Should Unpublished Novelists Build Platforms?

Rachelle Gardner

Blogger: Rachelle Gardner

Every time I blog about platform or social media, the vocal response in the comments reminds me that it’s a difficult subject for many authors. Everyone wonders how and when to build a platform, and many writers aren’t enthusiastic about it.

There are two things I’m constantly stressing to authors:

(1) Building a platform is important.

(2) Mastering the craft of writing is crucial.

For unpublished fiction writers, these two things are not equal.

Your writing should be first priority. Aspiring novelists should spend most of your discretionary time writing and becoming a better writer.

Read high quality fiction, read books on craft, get feedback from critique partners, edit and rewrite… but mostly write, write, write.

hand with quillDon’t spend to much time trying to build platform yet. Get a head start, yes. Do some blogging and social networking for fun and leisure, so that you’ll know how it works. But I recommend a 90/10 ratio. Spend 90% writing, 10% on platform building.

Until you have some strong fiction completed, you have nothing on which to build a platform anyway. And until you’ve become a good writer that people want to read, the rest will be irrelevant.

Things change when you’re about to get published. At that point, you’ll be doing everything you can to gather an audience.

And things are different if you’re a non-fiction writer. Authors of non-fiction are expected to have a solid platform before a publisher will consider them.

But if you are a novelist who has yet to be published, remember your first priority: your writing.

Whether you’re published or not, writing fiction or non-fiction, how do you divide your writing-related time? Percentage-wise, how much writing time versus how much social networking and platform building?



Should Unpublished Novelists Build Platforms? Agent @RachelleGardner weighs in. Click to Tweet.

If you’re an unpublished novelist, your writing is top priority – not platform, says @RachelleGardner. Click to Tweet.

Unpublished novelists, @RachelleGardner says spend 90% of time on writing, 10% on platform building. Click to Tweet.


70 Responses

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  1. Ty Strange says:

    Nice to know! I’ve spent 95% on the craft and the rest talking about it.

  2. Angela Mills says:

    I just asked this question on Wendy’s post today 🙂 I was so relieved at her answer.

    I spent a good 2 years building my platform (not intentionally, just because I enjoyed it!) and now I can rest a little for a few months and do 90/10 while I work on my novel. Bliss 🙂

  3. Kristi Lloyd says:

    Thank you so much for this post! I have been writing my first book and trying to build a platform at the same time. I’ve always given more time to studying the craft and working on the writing itself, but tried to do my best I could with social media. It gets discouraging at times. I’m glad to know it doesn’t matter as much as I thought it did.

  4. How do you step away from or do you step away from social media, when you know it’s time to dig in? When your goal is to be a non-fiction author?

    • Your non-fiction book should ideally grow out of your platform. I realize that isn’t always the way it works, but if you’re writing non-fiction, you’ll want to establish yourself as an authority on your subject and gather a following. Then a book naturally follows. Some people do it in the opposite order, but not many are able to make it a success with the book-first approach.

  5. Jane says:

    I have been writing my blog for six years. I began it as a creative outlet and not as a “platform”. If you view your blog/website as another means of expression and write what you enjoy rather than what you think will impress/what people want to read then it won’t become the chore many writers seem to find it. Whilst most of my blog contemporaries have packed up and gone home, I am still writing and enjoying my blog; it’s been an important part of my writing development.

  6. Anna Moore says:

    I’ve been working on my craft 99% of the time. Only in the past two years have I learned that I need to have a platform as well. I’ve started a blog, but most of the time, I don’t post because if I have time to post that means I have time to write, which is what I should be doing.
    Since I’ve recently finished my first novel, I’m taking a break from the writing and am now able to work more on my platform(blog), but as soon as I feel like I’ve had enough of a break, I will start writing again and forget about my platform.
    So far, I am unpublished and unrepresented. Until I am, I will keep working on my writing, because that’s the whole reason I write. To be a better writer.

  7. Nicola Smith says:

    Thank you, good advice I believe. I personally do not like to blog. I am in touch with quite a few writers via writing communities on G+, and there are a couple of them who write truly entertaining and useful blogs, but for the most part I do not see it producing the type of traffic and attention it deserves for the amount of effort that goes into a good blog. Now a website, yes. I want something more interactive myself, but I’d call that a personal preference. I’m also not worrying about it until I actually have an agent and a publisher interested lol. Right now, I learn from my fellow writers, help beta read and critique for them, get beta read myself, and write write write!

