What if You Build It, and They Don’t Come?

I want to say a little something here that nobody seems to be saying. Here it is:

It can be more painful to publish a book that nobody buys… than to never have published a book at all.

Do you agree with me?


If you’ve published a book, you have the excitement of holding it in your hand, seeing your name on the cover. You’ll see it for sale at online retailers and have it on your shelf at home, and you’ll have the satisfaction of attaining a goal. But if the book doesn’t sell—if the publisher cancels it after a year, if you never get a royalty check beyond your advance—it can be distressing.

This is a good reason for you to WANT to build a platform. Why would you go to all that trouble of writing a book, spending months or years of your life, only to have hardly anyone read it?

Now, we know there is only so much that’s in your control. Building a platform involves many elements outside your circle of influence. And even if you have a strong platform, it doesn’t guarantee your book will sell. But you’ll probably feel better if you at least did your due diligence—you worked on your platform and your did your best to get your book in front of people. You wouldn’t want to wonder if maybe your book would have done better if you’d taken everybody’s advice and worked a little harder at finding your following and growing your tribe.

Buyers have so many options, it’s mind-boggling. You’re a book buyer, so you know this. You can’t possibly buy all the books that interest you! And there are so many books you’ve never even heard of that would probably interest you if you knew about them.

But, if you hear a speaker at your women’s retreat and you love her message, you might want to buy her book. If your favorite weekly newspaper columnist had a book out, you might buy it. If your favorite podcaster published a book, you might buy it. That’s the idea behind platform. How are you going to bring buyers to the checkout stand?

I believe there are few things more disappointing than actually getting that book deal, only to have the whole thing tank. Adding insult to injury, this can also make it difficult to get future publishing deals. You probably want to do everything in your power to try and keep that from happening.

And what’s within your power, besides writing a good book? Building the strongest platform you can.

What do you think? Does it make you any more eager to build a platform?


Photo by freestocks.org on Unsplash

Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Gardner Literary. 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. Ruth A. Douthitt on February 2, 2018 at 10:21 AM

    Thanks for this post, Rachelle. Thanks for giving us some hope and a place to vent our frustrations! LOL.

    Having a platform is becoming harder and harder for writers. Goodreads just added another roadblock for us to conduct giveaways for free. Facebook is cracking down on advertising. Twitter, well, it’s never really been a good conduit for networking or marketing, especially now with all those “bots” out there messing up the data. And blogs aren’t as popular as they used to be. Writers (trad or indie) have an uphill climb. But if we have a good story and a pleasing product (book cover, expertly edited content, etc), we have a shot! Being willing to bend and break is important. I have learned this and am writing both fiction and nonfiction to make myself more marketable. I still have my full time job with the hopes of someday being a full time writer. One step at a time…

  2. Amanda on February 2, 2018 at 7:38 AM

    I love your straightforward yet sympathetic style, Rachelle! This article is a great encouragement to me to stop worrying and get to work!

  3. Andres Kabel on February 1, 2018 at 3:29 PM

    Just the right post for the times. I know so many writers grappling with both the issues you highlight: (i) in a world with more books even less discoverable by readers, why publish?; (ii) in the brave new world of platforms, when the fate of most platforms is obscurity, why build one? Both these issues are existential. We know luck plays a huge part (notwithstanding talent and effort) and we know failure is likely, so what adds most meaning to our lives, going ahead or tilting at something else? For my part, my existential answer is to write and aim for publication, and to build a platform that’s fully engaging to work on.

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  6. Pam Halter on January 28, 2008 at 11:26 AM

    >To answer lurkermonkey about scheduling school events: yes, just call them. Most schools are thrilled to have a local author come and visit.

    You’ll need to decide if you want to volunteer your time or if you want to charge a fee. Right now, I give my time to my husband’s school, but I would charge a fee if another school wanted me.

  7. canvaschild on January 25, 2008 at 8:45 PM

    >I know this to be true, living vicariously through my friend who self-published. She is now sitting at home with piles of her own book, feeling more depressed every day about getting up and marketing something she herself is losing faith in. At the same time, when no one else believes in your product, and it’s burning deeply inside of you, do you take the plunge and, risking rejection, self-publish just to put out the fire? Emily.

  8. Nancy I. Sanders on January 25, 2008 at 2:46 PM

    >One thing I like to recommend to authors is to “piggyback” for better sales. If your book is a bedtime book with a mother in it, piggyback on “Mother’s Day” and arrange a book signing event to celebrate the holiday. (This works for nearly every holiday your book could be related to.) If your local school has a bookfair, offer to “piggyback” at the event and sign your own books–with pre-order forms going out to every kid and teacher in the school, it’s a great way to increase those sales. If you’re thinking of a new manuscript to write, study a publisher’s product list and look for a series to “piggyback” and send a query in for it–the publisher already has lots of money invested into marketing that series and your book will get much better attention once it’s in print! I’ve found out the hard way that the “lone ranger” approach to writing puts a book out of print fast. But if you “piggyback” on an already working successful sales angle, then your book’s sales will automatically increase.

    -Nancy I. Sanders

  9. LurkerMonkey on January 25, 2008 at 10:56 AM


    That’s a great idea! Can you just set that kind of thing up yourself–although I guess if they buy it, they’ll probably have a mechanism for this sort of thing. I never thought of it. I volunteered in my son’s school for years, and I loved it. Thanks!

  10. Pam Halter on January 25, 2008 at 9:52 AM

    >It’s much more painful to publish a book that nobody buys, than to never have published a book at all.

    I think it depends on the person. Some people are content to have something in print. It doesnt’ matter to them if anyone buys it or if they ever publish anything again. I think it has to do with pride and telling people they are a published author.

    Lurkermonkey ~ one way to reach out to kids is to offer to teach writing workshops in schools. Most teachers LOVE to have an author come visit and talk with the kids. I do this on a regular basis at the school where my DH teaches. It’s fun and kids can’t wait to read my books.

  11. LurkerMonkey on January 25, 2008 at 9:02 AM

    >This I wonder about … I know the importance of platform, but it seems like it’s more suited to nonfiction (business, self-help, etc.), or even genre/specialized fiction (romance, Christian, etc.). Just yesterday, I finished rewrites for a YA novel that is under consideration at a major house. I don’t know if they’ll buy it (’cause there is no deal until there’s a deal), but the signs are promising. The first draft went through committee already and the exec. editor has taken the project under her wing. She wants it to work–she provided the rewrite notes. All well and good … My audience is kids–but I’m thinking really my audience is teachers and parents. Although it’s fiction, there are elements of this book that would make it PERFECT for suggested classroom reading. My thinking, if it gets bought, is to approach all the curriculum/reading committees/AR groups and see if I can get them to recommend this book to their teachers, who will in turn recommend it to students. I think I’d have a decent shot at getting into classes because 1) it has strong educational elements (in addition to be fun and adventerous, I hope) and 2) it will be published by a house that specializes in reaching schools. Otherwise, how would you suggest one reaches a middle school audience? A cool, interactive web site, perhaps?