Bernie Sanders: If you write a best-selluh, then you can be a millionaire too. Not without a ‘platform’ you can’t! The real story of publishing nonfiction books!
Bernie Sanders is once again campaigning to become president of the United States. But the second time around has hit a snag. The Vermont socialist has suffered the unfortunate consequence of writing a nonfiction best-selling book called Our Revolution. As a result, Bernie is now a millionaire.
“I wrote a best-selling book,” Sanders said. “If you write a best-selling book, you can be a millionaire, too.”
Fair enough. I’ll get right on it, and you should too. Want to be rich? Write a bestseller.
But is it really that easy? No.
In Sanders publishers found that rare “sure thing” author. He had become a celebrity. He had millions of followers. On average they’d made campaign donations about equal to the price of a hard-back nonfiction book. He did not win the Democratic nomination, but he earned a book contract with an advance of nearly $800,000.
I don’t begrudge the 77-year-old U.S. Senator a late-life windfall. Even after he bad-mouthed all the millionaires and billionaires who run this country. The fickle finger of fate made the Vermont politician a name brand. The least he deserved was a publishing contract.
But did Thomas Dunne Books, the publisher of Our Revolution, buy Bernie? No. TDB bought Bernie’s platform.
The Word I Hate
Platform has become a hot keyword for publishers.
I should know. As a ghostwriter of books not written by Bernie Sanders, I have pitched some very good titles by authors with much to offer only to be told, “We can’t sell it. The author doesn’t have a big enough platform.”
In other words, they are not Bernie Sanders. Or Barack Obama, also a best-selling author.
A platform is not just a long list of followers. A platform is an audience who has shown a willingness to engage with the would-be author.
Audience members buy things. They spend money. Bernie’s campaign was a money machine that did not rely on gazaillionaires. His audience was only too happy to plunk down a few bucks (tax deductible, I assume) to be part of the revolution.
Full disclosure: I hate the word platform.
It has become a wall. A wall built by an industry that knows, deep down, that nobody can pick a winning horse, a bestseller. Everything is a gamble—unless you have a Bernie-style following.
So, they turn away worthy books that might find a solid audience if marketed to an obvious audience. No guarantees, of course.
Publishers will quarrel with me about my hate for their terminology. So be it. I’m not the only one who hates the word platform. The agents I work with also hate it, because it restricts new authors with something to say to migrate to bestseller lists.
Did Omarosa Manigault Newman have a platform? Not necessarily. But her employer has a unique platform. In fact President Donald Trump has two platforms: Those who are devoted to him, and those who are vehemently against him. Both sides will spend money.
Build a Real Platform
A prospective client asked me to take on his life story because he’d written a thousand-word synopsis of his travails that earned him 3,000 likes on a website built for people to express themselves. He was certain publishers would fall at his feet. I had to break the sad news.
But why wouldn’t pubs knock themselves out to sign that author? Clicking “like” is not the same as spending money or promising loyalty.
Don’t despair. You might have more of a following than you think. You may own a small business with a loyal clientele. Can you convince a publisher those good people would likely buy your book?
Are you a popular speaker in your field, who regularly pleases an audience at Rotary or other group meetings? If so, you might do well to first write and self-publish a 100-age book and sell it in the back of the room. If sales are brisk, and you keep the receipts, that’s the beginning of a platform.
Don’t Give Up, Get Writing
But not all big-name authors sell well. Even when you see a book title on the best-seller lists, it does not necessarily mean the writer is getting rich. So do not think you must become a sell-ebrity to get published.
There are always books that breakthrough, even if publishers cannot possibly name a winner. Some books are just so well written that acquisitions editors get behind it and give it a push.
And like all good things in this world, a platform is not built overnight. Begin. That’s the first requirement. Begin by writing Book 1. Then go onto Book 2, and so forth.
Or begin an improbable journey to the White House, lose, then promise to tell the inside story—for a price.