  8. It seems that having an early platform can be detrimental, in some cases. It can cause typecasting, on a couple of levels.

    I know of a couple of aviation writers, both of whom are very well-regarded in their field, with many, many magazine articles to their credit. One has written several non-fiction books that redefined aspects of aviation history.

    Both have websites and blogs with strong followings.

    Both have tried their hand at novels, with dismal results.

    Why? One might say that pilots are knuckledraggers without a shred of imagination, who use novels as doorstops, and one might be partially right.

    But there may be another reason – these chaps have such solid non-fiction reputations that going into the world of fiction seemed almost silly, and somewhat frivolous.

    They can tell a cracking true story…and it seems that most of their potential readers were at the same time a bit embarrassed by their turn to fiction, and put off by the appearance of getting ‘nonserious’ for commercial gain.

    (Also, their success in one field may have limited their broader appeal.)

  9. Thank you for this post, Rachelle. I like it 🙂 I spend MUCH more time crafting than blogging; it is one reason my blog is somewhat scattered. I do enjoy blogging, but only when I feel like I have a story to share or a thought to ponder that is worthwhile and encouraging. The reach of my blog writing is very small and that’s okay for now; at least I am enjoying connecting with a few people and keeping my nose in the network.

    Again, thank you! It has been affirming.

  10. Steve says:

    Thank you, Rachelle.

    As I continue to work on my writing I have given the platform a lot of thought. I know I will need to build it, but without any published work so far there really isn’t anything to build. It becomes a circular firing squad.

    It is reassuring to advice from an industry professional.

  11. Kay Dew Shostak says:

    Exactly what my agent advised. Thanks for the confirmation!

  12. Rachelle, I switch off some … write more one week/ write a little less the next and work on social platform. I took this week off from writing my book … was asked to write an article, so I worked on that this week. And my neck and shoulders needed a serious break! My daughter is ready for me to finish Chapter 5, so I’ve got to get busy!

  13. Jeanne T says:

    Thanks for the insight, Rachelle. I started a blog earlier this year for a number of reasons. I’ve enjoyed figuring it out. I believe it’s helping me find my voice, and more than that, I’ve enjoyed meeting people. It has taken more time than I thought to try to compose thoughtful, interesting posts. I blog two days a week, but I’ve considered going to one day a week so I can have a little more time to spend on craft and writing. I’d say I probably spend 70/30 on writing and blogging/social media.

    Thanks for giving me some things to think about today.

  14. I started blogging once I had a book to sell, and then only because you encouraged it. I feared the blog and loathed doing it, but now I am a bit of a blog junkie. For me, it’s beyond building the platform…it’s a place where I now have a network of friends. And honestly? It’s one of the best places for a writer to get support, knowledge, and feedback.

  15. Thanks for this post Rachelle!
    Building a platform is critical, but improving the writing craft is the most important investment every writer should make. I use my blogging as an opportunity to improve my craft and finetune my message.

  16. Thanks for this post Rachelle!
    Building a platform is critical, but improving the writing craft is the most important investment every writer should make. I use my blogging as an opportunity to improve my craft and finetune the message.

  17. I think I’ve spent too much time trying to build a platform that the writing itself has suffered. I have been reading many of the books on craft however, and studying them. I think I need to set a schedule and stick to it. I’ve never been one to stick to a schedule, but I know that I could be on Facebook or LinkedIn or well, on any of them, all day if I allowed myself. Thanks for the post, Rachelle. 🙂

  18. Cindy Jones says:

    THANK YOU!!! I needed this today. What a blessing is was to read this post this morning. I enjoy all your weekly emails and have learned so much from them. I appreciate the time you take to help all of us in this writing journey.

    Have a wonderful day!

  19. Norma Horton says:

    If you assume your work is a product, then certainly you want that product to be the very best it can be. So you strive to achieve that goal by creating a professional document.

    At the same time, brand-building takes time and energy, and an author builds his or her brand (and market) through that public platform. Given that the publishing process is NOT a speedy one, I think it makes sense to grow both simultaneously once your manuscript is developed enough to be edited critically.

    And lest we forget, the platform should be a ministry, whereas I don’t think I’ve blessed anyone while staring at my documents on my screen.

