Three Reasons Why Authors Must Develop Their Own Platforms

In order for authors to be successful in today’s publishing environment, they need two things: a compelling product and a significant platform. Many authors are under the mistaken notion that if they just write a great book that is sufficient. It’s not.

A DIver Standing on a Platform - Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/Graffizone, Image #1828518

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/Graffizone

I received an email message a few days ago from an aspiring author. It is typical of what I hear on a weekly basis. She wrote,

Two respected agents have told me they loved my book and proposal and are willing to represent it, but not until I have social media followers numbering in the thousands. I find this bewildering: Doesn’t a good book stand on its own anymore? Are writers now doomed to spend the bulk of our workdays trawling for blog subscribers?

The answer to the first question is, “no.” A good book does not stand on its own. It is foundational, but it is not enough. In fact, it hasn’t been enough for at least two decades.

As I often tell authors, “Writing a great book is half the job. The other half is promoting it.” This is true now more than ever. Why? Three reasons:

  1. Competition has never been greater. There are more books available now than ever before in history. According to Google’s research, nearly 130 million books have been published in all of modern history.

    Bowker, the service that assigns ISBN numbers to books, reports that more than 1 million new books were published in 2009 in the U.S. alone. While the number of books released by traditional publishers remained flat (about 288,000 titles in 2009), the number of self-published titles rose from 2008 by 181% to 765,000 titles. The numbers for 2010 have yet to be released. I am confident, however, the number will be even larger.

  2. People are more distracted than ever. It’s not just that we have more books available. We have more of every kind of media available. More movies. More television channels. More radio stations, podcasts, and the Sirius satellite radio network. More news sites, blogs, and, of course, Facebook, and Twitter. And then, of course, we have the whole phenomenon of Angry Birds, FarmVille, and other games.

    In other words, people’s attention is a finite resource. Authors are not only competing against other books on their topic and genre, they are also competing against every other media that wants a slice of their prospective reader’s attention.

  3. The publishing industry is stuck in an old model. I hate to admit this, because it is my industry. But most publishers are still focused on trying to find an audience for each new title rather than helping their authors build an enduring platform. Seth Godin was the first to get my attention on this, primarily through his book Tribes, which I highly recommend.

    But as an author, I wouldn’t assume that publishers will suddenly change and begin helping you build your platform. You must take responsibility for this yourself. If you can get help from your publisher, great. But in the meantime, re-calibrate your expectations. No one cares about your platform more than you. You must, therefore, carefully build it and nurture it. Done right, it will be an asset that will generate income for years to come.

The bottom line is that the time to build a platform is before you need it. Once you begin shopping a book proposal or once your book is published, it is too late. The good news is that it has never been easier. More on that later.

Question: What are you doing to actively build your platform? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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  • Charles Specht

    Mr. Hyatt,
    How many followers is considered a “good” or “stable” platform? What is the magic number that literary agents are looking for?
    Thank you,
    Charles Specht

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      I don’t think there is a set number. The main thing is to have a loyal following of ENGAGED followers. I think a good starting goal would be 10,000 unique visitors a month on your blog and 5,000 Twitter followers or Facebook friends/fans.

      • http://joyfulmothering.net Christin

        This gives me hope! I just opened my blog to the public about 7 months ago and my traffic has increased every month on an average of 40%.

        • http://twitter.com/BobEwoldt Robert Ewoldt

          Christin, I took a look at your site, and I think it’s great! I’m going to send the link to my wife; she’s always looking for good sites for mothers.

          • http://joyfulmothering.net Christin

            Oh, thank you very much! :) I appreciate that!

            Joy In Him,
            Christin
            Blog: Joyful Mothering ~ Faith. Laughter. Life.
            Twitter: @christinwrites

  • http://www.nebulousblood.com Brandon Gardner

    Thank you Michael for this great advice. I am just starting out as a self published author, and I have been doing lots of research on building an author platform. Your blog provides excellent information on the world of publishing. I’m taking my time to look over your articles, and I look forward to learning more.

