by Janet Kobobel Grant
“Badges? We don’t have no badges. We don’t need no badges. I don’t have to show you no stinkin’ badges!” is a portion of a bandito’s dialogue from the 1948 movie, “The Treasure of Sierra Madre.” The stinkin’ badges also are mentioned, tongue-in-cheek, in the 1974 movie, “Blazing Saddles.” “I don’t need no stinkin’ badge!” has come to be a riff on any stinkin’ thing we happily don’t need.
Today I want to write about the oft-decried requirement from publishers for writers to have a significant platform. I think it would be fair to say most writers would find the phrase “stinkin’ platform” apt. Writers want to write books, not build a bevy of friends and followers online.
Recently, as I talked to editors from two different publishing houses, I was relieved when I heard variations on the realization that not every author needs a stinkin’ platform. Here’s the scoop.
What Constitutes a Significant Platform?
The first group of editors I talked to acquire nonfiction titles. We’ve been hearing for years that, especially if you write nonfiction, you better come equipped with a noteworthy platform. But these editors had a refreshing take on that concept.
Before I recount my conversation with them, let me take a moment to define what publishers consider a platform. It generally can be made up of: public speaking; engagement in social media; blogging; a subscription-based enewsletter; YouTube; and podcasting. An author can have access to readers by focusing on one of these planks of a platform or might be spread out over all of them, with the total number of connections adding up to that writer’s ability to reach buyers of future books.
Writers want to know how to quantify “significant.” Publishers vary in how they answer that question, ranging from tens of thousands of connections as a minimum to at least a million on the high end of the scale. Yeah, I know, it’s a steep hill to climb.
Engagement vs. Size
The nonfiction editors I was meeting with came to the conclusion that mere size of platform can be a false way to view the ability to reach readers. If someone has hundreds of thousands of friends on Facebook, but those friends aren’t deeply engaged with the writer, that number is relatively meaningless. But if an author has 5,000 Facebook friends who enjoy the author’s postings and often comment on them, it’s this writer who is more likely to move the needle on the number of copies she can sell rather than the author with casually indifferent Facebook friends.
Publishers wish mere numbers would tell the whole story because that would make the determination of how much value a potential author is bringing to the publishing table straightforward. But writers can now breathe a little easier, knowing numbers aren’t everything and that authentic engagement does have weight in a publishing house’s decision-making–even for nonfiction.
Fiction and Platform
The second group of editors I met with started off our conversation by saying they have come to realize it’s unrealistic to expect a newer novelist to have a large platform. Upon what foundation can a fiction writer build that platform? Especially as a debut novelist, you can only engage potential book-buyers so much in your writing and research endeavors before your attempted connections take on a bland sameness.
Instead, this group of fiction editors looks for writers who are willing engage in platform building. They suggested an author could promote other authors whose writing they admire. “Be a reader and a recommender” the editors said. Befriend authors. Having the ability to connect online with people whose writing you genuinely enjoy is a luxury of our era; take advantage of it.
Collecting Social Media Take-Aways
While you’re making those connections, you can take note of how your favorite authors relate to their fans and figure out what you could comfortably adapt for yourself and the type of novel you write.
The editors believe being involved in social media translates into your coming to understand what works and what doesn’t when you post. What types of posts bring the most engagement? How can you extrapolate from your observations insights for making reader connections once you have a book to tell them about?
These editors believe that choosing to focus on one aspect of social media is the best route to go. Rather than dabbling in several mediums but not really figuring out what works for you, dig into one medium and gather all your friends or followers in that one spot.
Feel the Relief
I hope you’re taking a deep breath as you consider that some of the pressure to collect names and online connections has let up just a bit. None of these editors would say platform isn’t important. But each of them would say she–and the whole publishing team–is taking a more nuanced look at the planks of each writer’s platform.
What might you do differently as a result of reading this post? What have you found works best for you in strategically building your platform?
“Be a reader and a recommender” fiction editors advise wannabe novelists. Click to tweet.
Writers: Weary of trying to build your platform to a size that would impress publishers? This blog post has some good news for you. Click to tweet.