Author Platform: Here’s What All the Fuss Is About

Author Platform is more than just Facebook and Twitter
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If you’re an aspiring author who doesn’t know what an author platform is, you might be the very definition of ignorant bliss.

I say this with love, maybe even a little envy, because author platform has taken on an astoundingly important role when it comes to whether or not a writer will get a traditional publishing contract — and it’s equally important to self-published authors who are serious about their writing careers.

The rise of the author platform as an industry obsession is a relatively new phenomenon. While industry folks may argue that platform has always mattered, today it’s more important than ever before. A huge shift has transpired in the past decade when it comes to what agents and editors weigh when deciding what projects to represent or publish — and in some cases an author’s star quality matters more than his or her actual book.

I acquired nonfiction women’s books for Seal Press over the course of eight years during the height of this shift. In 2004, when I started, author platform was barely on our radar; by the time I left in 2012, it was the most important factor in determining whether or not we’d make an offer on a project.

Author platform is more than just social media

Many aspiring authors believe that platform is all about social media, but in fact Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and Google+ are only small pieces of the author platform pie.

Here’s what I was looking for as an editor and what I now try to help authors hit in their book proposals:

Image: Author Platform Breakdown

Some of these factors, like personality and ability to execute, are difficult to gauge. But these very factors are why authors with popular blogs and established fan bases get book deals: because they’ve proven that they have a cult of personality, and they follow-through.

These important yet intangible factors also highlight one of the ways in which literary agents are valuable to editors. If an agent and an editor have a strong working relationship, oftentimes the agent serves as someone who’s vetting an author’s personality and follow-through.

Two case studies of authors with great platforms

Both of these authors garnered large advances on the strength of their platforms (which were not specifically strong on social media) while I worked with them.

1. Andrea Robinson, author of Toss the Gloss

Andrea had almost no social media presence, no previous books, and not much by way of previous coverage. She couldn’t showcase that she had a strong existing readership, either.

What she had was a well-known agent I had bought books from in the past and whom I trusted when she told me Andrea would execute. Her contacts were stellar — including Ralph Lauren, who ultimately gave her a blurb and threw her launch party.

She was also clearly an expert on her topic, maybe even an industry leader, having worked in the beauty industry for decades. Seal made a strong offer for the rights to publish her book.

2. Mark Nepo, author of The Book of Awakening

In 2010, Oprah chose Mark’s The Book of Awakening (originally published in 2000) as one of her ultimate favorite things, shooting it to the New York Times bestseller list and changing the course of his career.

When Mark got picked up by Simon & Schuster for his next book following his meteoric rise to fame, he had a negligible social media presence and little previous media. He had a new fan in Oprah, though (contacts!), a huge existing readership, expertise in spades and a whole library of previous books to his credit.

In Mark’s case, the Oprah touch made a big difference (when doesn’t it?), but he’d sold a book to a traditional publisher just a few months before being “discovered” by Oprah, so while his advances are bigger now than they were, he’s an example of an author who was already getting publishing deals based on expertise, an existing readership, and previous books.

Platform isn’t just for nonfiction writers

In case any fiction writers are reading this and wondering whether any of this matters to you, I would say yes, but less so. If you look at the pie chart, you may feel that your area of expertise matters little to the novel you’re writing, but is that really true? For instance, one of my clients works in the medical transplant field, and she’s writing a thriller whose central focus is about an illegally obtained organ. Her expertise matters a lot — as do her contacts in the medical world.

Fiction authors are scrutinized for the other aspects of platform as well: contacts, previous books, previous media, social media, readership, ability to execute. It may take getting a book or two under your belt to grow a readership (which is why there’s a case for novelists to kick off their own careers through indie publishing), but no, you’re not off the hook.

Building your author platform is a process

If you’re a writer who wants to publish in any capacity, author platform can be a difficult thing to wrap your mind around. What’s expected of you can feel overwhelming, if not insurmountable. In addition to teaching and writing about platform, I’m growing my own, so I empathize with the glazed-over looks I sometimes get from authors who ask me questions like, “Do I really have to do all of this if I want to be a published author?”