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  • http://twitter.com/21tigermike Michael A. Robson

    Yeah, I love love love this post. And you know what? That’s what I love about the technology that we have at our disposal. You can do anything you want, and with a few online tools you can build your own fanbase. Slowly but surely, it can be done.

    And you hold all the keys. You hold the message, you design the website, the branding, and you pick the price (if you want to sell books, or collect ad revenue). You can use your website (as many do) to promote your services (like guest speaker, translator, interpreter, etc). You can be a comedian and promote your one liners on Twitter. It can be done, and it’s exciting.

    And the dinosaurs are freaking out about it.

  • http://www.SheBuildsEmpires.com Priorityclients

    Thank you @MichaelHyatt! I have many authors as clients who just want to focus on the book and think it’s enough! It’s been very frustrating to share with them that it doesn’t matter WHAT they do today – what book they right – what product they create – what speaking engagement they want to land – you HAVE to be present online if you want to get your message out there. And you look so much more attractive to publishers and the world when they can see that you already have a following…it’s like you’ve PRE-PROVEN yourself! I’m going to send this link on to my clients!

  • boomerpaw

    Michael: I just discovered your site and will be checking back regularly. One thing that caught my eye is the “click here” plugin in the upper right corner. So two questions: Is this a wordpress site? and is that “click here” an available plugin?

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Yes, this is a WordPress site. The plugin is called Page Peel. There are a lot of different ones out there.

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  • http://crpurdon.wordpress.com/ Carl Purdon

    I, too, have long thought the key to breaking through was writing the next great novel. A few days ago I joined Twitter and started reading advice from people such as yourself. My eyes are open now. I’ve been blogging for a while (spotty, pitiful blogging) but am now in the process of aquiring my own domain name and putting together a web site. There really is much more to writing that … writing.

    • http://crpurdon.wordpress.com/ Carl Purdon

      I need to work on my proofreading, too (should have been “writing than … writing”.

  • Chuck Huckaby

    I wonder how this would be applicable to support raising for missionaries and non profits. We tend to think in terms of “social media” but I’d have to believe that traditional media like radio would have to help too. Like some, I am afraid of promoting myself as something I’m not. It’s still a helpful concept.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      We have raised a lot of money through social money—I mean tens of thousands. It is amazing, how easy it is for people to contribute small amounts of money and how quickly it adds up.

      • Chuck Huckaby

        I’m sure that’s possible for a widely publicized topic… like Japan relief now. I wonder how you’d do it for a small niche ministry?

        • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

          Actually, I don’t think it is the size of the project or the public’s awareness about it. Most of the ones I have been involved in were small, local ministries. I think it has more to do with the size of the platform and the participants’ social authority with their audience.

  • Bob Stogner

    I am helping my daughter promote her new book, “The Unfading.” She truly is an excellent writer, but not at all into the “promoting” part. I am beginning to learn. A workshop leader on marketing new fiction said a new author needs 100 reviews on the internet. I am working on it. Our local newspaper has a group of writers called the “Teens & Twenties.” A high school freshman wrote the best, most knowledgeable and well written review so far! And it was published free in the local paper. There is a great deal to learn, but I think the effort is paying off.

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  • Haunted22

    I doubt that Stieg Larsson is blogging very much, and I don’t believe Rowling did it either. A lot of the bestselling authors you see regularly on the charts don’t overly devote much time to it; there are exceptions, of course. The fact is…no one knows why a book catches fire and burns up the lists. It either happens or it doesn’t, and I don’t believe ‘social media’ has much to do with it. Sorry…just my opinion

  • http://twitter.com/BobEwoldt Robert Ewoldt

    I’m building my brand around my website, brevis.me. My wife and I started the blog together, and now she’s splitting off to develop her own blog, and I’m refining the brand of brevis. I don’t know whether this will turn me into an author someday, but it’s definitely gotten me into the habit of writing.

