Chip MacGregor

January 5, 2012

Thursdays with Amanda: How Big Should a Writer's Platform Be?


NOTE: Amanda Luedeke is a literary agent with MacGregor Literary. You can follow her on Twitter @amandaluedeke or join her Facebook group to stay current with her wheelings and dealings as an agent.

You've heard it before…if you really want to impress an agent, make sure you have three things: a great idea, supported by great writing and a great platform.

But let's be honest, either you're born with a knack for words or you're not.

Either a great idea drops into your head one day, or it doesn't.

But platform…platform doesn't happen by chance. Platform is all about hard work.

I think it's funny that we dedicate entire conferences and workshops and critique groups to the very components that we have the least control over (You can't make great writers out of bad writers, and no classic American novels were written by following a novel-writing template), while the the third component–the one that really can be taught into existence–gets ignored.

This really bugs me, because we've turned platform into this mysterious entity that's somehow more difficult to achieve than writing a best seller. Somewhere along the line, we've decided using social media is more nebulous than developing a plot destined for the silver screen and that growing a readership as an unpublished author is more far-fetched than an agent offering on-the-spot representation.

How we became so dillussional is lost on me, but I'd like to begin to set things straight and pull platform out of the doghouse it's been sitting in for so long.

So first things first, what do impressive social media stats look like? (Hold on, it's going to be a bumpy ride…)

The cold, hard truth is that solid author platforms come in the tens or hundreds of thousands.

Let’s get more specific…

If you have a website or blog, your monthly unique visitor count should be at least 30,000

If you have a Twitter account, your followers should be pushing 5,000

If you have a Facebook group, your following should be pushing 5,000

If you’re a public speaker, you should speak at least 30 times a year and you should shoot for a total audience number of at least 10,000

If you write for e-zines and e-publications on a regular basis, you should have your words in front of at least 100,000 readers per month

If you write for print publications on a regular basis, you should have your words in front of at least 100,000 readers per quarter

Intimidated yet? I know I am. These numbers aren't easy to achieve. That’s why those who do so stand out in a crowd. And standing out makes them more likely to be published.

I'll be continuing this conversation every Thursday for the next few weeks, but in the mean time, let's talk about these numbers. Are they daunting? Feasible? Have they made you re-think how you’re using social media? Have they redefined success? Share your thoughts.


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  • eandtsmom says:

    Yes, these numbers are daunting. But, by the same token, there is a symbiotic relationship between doing the various activities you mention, and the growth of your online networks. Speaking more frequently boosts your online following. Having more who are engaging with your content followers makes you easier to find as a speaker. When you add in to that the fact that social platforms are changing all the time, and new ones (like Google+) appear that should not be ignored, it can be hard to prioritize your activities.

    When I work with my clients, I emphasize the importance of organic growth. The numbers you mention are achievable using black hat techniques. But white hat techniques are more valuable, because they represent an audience that is interested in you and what you have to share. Engagement is more important than numbers, in my opinion, because that’s what creates visibility. And as you become more visible online, others will follow you as well because they’re interested in the conversation you’re generating online.

    Build the relationships! The numbers will come. Using a social platform necessarily means, you *have* to be social, and it must be part of your marketing plan.

  • kim kouski says:

    I don’t have 30,000 visitors to my blog each month, more like 600 a month and have around 800 followers.  I only allow family, co-workers and church friends on my facebook cause it’s kinda private, so my friend count is kinda small compared to 5000.  I don’t get twitter, I’ve tried.  Who has time to read all of it?? I have no clue what to do with it.  I’ve learned though that if you write on your blog what you find interesting, then others will follow. Try to write at least once a month if you can.   I have lots of articles about medieval stuff and how to write a sword fighting scenes and my readers love it.  Do what you love and others will follow.  Oh, and I’m not published yet, so I still have time to learn about twitter.  maybe. If I can ever figure it out!!  🙂

    • eandtsmom says:

      I have to admit, Kim, that of all the social networks I work with, Twitter is my absolute favorite. When I’m speaking on this topic, I refer to Twitter as “the global water cooler.” It’s where people come to for brief snippets of time to share ideas, join in conversation, learn about recent news and events, and hear about the best books, movies, TV shows, etc. Whatever you’d think about discussing in the break room at work, is pretty much what you’ll find on Twitter. But the value is that, as you meet these people day after day, you build a connection with them; a relationship forms. And you never know where that will take you!

      One particular Twitter community I’m part of joined together to write a book. 21 of us so-authored a book on character-based leadership that’s due out in May. Our overall Twitter community consists of thousands of followers, many of whom are eager to promote the book when it comes out. That’s a powerful thing to have happen, and if I hadn’t invested time and energy in this community, I never would have been part of this project.

