Avoid this Platform-Building Mistake

Write without Crushing Your Soul 500 longGuest Blogger: Ed Cyzewski

New authors routinely hear that they should build their marketing platforms by publishing articles in print magazines. There’s one problem with this advice: it rarely helps authors actually sell books.

There are exceptions to this, and I’ll get to them. But I’ve spoken to publicists and authors, and examined my own book releases, and I’m convinced that print magazine articles rarely convert into book sales or fans who will eventually buy a book. If a platform is supposed to help you sell books, then publishing in print magazines should be a low priority on your “platform building list.”

One award-winning reporter and widely published magazine writer I know noted that she rarely sees growth to her online platform through her magazine or newspaper work. “People just read the articles,” she shared. “They rarely look for the by-line.” One popular print and online magazine columnist shared the same experience with me after her second book failed to hit sales goals.

What should aspiring and experienced authors do to grow their marketing platforms if they aren’t writing for magazines? Are online magazine articles more effective than print magazine articles? And is there any hope for authors with experience writing for magazines?

Invest in what You Can Do

I’m not the best magazine writer around, but I genuinely enjoy blogging and have invested significant time into it. As a result, I’ve been approached by at least five editors from Christian publishing houses based on my blog. These days I aim to write something relatively long, audience-specific, and “evergreen” each week.

While I’ve seen no notable gains in my platform or my book sales from my articles in top print magazines, each blog post provides readers an opportunity to either join my email list (in exchange for two free eBooks) or follow me on social media. Blogging is a slow build, but it is a build that is working toward a viable end.

Authors need not throw themselves into blogging. A personal note each week or every other week through an email newsletter or a niche podcast can prove just as effective. Author Seth Haines has invested a great deal in his Tiny Letters (Tiny Letter is a scaled down version of MailChimp), while bestselling author Tsh Oxenreider reaches her readers through her podcast.

Build an Email List through Short eBooks

Short eBooks are a tried and true way for both commercial and independent authors to build their email lists and to prompt new readers to check out their full-length books. If you swing by NoiseTrade Books, an eBook giveaway site that lets users download eBooks by entering their email addresses and zip codes, you’ll find many bestselling Christian authors sharing books there, including Don Miller and Ally Vesterfelt. I give away several eBooks through NoiseTrade and have more than doubled my email list.
New authors should be especially eager to publish a short eBook in the 10-20,000 word range. It will provide invaluable experience in writing for a specific audience and book marketing before you have a book deal on the line with a publisher that has specific sales goals.

Learn How to Advertise Your Books

If you go the short eBook route, then you may find that publishing a few short or long independent books will help prepare you for a longer-term career with a publisher.

For instance, independent authors and commercial publishers have used price promotions and discounts as ways to spark pre-sales, encourage early reviews, or to revive an older title. Along with these price promotions, there are many services and Twitter accounts that make it easier to share these deals and give them a longer lifespan that could translate into more print sales and a longer period of time on the eBook bestseller lists when your book returns to full price.

Whether you try out Facebook ads, guest posts on high profile blogs, articles for an online news site in your niche, or some other promotion, independently releasing a book or two before querying a publisher will provide some real life book marketing experience so that you have a better idea of what works best for you and your readers.

When I promoted Write without Crushing Your Soul to my email list, I quickly learned that readers were far more receptive to a personal note about the book’s writing process than a simple overview of the book’s content.

Authentically Connect with Readers on Social Media

I entered publishing back when authors were first getting shoved onto Twitter and Facebook. We were told this would help us sell books, and far too many of us found that this wasn’t necessarily always the case.
Rather, social media provides a place for us to authentically connect with our readers, and sometimes the sales will follow if we provide the right kind of book. I’ve found that the authors who connect with readers through hashtag conversations on Twitter or niche groups on Facebook have far more meaningful interactions that are much more likely to result in readers buying a book in the future.

For instance, author Cindy Brandt (now a client of Rachelle’s at Books & Such) created an amazing group called Raising Children Unfundamentalist around her next book project, and the group is already a thriving community. On Twitter, check out the way author Emily Freeman created a conversation around the hashtag #SimplyTuesday.

So… Should Authors Write for Magazines?

While there are many other ways to promote yourself and your work outside of traditional print magazine publishing, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consider it. Some authors have built up a loyal following through writing for a particular magazine, especially in a niche market.

Authors with a background in journalism are especially suited for the research, querying, and unique style of writing that magazines require. In addition, a few published articles in relevant magazines can indicate to publishers that you have both the credibility and professionalism to write a book for them.
Most importantly, there’s a big difference between platform building and actively selling books. Many authors gain newsletter subscribers and social media followers through publishing articles for online magazines, but posting an article in an online magazine is not necessarily a sure bet for directly selling books from the article itself. In fact, strategies vary from project to project and from publisher to publisher.