The key is to take it slow. For writers who are just beginning, it can feel like you’re coming really late to a party that’s been going on for years — and that’s in essence exactly what’s happening. If you look at someone who has thousands upon thousands of Twitter followers, it’s likely they were an early adopter.

Remember that what you bring to the table already — just by being you — comprises a large part of the pie: expertise, personality, and ability to execute. With this you at least have a foundation, and possibly, with the right project, enough to land a deal. But most authors need to start to layer on the rest of the components in order to prove to a publishing house that they’re worth a bet. No matter how good they think your book might be, if an editorial board can’t justify its sales potential, they simply won’t offer you a contract.

Remember this sometimes hard-to-swallow fact: getting rejections is often not about how good your book is, or whether it deserves to be published. It’s about editorial boards weighing whether they think they can sell thousands of copies of your book — a tall order for any author. Your platform is an engine working for you to meet that goal, and all you can do is to keep growing it, a day at a time.

At the end of the day, none of this is science. Some authors receive many rejections before self-publishing bestsellers (Still Alice, by Lisa Genova); some authors get deals based solely on their social media presence (Sh*t My Dad Says, by Justin Halpern); and some authors have no platform but manage to land book deals anyway. (Don’t look to the outliers to make a case for not attending to your platform, though.)

Platform-building is a fine balance between being authentic and pushing yourself outside your comfort zone as much as you can — but not to the point where you’re overwhelmed and paralyzed. Take it a day at a time, and don’t be hard on yourself if you feel behind. Building your platform is a marathon, not a sprint. You will get there, but it takes time.

What have you found successful when it comes to your author platform? What parts do you like best or find most challenging?

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Brooke Warner is founder of Warner Coaching Inc., publisher of She Writes Press, and author of What's Your Book? and How to Sell Your Memoir. Brooke teaches platform (among other publishing topics) and is hosting a Summit in California this June for anyone looki... .

Warner Coaching | @brooke_warner

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Comments

  1. I love this pie chart, Brooke, and how you break down all the various pieces of a platform. Thank you!

  2. I agree with Colleen. The image of the pie combined with the subject really pulled me in. I needed to visualize my platform and be able to slice it into the right portions. Thank you for doing it for me.

  3. Brooke Warner says:

    Thanks, Colleen! I appreciate you taking the time to read and comment.

  4. Thanks Brooke, a really useful article! I’ve written a memoir of my time volunteering in Uganda and am learning that to get it published requires a strong author platform. On Monday I launched my blog – http://www.ileftmyheartinuganda.com and on the first day had over 1,000 views which was really encouraging! I hadn’t had a strong social media presence until now but am really working to build it. Articles such as this one are a huge help so thanks and keep them coming!

  5. Brooke,

    This is an excellent article! It offers great insight into the mind of the acquisition editor. I also love the pie chart.

  6. Julie Richardson says:

    Thanks for this article and especially the pie chart. Being visual, I now better understand where my strengths and weaknesses lie and what I need to do to beef up my platform.

  7. I love the visual here and of course, I’m trying to evaluate how I’m doing. Would you consider newspapaer articles as previous media even if the content isn’t related to my fiction project? I write a couple times a month for the OC Register on topics relating to parenting and our community. Thanks for the great article!

    • Brooke Warner says:

      Yeah, Jenn. My home paper! I would say that the articles you write aren’t super helpful to your fiction platform. It doesn’t hurt, but it’s more that it would be contributing to your expertise and your “professionalism” rather than counting as media experience. It’s hard if you are writing fiction and nonfiction because you kind of have a bifurcated platform, and a lot of writers who do this end up trying to build up their two separate platforms individually. Overwhelming to think about, I know.

  8. Kimberly A. Edwards says:

    We’re in a content-driven world. World is still round, but expertise calls it.

