Chip MacGregor

May 28, 2014

What comes first, the platform or the contract?


I had several people send in marketing questions recently…

“In publishing, which comes first — the chicken or the egg? Do we need to have a book published before we start building a platform? Or do we start building a platform before we have a book to push?”

If the platform is the chicken, it’s definitely the chicken that comes first. If I walk into a publisher’s office with your nonfiction book, the FIRST question he or she will ask is, “What’s her platform?” I can sell good writing and a good idea from an author with a great platform. But it’s tough to sell even great nonfiction writing that comes from an author with no platform. So that’s easy — start building your platform NOW.

“In laymen’s terms, can you tell me what a marketing platform is?”

Your platform is a number. In simplest terms, your platform is the number of people you can influence to buy your book — and these days your publisher is going to expect the author to be responsible for about half the overall number of copies sold of your nonfiction book. So add up the people you can influence — the number of people you speak to at conferences, the number who read your blog, the number who get your newspaper column, the number of people in your organization, the number who listen to you on the radio or watch you on TV. All those media contacts you have can be turned into a number — and that’s the number the publisher will look to when they think about selling your book. If it’s a smaller house, they might be hoping to sell four-to-eight-thousand books. (That means you’d have to sell between two-and-four-thousand copies — which is a lot of books.) If it’s a medium sized publisher, they’re looking to sell twelve-to-twenty. If it’s a large publisher, they may only be interested in titles that will sell twenty-five-thousand copies. But you’ve got to sell half… and that means your marketing platform needs a big number.

“I’ve been asked to speak at a couple places, but it’s the same month my book comes out. Should I say ‘yes,’ and use that as an opportunity to promote my book? Or should I say ‘no,’ and spend my time doing other marketing? I don’t want to jump at every speaking engagement that comes up.”

If it were me, I’d probably say “yes.” When your book is releasing, you want as many promotional opportunities as you can get. Say yes to everything. Go speak. Write for people. Get out there and be seen. Work yourself hard, because you’ll soon be working on another book, and that means sitting by yourself, in a room, with your keyboard… and no crowds to clap for you and tell you what a great job you’re doing. Given a chance to promote a book, an author usually has a limited window. Do everything you can to maximize that window.

“I have a popular blog, and I’m curious what you think about having links on it. Do they help? Should I include them?”

Yes, links bring in traffic, and they’re part of what makes the blogosphere a social network. I happen to think Mike Hyatt’s (former CEO of Thomas Nelson) blog is great, and there are several others I visit regularly:, Chuck Sambuchino’s Guide, Rachelle Gardner’s blog,, Writer Unboxed, C.S. Laken,… there are a bunch. Sometimes I include links so others can visit them (and you’ll forgive me, but not this time, since I’m at BEA and rushing to get this done). Maybe they return the favor (maybe not — doesn’t matter to me), but it gets people visiting other sites and that brings readers to my own site. That’s the essence of social marketing.

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