Ask The Editor

November 20, 2008

Why “Joe the Plumber” got a book deal (and what it means to you)

Filed under: Advice for non-fiction writers,Commentary,News,The Publishing Biz — editorialconsultant @ 5:34 pm

Writers have reason to be annoyed. A guy with no writing credentials, no policy credentials who, apparently, doesn’t even have plumbing credentials (and isn’t really named “Joe”), has signed a book deal.

Meanwhile, fine writers who have spent years studying their subject matter and developing their craft may have difficulty finding agents who will represent them, let alone publishers who will offer them contracts.

Yes, fume away. But then, take a breath and take “Joe the Plumber’s” book deal as your first class in Non-Fiction Book Marketing 101.

Publishers look for authors who have established a following in the media, what publishers call a “platform.” (The term “authors” is used loosely;  it’s unlikely that someone like “Joe” will actually write a word of his book). Publishers assume that a certain percentage of those who tune in to watch or listen to someone, will buy a book by the person. “Joe the Plumber,” for better or worse, has a platform.

So, how do you develop your own platform? You can’t expect a camera crew to magically appear on your street and ask for your thoughts. But there are other ways you might be able to get local media attention.

For example, if you’re a teacher writing a memoir about your attempts to fix the educational system, choose a short, vivid anecdote from your manuscript, add a list of thought-provoking ideas on the subject of education that you can discuss with the media, and then look for (or wait for) a news hook – something that ties your topic to the news. Perhaps you discover that statewide test scores are up, or down. Use that news to lead off a press release, add issues related to the news to your list of thought-provoking ideas, and drop in your brief relevant anecdote. Then, send it out to local media, offering yourself as an expert on the topic.

Do this every time something hits the news about your topic and you could find yourself becoming the local go-to expert. After you’ve established yourself locally, present the regional media with evidence that you’re called on often as an expert. Build from there.

When you’re ready to approach an agent, tout your media exposure and you may find that your platform helps you get a book deal.

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