.

Anonymous said...

Rejecter, you're a curious one. Why did Ethan Hawke or Macauley Culkin get novels published? Great art? Fabulous writing? Nah. Platform, baby. They can get an invite to The Tonight Show or John Stewart to plug their book unlike the rest of us mere mortals. Howard Stern decides to write a novel. Guess how many houses will jump at that one? Media platform. Tell me, really, that you never think about this stuff when your guy is considering a new client.

Richard said...

Why do you get so many anoymous commenters?

And why do they argue so much amongst themselves?

Bernita said...

And "tiers" may mean "third" in modern French, 1st Anon - but so what?

Metaphysical Speculator said...

Anon #1: Others have already corrected your English, now let me correct your German. German nouns begin with capital letters: it's "Tier" not "tier." The plural of this particular noun is "Tiere" not "Tiers."

No doubt some readers will consider this input trivial, but the real point I want to make is learn to talk yourself before publicly criticizing a hardworking blogger's choice of words. Nitwit.

Kanani said...

Yes, there was a publishing forum at UCLA recently, and they talked about a "media platform."

From what I could tell, it's a very fancy way of saying:

"If you have a blog, a column in a newspaper, a following in a newsletter, or if you're a recognized expert in a given field, or if you're the president of a group where members where caps with horns and everyone loves you, then this is the start of your media platform."

I think everyone was taken off guard. They'd worked 4 years to write a good book, and now they had to do this?

So they're all blogging now, writing reviews in journals, the whole gamut.

Anonymous said...

To anonymous poster #1:

The "Compact Oxford English Dictionary" defines "tier" as, "one of a series of rows or levels placed one above and behind the other." OR "a level or grade within an hierarchy." So... quit thinking about animals when you hear/see the word "tier." (Normally I don't tell people what to do, but it's only fair, as you so blatantly instructed the rest of us to "Quit talking about 'tiers'." =)