Building Your Writer Platform — How Much is Enough?

Photobucket
photo by Psoup216

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
Notable: 20,000/month
Very Notable: 100,000/month
Impressive By Any Means: 500,000/month

Twitter Followers
Notable: 5,000
Very Notable: 15,000
Impressive By Any Means: 50,000

Newsletter Subscribers
Notable: 5,000
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)

0

About Chuck Sambuchino

Chuck Sambuchino is a freelance editor of query letters, synopses, book proposals, and manuscripts. As an editor for Writer's Digest Books, he edits the GUIDE TO LITERARY AGENTS and the CHILDREN'S WRITER'S & ILLUSTRATOR'S MARKET. His Guide to Literary Agents Blog is one of the largest blogs in publishing. His own books include the bestselling humor book, HOW TO SURVIVE A GARDEN GNOME ATTACK, which was optioned by Sony Pictures, as well as the writing guide, CREATE YOUR WRITER PLATFORM. Connect with Chuck on Twitter or at his website.

Comments

  1. Mandy says

    Thanks for not stopping at “subjective.” Not having any experience with these numbers, it’s great to get even broadstroke ideas (that include actual numbers!).

    0
  2. says

    This is a certainly a useful post for those who are trying to leverage online popularity into agency representation or a book deal — but do you believe that the publishing industry has evolved to the point where that is the only reliable route for would-be authors to pursue? What about writers who are focused on their craft and eschew, for whatever reason, blogging, Twitter, etc.? (Assuming there are any left, that is. There must be, I think, but of course they won’t be found commenting here. :) ) Are they simply out in the cold at this point? Have we reached the point where an author must demonstrate the potential for X amount in projected sales before an agent or publisher will take a manuscript seriously? How much impact/value must one’s online presence carry when compared to value of the work itself?

    0
    • says

      Thanks for quantifying what a strong platform means. Deborah has raised a valid point in her comment. A lot of people may be adept at social media, but can the write quality fiction? One skill set doesn’t necessarily translate into the other. Having said that, I believe most writers do understand the importance of building a following on social media. Thanks again for another highly informative post, Chuck.

      0
      • says

        This post is talking to writers of nonfiction. If you’re writing fiction, ANY platform is good. ANY platform will help you. But like Stephany says above, don’t set a final goal. Always be striving to grow and connect.

        If you’re writing fiction, make no mistake — the quality of the prose is what matters. That should always be Goal #1. Building your platform is just a helpful thing to begin doing on the side. Not mandatory — just helpful.

        0
    • says

      Deborah, I’m close to being the kind of writer you describe as one who wouldn’t read/comment here. I say almost because I do have a platform of a sort, and it’s growing, but the numbers Chuck throws out here are incredibly depressing. I’m a fiction writer, without representation (yet), and my second book is literary historical fiction (I know; probably two strikes against it right there). I understand that a platform isn’t as crucial for fiction writers, but it still helps, supposedly.

      So should writers like me just throw in the towel now?

      (I do read and follow Writer Unboxed, by the way!)

      0
  3. says

    Thanks, Chuck. These things are being implemented little by little…so much to do when getting started, other than write a book. :o)

    0
  4. says

    It’s a lot to consider. Keeping focused on the heart of writing feels more and more difficult under the pressure of platform-building. For introverted writers there are a lot of extroverted expectations, for sure. I participate in this trend while keeping a wary eye on it too. I appreciate your thoughts on the subject.

    0
  5. says

    Thanks for the numbers breakdown. Truthfully, I’m glad the initial platform matters less (or so I hear) for fiction writers, but I know that social media is becoming increasingly important for any writer. I’m working on it, albeit slowly!

    0
  6. says

    Platform is a tricky and sometimes overwhelming consideration, and you’ve helped me pinpoint a couple things I can focus on. Great article. I appreciate it!
    Nancy

    0
  7. says

    Chuck, thanks so much for this. I’ll pass it along to my writer friends and authors. I know even at my small press we are working toward social media goals for our authors to a) make sure they are continuing to grow and engage an audience and b) to build community among our writers so they can get to know each other and cross-promote.

    These give us number to shoot for.

    0
  8. says

    Seeing some real numbers here is so very helpful–thank you so much. Chuck!

    The only one I’m unsure about is Twitter. There are so many ways to ‘generate’ twitter followers using splatter following techniques and for pay services, I’m not sure the high numbers always indicate true reach. I’d prefer quality & being connected to loyal followers over quantity & an audience I might not know anything about. :)

    0
    • says

      Interesting point, and one that’s been talked about before. This is what I call “hollow growth” — and you see it on social media. Publishers who are savvy will probably use sites like Klout or Grader to check your amplification and true reach. Because you’re right — just the straight up number of Twitter followers can be misleading.

      0
  9. Jen Zeman says

    As always, great advice here Chuck. The numbers provided are interesting to consider. I think the key for fiction writers is to balance building your platform with your actual writing. If you don’t finish the book, then there’s no point to the platform! ;) Thanks Chuck!

    0
    • says

      Thanks Chuck. The numbers are great information, lots of food for thought.

