A Million Screaming Fans
or… A Platform is More than a Bunch of Twitter Followers
People are always asking me, “What constitutes platform? How many Twitter followers? How many Facebook friends?”
Listen, a platform is not all about those numbers. Take a step back, look at the bigger picture, and ask yourself: What have I done to bring potential book buyers to the table? How many people are out there who know my name, already appreciate my work, and would pay twenty bucks to read something I’ve written? Could I fill a stadium with screaming fans? (Or at least fill a medium-sized theater with respectful readers?)
Seth Godin, in Tribes, says 1,000 is the magic number. If you have 1,000 diehard, follow-you-wherever-you-go fans, you can do anything. That’s not just a thousand people who’ve heard of you, or read your blog once, or heard you speak once. That’s a thousand people who will talk you up, buy your stuff, and show up to see you in person. Godin’s hypothesis may not be the gospel on platform, but it’s a good start.
Keep in mind that there are many ways to create a platform—it’s not all about blogging and Twitter. Social media can be extremely powerful, when used correctly, and a significant social media presence can be enough. But in addition to that, anything that draws attention to you and gets people acquainted with you can be part of platform building.
Let’s talk more specifically about the three different kinds of author and their platform requirements:
The bar is getting higher for non-fiction authors. Rather than wonder “Do I have a big enough platform?” ask yourself, “Have I established myself as a credible expert in my field?” You may need credentials. You may need to be speaking to audiences of 500 or 1,000 or more on a regular basis—not just regular audiences, but audiences full of influencers (e.g. not just MOPS groups, but the national convention of MOPS leaders). You may have a blog with 2,000+ hits a day, and that could suffice.
Pay attention to the fact that more and more information is available for free on the Internet. This means that it’s harder to sell a non-fiction book, because it’s harder for publishers to sell those books. It also means you’ll have to bring more to the table. Credentials. An audience. A fabulous hook, a killer delivery, a massive felt need.
Don’t ever ask, “How many Facebook friends do I need for it to be considered a big enough platform?” Instead, look at the whole package you’ve created. Are you confident you are already bringing enough book-buyers to the table to warrant a major publisher taking a risk on you?
Novelists, your first book will NOT sell based on your platform. It’s all about your book. The agent and editor must love your book idea, love your writing, and want to work with you.
Assuming they already love your book, they’re going to want to see that you understand author marketing and social networking. They’ll be happy if you have a blog with a regular readership, even if it’s small. They’ll be happy if you’re on Twitter and Facebook—not a lot, just enough to show you’re savvy. Eventually down the road when your book is approaching publication, they’ll definitely want you to actively take part in marketing your book. But you don’t have to show “platform” up front. Your platform is really your book.
Ah, memoirists. You have the toughest road. The requirements of both fiction and non-fiction authors apply to you. Platform? You need one. A fabulous book idea and great writing? Yep, that too.
It’s a sliding scale, of course. The more immediately captivating your book is (i.e. “commercial” and “saleable”), the less platform required. But you’ve got to stand out in SOME way.
→ Truly wonderful writing that captures people’s hearts or makes them laugh.
→ A really amazing story, something extraordinary that people find fascinating; maybe something that was widely covered in the news, or something with historical or cultural significance.
→ Or a large audience of people who are already fans: people who read your novels, or your newspaper columns, or your blog.
The best case scenario is a memoir author who has all three of the above elements, but most don’t and it’s okay. If you’re writing a memoir, be brutally honest with yourself. Do you have any of these elements? If not, the odds are against publication with a major house. Decent writing, an interesting story and non-existent plaform aren’t going to cut it.
This is just a brief overview—I could write an entire book on author platform, but I won’t. Let me wrap up with this thought:
There are a lot of writers who have something to share in the non-fiction or memoir realm, maybe some kind of reflection on life, or cancer, or grief, or parenting. Many of you are credentialed, with counseling degrees or doctorates. Many of you are even wonderful writers – with lyrical prose that captivates readers, or hilarious commentary that has people’s coffee sputtering out their nose.
You are all awesome and I salute you. But getting a contract with a major publishing house is not a done deal just because you’re awesome. They may want something you don’t have. They may want more platform than you can ever provide. They may not be buying what you’re selling.
So be sure to look at your options. Can you get satisfaction in writing for free, i.e. blogging? Is your book appropriate for self-publishing? Can you find a way to share your message in a different way? Or maybe you just need to step up the platform-building.
Only you can decide. Just remember you have to do more than gather Twitter followers. You need fans. A whole bunch of dedicated, loyal YOU-fans that you can take to the bank on release day.
Maybe not a million screaming fans. But they couldn’t hurt.