Your Author Platform Is Not Your Social Media Following

I’ve spent the past five or six years not only educating authors about how to build an author platform but also about how to position themselves in such a way that the platform they already have truly shines.


So this week, when I received multiple e-mails asking what I thought about an article on Creative Nonfiction called “Platforms Are ‘Overrated,’” my response was that I was bummed out about it because the author, in equating platform to social media, is so incredibly limited in her scope and understanding of what platform actually is, and she’s promoting a defeatist attitude around the importance of building one.

 

Back 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 this:

 

 social media: 10%
previous media: 10%
previous books: 10%
personality: 10%
existing readership: 10%
contacts: 10%
expertise: 25%
ability to execute: 15%

As you can see, I allotted only 10% to social media. The author of the Creative Nonfiction article is not alone in her misunderstanding about what makes a platform. But book industry professionals are not clueless. They don’t believe that a book can be made or broken on social media alone. I’m sure there are a few exceptions, like the book Sh*t My Dad Says, by Justin Halpern, which exists because the author had an extraordinary Twitter following. But this is not the norm, and it’s a total impulse-buy book. Novels and memoirs and serious nonfiction will never get book deals based on an author’s brilliant Twitter feed, I assure you. 

 

I’m not sure where the idea got seeded that author platform equals social media, but it’s time to dislodge that from your head if you believe it to be true. Social media alone is pretty ineffective at moving people to action. What moves people to action is content, and touching them again and again with really good content—and not ONLY on your social media feeds. I gave expertise such a high percentage of the pie because your expertise dictates your content. Personality is in there because your personality shines through in your writing. Your blog is part of your expertise, but also part of your existing readership. If it’s popular, great, but blogs also DO NOT make or break book deals. They’re kind of like icing on the cake (although if you have a hugely impressive blog then that can carry a lot of weight). What’s infinitely more valuable than how many followers you have on social media is how many people are in your database—and believe me, publishers know this, and they want that data. After all, those are your true followers: the people who have actually given you their e-mail addresses so they can hear from you. A big vote of confidence.

 

In my May article on platform, I wrote about how certain parts of your platform can tip the balance for you, and this is true. I wrote about two authors I’ve worked with who got huge advances, both of whom had zero social media presence when they got their book deals. They got their deals solely based on other parts of the platform equation. I still come into contact with authors all the time who are getting book deals regardless of what I would call their very modest platforms.


One thing the author of the Creative Nonfiction piece and I agree on is that you continuing to write is paramount. I’ve written extensively about the fact that publishing a book is part of building a platform. Many authors today are in need of finding alternative publishing options (self, hybrid, etc.) because the barriers to entry to traditional publishing are so high. For authors struggling to break through, a first book is a calling card, and if it does well it will open doors to those of you who dream to publish traditionally in the future.

 

My two cents here is this. If you want to traditionally publish, platform is not at all “overrated,” because it matters to the publishing industry—to marketing and sales folks especially. To say it’s bullshit is to take an entitled attitude. (Read this article by Steve Almond if you want a better understanding of what I mean by this.) And it’s not about how many followers you have. Platform is about how many people you can reach and how authentic your connection with those people is. There are innumerable vehicles for reaching people (teaching, speaking, performing, interviews, multimedia, articles, guest posts—and yes, social media and blogging too). But how you get your message to people will vary, and the publishing industry is very savvy to this point. What you need to focus on is engaging your readership/audience in conversation. When you have a message people care about, and you present it consistently and well, people get hooked. They listen and they come back for more. This, my friends, is the simplest definition of “platform” there is. Be the voice your readers care to listen to and you will succeed.  

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Comment by Michelle Cox on June 10, 2016 at 8:28pm

Shared, Brooke.  Thanks!

Comment by Joanne C. Hillhouse on December 2, 2014 at 3:53pm

Thanks for this breakdown.

Comment by Lori Duffy Foster on November 6, 2014 at 7:40am

Very well stated!

Comment by Susan Sparks on October 10, 2014 at 11:13am

Thanks so much Brooke!  Great info!  Susan

Comment by Marybeth Holleman on October 7, 2014 at 6:08pm

thanks Brooke for being a voice of reason!

Comment by Sherrey Meyer on October 4, 2014 at 4:22pm

Great insights and well stated, Brooke! I too read the article in Creative Nonfiction, and although I wondered if you had read it or written on it, I knew it would show up in my inbox without my questioning. :)

Comment by Lene Fogelberg on October 4, 2014 at 12:31am

Great insights! Thanks Brooke. I love what you say about having a message people care about! "Be the voice your readers care to listen to and you will succeed."

Comment by Cheryl Rice on October 3, 2014 at 12:06pm

This is very helpful information Brooke, and quite timely. Thank you!

Comment by Karen Szklany Gault on October 1, 2014 at 10:54am

Brooke ~ thank you so much for putting this post together!  The timing for me could not be better. I have learned so much from my involvement here at SheWrites since I have joined! I can only hope that I have given in support (not so much blog content but I have it as a goal) a percentage of the good I received here. I know that there is so much more for me to learn and do for myself as a writer.

Since writing a gardening book "commissioned" by a small publisher in Florida (paid a stipend per stage and then purpchase copies at a discount to sell at a small profit margin), I have worked to generate a following. I have confused building a platform with social media presence to some extent, but have done other things for myself.  These include having 5 copies of my book on the shelf of a local artist cooperative (1 of them was sold this past spring), participate in book readings, swaps, and parties through my local chapter of the National Writer's Union, maintain a WordPress blog, sell copies of my book at local craft fairs, and have given copies of my book to local library branches.  My most active writing these days are my online pieces on HubPages and focusing on polishing/developing 2 work-in-progress manuscripts that I have put aside to work on the platform for my already-published book.  Unfortunately, none of what I do or have done involves mailing lists.

I have just made a list of how my reach could possibly extend farther than it does. My next publishing goal involves working on content that is closer to my heart, more emotional to an extent, in the area of youth literature ~ a children's picture book and a tween fantasy.  I know that I will still work to create a platform. If my gardening book will sell off a shop shelf perhaps something else of mine would sell off more than 1 shop's shelf. Will use my present contacts to help raise up my next book, and then some. I do hope to hold more book store and library signings for the children's books one than I did for the gardening book.

Thanks again, Brooke!

Comment by Brooke Warner on October 1, 2014 at 9:14am

@Susan, the best way is to have a bribe to subscribe on your site, where you give away something that's truly valuable. You want to think beyond free reports (which is what I have) and sample chapters and instead about something that people would probably pay money for. This incentivizes them to sign up, and then you just need to keep giving great content. The reason people stay on your list is because they come to expect great stuff from you, and they are less likely to unsubscribe. You also want to make sure that your subject line titles are catchy, and that you're controlling them from a program like iContact or Mailchimp. you don't want them just coming straight from your Wordpress account by default. Then use social media to leverage your message. This is just the beginning, but it's pretty foundational to platform-building.

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