  • darrell brown

    Wow!!! What honesty and insight. I appreciate this one more than you’ll ever know! Thanks for another wonderful post!

  • http://suburbiauncovered.com/ Matt Powell

    I find this truth very conflicting.  I do understand it has obvious benefits for publishing houses.  Also, I understand that it does make the author better through honing his craft as a writer and marketer with these social media tools.  However, I can’t help but wonder how many great writings are getting passed up because someone hasn’t created a “following.”  It takes an enormous amount of time to create a following and one could easily argue that the best writers are writing or improving upon their publishable works.

    All this to say, it is conflicting… as is true with so many things these days… I can’t help but wonder if our leverage of this technology is greater than the potholes it creates.

  • Anonymous

    Wow, this is great to know…I hope to publish in my future and it helps to know what some of the avoidable pitfalls are. I’m very interested in this topic.

  • http://www.kristievosper.com Kristie Vosper

    Thank you for this great post. Last year instead of being stingy about how many Facebook friends I allowed into my world, I started to see all of the various ministry connections I’ve made at several churches as my tribe. I am super grateful for Facebook’s new settings that allow you to limit who sees your status updates…this makes my introverted self a little less claustrophobic. I know that much of my blog traffic is rooted in my Facebook posts.

    When it comes to Twitter, I’m a little hesitant to build a huge network because I simply don’t want to read chatter from thousands of people. I want to read a few. I know that there are “lists” which I have under utilized…well let’s be honest…haven’t used at all. 

    I remember in your 2009 post on Twitter you shared my feelings about not following everyone who follows you, though I notice you’ve perhaps changed this since you follow several thousand people now. I’m curious if you have already posted thoughts in this regard, or as you earlier alluded, perhaps you are going to soon. I am willing to shift my thinking if it would help in my growth as a writer and in building my platform. 

    Thanks for always sharing such valuable work. Your blog could really be a graduate study program…:)

    • http://www.kristievosper.com Kristie Vosper

      Update: I jumped in. I made a list of all my “daily reads” and then started adding people. I’ve gained some followers already. I’m going to give myself a goal of 100 new followers a month.

  • http://www.facebook.com/lindylou.abbott Lindy Abbott

    joining web women’s groups and being active. writing blogs regularly. living life intentionally so I always have new ideas. reading as many books as possible and writing reviews. encouraging other writers by reading their blogs and making comments. 

  • http://CindyRatzlaff.com Cindy Ratzlaff

    Spot on advice, Michael.  I heard a publicist at BookExpo say that she won’t take on clients who haven’t yet built a significant Facebook and Twitter following.  Social media amplifies traditional marketing efforts and in a time of reduced marketing and pr budgets, social media is an essential tool that the author must bring to the promotional table.

  • writercynt

    I am a new writer and just read the article on creating a platform….help!  I’m not actually sure I know what or how to do that.

  • Lisa C

    I don’t believe you need to build relationships with every potential reader before being published but you should build it with influencers in the topic for what you are writing… I am the founder of one of the largest ministries for those with chronic illness and we are an affiliate of Joni and Friends. I have always self published the books through my ministry ( and we have made gobs more $ for the ministry this way–I donate all profits to the ministry)
    There are many people who write books on chronic illness/Christian viewpoint and the first time I ever hear from them is when they want me to sell the book or at least review it. I have never heard their name, they are not part of our 3000-person social network, they are not a friend on fB, etc. I don’t know anything about them, their view on healing, etc and so am more reluctant to spend the time trying to discover everything about them.
    When writing a book on a topic, get to know influencers, hang out in their circles, send them content for their site if they allow it, ask their opinion on your topic, even a quote/endorsement perhaps. If they are the founder/director of a ministry they may open doors for you, but if you have been hiding out to get the writing done, and now are going to try to sell it, it may be too late.
    FYI, I am working on a book for Christian moms with illness and just this week set up a fb page to get people’s stories, feedback, etc. Am creating a buzz in the readers while just starting to write the book and introducing myself to large groups of moms with illness waaaay before I will be asking for any favors. and my book will be much richer in content because of everyone’s input!