  9. Brooke — This is such a great post and I absolutely LOVE the pie chart. Thanks for contributing! ~Alexis

  10. I agree with the others – the pie chart is so valuable as an author to know!
    Dorit Sasson
    Giving Voice to Your Story
    http://www.GivingaVoicetotheVoicelessBook.com

  11. Great post Brooke. Your influence and message are calming. Impatience and anxiety are such byproducts of the platform building process.
    One of the most rewarding aspects of my experience building my presence as an author in the world is relationships with readers on my blog. I love hearing from them. I recently added the Disqus widget to my comment stream and this has aided the conversational tone that makes that activity lively.
    But, if I take a step back, this is just part of the answer- one of the highlights of this long process for me is discovering who my readers are, who is a potential reader and what parts of my work are most appealing or attractive- in a magnetic way.
    Thank you, as always, for great guidance Brooke.
    Stop by Laundry Line Divine anytime! You and SheWrites have had a big influence on my work.
    Best,

    Suzi

    • Brooke Warner says:

      Love this, Suzi:

      one of the highlights of this long process for me is discovering who my readers are, who is a potential reader and what parts of my work are most appealing or attractive- in a magnetic way.

      I agree. Me too. 🙂

  12. Kate Farrell says:

    Great article, Brooke! Short and to the point. Good platform building is a tricky balance to maintain. I can be truly annoyed by self promotional posts, clogging up my daily news feed. What maybe is between the lines, but something that you practice, Brooke, in creating your own platform is the quality of being of service or benefit to others in your posts and in your personal appearances. Promoting others is part of networking, but essential to writers—a high tide raises all ships or something like that! I did share your post with a listserv of writers who happen to be discussing platform this week: a Work in Progress group of Story Circle Network ladies, mostly down in Texas. Thanks for the great graphic!

  13. Excellent article Brooke, I’ll definitely be using it for my platform. In the past year since taking the course you and Linda Joy offered, Write your book in 6 months, I took the next 12 months after the course revising my query, proposal and first two chapters! Now complete (!) with my editors nod I’m off to query 6 agents interested in my story. But, still… the looming platform-got to get on that now. Thanks!

  14. Thank you for this article Brooke! Author platform is something I’ve really been trying learn more about and this was very helpful. It gives me confidence that I’m heading in the right direction while still showing me areas I can improve on. Thanks!

  15. This article is very informative and well thought out. I enjoyed reading from the perspective of a book-buyer. The only disagreement I’d make regarding the pie chart is an excess of one strength (say expertise) could easily make up for a lack of another (say personality).

    Also, one of the things I’ve learned in my short time working on building my own platform is it’s much like successfully marketing your books. Do 5 things (big or small) every day and they begin to add up. And it helps to keep from feeling overwhelmed at the thought of all the things you should be doing.

    • Brooke Warner says:

      I’m sure you’re right, RJ. That’s sort of the nature of pie charts, though, since they’re not fluid. But I totally agree. 🙂

  16. Brooke, in a shrill world of “have to’s,” yours is a calming voice of reason and experience. Thank you for sharing it.

    Off to tweet the same!

  17. Hi Brooke,

    Superb post! And great pie chart!

    I’ve been saying much of this for quite a while, but you’ve done such a fabulous job of putting it all together in a way writers can understand–from an editor’s point of view.

    It’s tough to hear that landing a deal or having a book succeed isn’t about the idea or the writing. It’s one in a million books that just takes off for those reasons (unfortunately). Platform is the foundation for promotion, and it’s the proof that a writer will help sell books.

    Thanks so much for this post. I’ll be sharing.

    • Brooke Warner says:

      I enjoyed your post today, too, Nina, and will comment there shortly. We’re for sure on the same wave-length! xx

      • We surely are, Brooke! I’m working on my weekly prompt on the same topic and want to know if I can use your pie chart for reference…just emailed you. I’ll refer back to this article as well.

        • Thank you for a great post. I am new to the writing craft, novels, but I have been writing papers for most of my career. I get the impression that a writing platform mean a website, facebook, twitter, and email. Answering the comments from your reader should be very important.

  18. I launched my author platform in 2010. About that time, I read a nugget by Seth Godin that said something to the effect that the time to start building your author platform is three years before you publish. I thought, Really? Here I am three years later and I feel I’m just starting to get it! “Take it slow” is so true. Thanks for the great advice, Brooke.

