Recently I spent a few hours visiting a relative in rehab, and the television was tuned to an episode of the television series, My 600-lb Life. This is why I like to control the TV remote at all times.
The episode focused on a fairly young mother of two children who weighed nearly six hundred pounds and was hoping to engage a surgeon for weight-reduction surgery. Her first several consultations with the doctor didn’t go well, in her view, because he prescribed a low-calorie diet and insisted that she change her eating habits and lose thirty pounds in a month before he would approve her for surgery; otherwise, he explained, she would almost certainly continue to gain weight even after the surgery. This seemed unreasonable to her, but she managed to lose eleven pounds in the first month. When the doctor sent her home with the same instructions—lose thirty pounds in a month—she became discouraged and went off the program. The episode continued, however, and nearly two years after her initial consultation, she managed to more carefully follow the doctor’s orders, and he agreed to perform the surgery.
I’ve had my own struggles with weight and diet and donuts, so I can sympathize a little with that woman. However, it was still amazing to me that she couldn’t understand that surgery wasn’t “the be-all and the end-all” (to quote Shakespeare’s Macbeth), but that new eating habits were also part of the picture. She couldn’t quite reconcile herself to the fact that she would not be able to return, post-surgery, to a diet of fast food, ice cream, and pizza. If she had grasped that reality, she might have been able to reason, “Since my eating has to change post-surgery, why is it unfair to be asked to change pre-surgery?”
Her struggle seems to me to be somewhat analogous to those of us who write for publication—especially when we seek to be represented by an agent. Bear with me.
Just a couple days before that episode of My 600-lb Life, I spoke to and met with writers at a writers’ conference. The subject of “platform” came up, of course, as it always does. And it elicited groans and gripes, as it always does, among the many people there who had a book idea to pitch and the hope that an agent or editor would see its promise and sign them to a contract. But a book contract or agency agreement isn’t “the be-all and the end-all” of the publishing process.
All of those writers vowed that, post-contract, they would market themselves and their books via social media, blogs, website, speaking engagements, podcasts, interviews, and more. But when a panel of agents and editors suggested that a healthy platform comprised of such things can—and, almost always, must—come pre-contract, they expressed chagrin. Chagrin, I tell you!
But why? Either way, you’re going to do those things, right? Whether you sign a contract today or two years from now, you’re going to be developing a following, right? I know you can’t schedule book signings until you have a book, but nearly everything else you plan to do after your book is released, you can do before your book is released—right? So why wait? Get started—now—engaging with people about your message and passion and genre, and you (and your agent and publisher) will be so glad you did when your book is finally released to universal acclaim.
Brennan S. McPherson
The reason why I didn’t build a platform before getting published was that I was overwhelmed and lacked understanding. I didn’t yet really know my brand, or what I should be communicating, because I write fiction, and fiction can be very difficult to categorize. I had a one-sentence summary of my book that was great, but how do you turn that into a series of blog posts on the “message” of your book? There seemed to be so much to say that I locked up.
I wish desperately that I’d built a platform before being published. Because now that I have a very strong platform and launched a second book, it’s gone infinitely better. You’re absolutely right that publication or getting an agent aren’t the answers. Getting published and selling few books is much worse than not getting published at all.
You’re so right, Brennan. Thanks for the comment.
Thanks, Bob. You confirmed my worst fears as well as my personal conclusions.
I had no idea how to engage productively on social media, but figured I’d better start building the habit as I write so that I can lend focus and energy to the launch when it happens.
I trust in God’s timing I’ll be able to add the aspects of contract, publication, and launch to the benefits of this process. Agent on!
Agent on, I will. Agent on, I must.
However, engaging a following before you have a book is difficult. I’ve been trying for ten years to acquire 500 followers. ‘Taint easy. But I ain’t quittin’.
Hi Judith, you may want to just try friending readers on Facebook who interact with your friends on posts that you comment on. By caring about yhem and praying for them, they will respond. I’ve found 400 new friends this year with that method. Friend me and I will accept. David Winters, author, Kensington MD
Judith, David is right. There are ways, and of course it goes beyond social media. Keep at it.
Chagrin falls in light of such solid reasoning. It’s a wonderful life building a following day by day.
Damon J. Gray
A beautiful illustration, Bob. Great parallel.
I regularly look for material like that. Last summer, my wife and I were walking the Taylor Dock in Bellingham, WA with another couple when we happened upon a group of teenagers jumping off the elevated walkway into Bellingham Bay about 10 feet below. One girl was hesitating to make the leap when the guy in the water below her shouted, “Don’t think about it. Just jump!”
My wife gave me a knowing look and muttered, “That’s going to show up in a sermon some day.” 🙂
The writer’s/preacher’s curse/boon: It’s all material.
The heading word summed up my comment – HELP!
Need all y’all’s prayers. Hurting bad, and I’m scared.
A wonderful Thanksgiving to all.
Lord, have mercy on Andrew. Meet his need and dispel his fear. Speak and act in gracious and even miraculous ways, in Jesus’ name, amen.
Praying for you right now, Andrew.
Heavenly Father, hold Andrew tightly right now. Let him feel you above everything else. Amen.
I promise to continue to pray for you.
Yes, I know you’re right. And I’m trying, but if I’m honest, I’m not trying very hard. I understand my blog and my FB page. But Twitter? After all these years and countless tweeting accounts, I still don’t get it. And all the other weirdly-named ‘things’ – I don’t get them. Just how broad and vast must this platform be?
I must add, I’m thankful for everything you and everyone else in your office have taken the time to teach and encourage us. I’ll work on the darn platform.