      Being new to the writing scene I found that there were so many foreign labels thrown at me- platform, social media (a Blogging class, which included signing up for Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, You Tube….. they just keep multiplying) and each one is the “greatest” must have, newest thing. There was the feeling that I had to do it all. Right Now! I tried both blogging and Facebook and just those two cut into my writing. Like a black hole, eating up all my time in my effort to get up to speed. And this is all before formatting a manuscript, writing a query letter, choosing who to query, to self-publish or not…..

      I was in over my head. I decided to write first. Doing it all at once is not for me. I did learn is to think carefully what I want to project in my platform. How do I put myself out there and remain true to who I am? I’m memoir turned into fiction. Names changed to protect the innocent and the guilty. Writing real life stories that will make an impact is where I want to be. My answer to platform building was one step at a time, knowing when and where I want to go from here.

      Love the column. Will be back to blogging soon.

      0
  10. says

    Hey, Chuck, we met at an Ed Intensive in Ohio. Good to read this. But dang – how depressing! I’m working my @$$ off and nowhere near those numbers. I’m a fiction writer, and my book is moving, but not fast. However, I’m enjoying my blog and niche, and the community arising from my platforming efforts, so that’s to be celebrated. Enjoy the moment, right?
    See ya around campus.

    0
    • says

      These numbers do not apply to fiction writers. Just keep doing what you’re doing, Lynne, and grow steadily. Good luck! Nice to see you again, albeit this time around the Interwebs.

      0
  11. says

    This is great info although I was surprised that 5000 subscribers to a newsletter is only “notable.” I have 8 so I better get my ass in gear!

    0
  12. says

    I’ve been seriously questioning the time I’ve put into blogging the last year. While I do talk about crime related things, which ties directly into my books, I’m still not convinced that will translate to sales once my first novel releases next month.

    BUT. Blogging/FB/Twitter has helped me build a big network of writers and possible readers. I haven’t been able to attend conferences yet, and the social media has been a substitute for that. I’ve met a lot of great, knowledgable people and learned a ton. That’s made it worth the time investment.

    0
  13. says

    Thanks for the post, Chuck. My new novel is out in November and I’ve been doing my best to enlarge my platform – but it’s still just a tiny raft out in a great big lake. The numbers you cite are overwhelming. I need to hire a teenager to do upkeep on all the social media, so I can spend my time writing.

    It’s a thought…

    0
  14. says

    Thanks for quantifying this issue. I’m a fiction writer, but I’ve often wondered when people talk about nonfiction platforms what they meant in terms of numbers. Now I have a good idea. I also appreciated the quick note about applying this to fiction platforms.

    0
  15. says

    These numbers seem high but they give authors something to shoot for. Authors should remember that getting any numbers in these categories is better than having no numbers at all.

    0
  16. Melina Selverston says

    I think the concept, as Stephany Evans mentioned, is that you demonstrate you a part of the conversation, and you are committed to remaining in it awhile. this is why you want to your audience to grow steadily!
    Thanks,
    Melina

    0
  17. says

    So, the blog precedes the book? How useful is it in compiling sources of material and reference for your research? I find it hard to dedicate much time to blogging, beyond what I do for book clubs. How much time do bloggers typically spend on author’s blogging?

    0
  18. says

    Those numbers are scary. I thought I was chugging along nicely, but I don’t come close to most of the suggested hits/followers/subscribers. Maybe plan B is just to write more good books. No single book is a breakout one, but with a dozen out there, I am getting satisfactory royalty payments.

    Terry

    0
  19. Jenny Tavernier says

    LOL! This is a great measuring guide, which means I will be curious about friends blogs in that area too – I figure stressing about it at the moment is not an activity I have time for, so I will save this for applicability. Love it when it is all in one place, Thank You!

    As far as me, well, I know it takes awhile to build – (won’t be a week or overnight, but I am going to stick with my tortoise (and the hare) approach, and pay more attention to getting down consistent production of quality writing first, before I enter the insane world of Webwise, which already sucks too much of my time as it is. lol! But I will get there if I keep a steady thorough plod on. And yes, would also love to win the agent market guide!

    0
  20. says

    I think a number of us are grateful for clarification on what numbers are meant when faced with subjective terms such as “notable”, “large”, and “impressive”. Of course the exact figures are subjective and will vary on a case-by-case basis, but even getting an idea of the average ballpark can give a writer a place to start to form a goal.

    0
  21. says

    I appreciate the numbers and guidelines for nonfiction writers. I’ve seen platform information presented more frequently for fiction writers. It’s nice to have some idea even if it appears overwhelming. I’m shooting for growth in numbers but not putting all my eggs in the Platform basket either. First and foremost is being true to my readers in what I write.

    0
  22. says

    I have read a lot of posts, but I have actually never seen anyone really break down the numbers before. I’m in the notable category everywhere — except for Twitter and speaking engagements. (Kind of hard when you teach…and yet, depending on how you figure it, one could argue I do speak to over 1,000 people each year. It’s just the same people. :)

    Still, really good information.

    I have a long way to go before I’m impressive.

    In the meantime, I’ll keep writing and growing my audience.

    I’d love to have your book. It’s a goal of mine to be agented by the end of 2013.

