At a writing conference a few years ago, I attended a panel discussion that included acquisitions editors from several publishing houses and a couple of literary agents.
I’d been wanting to meet one of the agents, so after the session, I stood in line to introduce myself. I told him I was a writing coach working with several authors who were developing book proposals. These authors had questions about platform.
“What kind of numbers are agents and publishers really looking for?” I asked. “And how would I know if I have an author you might be interested in?”
He said he couldn’t speak for all agents or publishers, but as an example of the platform size he was looking for, he would only consider authors with a minimum of 10,000 Twitter followers.
Platform: Numbers Matter
I asked another literary agent the same question recently, especially regarding platform. Though she didn’t commit to 10,000 as the ideal, she said numbers do matter.
“It’s not me,” she said. “It’s the publishers. They’re the ones asking for us to bring them authors with significant platforms because they want to guarantee a certain number of sales.”
Authors as Business Partners
Chad R. Allen, editorial director for Baker Books, said in an interview that when he’s reviewing book proposals, he always has three things in mind: “concept, platform, writing.”
After he looks at the book idea to see if it’s a fresh, marketable concept, he then turns to the author bio, to learn about the author “not only in terms of how good a writer they are, but also in terms of what are their connections, what’s their platform, what is their ability to bring exposure to their own book.”
He says, “Authors are artists–we all know that–but they are also business partners, particularly when they sign a book contract.”
Chad said, “The #1 reason we turn books down is no platform or lack of platform.”
Definition of Platform
So we can’t ignore the need for platform, but still…what is it?
Chad offered a quick definition when he said he wants to learn about a writer’s connections and their ability to bring exposure to their own book.
Literary agent Chip MacGregor says essentially the same thing: “a platform is simply the number of people you can reach with your words.”
He then lists several ways you can reach people: through speaking events, a blog, articles in other publications, television or radio appearances, leadership positions that would give you influence over a large group or organization. Chip says, “All of those are points of contact with potential readers…[A]dd up the audiences for all the ways in which you reach out, and that’s your platform.”
That’s what it comes down to: How do you reach people with your words and can you reach more of those people?
Does Your Platform Reach the Right People?
Literary agent Rachelle Gardner emphasizes that “the key to platform is your target audience and what you are doing to reach them.”
In other words, who cares if you have 10,000 Twitter followers if they aren’t the target readers of your next book?
If I plan to publish a cookbook for backpackers but have been building a huge connection with business professionals focused on developing powerful speaking skills simply because I have an interest in both of those topics…I may need to rethink my strategies and find ways to build up a following among outdoor enthusiasts, campers, and, well, backpackers. I could write articles for Backpacker Magazine and join forums that talk about gear and destinations and food as some platform-building efforts.
Or I could write a different book. About speaking techniques for business professionals.
The point is: build a relevant platform. If you think you know what your book will be about, focus on how to reach readers who will love that book.
Rachelle added the realistic, if sobering, reminder: “It’s smart to begin building your platform well before you hope to be published—years, even.”
You Can’t Have Too Much Media Presence
Another literary agent, Terry Burns, said he submitted a project to a publisher and it went through several levels of committee. “[T]he editorial people really liked it,” he said, “but [the author’s] website was not functioning properly and she hadn’t posted in social media for months. They passed on the project but said they would take another look at it if she could address their concerns.”
He said maybe not all publishers scrutinize a platform that closely, but “I never saw a submission rejected because an author had too MUCH social media and online presence.”
He continues, “I’m sure the discussion will continue with people deciding for themselves whether to invest more or less time in social media, blogs and websites. But as for me, and what I tell my clients as I see the responses coming in on submissions is…you can’t have too much media presence.”
We’ll talk about specific, practical platform-building ideas in upcoming episodes. But the bottom line is platforms are about reaching people—the right people given the books you plan to write.
Keep writing, keep making connections, keep reaching people with your words. I mean, isn’t that why we’re writers anyway?
Click on the podcast player above or use subscription options below to listen to the full episode.
- Your Writing Platform episode collection
- A Definition of Author Platform, by Jane Friedman
- Unlocking Publisher Secrets: A Conversation with an Acquisitions Editor (Chad Cannon interviews Chad R. Allen)
- The Basics of Building a Platform, by Chad R. Allen
- 7 Ways to Build Your Online Platform from Scratch, by Michael Hyatt
- Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World, by Michael Hyatt
- Ask the Agent: What Do I Need to Know about Author Platforms, by Chip MacGregor
- Author Platform: Here’s What All the Fuss Is About, by Brooke Warner
- Your Author Platform Is Not Your Social Media Following, by Brooke Warner
- Building Your Author Platform: How Much Is Enough? (includes levels of what are considered impressive numbers) by Chuck Sambuchino via Writer Unboxed
- “Platforms” Are Overrated, (still ends up with platform-building advice) by Stephanie Bane, via Creative Nonfiction
- Chad R. Allen on Publishing Trends, Create If Writing podcast interview with Kirsten Oliphant
- Does Social Media Matter? by Terry Burns
- What Is a Writer’s Platform? by Cliff Daigle via the balance
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