The Problem with Platform

How Much Does Social Media Really Matter?

I recently saw a tweet (see—social media!) from a writer attending a conference. This writer reported a panelist from a Big Five house said they now give their authors a social media grade. Sounds crazy right?

For better or for worse, crazy is the new normal. A decade ago, Facebook was for connecting with old classmates and Twitter had barely been founded. Your Microsoft Word would have drawn a red line under LinkedIn. Pinterest, Instagram, and Snapchat didn’t even exist. Now, authors are not only expected to be on those platforms, but to have thousands of people following them there too.

But in reality, how important is a social media platform? How can you use your Facebook profile to market a book? And do authors really get graded on their Twitter feed? Let’s dig in a little deeper and answer your top questions about platform. And if you’re looking for how-to guides and advice from the pros, check out the articles on social presence in the sidebar.


First, what is platform?

Platform is the reach an author has and their ability to connect to both consumers and influential people who can help promote their book. These days, platform has become shorthand for an online presence—namely social media and/or blogging. (For the purposes of this article, that’s what we’ll be focusing on.) However, platform also extends to speaking events, radio and TV appearances, and more.


How much does platform matter?

I’ve heard some people say platform is just as important as content. This is primarily true for nonfiction books. No one is going to buy your book on relationships unless you’ve proven yourself as an expert through conferences, blogs, etc. But the world of fiction is increasingly looking for authors who bring fans to the table. Sometimes authors will even be rejected if they don’t exist on the Internet. Sales and marketing folks want to know they have a place to start for their campaigns, that they can count on an author to be a part of the promotion process.

My recommendation for fiction authors would be to be present and growing. Make sure you have a website and two social media sites. Publishers want to see you have at least 500 followers on each platform—and believe me when I say that’s a bare minimum. But if you are showing consistent, organic growth (i.e. don’t go buying followers), you’re off to a strong start.


Do authors really get graded on social media?

Yes and no. I’ve never doled out report cards, but one of the first things I do when researching an author for potential acquisition is check their social media. I want to know what they are posting, who is following them, and what kind of persona the author is putting out into the universe. You may not get an A+ or a C-, but agents and editors are looking at your platform.


Does posting on social media count as marketing?

Not necessarily. Simply posting “Hey, buy my book” on a Facebook and Twitter account, even if they are home to several thousand followers, is not the same thing as marketing a book. In fact, most people would just consider that spam.

The authors who have social media figured out know how to create a personal connection that fosters an investment in their product as well as in their status as both author and human being. They include prompts to buy the book, but the majority of their feeds are filled with interesting articles, funny/applicable/intriguing messages, and the occasional cute kitty pic. If you use social media to engage an audience in your book—to be social—then yes, that counts as marketing.


Does traditional marketing still exist?

For hundreds of years, books were sold without the Internet. Yes, I know it’s hard to imagine, but once upon a time—not even that long ago, really—people had to market the old-fashioned way. Print ads. Serializations. Posters. Book signings. Advance reading copies. Author events.

Oh wait—we still do all of those things! Social media hasn’t replaced traditional marketing. In fact, almost all of the tried and true marketing techniques hold. It’s just that there is now another arena in which you can spread the word about your book. And that’s really what social media is—a tool for word of mouth. It’s a way to build relationships with readers, to increase brand loyalty to an author or a series. It isn’t a place to continually post the Amazon link to your book.


Does social media sell books?

The million-dollar question. Will the people who press a heart-shaped icon on your tweets also drop $19.95 on a hardcover edition of your novel? In my opinion, the jury is still out. Publishers have seen incredible success with authors who have a strong social following, and on the other side of the coin they’ve seen devastating flops.

The fact is, good books that have a strong marketing plan are going to do well nine times out of ten. Maybe that book has an author with a huge social following attached, or maybe it was written by someone the world has never heard of. But one thing is certain: just because you have a million “likes” does not mean your book will sell. The equation is not that simple. Take a look at the articles below for more opinions on social converting to sales:

·      Does Social Media Sell Books? Gillian Flynn’s Agent Gives Her Perspective

·      10 Social Media Strategies Successful Authors Use to Sell More Books

·      Does Social Media Really Sell Books?

·      The Author’s Three-Step Test for Sellability

·      Does Social Media Marketing Actually Sell Books?


How do I build a platform?

Here at Independent Publisher, we’ve covered a lot of your social media questions. Check out the articles in the sidebar for advice on Facebook to Wattpad and everything in between.


Have more questions? Post them in the comments section and we’ll do our best to answer!


Jillian Bergsma Manning is a contributing editor for Independent Publisher. She loves reading and writing but not arithmetic. Follow her on Twitter at @LillianJaine or on her blog at www.editorsays.com.