You Already Have Readers for Your Memoir

by Matilda Butler on February 20, 2010

catnav-book-business-active-3Post #27 – Women’s Memoirs, Book Business – Kendra Bonnett and Matilda Butler

1-audience-1You already have an audience and a platform for your memoir. You just need to find it. There’s an audience ready to line up and purchase your book.

“What, I already have a platform? I thought that was what I needed to build on the Internet.”

Understanding the Platform for your Memoir Writing

What I’d like to discuss today is an idea that came up in Helen Ginger’s Getting Published panel at the Stories from the Heart conference in Austin earlier this month. In talking about publishers, one of the panelists told a story of a friend, we’ll call Suzanne. Suzanne had written a YA novel. She got an agent who got a major publisher who loved the book. The publisher thought the manuscript was so great that Suzanne got a two-book deal. Talk about being happy. All the hard work was going to pay off. Time moves on. The first book was published and Suzanne was already well into writing the second book. A few months later, a very few months later, the publisher called to cancel the second book part of the deal.

1-audience-booksWhy? If you’ve been following our blogs and others that deal with the book business, you know that large publishers expect certain levels of sales within the first three months. (The actual number of books and number of months depends on the specific publisher and genre.) If the sales aren’t there, then publishers begin to look at timelines to remainder the books and get them out of their inventory. They certainly don’t want a second book by the same author because publishers, at least certain publishers, need immediate sales for their business model. We can’t fault them. It is just the way that their business works.

Many of us may have heard similar stories. I know I have a friend who has written several bestselling non-fiction books. Her most recent book was taken on by a “dream” publisher who told her after three months that the sales weren’t high enough (although thousands had been sold) and that they intended to drop the book.

You and I probably believe that our books have a long tail. They will be just as relevant a year or two years or five years from now as they are on the day that we finish the writing. We believe that it takes a while to build a reader base. And there are many smaller publishers who will stick with a book across years, but certainly not all publishers.

Let’s get back to Suzanne’s story. When she heard that her first book was being dropped and the second book would not be accepted, she was shocked. How could everything change so quickly? After she thought through the problem, she decided to look at any base she might have that could turn the situation around. It is always tempting to think that there are people “out there” who want to buy our books. That’s who publishers should be able to reach. In reality, we need to consider our own platforms.

Suzanne was a Girl Scout leader and had been active with her region’s Girl Scout organization. These Girl Scouts are exactly the audience she had in mind when she wrote her YA novel. So she turned to the troop leaders and they got out to all their Scouts who helped to spread the word to other families. Suddenly, her sales began to soar.

So what’s the lesson here? We often compartmentalize our writing persona from the rest of our passions and activities. When Suzanne had on her writer’s hat, she was thinking about words, story structure, plot, publishing contract, book purchasers and readers. When she had on her Girl Scout’s hat, she was thinking about troop meetings, activities and goals. They seemed completely different. However, once she saw that she already had access to a large number of potential book purchasers — a platform — she was able to leverage her work in one area with her work in the other.

Do you segment your hat wearing? Odds are that you already have the beginning of a platform. Rather than waiting until your book is published or until your publisher is unhappy with sales, you should begin to build on your existing platform. There are many ways to do this — in person, via social networking, etc.


Your Memoir Writing – Audience Platform – Assignment

In the future, we’ll return to this topic. For today, I’d just like you to think of groups you already are connected to — clients, church groups, volunteer organizations, etc. Make a list and estimate the number of people in each that you know. Later we’ll talk about gathering email addresses, sending out progress reports of work on your memoir, providing them tidbits of information that will intrigue them, inviting them to your blog, etc.

Remember, you probably already have one or more platforms that can be expanded. What if you ask each person on your list to send out information about your book to 10 other people who are then asked to send out to 10 others.

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