    • Norma Horton says:

      You know, Rachelle, you made me realize something. (Yea, sometimes I’m a little slow…)

      I don’t view my platform as a platform, although I can make good arguments for it in terms of brand-building and marketing. It’s a ministry. It’s not been developed to sell books or entice a publisher, it exists to share God’s general and specific revelation about Himself to a broader market (hence all the international followers). I don’t think I would be able to build a non-ministry platform for this endeavor, and agree that if an unpublished author is building a platform for the sole purpose of satisfying that requirement to publish, his or her time is better spent writing.

      I honestly had just never thought of my platform apart from ministry. Thanks for helping me articulate my purpose.

  20. When I began writing several years ago, I went all out on platform-building. I visited at least 20-30 blogs a day, blogged three times a week myself, tweeted and facebooked all the time…and yeah, burned myself out, I think. I realized exactly what you said: that I needed to spend more time on the actual writing. The cool thing is, I have a LOT of relationships with other writers because of those early days. I’m really grateful for that. Also, I do feel I learned a lot from reading all the blogs I did (many of which were blogs on publishing, etc.). So I don’t regret my time spent inundated in that aspect of social media, but I am glad I no longer feel the incessant need to be that involved still. My time is a commodity, and I want to spend it in the best way possible for my future writing career…and for now, that’s on doing the actual writing.

  21. I’ve been mulling on the question of platform a lot recently. I simultaneously feel that I’m doing too much (I write my own blog and I edit a short story zine) and also too little. Growth is slow, and I can easily think of ways to grow faster, if only I had the time to put into it. I’ve considered shutting down my blog or the short story site, but after putting a few years in and gaining some traction, I hate the thought of losing the community I’ve built just as I’m about to wrap up my manuscript and start querying agents in the next year. Thanks Rachelle, this helps me gain a little perspective.

  22. Susan Roach says:

    This is such freeing advice. Thank you. I worry a lot about my platform (or lack thereof). So, when my fiction MS is complete, after it has passed muster with my crit partners and has been edited and polished and I’m ready to query – what are realistic social networking numbers that an agent looks for? How many “followers” of a blog is an acceptable amount for an unpublished author? I know it varies with each author and agent, but some ballpark figures would be so helpful.

  23. Katya says:

    I agree with your post wholeheartedly — and why wouldn’t I? It makes sense, right?

    But if I don’t take my platform seriously and start early, very few agents will take me into consideration, because I have no audience that could potentially became the fan base for my books.

    Is this not true? I love your advice and I think it’s the sane way to go, but I also think that in real life, platform and fiction writing are a vicious circle where there is no clear beginning or end.

  24. Jan Thompson says:

    Thank you, Rachelle. Good insight.

    “Spend 90% writing, 10% on platform building.”

    I like that 90:10 writing to marketing ratio although it’s more severe than what some other industry people have said i.e. 70:30 or 75:25. How did you come up with 90:10?

    And… how do you reconcile that with what Seth Godin said about starting to market a product 3 years ahead of time? Do you do 10% each year you’re writing then?

    Thanks again.

  25. Totally off subject … but do you recommend a good word count for a tween/young teen book?

  26. Michele Huey says:

    Thank you for this. How freeing!

  27. Thank you, Rachelle, this is JUST what I needed to hear! I’m so bent on navigating social media, that it steals time from my writing. Blessings to you today!

  28. Thanks so much for this post! I’ve been working on building a platform, but even so, it helps to be reminded that my book–and great writing–are still to be top priority.

  29. Two thoughts –

    First, using social media as a venue for platform development is very different from ‘personal’ social media, in terms of content and focus.

    I think it may behoove a novelist who is determined to make it a career to devote more than 10% of time to social media – at least, to learning the aspects of professional social media and blogging.

    Getting a book deal, having to go through the editing process, and learning professional platform presentation at the same time could become a waking nightmare.

    I’d suggest 75/25; it may take longer to bring the MS to market, but it seems that we’re no longer talking about ‘just’ a MS – the issue is a larger package.

    Second – platform for a novelist used to be something of a theoretical issue. Now it’s becoming a part of the expected professional ‘front’ – and in the future it seems as if an a prioi platform may be a necessity in both fiction and nonfiction. Do you see it this way?

