Platform, Branding, and Social Media - A Work in Progress...
I’ve read probably about a dozen books (maybe more) about the publishing industry and how a story makes its pilgrimage from the inner depths of one’s mind onto actual pages that are bound together by industrial-strength glue and sold in a physical bookstore. I find the industry fascinating, and I have loved learning all about it. (Find fave book recs at the bottom of this post!) The only thing is, every time I came to the part about “building your platform,” I skipped over it and onto the more “interesting” chapters, like about how to get a million dollar advance. You know, priorities. 😊
Seriously, though, my reason for intentionally ignoring those essential elements of those books was because I was scared – no, terrified – of building my own platform/brand. I am a human person, not a commodity, right? *hops off tiny soapbox* I’ve never been on social media because I’m a busy, working mom, and I know social media is a potential time-suck. Plus, I don’t love the idea of putting pictures of my kids on the Internet.
Recently, however, I was able to witness first-hand the importance of an author’s platform. From a business perspective, it’s really important, whether we writers like it or not. And I’ve learned there are ways to create boundaries around what you’re comfortable with vs. what you’re not without compromising your personal values. The person I have to thank for this lesson is none other than my super-agent, Elizabeth Copps.
So, here’s what happened:
At the end of October, Elizabeth submitted my manuscript to ten publishers. We got feedback really quickly, which was promising. It was so different than my experience querying for agents, where I wrote to, oh, you know, like three hundred something people looking for representation. The number ten seemed really low. But, I’ve read the books, so I trust the process, and ten was a perfectly acceptable number.
Especially considering the fact that when Elizabeth sends an e-mail, people actually respond. (Whereas when Unagented Querying Author sends an e-mail, it sits in an agency inbox for so long that at some point, it’s like it never even happened lol!)
Sixteen days into the process, a publisher expressed serious interest. However, this particular publisher had Googled me, and wondered, “Hmm… why does KJ Micciche have exactly twelve followers on Twitter?” Explanation: I just started a Twitter account in September, when I launched my website. And I only know twelve people. Naturally, the publisher was concerned about how successfully I might be able to sell books without any kind of platform. In fact, she and Elizabeth decided to take a step back from a potential offer so that we could have an honest conversation about what I wanted by brand to look like. I didn’t expect that this would be such an integral part of working with an agent – and, to be clear, it might not be like this for everyone – but bringing a social media virgin out into the potential spotlight required a solid game plan.
Elizabeth asked me questions. And questions. And questions. Ultimately, she used our conversation to create the following document. (Brace yourself – I never knew agents did this sort of thing!)
Branding/Platform: KJ Micciche
Who is KJ Micciche:
K.J. Micciche is a fresh, new voice in romantic comedy. She hails from Queens, New York, where she spent countless hours curled up under the covers, reading The Babysitters Club as a kid by flashlight way past her bedtime. Now all grown up, K.J. runs a non-profit organization that teaches children with dyslexia how to read.
She was inspired to write her debut novel, THE YEARBOOK, after completing her MFA program at Fairfield University where she wrote a 65-page manifesto on how to obtain a literary agent for her graduate seminar project. KJ read every book about the industry she could get her hands on. She signed up for Publishers Marketplace and combed through the daily deals. She bought a subscription to Publishers Weekly. She scoured the bestseller lists. She read blog after blog.
At the time, she lamented to her mentor that she felt like a bit of a fraud, not yet snagging the elusive offer of representation herself, but was assured that she knew more about the process than all of Fairfield combined and to keep at it. (Her agent, Elizabeth Copps, is very glad she did.)
Ultimately, she found a fascinating industry where everything from psychology to law was at play. She also quickly realized that the writing world is entirely subjective and pitching to agents is similar to grant writing. Securing grant funding is an integral part of her day job as the Executive Director of a not-for profit organization that makes literacy services accessible to disadvantaged populations by providing donation-based language-building programs. The pieces started clicking together.
Additionally, KJ attended The Bronx High School of Science, so you could say she’s been driven by data and stats for most of her life. As an adult, she took her love of learning and married it with her passion for reading. With a dyslexic mother and two dyslexic daughters, KJ’s enthusiasm for the written word—and sharing it with others—is high.
