I had an interesting, but unproductive correspondence with a big-time agent through December. I tried a couple more over the next few months getting form letter rejections (good luck in your future endeavors). They sound a lot like grad school rejections. Finally, at the beginning of May I got brave enough to send out lots of queries. And they've started coming back. I had an active rejection last week and an inactive one (if you don't hear from us in four weeks...). I also had a request for the full proposal and sample chapter on Sunday. It wasn't just a request, he had some advice right there.
One word that has stood out in my research into agents has been "platform." Agents want writers with a strong platform. Platform, in this context, means voice and visibility. You probably know that publishers these days want authors to take an aggressive role in marketing their books, initiating events that don't require any investment by the publisher. Platform means they want to see authors who are positioned to do this even before the book is published. In non-fiction, this means they want the author to be an recognized expert in their field. Since I made up my field (historical mammothology) I am the world's leading authority in it, but I am falling down on the "recognized" part of that formula. The agent told me I need to build a platform.
Today, he wrote back declining to represent me. Like everyone, he loves my writing... but. In this case, the "but" was he simply didn't know how to sell it and he specifically pointed out platform as part of the problem. this is worth quoting at length (slightly edited).
Chief among the challenges you face is the vaunted "platform" that I mentioned previously. I do think you could build a platform. Most science writer/journalists don't have science degrees. It takes the talents that you already have and display in this book – the ability to research, understand, synthesize and communicate the information in an interesting way. Bill Nye was a Mechanical Engineer in Seattle when he debuted his Science Guy persona with a comedy troupe! The rest is history. So, there are lots of ways to start building the platform, which is so important these days. I think if you can write articles on the topic (and similar topics) for major blogs like HuffPost, Salon, Daily Beast, etc – popular blogs/online magazines that have science sections, that it will prove helpful.On the one hand, telling me to write stories for HuffPost, Salon, and Daily Beast is about as helpful as those people who told seventeen year old me "you wouldn't be so lonely if you had a girlfriend." On the other hand, I do get the point. I need to work some other angles, set some intermediate goals, and--though I hate the word being verbed--network. I need to raise my profile. Returning to blogging is the first baby step along the path to building my platform.
I think a lot of you know I have more than one blog. Mammoth Tales, the original working title for the book, is the name of my science-only blog. Most of the science pieces I post here, I also post there. The main difference is that I don't put any politics over there and limit the adolescent angst. Last year, I all but gave up blogging. I had already entered a downward spiral of low traffic discouraging me from posting as often and fewer posts giving readers fewer reasons to come here. Last summer, some crappy personal events nailed the last of my energy.
Now I need to start over and rebuild some traffic. I need to build a community or brand or whatever the current buzzword is at Mammoth Tales. But I'm very fond of Archy. At heart, I will always be an inquisitive insect at heart, looking at the world from the underside. So, I'll keep blogging about whatever I feel like over here and crossposting the science and mammothy things to Mammoth Tales. I hope to put up one good science post each week plus some news links and interesting historical pictures.
Here's where you can help. When I do crosspost, I'll add a link to the Mammoth Tales version. I need you to click the link and leave that page open for as long as you want so my traffic numbers over there will rise. Of course, some linky love on your own blogs and social media would be nice. That is if you like what you see (if not, let's keep it between us).
It looks like getting a book published is a group activity. When it's done, we can all bond over drinks and deep-fried snacks. You can pick up the first round.