Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Guest Author, Christina Katz - Get Known Before the Book Deal

An Interview with Christina Katz

Author of Get Known Before the Book Deal, Use Your Personal Strengths to Grow an Author Platform & Writer Mama, How to Raise a Writing Career Alongside Your Kids

I am delighted to have Christina Katz with me today as she discusses the importance of platform. Get Known Before the Book Deal is a must have book for every writer. I am sure your edition will become highlighted and earmarked to the hilt as mine has.

Enjoy the interview and don't forget Christina will check in perdiocally throughout the day to answer your questions.

Christina Katz is the author of Get Known Before the Book Deal, Use Your Personal Strengths to Grow an Author Platform (Writer’s Digest Books). She started her platform “for fun” seven years ago and ended up on “Good Morning America.” Christina teaches e-courses on platform development and writing nonfiction for publication. Her students are published in national magazines and land agents and book deals. Christina has been encouraging reluctant platform builders via her e-zines for five years, has written hundreds of articles for national, regional, and online publications, and is a monthly columnist for the Willamette Writer. A popular speaker at writing conferences, writing programs, libraries, and bookstores, she hosts the Northwest Author Series in Wilsonville, Oregon. She is also the author of Writer Mama, How to Raise a Writing Career Alongside Your Kids (Writer’s Digest Books).

Q: What is a platform?

CK: Long story short: Your platform communicates your expertise to others, and it works all the time so you don’t have to. Your platform includes your Web presence, any public speaking you do, the classes you teach, the media contacts you’ve established, the articles you’ve published, and any other means you currently have for making your name and your future books known to a viable readership. If others already recognize your expertise on a given topic or for a specific audience or both, then that is your platform.

A platform-strong writer is a writer with influence. Get Known explains in plain English, without buzzwords, how any writer can stand out from the crowd of other writers and get the book deal. The book clears an easy-to-follow path through a formerly confusing forest of ideas so any writer can do the necessary platform development they need to do.

Q: Why is platform development important for writers today?

CK: Learning about and working on a solid platform plan gives writers an edge. Agents and editors have known this for years and have been looking for platform-strong writers and getting them book deals. But from the writer’s point-of-view, there has not been enough information on platform development to help unprepared writers put their best platform forward.

Now suddenly, there is a flood of information on platform, not all necessarily comprehensive, useful or well organized for folks who don’t have a platform yet. Writers can promote themselves in a gradual, grounded manner without feeling like they are selling out. I do it, I teach other writers to do it, I write about it on an ongoing basis, and I encourage all writers to heed the trend. And hopefully, I communicate how in a practical, step-by-step manner that can serve any writer. Because ultimately, before you actively begin promoting yourself, platform development is an inside job requiring concentration, thoughtfulness and a consideration of personal values.

Q: How did you come to write Get Known Before the Book Deal?

CK: I already had a lot of momentum going when I got the deal for a very specific audience. I wrote a column on the topic for the Willamette Writer’s newsletter. Then I started speaking on platform. When I gave my presentation, “Get Known Before the Book Deal,” at the Writer’s Digest/BEA Writer’s Conference in May 2007, Phil Sexton, one of my publisher’s sales guys, saw it and suggested making the concept into a book. Coincidentally, I was trying to come up with an idea for my second book at that time and had just struck out with what I thought were my three best ideas. My editor, Jane Friedman agreed with Phil. That was two votes from people sitting on the pub board. They converted the others with the help of my proposal, and Get Known got the green light.

Q: Why was a book on platform development needed?

CK: Writers often underestimate how important platform is and they often don’t leverage the platform they already have enough. At every conference I presented, I took polls and found that about 50 percent of attendees expressed a desire for a clearer understanding of platform. Some were completely in the dark about it, even though they were attending a conference in hopes of landing a book deal. Since book deals are granted based largely on the impressiveness of a writer’s platform, I noticed a communication gap that needed to be addressed.

