Monday, June 15, 2009

Interview: Christina Katz

Today I'm featuring a Guest Post by author Christina Katz. I have been inspired and encouraged by Christina's writing for many years now and love her writing! So enjoy...

Get Known Before the Book Deal, Use Your Personal Strengths to Grow an Author Platform


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.

Thanks Christina! (Cross-posted at The Writing Mother.)


Christina Katz said...

Good morning, everyone. Thanks so much for having me. I'd love to discuss platform development. Anyone have any questions or frustrations?

Kai said...

Great interview! So many good tips and we've been talking this on a list I'm on all week, so I'll be sure to refer them over.
I think my biggest frustration is the willingness of other people to tear down whatever platform you're forming.
How do you handle it if people undermine others on mailing lists or blogs etc? My first response of blasting off cattiness is obviously the wrong one ;) (whether it's me or another person they're attacking/undermining).

Carolyn said...

Hi Christina. Thanks for the post!

Get Known Before the Book Deal looks like it will be extremely helpful.

I have a question. I know you as the author of Writer Mama, but I see that this book addresses any writer.

Since writing moms have been such a large part of your platform in the past, has it been a problem making the transition in your platform?

Christina Katz said...

Hi Kai,

Okay, well, I don't have all the facts here to answer the specific situation you are talking about but let me try and take a crack at some practical advice.

Once you become an author, you kinda have to accept that people will take shots at you. I mean, if you have any kind of success, some people are bound to get envious. But as a business professional, you really have to have like zero tolerance for it.

You've pointed out that firing off an angry retort won't come to anything good and I think that's true. So have a plan for when things go south. A shortlist of writer friends you can trust is a good thing to keep handy for these moments rather than making peeves public.

I'd also remind you that you are 100% responsible for your success. So if anyone is down on your success and you give them any kind of attention or energy, then it's not them undermining your success, it's you, right?

Because it's your choice to even spend any time with those people in the first place. And no matter what someone else's attitude is toward you, they can't really have an impact on your success in the long run.

So, when it comes to people who are negative, draining, or would just rather sit around grousing instead of working...I'd just cut 'em off and get back to work.

Is this helpful?

Christina Katz said...

Hi Carolyn,

On the one hand, nothing has changed, I'm still a writer mama, I still work with writer mamas (the majority of my students are writer mamas), and I am still the author of Writer Mama. :)

But, on the other hand, in the process of writing Get Known, I had to take into account that my audience was in fact expanding to include anyone who aspires to become an author.

I think that any author probably has to deal with challenges when moving from book to book depending on the topic, audience, and specific slant.

It probably helps that I was a writer before I became a mom, so I was already writer-identified and then became writer-mama identified. I put down the ground work of my writing career before I became a mom and then experience more success after becoming a mom.

But I'm a writer, through and through. Writers are my tribe. They have been for a long time...and that includes, you know, men too.

Christina Katz said...

Ah, Kai. I just remembered. I do address the issue of boundaries and how to kind of rise above the whole writer-drama in my class Platform 101. You just reminded me why I bother to devote the time to the topic. It's important! And good boundaries and healthy detachment from what I call "baloney" are key.

Kai said...

It's actually not me (any more!) that has this problem. I've watched it happen a lot and come out of the trenches myself, so I know ignoring it works - I just wondered if 'not feeding the troll' isn't the answer either. Some are stubborn toads ;)

I think that expertise should stand for itself, but if not, the platform you build should support trust, which is what I think you said much better ;).

Christina Katz said...

There are people who have sour grapes, people who are just negative for no particular reason, people who seem to get pleasure for taking a swipe at someone else's success...we could go on and on. But what I was trying to say was, what's a better use of our time, to lose energy to them or to take care of the tasks right in front of you? I try to find great role models and focus on their example of how to behave like a classy human being...especially when I'm tempted to swing back. And I've definitely been tempted. :)

Christina Katz said...

Thanks for having me, Heather. I hope you and your readers will join me on Twitter for a weekly #platformchat if anyone wants to continue the conversation.

Happy summer!