Platform Pitfalls

The buzzword in promotion is platform. Agents and editors want their authors to have a brand, a tagline, an expertise that sets them apart from everybody else. For nonfiction writers, this concept is fairly straightforward. If I’m writing a book about training cats to line dance, then I must establish myself as an expert cat trainer—by blogging, giving talks to cat therapy groups, and writing articles for publications focused on all things feline. But how does a fiction author establish a platform/brand?

Cozy mystery writers give their characters specialties—knitting and rock collecting and what not. And thus they have some basis for a platform and brand tagline: Dirk Daring, author of the Australian spelunking mysteries.

But what if you write plain old crime stories?  And each story is purposefully a little different, except for the featured regular-guy homicide detective? What sort of platform can you establish? Especially if you’ve never been a police officer, or pathologist, or crime scene tech in real life? What kind of tagline can you use that’s distinct from hundreds of other crime writers? Can you really have a platform?

If you do find a way to make your stories or series unique and taggable, what do you do when you start a new series or write a standalone or break out and write a futuristic thriller—all of which I hope to do someday. A new brand/tag for each endeavor? Or do you add to your original tagline as you go along?
L.J. Sellers, author of the Detective Jackson mysteries, who also writes standalone suspense, futuristic thrillers, and the occasional cat-training manual.

The real question is: Do crime writers really need a platform? Or is being a twisted spinner of lies enough of a specialty? How about a little truth in advertising?
L.J. Sellers, closet deviant masquerading as a novelist.

Writers: Do you have a platform or tagline? What is it?
Readers: Do you pay attention to taglines? Are they useful in selecting new authors?

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14 Comments
  1. Thanks for sharing this. I’m not nearly ready to use the info, but I like to know it’s there.

  2. Yeah, there’s always some sort of buzzword, usually associated with “XXX is really hot right now.”
    Dickens was probably faced with that too. Mostly he complained that his publishers weren’t doing enough to promote his books.

    I believe in the validity of the concept. But one size doesn’t fit all. some of us with wider ranging interests, (plenty of examples here) should be cautious about establishing a specific tag or brand. Personally, I like “author.”

    Actors of stage, TV and film face the same problem. “camera loves her, but she can’t project to fill a house.” for example.

  3. I wrote four books with a reporter protag, and I was a print journalist for over 20 years. My platform was well established.

    Now I’m writing a tattoo shop mystery series. I have no tattoos. I am writing about everything I don’t know, which is what they tell you not to do. But you’re right when you say you can teach a writer about something and she can write about it. It’s our job to make people believe, even if we’re making it all up. And I think I’ve written a book that will make people believe.

    So I think a platform isn’t necessary.

  4. My website is has my author name (“C.D. Reimer”) and tag (“A Silicon Valley Writer”). The first name is my first and middle names initials to avoid being confused with all the other Chris Reimer (including another writer goes by that name). The tag was originally created because my website template defaulted to “A Joomla! Website” if I left that part blank. Otherwise, I’m planning to set all my novels in Silicon Valley and write about people and people technology. That is my platform for now.

    I’m not too concern about being limited to one publishing niche. I’ve written two dozen short stories (one is and two will be published), a novella, and the rough draft of my first novel. If a label applies, it would have to be “magical realism” because reality and fantasy tend to blur in my fiction.

  5. I don’t write crime – just general fiction. I have no clue how to build a platform, though I’ve been told I need one. I’m glad I’m not alone. I haven’t figured out a tag either, though I liked your – L.J. Sellers, closet deviant masquerading as a novelist.

    JaneKennedySutton

  6. As former Special Forces, I asked Lee Child how he did his research for his Jack Reacher books (Lee was not military). He said he reads Nelson DeMille and Tom Clancy. I think a platform for fiction would be nice (for example, for my Area 51 series I was abducted by aliens 14 times and know what the interior of the mothership looks like). but I think great characters and good writing are more important.
    For non-fiction, a platform is essential. I just had Who Dares Wins: The Green Beret Way To Conquer Fear & Succeed. Even with my platform as ex-green beret, NY Times best-selling author, etc. the publisher kind of yawned at my platform because I was not nationally known.
    Which brings us to the conundrum of how do you get a platform without a platform?

  7. Having a criminologist background is a great advantage, but there are hundreds of successful crime writers who used to be reporters, waiters, teachers, librarians, etc. Everybody “fakes” it with research. A police chief, who is also a crime writer, gave my book The Sex Club high marks for police work authenticity. That’s why science magazines hire more writers than scientists. You can teach a writer about science, but you often can’t teach a scientist to write well.

  8. But Butt, (sorry, I had to)

    I thought doing research means you become an expert, why isn’t that good enough.

    I don’t have to be a hacker to be a hack and write tech-thrillers. William Gibson inverted the words “The Matrix” and “virtual reality” by watching kids play pacman. I’m just not for this platforming. Sounds like someone’s using it as an excuse to limit people from writing anything. Never been one for prescription when it comes to literature.

    -M

  9. “But what if you write plain old crime stories…if you’ve never been a police officer, or pathologist, or crime scene tech in real life? … Can you really have a platform?”

    I’d have to say “no.” These days there is no shortage of eminently qualified professionals who also write novels. Readers want their crime thrillers from former FBI agents, their medical thrillers from doctors, science thrillers from scientists and their pysch thrillers from psychologists. And they can get it. Doesn’t mean it’s impossible for a “nobody” to break in, but it’s a distinct disadvatnage. Write what you know, and all that. I think the worse thing a writer can do though, is try to fake it. That makes you look real bad. If you’re not an expert writing a technothriller about some field of expertise, then admit it, and just talk about the experts whom you consulted. Don’t try to pretend you’re an expert because of the research you did.

  10. Makes me wonder what Chuck P. or Brett Easton Ellis would need to have for a platform… or worse yet, Warren Ellis.

  11. Great point, Manny. If you’re not a criminal catcher, then what other crime platform is there? Like saying, “You should read my serial killer books, because I used to be one and know more about it than anyone.”

  12. The whole issue of platform for novelists disturbs me a little, I could have a platform, if I wanted to write stories about horses or software engineering. But I’d have to pick one to funnel everyone’s focus toward, which I don’t want to do. And, although my first novel is due to hit the shelves in August, I don’t want to be “all about Freezer Burn”, since 1) I am writing MORE books, and 2) I’m also a humor columnist.

    In the end, my “platform” has become “me” – which works, in a way, since I should be an expert on myself. As long as I don’t get caught up in circus side-show hype (“She walks! She talks! She crawls on her belly like a snake!”) I hope to draw readers in who see my name and think, oh, she’s the gal who writes fun, quirky characters, awash in interesting plots.

    Gayle Carline
    Author, Columnist, Maven-in-training
    http://gaylecarline.blogspot.com

  13. LJ, so are you to build a platform as an expert on crime by starting a crime spree?

    Yeah, I know silly.

    I guess just ask to walk on the crime beat a few times. J. Michael Strazinsky said he became a good writer by being a good reporter.

    -M

  14. Writer: Alexandra Wolfe, storyteller.
    Reader: No, and no.

    I steadfastly ignore book covers (as some cover art just does not convey content) am not really interested in the title or, in most cases even who the author is. I tend to pick books up and go straight to page one, if it hasn’t grabbed me by page 10, it never will. And no, I really don’t care if it’s billed as a romance, a thriller, suspense, or even SF. My criteria is the same, good story, catchy openings, well-defined characters at the get-go.

    Just my 2 cents worth. 🙂

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