My intention was that Get Known would be the book every writer would want to read before attending a writer’s conference, and that it would increase any writer’s chances of landing a book deal whether they pitched in-person or by query. As I wrote the book, I saw online how this type of information was being offered as “insider secrets” at outrageous prices. No one should have to pay thousands of dollars for the information they can find in my book for the price of a paperback! Seriously. You can even ask your library to order it and read it for free.

Q: What is the key idea behind Get Known Before the Book Deal?

CK: Getting known doesn’t take a lot of money, but it does take an in-depth understanding of platform, and then the investment of time, skills and consistent effort to build one. Marketing experience and technological expertise are also not necessary. I show how to avoid the biggest time and money-waster, which is not understanding who your platform is for and why – and hopefully save writers from the confusion and inertia that can result from either information overload or not taking the big picture into account before they jump into writing for traditional publication.

Often writers with weak platforms are over-confident that they can impress agents and editors, while others with decent platforms are under-confident or aren’t stressing their platform-strength enough. Writers have to wear so many hats these days, we can use all the help we can get. Platform development is a muscle, and the more you use it, the stronger it gets. Anyone can do it, but most don’t or won’t because they either don’t understand what is being asked for, or they haven’t overcome their own resistance to the idea. Get Known offers a concrete plan that can help any writer make gains in the rapidly changing and increasingly competitive publishing landscape.

Q: What is the structure of the book and why did you choose it?

CK: Writer Mama was written in small, easy-to-digest chunks so busy new moms could stick it in a diaper bag and read it in the nooks and crannies of the day. Get Known is a bit more prosaic, especially in the early chapters. Most of the platform books already out there were only for authors, not writers or aspiring authors. To make platform evolution easy to comprehend, I had to dial the concepts back to the beginning and talk about what it’s like to try and find your place in the world as an author way before you’ve signed a contract, even before you’ve written a book proposal. No one had done that before in a book for writers. I felt writers needed a context in which to chart a course towards platform development that would not be completely overwhelming.

Introducing platform concepts to writers gives them the key information they need to succeed at pitching an agent either via query or in-person, making this a good book for a writer to read before writing a book proposal. Get Known has three sections: section one is mostly stories and cautionary tales, section two has a lot of to-do lists any writer should be able to use, and section three is how to articulate your platform clearly and concisely so you won’t waste a single minute wondering if you are on the right track.

Q: At the front of Get Known, you discuss four phases of the authoring process. What are they?

CK: First comes the platform development and building phase. Second comes the book proposal development phase (or if you are writing fiction, the book-writing phase). Third, comes the actual writing of the book (for fiction writers this is likely the re-writing of the book). And finally, once the book is published, comes the book marketing and promoting phase.

Many first-time authors scramble once they get a book deal if they haven’t done a thorough job on the platform development phase. Writers who already have a platform have influence with a fan base, and they can leverage that influence no matter what kind of book they write. Writing a book is a lot easier if you are not struggling to find readers for the book at the same time. Again, agents and editors have known this for a long time.

Q: What are some common platform mistakes writers make?

CK: Here are a few:

  • They don’t spend time clarifying who they are to others.
  • They don’t zoom in specifically on what they offer.
  • They confuse socializing with platform development.
  • They think about themselves too much and their audience not enough.
  • They don’t precisely articulate all they offer so others get it immediately.
  • They don’t create a plan before they jump online.
  • They undervalue the platform they already have.
  • They are overconfident and think they have a solid platform when they have only made a beginning.
  • They become exhausted from trying to figure out platform as they go.
  • They pay for “insider secrets” instead of trusting their own instincts.
  • They blog like crazy for six months and then look at their bank accounts and abandon the process as going nowhere.

I’ll stop there. Suffice it to say that many writers promise publishers they have the ability to make readers seek out and purchase their book. But when it comes time to demonstrate this ability, they can’t deliver.

My mission is to empower writers to be 100 percent responsible for their writing career success and stop looking to others to do their promotional work for them. Get Known shows writers of every stripe how to become the writer who can not only land a book deal, but also influence future readers to plunk down ten or twenty bucks to purchase their book. It all starts with a little preparation and planning. The rest unfolds from there.

