#79: A Sneak Peek at the Slice Literary Writers’ Conference: An Interview with literary agent Andrea Barzvi, by Maria Gagliano

If writing a book isn’t enough to max out a writer’s brain, the pressure to ‘build a platform’ also looms for anyone hoping to land an agent and publisher. But what does having a ‘platform’ really mean? And how do the rules change based on the kind of book you’re writing?

We chatted with literary agent Andrea Barzvi about the nuances of building a following before your book is published. Andrea will talk more about this on our panel “Plugged In” at the Slice Literary Writers’ Conference on Sunday, September 11.

Many writers feel pressure to “get out there” by building a social media presence. How important is this, really, and how does the answer change depending on the kind of book a person is writing?

These days everyone has the ability to build a platform. It takes hard work and dedication, but between Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter, Youtube, etc., a debut author can work towards building an audience before his or her book is even published. Building a social media presence is much more important (and frankly imperative) for non-fiction. It’s the first place agents and editors look to determine what kind of following an author has, or what makes him or her an expert.

A platform can also take the form of a well trafficked website or blog posts that have gone viral or even guest posts on some of the bigger sites. Basically, you can’t write in a bubble. Even for fiction, agents want to see that authors are out there making connections, are part of organizations relevant to their work, and are tapped into the audience that will buy their book.

What are the most meaningful ways in which a writer can build a platform, whether on social media or elsewhere? Again, does the strategy change depending on the kind of book they’re writing (i.e., fiction vs. memoir)?

Building a “platform” can take as much hard work as writing a proposal or a manuscript. It’s a slow and strategic build. A few ways to accomplish this are: aligning yourself with people who have an existing audience (cross promoting), guest posting on blogs, placing an essay in a long lead magazine/blog/newspaper, or becoming part of an organization that will send your info to its members. A platform is considerably more important for non-fiction than fiction.

Would you say that a substantial social media following alone counts as a platform? Why or why not?

A lot of people throw around the word platform. Platform, in the most basic sense, is something that will elevate your book (put it on a platform) above all the rest when someone sees it in a bookstore. What makes you the expert to write a book? How will you reach an audience in a crowded market? A substantial social media presence definitely helps this and constitutes as a platform. Someone who has been able to grow a sizable audience through social media is presumed to be able to reach a wide audience when their book comes out (although the two don’t always correlate). An essay or a post that has gone viral can also constitute a platform—if you write an essay on the topic your book is about and it’s the #1 shared article or lands on a prominent website, that could be enough. It all comes down to the material you’re selling.

Where do you tend to look for new clients?

I find clients through referrals, existing clients, editors, conferences, reading articles, coming up with the ideas and reaching out to potential authors, social media, TV—basically anywhere and everywhere.

Do you have any memorable stories about connecting with a client in an unexpected way?

I have fun stories about how no one wanted a particular book that then went on to make millions, or books that I’ve passed on that have gone on to be huge bestsellers. I always remind people that the industry is so subjective. That’s the beauty of it.

Andrea Barzvi started her own agency, Empire Literary, in November 2013 after 13 years at ICM Partners.  She is a graduate of Colgate University as well as Cardozo Law School and was an adjunct professor at NYU graduate school where she taught a class on the role of the literary agent.  Some of her titles include New York Times bestsellers He’s Just Not That Into You by Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo, the This Man series by Jodi Ellen Malpas, and The Middle Place by Kelly Corrigan, among many others. She continues to look for fresh new voices across genres, particularly in commercial fiction, thrillers, young adult, narrative non-fiction and memoir.

Maria Gagliano is a writer, editor, and Business Director of Slice. Her writing has appeared in BUST magazine, the Huffington Post, and Salon, among other publications. You can learn more about her work at