Marketing, Platform Building and the Question of Who?

by Kendra Bonnett on March 15, 2010

catnav-book-business-active-3Post #32 – Women’s Memoirs, Book Business – Kendra Bonnett and Matilda Butler

All last week, Matilda and I shared bits of our interview with Linda Joy Myers on the occasion of the publication of her new book The Power of Memoir and the start of her blog book tour to promote the book.

Linda-Joy-MyersI’ve chosen to save these last two questions and answers for my Women’s Memoirs Book Business post today because her experiences confirm what we’ve been talking about for the past few months. Linda Joy tells us that she is just back from the San Francisco Writers Conference where the biggest topic of discussion was “platform and blog.” She says attendees were barraged by these two words.

Perhaps the most telling thing she says is her admission that she didn’t have a platform when she first began writing…when her writing book, Becoming Whole, came out in 2003 or her memoir, Don’t Call Me Mother, in 2005. Shortly after that, however, she began teaching memoir writing. She also founded the National Association of Memoir Writers. Linda Joy may have thought she was starting a business; what she was doing, in fact, was creating a platform for herself and her writing. She didn’t see it at first, but when she went to the 2008 East of Eden Writers Conference and talked with agents, they knew. Linda Joy says that she believes it was her platform that garnered her an agent and, ultimately, a book deal.

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In The Power of Memoir, Linda Joy wrote directly to her platform–memoir writers. But where does that leave those of us who don’t have a business network that can serve as our platform? If we don’t have a built-in platform or celebrity, we must start from scratch…and that’s where most writers must begin.

Again, I turn to our discussion with Linda Joy. In the case of memoir, she fully expects the first pass of a book (or at least the first few chapters) to be a very personal story. But as quickly as possible writers must move beyond the personal and start digging for the larger theme and message. We started this process together in my last post when I sought to answer the question, What’s my message? for my hypothetical memoir All For the Sake of Cheap Lobster. So what comes next?

We Need a Who?

When we left off our quest for a platform for All For the Sake of Cheap Lobster, I had identified my message: “My hypothetical memoir, with anecdotes to entertain, can serve both as a point of comparison for my fellow uprooted urban dwellers and as a guide for preparing mind and soul for the culture shock–for those still dreaming of getting away from it all: what to expect, how to fit in, what to drive, things to bring, things to leave behind, etc.”goat

So who is my who? One thing I know for sure is it’s not everyone. My post on Story Circle Network’s “Telling HerStories” discusses this all-too-common mistake.

I spent about an hour noodling around on Google. I tried “simple life,” “hobby farmers,” “off the grid,” “moving from the city to the country.” I learned that there has been a dramatic increase in the number of hobby farms–those selling $10,000 or less in total goods. This is actually an interesting market because hobby farms represent more than half of all farms in the United States today. I started getting more interested, but then I realized that while I have three acres and a beautiful, two-story barn, I don’t have any chickens, turkeys, or goats. I don’t even have a vegetable garden. No, farming is not one of my hobbies; how can I possibly write a blog for this audience? I can’t. And while some hobby farmers might find my posts on other subjects interesting and might even buy my memoir, I can’t call them my platform.

In researching statistics and demographics about people leaving the city, I found that most were Boomers. I also realized that the large majority of these people fleeing the city and suburbs in search of a simpler life and certain aspects of country living, didn’t want to completely leave convenience and creature comforts behind. Many were buying land and homes just outside the second- and third-tier cities, such as Bangor and Portland. They sought the best of both worlds.

I was getting some ideas for blogging subjects now:

  • Exploring second- and third-tier cities
  • Comfort on a shoestring
  • Clothes, events, activities that can help the newly uprooted fit in
  • How to find the best local resources
  • Guides to local food and farmers’ markets

KayakingI hadn’t yet decided if I wanted to focus only on Maine subjects. I couldn’t find any statistics on the number of people moving to Maine, but I was struck by the many new Active Adult Communities being built up and down the Maine coast. I could connect with these people. Even they didn’t go the old house in the small town route, they’d probably find my stories of living in a small fishing village amusing. And I knew what these people were looking for…I was looking for many of the same things.

But who is my who? Boomers on the move. The numbers are staggering; more than 4 million will turn 50 this year and every year for the next decade and a half. According to a Del Webb Baby Boomer Survey (2004) 36 percent plan to move just as soon as the kids leave home. That’s about 1.4 million a year eager to relocate. Now that’s a platform I can pursue. Finally, I read that many Boomers find Maine more appealing than Florida because the new over-50 crowd isn’t interested in sedate retirement. They want snowmobiling, skiing, kayaking, hiking, and more. That’s me as well.lobster-cooking

We’re told, write what we know. I’m a Boomer. I know Maine. I have my Maine/old house experiences to draw upon. I enjoy the outdoor activities. I love the local food (lobster, scallops, clams, blueberries, apples, salmon) and exploring the back roads, small towns and seasonal festivals. My Who? is me! And there are enough people just like me to get started.

As I ask the remaining questions, where, when, why and how, I may find additional platforms. For now, though, I have my what and who.

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