A writer I'm helping is creating a series of essays that look at Biblical stories (such as Eden and Adam & Eve) from a humanist perspective. They are true to my Quaker upbringing wherein they find the message and moral of the story that we can learn and adapt to our lives in the modern era. Rather than seeing the Bible as a calcified document (not unlike our Constitution) it is a living thing that can be read and interpreted for modern effect.
She is a former Congregational minister and is often asked to perform impromptu services at various churches, not always Congregational, in the Northeast. She also writes a blog that has a steady following of about fifteen thousand and growing. You would think that with such a well-defined and hungry audience and platform for speaking to them that she should be a cinch to get published.
She recently went to a series of writing workshops and met an agent she admires quite a bit and he told her that her platform wasn't nearly big enough for him, but there may be small houses that would be interested. [Another agent said her writing and proposal we created are right on and she should submit it and gave her some names].
This got me to thinking: If fifteen thousand dedicated readers isn't enough to demonstrate there is a market for your book and that you have the savvy to sell it, then what is that amount. It must be well 0ver one-hundred-thousand if not a million.
Therefore, the platform is a segregating device that only allows in the already famous. I think there are agents and large houses that will publish a newcomer, but the business is doing everything it can to make success impossible as well as limit the ability of great writing to find a large voice.
However, than God for the mid-level of the publishing world (there doesn't seem to be a lower level unless you count self-publishing as that place, but I don't). There are quite a few presses that put out a small number of books each year, but are dedicated to ensuring their success and to publishing the best they can find. And these books often do well.
I believe that as these mid-level houses show they are open to new ideas, thought and voices that they will attract better writers. I also think that out of necessity they are the location of innovation in the book industry and any savvy writer, agent or publisher should watch what these guys do and how they do it. It may be the next model for how to sell a book.