  30. Thanks Rachelle!
    First novel completed and second is forming in NaNoWriMo… spent quite a lot of time two years ago (when I had it post-injury) starting the platform, but now find I’m going as to your recommendations… There’s really no substitute, as Bob Mayer (and no doubt, many others) to writing a good book, and another book… and another… Thanks again, Regards from NZ, Lizzi

  31. Kari Scare says:

    I have been stressing about this very topic. My husband & I talked about it last night. He basically said what you said. He’s an engineer, but I guess he understands more about the writing craft than I realized. Wonder what other advice of his I should follow.

  32. Jane Daly says:

    Nice to know there’s a industry standard. As a pre-published writer, my priority is to learn the craft, figure out my voice, and find my target audience. I spend a small amount of time blogging and tweeting, using FB for friends and family.

  33. Mart Ramirez says:

    Great advice! Thank you, Rachelle!

  34. Jen says:

    Right on, Rachelle. If you build your platform with weak (or non-existent) materials it’s going to collapse. Writers write. AND READ.

    I see a lot of writers on social media, and I don’t believe that what they’re doing is building platforms, anyway. To build a platform means to build relationships with potential readers. These days, many writers seem to be spending their time networking with and promoting to other writers and I believe that’s not an effective strategy. Just because you’re “on” social media and have a lot of friends and followers doesn’t mean you’re building a platform.

  35. Thanks for a timely post! This has been concerning me; I’ve naturally leaned toward the “write more-publicize less” end of the spectrum, so it’s good to know I’ve been on the right track! With all the noise that goes on about the importance of platform, it can get a little scary… “I’m not doing enough!”
    Which, I’ve had to realize, “enough” according to “them” is impossible. So just do what I can, and leave the rest where it lays.
    I am getting more familiar with the various methods of platform building, and I think that may help a lot latter on when it won’t be so overwhelming ’cause I’ve had my feet in the water. 🙂
    But first, I’m writing a stellar book! And then more of them… 😉

  36. I guess 30 years as an ad agency owner/copywriter and the 2 novels on David has catapulted my platform to include all digital and even a few more outlets. I’ve been at 90/10 for several months, and now finished with the first draft of The Parchman Redeemer, I’ll go back to the platform.
    I read all of your posts, and those from Wendy, Janet and all the ladies with Books and Such. Thanks for all you do for writers.

  37. N N Light says:

    I agree that writing comes first. When I was writing my book, “Princess of the Light”, all my energy was devoted to that. When I was almost finished writing, I started a blog about it because so many of my Twitter followers were begging for more info. Now that I am querying, I can devote more time and energy to my platform. The great thing about Twitter and the blogosphere is that you can spread the word quickly about your writing platform and even get some feedback. 🙂

  38. Elva Martin says:

    Thank you, thank you, Rachelle! This clears the air of a lot of confusion for unpubbed authors. And frees us to learn the craft at top speed.I am directing a Mini-Fiction Workshop this Saturday, Nov. 16, and this is a piece of good news to share!

    Elva Martin, President new ACFW-South Carolina Chapter, Anderson, SC

  39. I did not start my platform until my first novel was completed (not published), and I learned that the writing style and unique voice that I’ve developed has found its way into the content on my website, blog, FB page, Google Plus page, Twitter posts, etc. Had I started the platform before I developed my craft, I’m sure my content would be less than compelling.

  40. Jim Hess says:

    Non-fiction or fiction – the only thing that matters is quality.

  41. . . . my platform, is just tall enough for me to see the beach and the horizon from my back yard. (Although it is a bit wobbly)

    Do you think I should work 100% on my novel or work on a more stabler platform.

    I will wait for your answer – before I head down to Home Depot.

  42. Kim Galgano says:

    I’m chuckling as I read this because you currently hold the cards on whether I’ve grown my platform enough to move forward (hopefully you did get my email :). Yes, it took 2 years and I’d say the ratio was 60/40 (building/writing), but what I think is important for authors to realize is that they can become much more than an author. As much as I would have loved to hide within the written word and craft endless prose, I now know I am more than words on a page. I am a business woman with a lot to say about decision making and how to uncover the unique path we were meant to live. There is no end in sight to where this “platform” might take me.

  43. Connie Foster says:

    Thank you, Rachelle. Just what we fiction writers have been longing to hear. More time for what we love and less worries about the platform.