What if our platform is stronger offline? Is that even a thing? I’m not even sure how to measure a face-to-face following.
I’m not great on social media, and I know I need to become more consistent at posts. But in my own community and several surrounding communities in the entire area, really, I am a frequently requested speaker and leader, and well-known. There are many more who seek me out in person or via a personal text than follow me on a page. And I struggle to force them to put their name on a list simply for my personal gain.
So does anything carry any weight besides an online following?
As always, I very much appreciate this time of learning your agency provides. It’s entertaining and educational all at once!
Andrew, it’s also an honor to pray for a fellow writer.
Jaime, actually a “face-to-face” following is preferred, in many ways, to social media, if those numbers are large. Of course, the best possible scenario is “all of the above,” because the online and offline pieces can all work together and enhance each other.
And of course, don’t “force” anyone to put a name on a list. People won’t do so anyway, unless the writer or speaker offers something of value for doing so. It’s not for YOUR personal gain but for THEIRS. If you offer value in your speaking, for example, why wouldn’t I sign up to get more of such value from, say, an email newsletter?
That helps. Honestly, it’s always hard for me to imagine that anybody gets anything out of my words, but their reactions and requests for me to come back means there must be SOME value there for them. I can see I would benefit from offering the opportunity for more material online while I am out somewhere in person. I will try and link it all up to improve my platform in the future.
Thanks for your help!
Brennan S. McPherson
Speaking to 50 people can be much more powerful than posting to 500-1,000 followers on FB. People want a relationship with you. Best way to build that is in person, by being you. Social media and your email list are support to the relationships you build because it’s a way to stay in touch and offer continued benefit.
If you write fiction, have a short story prepared to give away at speaking events, and sign up for textboom, which lets you do a giveaway by having attendees text a keyword to a special phone number. It prompts them for their email address, they enter it, and then it sends them the giveaway and you have their email address to subscribe to your newsletter. Be upfront about it, and people will be glad to sign up. They can unsubscribe with a click or two if they ever want in the future, so it’s really not a bother. Do it like that and you’ll only get people who WANT to hear from you. Basic textboom plan starts at $49 a month, but if you’re speaking a good amount, it can really be worth it.
This online stuff is all new to me, so I appreciate learning about these tools!
In the beginning of my attempts to build a platform, I stressed big time! How? Who? Are the people legit or scammers? Fear of putting myself out there felt like being thrown to sharks. Now, I’m more relaxed and my platform is still growing. It makes perfect sense to build a platform before being published.
The thing I questioned about platform is why anyone would want to follow an unknown.
I still don’t have a personal following in the 4 digits even now, but people come to my history site searching on things like Roman Empire crime and punishment, chariot racing, and adoption. And some buy books from the sidebar. It’s the source of my international sales…I think. No traditional publisher would find my platform adequate because it can’t guarantee sales.
I’d still be frustrated if trad had remained my goal, but we didn’t want to sell rights, so it wasn’t what I needed anyway. Good thing, because my platform isn’t what is needed for trad.
I’m actually not complaining about platform. It is essential, and with 80 to 140 visits a day, I have no complaints. It’s even fun to write the articles and see where in the world the visitors come from. It’s just not faithful followers who are drooling for the next book to appear. I still need to build the relationship platform every publisher, trad or indie, needs.
I am hoping to become a published author, and have a question regarding the changes that I perceive in the book industry. If I am expected to do my own marketing and to create a place for myself before being published, how will I benefit from the services offered by an agent and a royalty based publisher? I thought the marketing was the benefit. What has changed?
Good question, Elmo. Truth is, at least as long as I’ve been an author (a long time!), marketing has not been the sole responsibility of a publisher.
There are really two parts to your question, agent and traditional publisher. These days, a good agent can function as a “first reader,” coach, strategy consultant, chief negotiator, and more. Few writers know (or have time to learn) the ins and outs of publishing; an agent can provide help not only in getting your work into editors’ hands but also in saving you from making fatal mistakes.
The benefits of a traditional publishing relationship are not primarily marketing but design and distribution, among others. Though change is happening rapidly in the industry, even the best marketer-and-author will face challenges getting his or her books out into the marketplace, in, say, a store in Juneau or Jacksonville. And that’s just the beginning. What about foreign rights and distribution? Television and movie rights? Etc.
There is much more that could be said, but I hope that helps a little.
My biggest fear is reaching out to an Agent/Publisher to soon in the platform building process. I feel like I have seen some success in building a platform, but what would you consider a healthy number before reaching out with proposals?
It’s about numbers, yes, but not all numbers are equal (I’ve touched on this in reply to a comment on one of my earlier posts, so I won’t repeat it here). But I occasionally reply to a proposal by advising a writer to work on platform for 3 months, 6 months, etc., and then get back to me. So don’t be afraid; most agents or publishers will tell you if you have more work to do.
Thank you for your encouragement and advice. This blog is such a valuable resource and I appreciate your faithfulness.
Sheri Dean Parmelee, Ph.D
Thank you soooo much, Bob, for your posting. As always, superb information cleverly told.
Bob, I’d love to see a post on an agent’s perspective on the relative merits of followers on different social media platforms, including blogs. I know numbers vary, but some minimum number guidelines would be great.
Great example. Now I get it Bob.
Hi. I’m new here. Would your advice about platform be the same for children’s picture books, as well? I’m loving your blog, thank you!
Also, I’ve just written my first children’s book and am torn between submitting the manuscript or attempting to illustrate it myself. My homeschool community is anxiously awaiting the book’s release!