Q: Couldn’t any author have written this book? Why you?

CK: I have built a career over the past decade empowering writers. I’ve developed and built my own platform as a writing-for-traditional-publication specialist, and I’ve worked with others as a writing and platform-development instructor. Many of the people I’ve been working with are landing book deals and while the other hundred-or-so writers I work with a year are developing their skills, I notice patterns of behavior—what leads to success, where writers get stuck, and how I can be helpful in these rapidly changing times in the industry.

I’ve witnessed too many writers, who were off to a great start, hopping online and quickly becoming very lost. I started to write about platform in Writer Mama, How To Raise A Writing Career Alongside Your Kids, but I quickly noticed that more details on platform development were desperately needed. My platform is based on helping others. I have a vested interest in seeing the people I work with—and those who read my book—succeed. Writers are my tribe.


  1. Great interview Donna, thanks for sharing!

  2. Yes, a must-have book for every writer, as most authors don't even think about a platform until after the fact.

    And Christina is from my home state of Oregon!

    L. Diane Wolfe

  3. Yes. Yes. And YES. This is so right on and something I learned in the tried-but-not-so-true way--by doing everything wrong.

    Thanks for the book, Christina. Thanks for the interview, Donna.

  4. Thanks, everyone, for the comments and support so far. And did I mention that platform development is fun? Can anyone share how developing a platform has been fun?

  5. To me a platform can be fun because by reaching beyond the scope or comfort zone of those you already know you are developing contacts you normally would not do. And by doing so it opens up the door to new experiences and relationships.

    The content of my newsletter, Write What Inspires You includes interviews with those in the children's publishing industry and I have learned a tremendous amount of important tips and information through them. And because of these interviews I've developed a larger network of professionals where we consistently trade off ideas. IMHO, it's been a win-win situation that continues to grow.

    Looking forward to hearing more.

  6. Donna points out two of my favorite keys to platform development: stretching so you can grow and get better known, and creating platform growth that is win-win-win for everyone involved. Great job, Donna. You've been very consistent in your efforts over the years and we can all see how it's paying off for you. :)

  7. Christina:

    It's been a delight having you today and I look forward to further visitors. Thank you for your consistent check-ins and words of support and encouragement.

    TO ALL: Apparently some visitors are having technical problem with blogger and leaving comments on my blog. If you too are experiencing this, kindly please forward me your comment and/or question and I'd be happy to post it accordingly and of course I will place your name and link within.


  8. Excellent interview. This sounds like a book that I and many of my clients need. Working in book promotion, I deal with these issues on a regular basis.

    I feel grateful that my mentor discussed the importance of creating a platform before landing a book deal. It encouraged me to start a website and figure out my niche. I take any opportunity I can to promote myself and my work, including my first Christian children's book, which will be out late next year.

    Christina, I have a question for you. Is it detrimental to a project to begin promoting it too early? As I mentioned, my first book won't be out until late next year, but I've already discussed it in interviews I've had recently and posted about it on my website. Should I refrain from talking about it until after the first of the year?

    Thanks for this excellent interview and the answer to my question.

    Best of luck!


  9. I am very happy to have read this interview. Very informative indeed. I am a newly published author, I will surely go out and buy this book. Thank you so much for taking the time to publish this book. A great big thanks goes to Donna too! Mil merci, mil gracias.

    Nicole Weaver
    Children's Author

  10. This is so strange! I love synchronicity. I stumbled upon this book yesterday, and now after reading your blog, I am definitely purchasing my copy today! Thank you for your feature of this author and book, and I know without a doubt that the information will be beneficial to me.

  11. Hi Christina, Thanks so much for sharing your experitise with us. I'm going to ask the question that no one else has asked, can you please provide a succinct definition of what an "author platform" is, for fledgling authors, like me? I plan to pick up "Get Known" soon. I am currently working on the last third of a teen novel so the timing of this interview couldn't be better. It sounds as if your book will be a tremendous help to me. I look forward to receiving your reply.

