Ah, the dreaded p-word. “Platform” is an all-encompassing term that can include blogs, websites, social media, speaking events, TV/radio appearances, celebrity fame, and other outlets that help an author connect to readers, writers, and other gatekeepers in the literary industry. Jane Friedman describes it best: “an ability to sell books because of who you are or who you can reach.”
At one time, nonfiction authors were the ones who had to worry about platform—they had to prove there was an audience who wanted to read about their particular memoir, advice, or topic. But now, most fiction writers are expected to have a platform too. The content of a story always comes first, but many publishers want to see an author’s connections in the early stages of the game. So let’s take a look at frequently asked questions about all things platform for fiction writers.
Why do publishers care about platform? This is an easy one to answer: we want to know if an author has a readership. Publishing is a competitive industry, and finding an author who is already connected to consumers or influencers is a huge win!
Do I have to have a platform to get published? Short answer: no.
I’m a new writer. Should I have a platform? Longer answer: eventually you will be expected to grow a platform to connect with readers, so it only helps you to start now! But both the you and the publisher should have reasonable expectations of what that platform will look like…for most people, it isn’t easy to build a large platform until they have a book to market! Take a look at other aspiring or debut writers in your genre, and set goals based on where those folks are.
Does a publisher look me up online? We sure do! Casual internet stalking is one of the first things I do when considering an author’s submission. I check for social media, but I also check to see if the author has attended any recent conferences/festivals, participated in events like Pitch Wars or NaNoWriMo, or are a member of nationally recognized groups like SCBWI or RWA that could connect them to readers and other writers.
What should my online platform look like? When it comes to being online, be sure that you’re going for quality over quantity. Having ten different social media accounts doesn’t matter if you’re not posting regularly and interacting with other users. I always recommend starting with the following:
- A professional, author-centric website or blog
- Author accounts (not personal accounts) on at least two social media sites. Which sites will depend on your book and your audience, but Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are good places to start.
How many followers should I have? Follower counts depend on a number of factors, including your publishing history, the topic of your book, your intended audience, and how new you are to a site. The two most important things to consider here are 1.) making sure you’re not just doing a follow-for-follow approach (we know what that looks like!) and 2.) following and being followed by influencers. Influencers include book bloggers, booksellers, librarians, authors, editors, book tubers, reviewers, and anyone else who is active in your arm of publishing. These folks will make a better audience than random followers you don’t know.
The internet isn’t my thing. How else can I build a platform? The bad news is, the internet kind of needs to become your thing. Having an online presence is a key element of an author’s platform, and oftentimes is their main connection to readers since it’s one of the first places readers discover new authors and books. The good news is, you can work on your “real life” platform too! Look for opportunities for public speaking (like doing a panel at a conference), join a group like RWA or SCBWI, or see if you can get a spot writing book reviews for a paper or magazine. Anything that makes you visible to readers is a step in the right direction!
What makes a good platform? Like I mentioned above, having a professional online presence is key, and it’s also hugely helpful to have connections through writing groups or conferences. When it comes to an online platform, follower counts will vary, so what I look for is engagement. If an author creates a post, does it get liked, commented on, and shared? Offline, I like to see one or two ways an author is regularly interacting with the larger reading and writing community.
Where do I even start??? Check out the links below for tips on starting your platform:
- The Basics of Building a Writer’s Platform
- How to Build a Successful Author Marketing Platform
- 101 Quick Actions You Can Take Today to Build the Writer Platform of Your Dreams
- Build Your Author Platform: 7 Manageable Ways to Start From Scratch
Have more questions about platform? Post in the comments field below!