  19. Thank you for such a helpful post, Brooke! I am working on my debut novel. When I first decided to write again (after not writing since college, back in the early 1990’s), I knew that I would need to start a platform. I knew that I would be writing fiction. I felt like a fish out of water since it had been so long since I’d written anything, and I had never submitted anything. I started a review blog, Facebook page, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Goodreads. It does seem overwhelming. I don’t get a lot of hits on my blog, because it is sporadic when I can post. I don’t have time to read as much as I used to, of course I do read, but finding time to fit everything in, can sometimes be quite a chore. I am retired now and have some health issues as well. It has taken me a long time to get followers on some social media, but it is coming. I have about 2,853 Twitter followers, 1,249 Facebook, I not too sure about the rest. Earlier, you responded that writing articles or other non-fiction wasn’t necessarily a good prior media for a fiction writer. As a beginner trying to establish a readership is a daunting task. I have published one short story in an anthology. Would you suggest writing a few short stories first, while working on the novel? I am wondering if that would be how I can have something to offer while I work on it, so others will be aware of my writing prior to my book. I am currently thinking about self-publication. Do you have any ideas for me? Thanks for your help!

    • Brooke Warner says:

      Yes, Rebecca, publishing short stories can be quite good for your platform. Publishing in anthologies, or in literary magazines. Even certain online venues. Your social media numbers are pretty good, so I would just keep that up, but also continue to publish. You might also consider publishing one of your stories (or a short collection) as an ebook. I think another important aspect of platform is having a strong website that has a database element attached to it (Mailchimp, iContact, etc.). You might consider what you can give away for free to try to incentivize people to give you their contact info. I hope some of these ideas help. Good luck!

      • Thanks so much for the suggestions. I have been considering putting together a newsletter, but I don’t know how to go about it. My site is the free Wordpress.com setup. I have my blog on there, and I been considering a website too for some time. I know that it’s possible to make my existing blog into a site, but I’m concerned about the limitations of what is possible to do with a free site. You have definitely given me something to think about. Thanks again!

  20. Hi Brooke,

    Thanks for this informative guide and pie chart for newbies. I have a story to tell and I don’t know how to generate reads to my blog. I have been working on this novel since 2007.

    It’s nearly finished I keep revising, adding chapters, critiquing until recently I read somewhere that list mistakes new authors make. That’s trying to make the book perfect and no book is perfect. So I stop trying …lol. But I read everything because I want to be a successful writer. Checkout an insert of my novel and please leave a comment. http://bookthechase.blogspot.com

    Thanks again

  21. Wow! What a great article. Thank you. Yesterday I spent most of the day working on my google+ profile and learning how to use it. It’s overwhelming to say the least, but I know is necessary. This morning I wasn’t looking forward to getting back to it and was feeling a little anxious. Then, I came across your article. Talk about timing! Seeing your pie chart gave me a new perspective, not only on what I need to work on, but also on everything I’ve accomplished so far and which at times I seem to forget.

    Thank you very much for this article–it gave me that little “push” I needed this morning.

    • It’d be nice to be part of a group/forum/circle that’s in the same boat as I am — starting to create an author’s platform. A discussion group where we can share where we are in the process, what we learned, the challenges we face, and basically help each other. Any recommendations? Thanks!

      • Brooke Warner says:

        Great idea, Pat. One space might be She Writes. The groups there are very active, but I don’t know if there’s a platform group. There should be! I also recommend Dan Blank’s GET READ, which is an open FB group. He is a social media and platform guy, and you might be able to engage with fellow platform-builders there. Good luck!

  22. Stellar post, Brooke…and brilliant pie chart! Thank you so very much for giving me a visual of where my priorities need to be. Social media/platform/contacts are important…but the substance of the book (and me) must not be ignored or forgotten. 🙂

  23. Thanks Brooke I am in the process of writing a book and learning to write a book at the same time. very valuable info

  24. Thank you so much for this. It’s a subject that fascinates and terrifies me. I spend so much time trying to develop my audience and grow a platform. I really appreciate seeing the many facets of platforms so well depicted in the pie. Cheers!

  25. Annie Fong says:

    Thank you so much Brooke or the insight on what is a platform?