  • Janelle Woodyard says:

    Amanda, Thanks for sharing these stats. I like your post where you wrote about building a platform is like Dominoes. You also mentioned authors should focus on one of the above-mentioned areas.  Focusing on one area is a feasible goal within my reach.  Thank you for offering that extra piece  of information.

  • Kate-dolan says:

    I have to say, at first glance these numbers seem so impossible to achieve that it seems hopeless. I do agree that writer’s conferences need to devote a lot more time to helping both published and unpublished authors build their platform.

  • Peter DeHaan says:

    Wow, those are daunting numbers. I think that as all these spaces become increasingly more crowded, any significant following will be hard to achieve, let along maintain.

  • Stevie Rey says:

    LAWWWD ha’ mercy! Platform has been the bane of my existence, young Amanda. But, its coming along!
    Blessings to you!
    Stevie Rey

  • Amanda Luedeke says:

    My heart really goes out to the writers who aren’t naturally marketers or salespeople, and I GET it. I get that it’s not an easy transition. I wish I could tell you not to worry about it, but that would irresponsible of me. It’s true, fiction writers have to worry much less about platform. But even then, you need to be able to peddle your goods if you want to have a career as a writer. That, or your manuscripts need to be mind-blowing.
    Yes, putting in the time is key!
    And thanks for suggesting Disqus.

  • BTW, you might consider using Disqus for comments so you can reply directly under each post. It’s a great tool. It’s free.

  • Those are do-able numbers, but they take time. You can’t just “get” fans on Facebook. And I’ve been tweeting several years now and have a good amount of followers (again, though, this took time.) My email distribution list is pretty good, but that took six years to build.
    You cannot build a platform like the one you’re purporting quickly or simply without looking like a Me Monster or a hyperactive multilevel marketing person.
    How I’ve built my platform? A simple formula:
    Time + Consistently good content + tenacity + doing unto others as I’d have them do unto me = Platform.
    One of the most helpful illustrations in this endeavor is that of a long gravel driveway. On five pieces of gravel, there’s a red X. Your job is to turn over rocks until you find all five. Yes, it takes time. Yes it’s tedious. But there are no shortcuts (other than renting a bulldozer).

  • Joyce A. Anthony says:

    Amanda, I’m also thinking about what you stated in regards to people being good at some things and not others. A writer writes. Often they have little to no selling skills. Yes, they can be “taught” how to go about these things, but if it doesn’t come naturally, the person comes across as fake–a sure killer in the public eye.
    Take me, for example. I sold Girl Scout cookies way back when they were a mere dollar a box. Let me rephrase that; I TRIED to sell Girl Scout cookies. I worked my butt off knocking on doors (and we all know these cookies pretty much sell themselves) and sold maybe ten boxes in a week. My younger sister, trying to help, went the same route, knocked on the same doors, and ended up selling over 200 boxes in three days. It wasn’t anything she said, it was merely she had that sparkly kind of personality that people loved.
    My skill is writing and if I feel passionate about a cause, I can “sell” that but when it comes to trying to get someone to spend money, I come out weak and ineffective–and I definitely do not come across as bubbly, perky or anything of the nature that naturally attracts people.

  • Joyce A. Anthony says:

    I imagine those numbers would have stopped some of the greatest authors from ever publishing had they been necessary at the time 🙁 How can any one person find the time to gather those kinds of followers and write? Add to that the fact that most authors are truly introverts who, even with extreme effort, can’t physically socialize enough to gather such a following and you have many great authors who will never be published if they seek traditional avenues. I’m wondering how many people will read that and just give up out of frustration?

  • Amanda Luedeke says:

    I thought I’d posted a reply, but I think it got lost!
    First, I wanted to let you know that I tweeted the link to Gabrielle’s site 🙂
    And second, while her stats may not add up, Gabrielle has one thing going for her that could really make a difference in her career…she has a fan base. If I were her agent, I’d encourage her to take those 1400 followers, and mobilize them. Just imagine what would happen if only 500 of them committed to spreading word about her book. That’s 500 Amazon reviews, 500 blog posts, 500 links shared on Facebook, Twitter and more. Suddenly, her fan base of 500 reaches out and touches 500,000 and then 1,000,000.
    This is how I’d tout her website, and I know it would get editors and publishers nodding their heads in agreement. Seth Godin calls it the “Tribe.” He says if you can get 1000 supporters, then you have a guerrilla marketing team that can accomplish anything.
    So all is not for naught! Hold on to those followers and when it comes time, cash in on their fandom.