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      This is great advice. Thanks.

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  • http://juliesunne.com/ Julie Sunne

    As a “moderately technophobic” aspiring author, my son convinced me begin blogging nearly 8 months ago as a way to reach out with a message I felt compelled to share. Facebook was a logical next step. Now I also have Twitter and Pinterest accounts and am debating about Google-plus. You, Michael, and many others have convinced me a social media platform is essential if I desire to be a published author. Although not growing as fast as I would like, I am building my following by being honest, authentic, and prompt and writing solid content regularly.
    My biggest problems are the learning curve and managing my time on social media. Thanks for sharing your expertise in the publishing industry. You are a blessing to many.

  • http://twitter.com/BruceMunnings Bruce Munnings

    Hello Michael.  

    I found this blog particularly interesting as a friend of mine, also Michael, is in the process of trying to get his photography book out there and finding the process rather frustrating.  

    I was amazed at how easy it was to share this blog with him on Facebook and hopefully encourage him in the process.  Thank you again for an excellent article.

  • http://www.facebook.com/mel.menzies Mel Menzies

    Despite having been a traditionally published author for years, I self-published a book a while ago and have been building a platform ever since.  Yet I read, recently, that agent Rachelle Gardner tells novelists not to brand themselves.   How do you explain this?
    http://www.rachellegardner.com/2011/10/novelists-stop-trying-to-brand-yourself/

  • Colleen D.C. Marquez

    I’m using Kickstarter to help me presell copies of my first children’s story, A Gift for Little Tree – a parable about apples, adoption and love. My plan is to use the funding to help pay my amazing illustrator, and get the buzz going even before the book is printed. In just 3 days I am already 12% funded!

    I do community outreach in the adoption community for the largest US adoption agency, so my book will be a terrific outreach tool in my presentations.

    I’m using my contact and groups within LinkedIn, created a special Facebook group for the book, am starting to use Twitter, instagram, and Pinterest, too.

  • http://www.SmallGroupChurches.com/ Andrew Mason

    Next Article: Why those with a Platform must become an Author :)

  • Melinda Todd

    I’m working on it! And I’m getting there slowly with numbers. It will come. I’m still learning and I expect to continue to do so. Baby steps!

  • Andrew Dean Sargent

    The TRIBES link above takes me to a strange place.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      Where did it take you? I just tried it, and it goes straight to the Amazon detail page for the book. Thanks.

  • Judith Briles

    Building a Platform involves 3 key elements in the beginning–the Vision for the book and the author; the passion the author brings to the creation and support; and the commitment–time, energy and money. When they are in play, the people will come … but, and it’s a huge but, the author has to, no, must engage in GOYA factor–get off your ass–or the GOHA Factor…get off his/her ass. None of this happens by being on the sidelines and passive … it’s work, work, work. And it does work.

  • Tom

    This is a great post. So true. I would not say that building a platform is necessarily easy, but it’s certainly EASIER than it once was. It takes time, determination, and the ability to generate quality content. I think most authors (and people in general) quit way too early in the platform building process. You (Mike Hyatt) are an example of someone who kept plodding away over many years. I’m sure in the early days, what you did was not spectacularly successful – as it is today. My advice to authors (particularly self-published authors) is to look at this as a marathon and not a sprint.

  • Lovemore Nyatsine

    I agree Michael on the need to build a platform. I would add that its a combination of CONTENT + PLATFORM. Social media is a big game changer in building a platform as an author. Once you have content, you can use a strategy to ‘engage’ through social media to get your message out. If you have great content – and a good copy writing skills its easy to grab attention through blogging, tweeting and other social networks.

  • Brigitte Cobb

    I couldn’t agree more. I wrote a great book, got it published by a well-known publisher but really struggling with sales. I’m now focusing on building my platform.