As she searched for inspiration on her own bookshelves, she came across her Bronx Science yearbook. An idea sparked. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Micciche is many things: kind, fiercely loyal, friendly, generous. She’s also scrappy as hell. She loves making people laugh, but her style is more standup than slapstick. Think Amy Schumer vs Lucille Ball. She’s the type of person you’d feel at home with shooting the shit over beers in a small-town bar. She’s an east-coaster through and through, and her settings take place in the tri-state area and Massachusetts. KJ describes herself as an “outer boroughs kind of girl.” She grew up in Queens, lived in Brooklyn for a time, and currently splits her time with her family between Long Island and Cape Cod. If Elin Hilderbrand and Tina Fey had a baby, it would probably pop out as KJ Micciche with a smile, a wink, and an adult beverage in hand.
· Millennial women & the younger end of Gen X
· Fans of: Lyssa Kay Adams, Sally Thorne, Emily Henry, Samantha Young, Kate Bromley, Jasmine Guillory, Emily Wibberley, Austin Siegemund-Broka, Jackie Fraser, Jen DeLuca, Tessa Bailey, Mhairi McFarlane, Meryl Wilsner, Rosie Danan, Sarah Grunder Ruiz, Vanessa King
authentic, ambitious, banter, creative, contemporary, debut, delightful, emotional, enemies-to-lovers, fun, heart, high school, hilarious, honest, inventive, laugh-out-loud, meta, opposites attract, publishing, romcom, refreshing, sassy, sarcastic, secrets, smart, sexy, sexual tension, snappy, taboo, tongue-in-cheek, witty
Unique selling point:
In a genre that typically leans "rom" over "com," Micciche veers slightly opposite. While attractions do run hot, a Micciche book is packed with real, consistent humor. She’s “funny first” and shows just how authentically messy and ridiculous true love can be.
KJ typically writes in the fall and spring (she keeps to a semester schedule which works well with her day job). We prefer to aim for a book a year moving forward.
Romantic comedy is a genre that KJ can envision herself writing as long as the market allows. She feels confident in her ability to pivot per the publisher’s guidance as long as she can keep writing books that incorporate humor and a means of escape for her readers.
KJ is currently working to build her Twitter presence and post consistent blog entries via her website regarding her experiences in the publishing industry as a new writer. Next stop will be creating an Author Page via Facebook (where she will mix blog-like posts with short status updates).
Regarding Twitter, she is making a point to thoughtfully:
· Research her target audience
· Follow other writers in the industry/her genre
· Engage with other author’s tweets
· Retweet applicable content
· Tweet original content in a light, humorous voice
· Strategize tweets using hashtags
· Consistently dedicate a bit of time each day to post, follow, and find her voice
You guys, this was written by my agent. Talk about feel-good stuff! As a result of this platform document, I had a very clear plan of what would be expected of me moving forward regarding social media.
Here is an interesting takeaway: Twitter is probably the most relevant platform for authors. Given that posts/tweets are limited to only 160 characters, you have to impart brilliance (or jokes, or musings, or whatever) in a very small amount of space. This is a fun, welcome challenge for most authors, as it can sometimes be really hard for us to practice brevity! More than that, the writing community is super strong on Twitter. I have already found several hashtags that speak to me, including #momswritersclub and #5amwritersclub. There are people out there who seem like they might be my “tribe.” Not to say that my husband, kids, and the other nine people I authentically know aren’t great, but in fairness, few of them are writers, and none of them write in my genre. It’s great to connect with folks you can share your writing journey with!
Also, this is where the readers are. Out there, in the world. So, if you want to sell books, from a marketing and publicity standpoint, you need to be out there too. Some publishers will provide you with a lot of marketing and publicity support, but some won’t, and that heavy lift is left to the author. Better to have a plan in place and work on developing a following sooner rather than later.
Lastly, for those of you who are still querying, it’s important to start developing your brand now. My guess is that if publishers are looking at this stuff, then agents are too. While I’ll be the first to tell you that of course, the manuscript is the most important thing, having a platform is the next most important. Better to be proactive about it than reactive! It will make your life easier in the long run.
And yes, there are those people out there who are totally social-media averse and who will not want to engage with the public at all. I’m certainly not an expert, but I can say that people like an immersive experience, and if you show that you can be open to engaging with readers, it will make you more of an “easy sell” to a publishing house. And, like me, you can create boundaries around it so that you don’t feel like you’re selling out.
I hope you found this info helpful! As promised, here are the book recs for further reading on the topic of platform/brand:
Jane Friedman, The Business of Being a Writer and Publishing 101 (though the second book is older, I still found it to be really relevant)
The Poet’s and Writers Complete Guide to Being a Writer
Barbara Poelle, Funny You Should Ask
Jodie Archer and Matthew Jockers, The Bestsellers Code
Edie Melson and DiAnn Mills, Social Media for Today’s Writer
Chuck Sambuchino, Create Your Writer Platform