    Thank you,
    Patricia Shirra

    Children's & Young Adult Author



  12. Great information. I just purchased the book and hope it will help me to be more clear about where I want to go with my nonfiction ideas and also the direction I want to take with my stories for children.
    My question is this, can a writer be successful writing in two different areas. I have a passion for helping families in dealing with grief, terminal illnesses in their children, and special needs kids, but I also want to write realistic and fun fiction for kids. Can I have two platforms?

    My gut says yes, but success will depend on how it is handled but I value other advice and direction.

    Donna, you are such a great source of inspiration and information. Thanks.


  13. Hi everyone, Sorry to be scarce. I'm just back in from a very long hair appt. (apparently the older you get, the longer it takes).

    To answer Cheryl, who asked: Is it detrimental to a project to begin promoting it too early?

    Quite the opposite is true. Seth Godin talks about beginning a project three years before it becomes a book. I worked on my platform for six years before I got a book deal. I don't think there is any such thing as starting "too" early unless there is a reason for secrecy (a nonfiction idea that is SO new, you don't want anyone to steal it, cuz someone will) or you are building suspense (but if nobody knows who you are how are you going to build suspense?).

    So, I'd say in the vast majority of the cases, it's never too early to start building your platform. An awful lot of that work is going to be "in the trenches" too and not necessarily extremely public. Great concepts and strong platform don't get tossed up overnight. So get started and then...take your time.

  14. Thanks, Nicole and Ana. Patricia asked: I'm going to ask the question that no one else has asked, can you please provide a succinct definition of what an "author platform" is, for fledgling authors, like me?

    So, here's mine:

    A platform communicates your expertise to others. It includes your Web presence, any public speaking you do, the classes you teach, the media contacts you’ve established, the articles you’ve published, and any other means you currently have for making your name and your future books known to a viable readership.

    I find it helpful to define a platform as a promise writers make to not only create something to sell (like a book), but also to promote it to the specific readers who will want to purchase it. This takes both time and effort, not to mention considerable focus.

    Basically, your platform is everything you do with your expertise. A platform-strong writer is a writer with influence. Once you establish a platform, it can work for you 24/7, reaching readers even as you sleep. Of course, this kind of reach takes time. If many others already recognize your expertise on a given topic or for a specific audience or both, then you likely have an active platform.

    That ought to get you started. :)

  15. Thanks for your support, Terri! You asked...can a writer be successful writing in two different areas?

    The answer is yes, but I don't advise that you work on both simultaneously. Or if you do, I suggest that you prioritize one of the projects.

    The reason is that you will make more sense to people when you try to get one idea across at a time.

    So, I'd ask, which project should be the one you choose to establish yourself? And can you keep the other on the back burner or come back to it later?

    I'm not sure that most writers are aware of just how much time and energy goes into the preparation, creation, and marketing of just one book...years! So, I'd put a couple of years behind one project as a way of getting your feet wet.

    In my experience, my students who can focus on one topic or direction make much faster and more significant progress than those who jump around a lot. Just an observation that I hope is helpful.

  16. So, hey, Donna, thank you so much for having me. This has been a blast! I got a lot out of it and I hope others did too. I hope to connect with everyone who commented again soon.

  17. I'm late, but this is a great post. Thank you, Christina and Donna.



  18. Great articel and comments by all. I was just blog surfing today and stumbled across this one. Glad I did. I'll have to sit down this week and develop a platform for myself. Thanks again.

    Stephen Tremp

  19. Christina:

    Thanks again for being such a terrific guest. Your communication between the readers was wonderful.

    Hint...Hint...for those checking-in late. This is another way of building your platform. When you are a guest author (such as Christina was) it is imperative you check-in and answer any questions, comment, and thank those who have visited. It truly goes a long way.

    I've hosted Christina several times since meeting her in-person several years ago and taking one of her online classes and each time she makes an appearance the interaction makes it a successful visit.

    Best wishes and keep writing,

  20. Couple more comments slid in. Thanks, Bev and Stephen. And Donna makes another great point. Platform is all about "suit up and show up" whether that is online or in person or (more typically) both!

    Thanks again for hosting! Happy platform building!


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