Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Platform, Part 2

My last post was about the somewhat new-fangled notion that the unpublished writer needs to bring a platform to a publisher before the publisher will consider the wannabe writer--platform being defined as credentials and/or a ready-made audience.

In that post I talked about my newspaper column idea as a platform-building effort. As I say that, I don't mean to suggest that would be a dreary task. I love studying those old documents, and the eighteen columns I've written have been a true joy, as was the studying for the next few to be written. My fear has always been that, once the column is functioning, whether in one newspaper or a hundred, it will sap all the time I have in my schedule for creative writing, leaving me no time for fiction or non-fiction books. I suppose if it did, I'd still have my writing, and it would be writing I'd enjoy. I should end the discussion and consideration there and just do it.

Another pathway to platform exists for me, as suggested by many writers and editors. Not for me only, but for any writer climbing the publishing mountain. That pathway is writing for magazines before trying to publish books. This could be non-fiction articles or short stories. Magazines abound, and are looking for material one a regular schedule. They tend to be more open to new writers than are book publishers, and the lead time to get something into print is much shorter. As far as reaching people, most magazines have a larger circulation than the number of books that a first time book writer will sell.

Moreover, writing for magazines gives you references, experience with editors, experience with deadlines, honing of writing skills, evidence that your writing has value, and perhaps a few fans who will be looking for your book.

I've written some articles for engineering magazines. This pays well, but doesn't actually build credentials or fan base for creative writing. I've written two short stories, one that is highly polished, and for the last month, off and on, I've conducted market research to try and decide where to send this. I'm probably one or two hours of final research away from having five or six magazines to send this to.

Thinking about other things I could write for magazines, I stumbled on an idea. A couple of weeks ago I was at Barnes and Noble in the evening, taking advantage of my wife being out of town to drink a large house blend and just enjoy an evening with writing magazines (I bought two). As I put the mags I didn't purchase back on the rack, I looked a little to the left and saw two military magazines, both of them about World War 2.

The idea hit me: I have a trunk in the basement full of copies of the Stars and Stripes, the army newspaper that Dad worked on in Europe during World War 2, which he mailed daily to his parents for keepsakes. Couldn't I use material in them to write an article, or two? Yes, and the perfect first article came to mind immediately. When the newspaper staff was working on the VE Day edition, it was Dad who chose the headline: "It's Over Over Here". Surely there is an article in that. Surely that trunk, full of 65 year-old newsprint, holds other things I could write.

So I'm brainstorming how to craft my article. Then I'll research the magazines and see which ones would work best. I'll pitch the idea to the mag(s) before writing the article, and see how that goes.

A small first step on the freelance road. Might it be successful as a platform-building measure? Stay tuned.


Anonymous said...

Tom Brokaw tapped into a huge WWII audience with his book, The Greatest Generation. Although the veterans are passing away by the hundreds every day now, your idea might resonate with their children. I saw a poll today that rates the military as the most trusted organization, even more than churches and the media. Find a way to tie the old stories to a modern world and you may find an eager audience.


David A. Todd said...


Thanks for the thoughts.