  44. Ron Estrada says:

    Well now I feel better. I was running out of things to blog about. Apparently no one cares what my cat threw up today. Seriously though, I’ve spent far too much time worried about platform. It’s constantly drilled into us. But if we think about it, from the time our books are accepted to publication, we’ve got plenty of time to build up an audience. However, I do find the blog useful as a “teach myself” tool. If I blog about story structure, for instances, I’m drilling it into my head. I really don’t care if I have other readers as long as I’m learning my craft.

  45. Peter DeHaan says:

    ..but without a platform, will anyone consider our books?

  46. :Donna Marie says:

    This is, by far, the one thing that stresses me out above all others, simply because of the time factor. Of course, I definitely prefer your 90/10 ratio, but I’ve also heard, from another very successful agent, that we should expect to spend 50/50.

    Building a platform takes a lot of time and effort ’cause it’s all about connecting with people and building relationships. I’ve never had trouble doing any of that, but socializing takes time. You can’t comment, with any measure of meaning or validity, on someone’s blog if you don’t READ the blog. To connect with enough of the “right” people, you have to research your target audience, find where they are—and socialize. Also, I’m not one to be shallow in doing so.

    Anyway, I know Lindsay Harrel stated what is closest to what I find myself in the middle of, as far as following many blogs. It’s been about 2 months (I think) since I finally allowed myself to get more involved with social media and I KNEW it was become all-consuming. I am working my way into figuring out how to cut back on all of it because I have yet to launch my own blogs, and as far as writing? I’m aching to!

    I WILL say this, though—since I’ve been on Twitter and Goodreads (not FB so much ’cause I just don’t like it), I’ve been making invaluable connections with people I’d never even thought to try and connect with, largely through the related chats, and also through people I know. I’m enjoying the many new “friends” I’m making and I do see where this can ultimately work out beneficially, as far as platform, in the future. It’s just a very difficult balancing act and I’m trying to figure out what to cut out or lessen to make it doable and still have time to write and live my life. It’s difficult, and frustrating at this point in time. I expect it to smooth out though.

  47. Rachelle, this is encouraging. I’ve always thought it more important to write than build a platform. When my first book released, I was hit by the publisher with “Now you must promote your book.” I can’t tell you how my heart fell at those words. Silly me, I thought that was the publishers job. Mine was to WRITE. LOL.

    When the publisher added, “It’s 90 percent promotion and 10 percent writing,” I was devastated.

    Thank you, Rachelle. You reversed those numbers and gave me renewed hope. Confirmed what I really believed.

  48. Lynda Lee says:

    ….wondering where I can find a good ghost-blogger….

  49. Wendy says:

    I’ve been working on my writing platform for two years and have only recently felt that I have enough of a following to launch my first book when I’m ready. Originally, I spent my time 50/50 between writing and marketing, but as I have gone on, I’ve shifted to more 80/20. Many things that I do to market myself and my posts are now automatic and simply don’t take as much time.

    I feel that promoting yourself is crucial in today’s market. Seeing that I am able to shift readers to the magazines where my short stories are published has given me confidence.

    I have not published a novel yet, but when the time comes, I feel that I will be ready. I feel that you are right though, writing on a regular basis is the key. It is better to work on being a better writer than putting in that extra facebook post!

  50. I Love this and will return. I am a self published Caribbean author who loves blogging because Caribbean blogs are rare and unique. Caribbean novelist willing to work hard and innovatively at marketing, have millions of eager followers all across the region. There is little or no competition in the world of letters out here.Lucky me.

  51. Donna Driver says:

    THANK YOU for this post. It is an answer to my unasked question – the one that plagues me daily, tugging me in two directions. 🙂

    Thanks to you, and this post, I’ll return to making writing a priority. The platform can wait. 🙂

    Thank you. God bless.

  52. Sarah Raymer says:

    This is fabulous advice. I was actually just pondering this exact question as I enjoyed a fun trip with my grandchildren to Disney. Everyday I say a prayer in the morning for strength and inspiration, among other things, then remind myself to write write write. I am a Top Producing Realtor in Louisville Kentucky, so I use those skills of self motivation to help me write everyday! My daughter and son-in-law own a computer store and my daughter builds web sites for customers and family when asked and she and I have been talking about building one for me, but your article reminds me without a solid novel, what’s the point! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!