  26. David LeBlanc says:

    Thank you Brooke, for a very informative post. Having just started on the path of writing my first novel, there is so much information out there on what one should be doing…and it can be overwhelming. While I am getting into the routine of writing, there are a host of other things that need to happen if I am to be successful. Your article allowed me to take a big sigh of relief, viewing this as a marathon.
    Thank you for that!
    David

  27. Emily Shore says:

    I’ve felt very discouraged over this issue. As a bookseller for 5 years, i spent a good amount of time connecting with people in person, and it meant more to me than all the months I spent trying to connect with readers on Good Reads, communicating with bloggers, or promoting myself on FB. None of it paid off for my self published books, and I still hear word of mouth is the best source for promotion. If that’s true, why are agents/publishers so concerned with social media if word of mouth is the best promotion tool? I’m starting to check into indie publishers now because the self publishing route didn’t lead me anywhere. I have a very tough time connecting with strangers online and much prefer human interaction.

    • Thanks for your comment, Emily. You’re not alone. Many people feel frustrated by author platform; lots of writers I know are downright resentful that they have to do it. But the important thing is to be measured. Focus on what you like best, in-person connection, but do some online connecting as well. Like everything, it’s about a healthy balance. But the world of publishing has certainly changed DRAMATICALLY. It’s a little crazy, actually. Thanks for your comment and sharing your experience.

  28. Aisha Hunt says:

    I am writing my first fiction novel and often feel completely out of my element. The reason why is because the more I research about the writing process, publishing, and blogging I realize it can be more complicated than I anticipated. Reading your article has both overwelmed me all over again, yet I feel more clear about how the other things I’ve researched play a part in this marathon.

  29. Thanks so much Brooke Warner, this is exciting and overwhelming at the same time. Like Aisha am also writing my first fiction novel and finding it both daunting and exciting work and feel out of depth but am determined to write and finish my first novel anyway. I have just created my first blog in order to share my writing experiences and travels with my readers.

    • Brooke, Thank you for the encouraging and informative post. Although I’ve published five books I belatedly see the need for an author platform. I appreciate you getting me started. Love the pie chart. Dell Isham, author of “Rock Springs Revenge.”

  30. Brooke,

    I’ve completed more than 10 manuscripts for novels over the years, but was always bouncing between genres. I believe I have finally found my genre (or sub-genre), Men’s Christian Fiction (domain of authors like Dan Walsh, Paul Meier and Athol Dickson). I have completed my first novel in this genre and have started a follow-up novel.

    I had never heard of “platform” until I downloaded Michael Hyatt’s “The Complete Guide to Literary Agents Who Represent Christian Authors.” Most of my knowledge of the field was from a very good regional writer’s group in the late 1980s and early 1990s. I also went to a weekend seminar in the early 2000s. From this blog, I see that I am behind the times!

    How far along in the platform-building process do we need to be before an agent is likely to take a chance on us? Or, would some agents like to help in crafting (or at least fine-tuning) a new author’s platform?

Trackbacks

  1. […] Author and former acquiring editor Brooke Warner on the importance of author platform. […]

  2. […] Author Platform. Here’s What the Fuss Is About […]

  3. […] Author Platform – Here’s What All the Fuss is About by @brooke_warner via @thewritelife […]

  4. […] Warner has posted a beautiful pie chart of what an author platform is made of on The Write Life.  The post examines what an editor is looking for in an author platform, in order to take them on. […]

  5. […] terms, is a built-in audience in a target market for your book. If you have not taken the time to build a platform, you won’t be able to help promote your […]

  6. […] 5) Author Platform: Here’s What all the Fuss is about. There is some great buzz about this concept but I think it simply means to be visible. It still is difficult. Although I love social media and would waste days away on it, I’ve decided to take this serious and build my platform before my first books will be released. I hope by then I will have at least a fraction of the world’s readership. http://thewritelife.com/author-platform/ […]

  7. […] in May I wrote a post called “Author Platform: Here’s What All the Fuss Is About,” in which I broke down the components of a platform like […]