    0
  23. Bernadette Phipps-Lincke says

    If I were an alien studying the planet earth and I read these stats, I think I would understand why the Pulitzer wasn’t awarded for fiction this year. Writers were too busy crafting blogs and twitter feeds.

    0
  24. Bryn Benning says

    Thanks for the numbers. I have a long way to go as a fiction writer. Twitter is what perplexes me most. Some of the people that follow me aren’t even real, judging by their predictable feed of canned quotes or pithy puns. How can I pass those off as a “platform?” How can other people with tens of thousands of similar bot Twitterers?

    0
  25. says

    I am SLOWLY building a platform, but then today, noticed I did more platforming than writing.

    And on days when the writing TAKES me, I tend to trance out and not connect. And those numbers, even taking into account fiction numbers might be less, astound me.

    Publishing has changed. The world has changed, but at the end of the day, writers are both artists and owners of small to large businesses which must also be managed. Finding the balance is tricky for us all.

    0
  26. Erika Harlitz Kern says

    This blog post, as well as articles in various writers’ magazines, has made me draw the following conclusions regarding publishing: First you needed a book to get a publishing deal. Then you needed a book to get an agent to get a publishing deal. Then you needed a book to get someone to read it who knows an agent to get an agent to get a publishing deal. Now you need an online presence of a certain number of followers to get someone to read the book who knows an agent to get an agent to get a publishing deal. I have been working as a music magazine editor for over a decade and I am sorry to say that this is very similar to the development I have already seen in the music industry.

    0
  27. TSullivan says

    Great info! But does anybody wonder, agents included, how valid these numbers (i.e. followers) are? Since it’s possible to purchase “zombie followers”, among other deceptive schemes, why would an online platform seemingly carry near to or equal weight as the writer’s actual work when being considered for deal? I understand the attractiveness of a large following to an agent, but to really play a substantial role in the negotiating process is seemingly foolhardy to say the least.

    0
    • says

      Great question. I’ll repeat a comment I made to another writer who had the same worry:

      Interesting point, and one that’s been talked about before. This is what I call “hollow growth” — and you see it on social media. Publishers who are savvy will probably use sites like Klout or Grader to check your amplification and true reach. Because you’re right — just the straight up number of Twitter followers , etc.,can be misleading.

      0
  28. says

    My question is not how much is too much but how soon should you develop your platform?

    Should I start developing my platform the moment I get serious about writing? Or the moment I decide I want to get published? What should be the determining factors get me started with social networking (namely Twitter) and blogging?

    In terms of blogging I can only think about wanting to share what I like, but if I focus on solely promoting my writing I find that can be limiting and may reduce the number of readers to my blog. But then again, being a young guy and mixing the topics I write about in my blog could affect how people see me. I’m thinking of the older generation of writers versus the younger generation who has grown accustomed to other forms of media, namely the visual ones.

    I’m still at odds with developing my platform since I don’t know what I should focus my blog on or if I should have more than one blog, each one specific to certain topics, or if I should just focus on writing and keep it personal until I decide I want to seek publication.

    0
    • says

      You want to start building your platform as early as possible. Think of it like you’re building a road to somewhere. You need to construct the road BEFORE you need to use it. You should start working on things before you have something to sell.

      0
  29. says

    Wonderful post, thanks. It’s nice to see some actual numbers, even if they are more for non-fiction writers. Some of us worry far too much about platform building when we should be writing (that would be me). None of it matters if we can’t get our finished product on the market. The “goalposts” will continue changing, and we must learn to kick harder or run faster to keep up with the rapidly changing market.

    0
  30. says

    I’m an aspiring fiction author whose used the last four months desperately building a platform, instead of doing much “real” writing. My blog has experienced decent growth for how young it is, but I recently upgraded my free blogspot account to the custom domain, and lost all my social media scores. Some of my blog articles had over 70 facebook likes (which is small change to some, but I was proud of it). I upgraded because it seems like everyone was saying that to be respected in the industry you have to have your own domain name. I feel like I just shot myself in the foot. Is this what you mean by Impressive blog stats? I’m averaging about 9000 viewers a month right now, but I seem to get a lot of interaction with my viewers. Isn’t it these type interactions that lead to potential sales, when a book is actually available?

    0
    • says

      Yes, it is these types of interactions that will help you sell books. Keep in mind that fiction writers do not have to match these more difficult (nonfiction) numbers you see above. Keep going!

      0
  31. says

    Great numbers. I’ve noticed as my visitor numbers grow on my blog, I get more contacts for writing gigs, freelancing, reviews, etc. Since I’m somewhere between ‘very notable’ and ‘impressive’, you’ve given me hope for the future.

    0
  32. Marcy says

    Thanks for including the data ranges on different platforms. Sometimes it is difficult to judge.

    Note: Fingers are crossed to win the drawing!

    0
  33. says

    Wow! Though I’m a fiction writer, those numbers are still a bit daunting. I know the writing comes first, but putting the writing first often leaves a big gap in the social media aspect side of things. Conversely, concentrating more on the social media aspect, takes away from the writing time. It’s hard to find the right (or write) balance.

    0