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

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

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.

What is author platform?

Many aspiring authors believe that platform is all about social media, but in fact Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest 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 examples of strong author platform

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.

Author 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.

This is an updated version of a story that was previously published. We update our posts as often as possible to ensure they’re useful for our readers.

Photo via Dean Drobot / Shutterstock 

Filed Under: Marketing


  • 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. 🙂

  • Pat says:

    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.

    • Pat says:

      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!

  • Regina says:

    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.

    Thanks again

  • 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 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!

  • Debra Eve says:

    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.

  • Nina Amir says:

    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

      • Nina Amir says:

        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.

  • 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!

  • RJ Licata says:

    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. 🙂

  • DelSheree says:

    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!

  • Susan says:

    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!

  • 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!

  • 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.


    • 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. 🙂

  • Dorit Sasson says:

    I agree with the others – the pie chart is so valuable as an author to know!
    Dorit Sasson
    Giving Voice to Your Story

  • Alexis Grant says:

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

  • Kimberly A. Edwards says:

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

  • Jenn Hale says:

    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.

  • 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.

  • Brooke,

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

  • 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 – 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!

  • Brooke Warner says:

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

  • 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.

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

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