  8. […] in May I wrote a post called “Author Platform: Here’s What All the Fuss Is About,” in which I broke down the components of a platform like […]

  9. […] in May I wrote a post called “Author Platform: Here’s What All the Fuss Is About,” in which I broke down the components of a platform like […]

  10. […] in May I wrote a post called “Author Platform: Here’s What All the Fuss Is About,” in which I broke down the components of a platform like […]

  11. […] in May I wrote a post called “Author Platform: Here’s What All the Fuss Is About,” in which I broke down the components of a platform like […]

  12. […] in May I wrote a post called “Author Platform: Here’s What All the Fuss Is About,” in which I broke down the components of a platform like […]

  13. […] Platform is what a writer brings to selling a book in addition to her writing. It’s your expertise in your subject (which mostly applies to non-fiction), your following on social media and your blog; plus your contacts, personality, previously published work, and your message. It is also who you are and how you live. […]

  14. […] written a lot about platform (notably here and here). And while you can land a deal without much of a platform, you can’t if you are not […]

  15. […] written a lot about platform (notably here and here). And while you can land a deal without much of a platform, you can’t if you are not […]

  16. […] climate, though I think this is more true for novelists than other types of writers. Getting there, however, is not just about locking down one single piece of the puzzle. You're not going to land a […]

  17. […] right? Good news: it’s not all about social media and blogging. The Write Life has a handy pie chart of what editors are really looking for in your author […]

  18. […] if we’re not entirely sure how to build or maintain one. I’ve detailed the importance of an author platform before on The Write Life, and highlighted the fact that it’s not all about social […]

  19. […] Actually, even if you prefer not to go the indie publishing route, most major publishers expect their authors to have already begun building relationships with their readers. […]

  20. […] found this helpful graphic about author platforms here at “The Write Life.” For non-fiction authors, your platform consists of traits that are both […]

  21. […] of platform, Brooke Warner describes the makeup of a successful author platform, while Rachel Thompson explains how to build an audience before you have a […]

  22. […] get, that’s one thing. But if you’re using a blog as a means to build your writing network and platform, you’re probably curious about what you can do to attract a bigger readership” Chuck Sambuchina […]

  23. […] are good discussions of the exact meaning here and here. But the point is, you have to have […]

  24. […] don’t have a platform. I hear that’s one of the most important aspects of a query, but I don’t have that. I […]

  25. […] Warner, over at The Write Life has some great advice that I need to keep in mind and you might too. She says: “The key is […]

  26. […] different story, more on that here from Rachelle Gardner who does represent a lot of nonfiction and here from Brooke Warner who works with a lot of nonfiction writers. However, I do like to see if the […]

  27. […] Publishers having more money and more weight to throw around means that those authors at the top will keep getting their huge (and now maybe huger) advances, and that agents and editors will keep scouting for “big books,” which during my time as an editor for the Perseus Books Group meant “sure bets.” Sure bets come in the form of proven authors, authors with celebrity connections, and authors with huge existing author platforms. (If you don’t know what an author platform is, read this.) […]

  28. […] Publishers having more money and more weight to throw around means that those authors at the top will keep getting their huge (and now maybe huger) advances, and that agents and editors will keep scouting for “big books,” which during my time as an editor for the Perseus Books Group meant “sure bets.” Sure bets come in the form of proven authors, authors with celebrity connections, and authors with huge existing author platforms. (If you don’t know what an author platform is, read this.) […]

  29. […] About author platform in the write life. This was a great pie chart showing what to focus on. […]

  30. […] featured on http://www.thewritelife.com and created by editor Brooke Warner of She Writes Press as part of Brooke’s blog post about why author platform is so important. (I suggest you read […]

  31. […] About author platform in the writer’s life. This was a great pie chart showing what to focus on. […]

  32. […] Publishers having more money and more weight to throw around means that those authors at the top will keep getting their huge (and now maybe huger) advances, and that agents and editors will keep scouting for “big books,” which during my time as an editor for the Perseus Books Group meant “sure bets.” Sure bets come in the form of proven authors, authors with celebrity connections, and authors with huge existing author platforms. (If you don’t know what an author platform is, read this.) […]

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