Monday afternoons are my favorite part of the week. I know most people are probably wincing at the thought of anything Monday-related (and both Jarrett and I had the Mondayest of all the Mondays this week), but by 4 pm I’m usually in a groove and ready to head into author calls.
I love scheduling my calls in batches near the end of the day (more on why bundling tasks and batch processing keeps me sane), but what I really love most is the actual act of talking to authors. Every single time I hang up the phone after talking to an author—whether an existing client or an aspiring author—I feel more energized and connected to the why of what I do. I believe that literary agents should never forget that we are in service to the author (and ultimately, the reader). So speaking directly to authors about their struggles, anxieties, strategies, goals, and triumphs—and then providing context, advice, and encouragement—is one of the most rewarding parts of a well-worked day.
The questions I get most frequently on these calls are about platform-building (and it’s always a red flag if an author is not focused on building a readership), and the “how big is big enough?” question is the mack daddy of all the questions.
And I really, really, really (really!) wish I had a straightforward answer for it. But as I’ve written here and here, platforms are a complex interplay of both metrics and relationships. After all, the metrics are just an attempt to quantify your relationship with readers, and we all know relationships can’t be so easily quantified.
But! I am never one to leave a question stone unturned, so I’ll at least share my method for deciding if an author’s platform is big enough. Here are the two elements I look for:
- Breadth: I measure this most frequently through these 5 numbers, but I also look at things like the quantity of speaking engagements, TV appearances, press hits, influencer connections, brand partnerships, etc. These are the core elements that make up the Marketing & Publicity section of a book proposal, and they’re the very things that light up editors with excitement when they’re reviewing a proposal.
- Depth: Yes, hard stats are hard to argue with. But I’m a big believer that it’s not just about proving you can get eyeballs—it’s about proving you can get the real, live humans behind those eyeballs to support your work. There have been plenty of books with insanely well-trafficked properties behind them that have just flopped. That’s because traffic is just one of the many signifiers of the state of a reader relationship. It’s easy to forget that everything that happens online is just an interaction between one human and another. But thinking of it that way also helps us remember that the strength of a platform is just as much about depth as it is about breadth—after all, in real life you may have 1,000 acquaintances, but only 1 in 10 of them would care enough to support your endeavors (in this case, a book). But if you have just 300 close friends who love what you do and always support your work, then you’re already ahead of the game. (And here’s a handy printable on how to convert blog readers into book buyers.)
So, if I had to give a number of when a platform is “ready” (insert one million caveats here about how every author, book, publisher, and category is different, because all those caveats are very true), then my personal preference would be for an author to have 50,000 true fans.
True fans doesn’t mean 50,000 unique visitors a month, or 50,000 Facebook fans, or 50,000 email subscribers, or any of those easily identifiable stats. 50,000 true fans means 50,000 people who know your work well, love it, and who you feel certain would buy your book within 6-12 months of launch (or even pre-order it before it releases!).
If you can prove that you’ve built the relationships to sell 50,000 books within the first year, then, in my experience, editors can run a strong P&L, and you’ll be well on your way to a book deal. And more importantly, you’ll have a fun crowd of fans along to cheer you through your high moments, commiserate through the tough spots, and support you on the happy day that your book becomes a reality!