Publicists Remain Divided Over Marketing

Having worked or spoken with several Christian publishers, I’ve found book marketing strategies and tactics vary from one publisher to another. Book marketing is a moving target, and there’s hardly a consensus on the best mix of new and old media marketing.

It’s true that some authors have used timely, shareable magazine or newspaper articles (especially online) to generate book sales. It’s especially helpful that these authors have books that are easy to find in the front of local bookstores or online retail sites!

Print magazine articles can help a few authors sell a few books. They can help most authors demonstrate credibility to an editor. They will not help the majority of authors sell books because far too many magazine readers will enjoy a well-written piece, think “That was nice,” and then go on with the day.

coffee-ed-cyzewskiThis is post adapted from Write without Crushing Your Soul: Sustainable Publishing and Freelancing.

Ed Cyzewski
is the author of A Christian Survival Guide, Pray, Write, Grow, and Write without Crushing Your Soul. He blogs about prayer and writing at www.edcyzewski.com.

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Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Books & Such Literary Agency. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!


  1. […] On the social media front, Frances Caballo asks writers to consider whether you are engaging with your readers. If you’re working on building your platform, Ed Cyzewski explains why writing for print magazines is a platform-building mistake for most writers. […]

  2. James Michael Taylor on February 15, 2016 at 11:29 AM

    Great article, Ed!

    I come from a newspaper background, and I’d only add to the conversation that the quality of response you get from print articles and marketing depends a great deal on the quality of the publication.

    Different publications have different cultures and voices, and thus attract different kinds of readers. An article on Huffington Post is not an article in Entrepreneur, which is not an article in Monocle.

    Exceptional publications (by nature, there are few) draw exceptional readership, and a huge part of what makes them exceptional is engagement. That engagement fostered by the publication leads to an active, loyal, zealous, valuable readership that actually reads bylines, follows authors, buys books, patronizes advertisers… Everybody wins.

    As you narrow down how you’ll spend your promotional time, consider the culture those print publications foster before making your final decision. (honestly, most are mediocre, and thus get mediocre results – tread wisely)

  3. Jay Lemming on February 13, 2016 at 3:12 PM

    As you mentioned, Ed, a lot of readers don’t check bylines. But blogs that are smartly written, especially those that pose questions at the end, invite comments from readers, which provides a great opportunity to begin a dialogue. All you can do with a byline is “hope” someone likes your story enough to do some work and check you out. Building a blog audience may take a while but it is definitely worth it from the perspective of audience engagement. Jay

  4. Cyndi Perkins on February 10, 2016 at 5:22 PM

    Thanks for the thought-provoking commentary. Magazine-article writing may not be advised for the Christian field, but in other genres that’s where the audience is – and they DO notice names, for example first-person cruising stories in boating magazines. Also, the magazines where you have published articles and established a relationship are the mags most likely to review your book. And if you want to establish your cred as an expert, bylines in the glossies are just the thing. I just wish more of the magazines had active links to e-versions. Also, magazine articles make awesome social media posts as opposed to two of the things mentioned that turn me off: annoying Twitter ebook sale announcements and (yawn) ‘download my free ebook’ enticements. I encourage all authors to evaluate which print publications might be a good fit for them and explore how that authentic connectivity can lead to book sales. That’s part of my strategy mix for my novel debut later this year. And also plays into ways to riff on the research I’m doing for the next book!

  5. Chery Barker on February 8, 2016 at 9:11 AM

    Ed, thanks so much for this post. Came at just the right time for me as I prepare to market my book coming out in June. I’ve already given some time to coming up with ideas for magazine articles and researching some magazines, etc, so I really appreciate your insight into how effective that whole approach might be. Good info to know. Thanks!

    • ed cyzewski on February 8, 2016 at 12:44 PM

      Glad to help! And from what I’ve seen, what you do will change based on your lead time to release. Building an email list is certainly more of a long term plan, but I’m not sure what someone with more experience would recommend as far as timelines go. All the best to you!

  6. hsdeurloo on February 8, 2016 at 5:45 AM

    Great Post! thank you for sharing the Christian perspective!

    • ed cyzewski on February 8, 2016 at 12:41 PM

      You’re welcome! I suspect the same holds true in other markets, but I can only speak from my experience.

  7. David Rupert on February 7, 2016 at 10:15 PM

    I personally love magazine writing. It’s just the right length for me to exercise my brain and doesn’t lead to the exasperation of a book. Maybe one doesn’t feed the other but I’m happy with that duality.

    • ed cyzewski on February 8, 2016 at 12:40 PM

      Oh, absolutely. My main concern is that writers who think book-length thoughts and have never tried to write for a magazine will try to branch into a marketing avenue that leave them struggling.