  • Amanda Luedeke says:

    Anyone who excels at an art form goes through some sort of training, that’s for sure. But the training itself can only benefit the person to the extent that their personal ability will allow.
    I’m not a very good dancer. Now I could learn the steps of a waltz and probably get by, but no one is ever going to be paying me lots of money to perform. It’s because dancing isn’t in my blood…and there’s no amount of tuttelage that can change that.
    The same is with writing. We can teach people how to perfect their craft–how to create character arcs and show instead of tell, but if they aren’t born with the writing spark, then no amount of training will turn them into authors.
    I’m sure there are people who disagree with me, but this is something I feel passionately about. I want us to see writing as an art form and not a learned skill.
    Just my soap box 🙂

  • CathyS says:

    Your overall philosophy on writing intrigues me:
    “But let’s be honest, either you’re born with a knack for words or you’re
    “Either a great idea drops into your head one day, or it doesn’t.”
    So if one wasn’t able to write “classic novels” from birth, then he or she should just give it up? Effort makes no difference.
    Now there’s news the writing community and those charging hundreds to attend writers’ conferences to learn and meet agents should know about.

  • Tahma Nash says:

    Gabrielle’s unique visitors were 2,708 for Dec. 11,000 total views that month. She has worked her tushy off, that I’ve seen. Her blog address is if you want to check it out.
    She is working on transitioning the blog to a writer’s blog, instead of review. She has more followers than many YA authors, but they cannot review as she can, of course. That may impact the growth of her blog in the future, unless she writes something on the level of JK Rowling.
    Thanks for your interest. I have a book proposal in with Chip, but he likely fears I’ve fallen off the face of the Earth. I should email him, but I know you all are so busy that I find myself not wanting to take up his valuable time.
    Have a great day.

  • The numbers are daunting but they are numbers. And stats are finicky. What I really want to do is just write an outstanding book. Hard to do when I’m working on upping my platform numbers.

  • Amanda Luedeke says:

    Wow, she’s certainly unlocked many of the platform secrets. I imagine that her unique visitor count is a fairly good number…I tend to not pay much attention to follower numbers, because they typically don’t reflect the full reach of the blog. So maybe check those blog stat numbers out?

  • Tahma Nash says:

    Those numbers are intimidating. I have watched my 17 year old, tech-savvy daughter build an amazing blog in a year and a half. She started it as a YA review blog, and our bookshelves are overrun with books sent from major publishers happy for her to read their ARCs. She was the first blogger in the nation to receive one of the most highly anticipated releases of 2012. She posted 365 times last year, yes, every single day. She read 165 books. She made VLOGS, she guest posted on very highly read sister blogs. She has 1400 followers in a year and half of steady work. She is also writing her own book, but she says she is worn out. Her Twitter followers hover at 1000. A pittance, compared to the tens of thousands you suggest. I cannot imagine the work and time it would take to achieve those staggering sums. It is no wonder everyone is interested in the how. This brave new world of CLOUT scores, Gabrielle’s is 49, though necessary is still sad. I wonder if the truth of it is that we must do all we can, and rest with there being an end to our abilities and an end to our desire to participate in every social media outlet that springs forth. Sigh.

  • Peggy Kennedy says:

    I need to get really busy! somewhat intimidating but also challenging.

  • Emii says:

    Eek, intimidating, yes! But informative.

  • I’m not sure just why but numbers don’t scare me. They represent, after all, one person at a time. Also, to me numbers just equal work plus time. Okay, make that working smarter plus time management.

  • Amanda Luedeke says:

    Richard Mabry,
    First, I should explain that before my career in publishing, I worked as a social media marketer for a number of international brands. That experience is where I pull most of my numbers/facts/opinions.
    So these numbers are a mixture of what I’ve found has impressed editors in the past, what my experience as a social media marketer has shown me, and what I, as an agent, would feel comfortable touting as a great platform.

  • Alison says:

    Egads. There’s a mood killer for ya.
    Definitely looking forward to the “how to grow your platform” posts since I’m NOWHERE near those numbers. Guess that would explain some things. 🙂

  • Amanda, the scientist in me asks about the source of those figures. The author in me quakes at their magnitude.
    Thanks (I suppose) for giving us this word. Like Paula, I look forward to future Thursday lessons on how to achieve those numbers.

  • Paula says:

    “Would be” and “should be” are good to know but, for a newbie like me, an explanation of “how” is priceless.
    I look forward to reading more, especially when it comes to the “HOW to broaden your platform” part.

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