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How Many Twitter Followers Do You Need to Get a Literary Agent?


The quick answer: why are you concerned about Twitter followers?  Is it because someone once told you that you need a big social media following to get a book deal?  Even though there were clearly authors before Twitter and clearly authors who are not on Twitter?

Think about that for a moment.

Brooke Warner (my editor for Navigating the Land of If at Seal Press who started SheWrites) has a great piece explaining author platform, which I think can be a confusing thing to understand and therefore people simplify it in their minds as meaning that they need to be active all over social media in order to get a book deal.  But that isn’t the case at all.

Social media, Brooke points out, is just one piece of the puzzle, and it’s a small one at that.  She places it at 10%.  I’d argue that it matters a bit more than 10% but that is because I think active social media users do a lot of networking.  And unless you are additionally doing a lot of face-to-face networking, you aren’t building the remaining parts of your social media platform.

The point is not to gather followers: numbers mean little to nothing.  The point is to become active and have your voice heard.  To be able to show interaction.  When it comes to the online portion of your platform, agents and publishers want to see you responding to others and others responding to you.

Back in that How to Get Published series (links to individual posts are on my right sidebar), I talked about how your platform is your reach.  Think about your words as a set of arms: who do they touch if you hold them out?  Are you a respected voice in your field (non-fiction) or a unique voice in the literary world (fiction)?  Do you have traditional media contacts?  Do people listen to you on social media?  Do they read your blog?  Do you have people out there in the world who will help you with the publicity of your book?  And, mostly important, is it all somewhat consistent?

Meaning, you don’t need viral posts; you need to show that you can consistently produce content that people respond to.  If you already have published a book, your proof is in the response to the prior book.  If you haven’t already published a book, your proof is cobbled together from blog posts, speaking gigs, social media accounts, etc.

The best things you can do to build platform as you write your book:

  • Write Blog Posts: they are a litmus test for your ideas.  Do people respond to your voice?  Your ideas?
  • Participate in the Blogging World: it’s not enough to just write good content; you need people to find it.  Get out there and participate in the blogging world so people find your posts.  In other words, be a good member of the community and do everything you want people to do for your blog: read other people’s blogs, comment on them, share good blog posts via your social media accounts.  Others will start doing the same back to you.
  • Network on Social Media: become an active user of a network you enjoy and start interacting with book bloggers, agents, publishers, and potential readers.
  • Network off Social Media: don’t fall into the trap of having your entire world online.  Take classes, go to conferences, make friends with other writers, start a face-to-face writing group.  The most valuable part of an MFA program wasn’t learning how to write; it was helping me make connections and placing me around other writers.
  • Practice Writing: platforms don’t get you book deals.  Good writing gets you a book deal.  It doesn’t matter what you’ve set up for yourself (unless you are Paris Hilton) if you’re a crap writer.  Continuously write: it’s impossible not to get better at writing if you’re doing it all the time.

Please note that the reason I give the specific advice above is due to where you’ve found this information: the Internet.  That is very very important to note.  If you were a student in my class, I would not be so focused on the online world.  But I’m going with the assumption that YOU are comfortable here; “here” being the online world.  It’s where you seek information.  Therefore, it’s likely a place where you will try to build your platform.

But it’s just as valid to not try to build it online if that’s not a space where you feel comfortable or where you excel.  If you’re more comfortable offline, I may tell you to submit to literary magazines, get involved in a literary magazine, submit to anthologies, attend workshops, and attend author readings.  I would tell you to teach a class in your subject, build up your contacts in a given field via volunteer work, and ingratiate yourself to people who may review your book in the future via mainstream media outlets.

In other words, every person will build their platform differently, and the best platforms are a happy extension of the author, not a painful exercise in spinning too many plates.  Do what you enjoy to get your voice out there.  No book deal is worth trying to fit yourself into places where you don’t feel comfortable.

So stop worrying about Twitter followers.  And read Brooke’s adviceAnd let me know if you have any questions.

Totally off-the-topic side note: tomorrow is #MicroblogMondays.  Write something now so you have something go.  Great way to build platform and find new readers for your blog!


1 queenjohnsonclan { 10.05.14 at 8:01 am }

This is great information! I have a dream of becoming a writer some day… I refer to it as my old lady goal 🙂 Thanks for this.

2 mrs spock { 10.05.14 at 9:05 am }

I will have to bookmark this, as I am working hard this year at finishing my first draft. At the same time, I am thinking- eep- finishing this draft is only the first of many steps.

3 Karen (formerly Serenity) { 10.05.14 at 9:47 am }

Thank you for this post; I have just made my first forays into other area of social media (twitter), and I wonder just how active I need to be on it. Super timely post for me. I especially love the idea at the end: that the social platform should be a happy extension of the author versus the author trying to do too much. Love that idea of balance.

4 Lori Lavender Luz { 10.05.14 at 3:01 pm }

What Karen loves.

Sharing this.

5 earthandink { 10.06.14 at 12:26 am }

I have always said that Twitter is not my social media platform. I’m not funny on the fly enough and I’m a novelist not a short story writer. 😉 That verbosity gets me every time. I laugh in the face of 140 characters. And trust me when I say they laugh back.

That said, things in offline life have conspired to make me less active in my blog than I hope to be in the future. But I choose blogging because I like blogging (and bloggers!) and not to get interest from anyone. I need to finish writing my book and that is about two years away.

So for now and most likely for good, blogging is for fun and to connect with members of my tribe. Not that I’m opposed to it helping author-me in the future. But that just feels far, far away!

And despite all of that, I’m working on figuring out what exactly I want to do with my blog. At some point.

6 Lexy { 10.06.14 at 6:34 am }

I’m don’t pay attention to the numbers. I prefer quality over quantity any day of the week (online and offline).

7 Kristin Nilsen { 10.07.14 at 1:36 am }

This is a HUGE relief to me as I dutifully tweet my blogposts to no one because I don’t follow anyone because I don’t feel comfortable there. It feels completely inauthentic and frantic and yet I’m told I’ll be a complete failure in today’s world if I don’t. I would much rather focus on engaging people. Thank you!

(c) 2006 Melissa S. Ford
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