By Wendy Keller, Literary Agent
It’s lunch and you’re hungry. You want a cheese sandwich.
The number of decisions that might go into this allegedly simple decision are potentially infinite. Assuming you can have anything you want in this world full of possibilities:
- Do you want the wheat, rye, white, brioche, pumpernickel or rustica?
- Toasted or not?
- Would you prefer provolone, cheddar, Swiss, gouda or neufchatel?
- Want mustard with that? What kind?
Decisions, decisions. You can go healthy with the wheat and sprouts or scary with the Wonderbread and American.
When you’re finally certain you want to write a book, the choices are just as unlimited.
- Do you want the book itself to make money?
- Do you want it to build your brand?
- Grow your business?
- Establish your authority?
- Change other people’s lives?
- Make you famous?
Decisions, decisions. You can go the traditional route and ally with a credible, reputable publisher (and literary agent) or scary and self-publish, taking your chances.
I can’t help you with your lunch choice, but because I’ve been a literary agent most of my life, I can help you with your publishing decision. Here it is: Publishing choice is an illusion.
Just like you only get to eat what’s in the fridge if you can’t make it to the store, you don’t have choices as an author unless you decide you are willing to put in at least a little effort into marketing/promoting/building a fan base for your book. (All that stuff is collectively called a “platform” by publishing people).
No publisher can accept a nonfiction book unless the author has at least something of a platform. And the sad reason most self-published nonfiction books shrivel and dieis because of lack of platform.
None of your goals can be met unless and until you have a platform. A traditional publisher like Penguin Random House, McGraw Hill or HarperCollins can help you supersize any kind of platform you’ve got going, but the mere fact of a published book isn’t going to get you anywhere interesting or valuable.
You can self-publish any time you like, but good luck figuring out later that you should have prepared a platform in advance to make your book get noticed amid the tsunami of books published annually. (It won’t be too late, it will just be a whole HECK of a lot more work to swim to the top while the new stuff keeps pouring in on top of your book).
In fact, choosing to build a platform is the quintessential first choice you must make if you plan to become successful as an author. Just like deciding you want a cheese sandwich for lunch, and then all other choices follow, the only choice is, “I want my book to be a successful one.”
Every other option and opportunity will follow. Easily. Then the publishing world, instead of eating your lunch, will help you satisfy your appetite for success.