This is a complicated subject, and a lot of people could write many pages and barely scratch the surface on this. That said, here's my short version of how to define "platform."
Platform, in essence, concerns all the avenues you have to sell your work to readers who will buy it.
Let's look at an example: You want to write a book on astronomy and eclipses. Can anybody write this book? Sure, if they become knowledgeable enough. Can anyone sell this book? No way. First of all, examine who will buy this book. Probably other people interested in astronomy and eclipses. A person with a good platform to write this work will have different avenues in place to connect with these specific people who will pay money for the book.
Some ways to do this would be to write for science magazines and get your byline out there, to run an astronomy-oriented Web site that gets good traffic, or to have a newsletter and blog dealing with similar topics. The writer of this particular book must have these avenues in place when the book comes out, because the publisher will likely spend $0 on promotion and marketing, so the book must be easy to sell, and that's how platform comes into play.
Other factors of platform to mention real quick include credentials and media opportunity. If you're the foremost expert on eclipses, for example, then you're likely quoted all over in the media regarding the phenomena, so you have a natural platform built in. Or - let's say you were a stripper who wanted to write a funny memoir about the experience (like Diablo Cody did). That has a lot of media potential in terms of people being interested in interviewing you, etc. Those two things can constitute platform as well.
At the CNU conference last weekend, a writer was talking about his nonfiction book on World War II. He explained that he had become very well versed on military matters through research and was a capable writer for such a project. I told him there was little chance of selling it because of the problem I mentioned above. You don't have to just write nonfiction; you have to sell nonfiction, too. And the most effective way of doing that is to be well known and respected by the types/groups of people who will buy the specific book in question. That's a platform.
Want more on this topic?
- Footnotes: 6 articles on building a platform.
- Buy Christina Katz's book on platform, Get Known Before the Book Deal.
- Platform and the debut of your book.
- Confused about formatting? Check out Formatting & Submitting Your Manuscript.
- Read about What Agents Hate: Chapter 1 Pet Peeves.
- Want the most complete database of agents and what genres they're looking for? Buy the 2011 Guide to Literary Agents today!