Thursday, December 25, 2008

GumboWriters Interview with Literary Power Agent: Donna Bagdasarian Part 2

Jeff Rivera: Okay . Do you find to having a platform is more important that it was maybe five years ago and if so, why?

Donna: Platform is crucial. To a publisher, a platform speaks to audience. The reason why it is crucial now is that any Tom, Dick and Harry can get up there and say, "Hey, I got a great idea and I know I can make it work." For instance, an author recently pitched me who is not a doctor claiming he had figured out heart disease, why? Because he was suffering from heart disease and he devised a holistic plan on how to eat and live and now he is heart disease free. That is nothing. I mean who is going to listen to him? You know, that is like me saying if you eat two mangoes a day, you will be 120 pounds, that might work for me but I have no basis of any source that that would be for anyone else and why would anyone listen to me?

So first, you need the credentials. Second, you need to form some sort of grassroots following. You need people that are saying ‘Yes, this guy is right” and you need the exposure that grows from such. You start it very locally - you start it in your community, you start it first to your immediate circle, then into your community. Then, hopefully, it spreads virally and you then get print attention. From there, maybe national print attention or national radio attention then, ideally, you get television attention. At that point, the platform can start to take on a life of its own – if for instance the Today Show or some such hears about you or the New Yorker hears about something from this little town in Bussey, Iowa and they report a “Oh, there is a doctor” story, even if it’s in a small fashion, it can spread globally due to the reach of such venues.

Jeff Rivera: So, ideally somebody could actually, come up with this heart disease intervention thing and then hook up with a doctor who already has the credentials or whatever and they as a team…

Donna: That is exactly what would need to happen.

Jeff Rivera Okay.

Donna: So, let us say you would find a way the beat cancer yourself. You were terminally ill and you figured out that if you ate, you know tulips and sunflower seed four times a day, then you are cancer free. Well, what you would need to do then is go to some leading oncologist and have him get that and then, have him get on board and then both of you work together. He with his credentials and his authority in the field and the practice and you with your proven success and that would be the way to do it.

Jeff Rivera All right. Okay, great. That is wonderful.

Donna: When publishing, an industry whose numbers are very, very tight, is looking to see as if they can “back” a non-fiction book with a theory, they are looking to see if there is a built-in audience. If there is not, it is as that old adage goes: if a tree falls in the woods who is going to buy it?

Jeff Rivera: Right. And would you say it like in order of priority, would you say okay, first is the concept, second is the writing quality, third is the platform; or would you say platform is number one; I mean, like what would you say…

Donna: A) there has to be integrity to the idea, integrity to the author. B) it has to be veritable, C) it has to be supported, and D) it has to be well written and explicated in a way that everyone can access it. Meaning, I do not want diagrams and calculus equations to explain your theory or else no one will understand it. If all of that is in order, then you need to build some sort of following - a platform.

Jeff Rivera: All right.

Donna: And then, it is up to publishing to package a book in a way that holds together without needing string and paper clips and a bunch of glue. Yes, I mean, seriously – the celebrity factor can always help further a project because celebrity itself defines a built-in audience. That is what celebrity means. However, if the concept is not veritable, the project inevitably fails being all frosting and no cake.

Jeff Rivera: Right. Let me ask you one more thing about… if you are a journalist because Media Bistro engages a lot with journalists, how is that an asset in terms of platform?

Donna: Oh, that is built-in platform. A, expertise is already there. B, audience is already there. C, credentials are already there. So, if you are writing for Media Bistro and the Miami Herald, you are already credited. You already have the audiences. You already have expertise. You already have some sort of following. So, for example, if you are a Cuban-American news reporter for the Miami Herald writing a piece on growing up in the Cuban-American community in Miami , you are de facto credible, with a built-in readership.

Now, if you are writing for Media Bistro that is one of the most well-respected publishing websites that we have. So, let us say, you want to write a book about building platforms and you are already a columnist from Media Bistro talking to authors and publishers and agents, you are already on the platform path.

Jeff Rivera: Interesting.

Donna: Now the other aspect of platform building that is growing more and more important by the minute is via non-traditional media – electronic or internet media. Whether it is exploiting MySpace, Facebook, Goodreads, Safari, Amazon, blogs, ‘zines, and all the rest. It seems to be an answer to how to begin to build platforms or garner audiences, or even how to grow existing platforms or audiences in a viral way. Newer technology can be exploited quickly because readers, en masse, receive the information almost instantly. Authors are really trying to capitalize and harness these things as they grow and expand.

Jeff Rivera: So should they come to the table, if they come to the table and they are writing it, "Okay, it is alright," but they come to the table with I do not know, which is another thing just to talk about, but come to the table like 5000 fans from subscribers and that is a big platform you could…

Donna: Yes, absolutely or let us say you have a blog, let us say you write about Puerto Rican vampires having sex in The City. Well if you have a website, "Puerto Rican Vampires Having Sex in The City," and you are getting 10,000 hits a day or 20,000 hits a day, and then one day it is 100,000 hits. In addition, all of a sudden, you find yourself selling your Puerto Rican Vampire having Sex t-shirts and people are then talking about your PR Fang in the City daily update blog. And now it is real. And you can count it. That is platform building. One person talking about something specific. Then an audience starts to follow this one person blogging about something. Then bigger blogs start talking about the small blog. Then all of a sudden it reaches some sort of critical mass and everyone on the planet knows everything there is to know about PR Fang in the City. And from there? Copycat projects! Armenian Fang in the City! Italian-Country Fang! You get my point, I’m sure.

Jeff Rivera: What number like how if I come to you and I say, I have 200… I mean what number is it like, "Okay, that is impressive. That I could sell," or what number you are like, "Not so much,”

Donna: Well it is not even a quantitative thing. It is more of a qualitative thing. For instance, when these blogs start to become part of the mass consciousness of a target audience and usually for electronic or online things we are talking about a youthful demographic, when it starts becoming part of mass consciousness it is at that breaking point. I Can Has Cheez Burger is a great example.

Jeff Rivera: Which one I am sorry?


Jeff Rivera: Okay, yes.

Donna: The site where people post cute pictures of kitty cats and bunnies, right?

Jeff Rivera: Right.

Donna: And then putting captions on them in this weird lexicon. Like this little kitty speak of some sort. For some reason, it took off and it took off so well that they started having knock-off sites, and now there is this whole movement where seemingly everyone now knows that language, “noming,” for instance. “Noming” means to eat something. How do I know that? I am old as Methuselah’s wife and I know! The second something literally becomes part of our pop culture continuum then you know it is almost too late for a book. The Cheez Burger people? Their book is on the NYT list!

Jeff Rivera: Wow.

Donna: The real question is what do people actually consider a commodity? This question and how can you affect such is really the same as any other marketing or publicity technique that has ever been used. It is just a faster trajectory, if it catches on.

Jeff Rivera: Right, right, very cool. Thank you so much, Donna. This is great advice!

Jeff Rivera: If you need help with your book promotion contact and we'll find a way to help you within your budget.