This column excerpted from my book, CREATE YOUR WRITER PLATFORM (Nov. 2012, Writer’s Digest Books), a guide on how to build your visibility, brand, and network to better market yourself and your books. The book includes lots of interviews with literary agents and platform-heavy authors.
I often discuss how to build a writer platform on my Guide to Literary Agents Blog and when I speak at writers’ conferences. In the blog posts and during the speeches, I found myself often using phrases similar to the following:
- “To achieve impressive blog stats…”
- “Then, when your newsletter gets big enough…”
- “That way, you can get invited to speak more and that will help you get an agent…”
But after I used such generic phrases a few times, the big question started to come from readers and conference attendees: How much is enough?
How do agents and editors define “impressive blog stats”? When can you say you have a “sizeable newsletter”? How many speaking engagements should you have each year before you feel confident in sending a nonfiction book proposal out on submission? Should you wait till you have a certain number of Twitter followers or Facebook fans before querying literary agents?
Wow. Great questions — and ones that aren’t really addressed anywhere on the Internet because it’s such a subjective answer. But I’ll try to tackle them here real quick.
THE ANSWER VARIES FOR EVERYONE
The first thing you need to realize is that this question of “enough” will be different for everyone depending on the writer’s niche. If you’re writing about something specific—say, eclipse chasing—then your audience is quite a thin slice of a pie, and a smaller platform may be quite impressive in your very specific arena. Heck, you could have 2,500 Twitter followers and that may be enough to get you a small book deal with a university press. If you’re writing about something broad and popular, such as finance, your platform will have to be a lot larger if you hope to impress an agent.
The size of your desired book deal also factors in. If you dream of getting paid $50,000 or $100,000 upfront for your book, then your platform must warrant such a large advance. If your goal is simply to get a book published—even if that means with a smaller press that pays little—then platform demands can drop, perhaps drastically.
Naturally, when talking about anything subjective, we must acknowledge that there will be exceptions to the rule. I have no doubt somebody can stand up and say, “I didn’t even know what a platform was, but my book got published!” just as there will be someone who says, “My social media numbers are excellent, and I still can’t find a publisher!” What we discuss here are just guidelines; there are exceptions to every rule.
NUMBERS TO AIM FOR—SOME BROAD STROKES
All that being said, let me share some very broad thoughts on what you should be aiming for. These numbers below are directed toward writers of nonfiction, where platform is crucial and mandatory. If you’re writing fiction (where platform is not necessary but still helpful), you can strive for statistics lower than the “Notable” thresholds below and still appear attractive to publishers.
Blog Page Views
Very Notable: 100,000/month
Impressive By Any Means: 500,000/month
Very Notable: 15,000
Impressive By Any Means: 50,000
Very Notable: 20,000
Impressive By Any Means: 100,000
Public Speaking Appearances
Notable: Speaking to 1,000 people (total) a year
Very Notable: Speaking to 3,000 people (total) a year
Impressive By Any Means: Speaking to 15,000 people (total) a year
Sales of Previous Self-Published Books
Notable: 2,000+ for fiction; 4,000+ for nonfiction
Very Notable: 6,000+ for fiction, 10,000+ for nonfiction
Impressive By Any Means: 15,000+ for fiction, 30,000+ for nonfiction
AGENTS CHIME IN: “When is a writer’s platform ready?”
“I think a lot of that is going to both depend on and determine what level of publisher your book is likely to appeal to. There’s no ‘critical mass’ of platform, and, in many cases, there’s going to be a natural plateauing of what you can achieve at this stage since platform feeds the book feeds the platform. Very large commercial publishers are hoping for, and can attract, writers with large national platforms like nationally syndicated columnists. You may be unable to achieve such an accomplishment before you want to submit your book, or your ideal publisher may not require such lofty extremes for your platform. What can you achieve? You may not have a regular column in a big magazine, but if you sell regularly to a number of large pubs, mention the readership of each in your proposal. Maybe you’re blogging for The Huffington Post … Keep in mind that you don’t sacrifice a timely story to continue to build platform and perhaps miss the most opportune window to submit the book. And don’t assume a long history is better than recent history. Publishers want to see recent platform, recent exposure.”
- Gina Panettieri (Talcott Notch Literary Services)
“It’s helpful to remember that not everyone who is part of your audience will actually buy the book—let’s say 10 percent, for example (not a real number, by the way). So if you have 100,000 followers (10,000 copies sold), it’s a lot more appealing than 500 followers (50 copies sold). And if you have social media, speaking engagements, and TV appearances, they can only help. For social media, I will start to be impressed when a writer has about 5,000 followers/fans/people, but 10,000 is really ideal. Speaking engagements should happen frequently and for a substantial audience. What I look for is national and international appeal, but that can start with regional and local opportunities.”
- Roseanne Wells (Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency)
“This is a really good question. I’ve had projects I’ve been interested in or maybe even have signed up with the understanding that there’s work to be done in the way of building or improving the platform before a publisher will be interested. When you can take a project out and have an expectation that it won’t get shot down on the basis of platform is a judgment call (as is which publishers will feel there’s enough platform there, and whether more is necessary to target the ideal publisher). But there’s no real answer for ‘How much is enough?’ The platform is something that should be constantly (if incrementally) growing and evolving over the author’s career. Even if one of my authors already has a great platform, I will forward him or her any contact or idea I think may be useful to make it even stronger. I can recall at least one author who accused me of constantly ‘moving the goalposts.’ She said that she’d done what I’d asked and now I was asking for more. But that’s missing the point. There isn’t a line in the sand that you need to get across. It’s demonstrating your involvement in—or even your necessity to—the world you are writing about. And that isn’t any one thing.”
- Stephany Evans (FinePrint Literary Management)