How Big of a Platform Does an Author Need?

Agent Chip MacGregor has been doing a question and answer session on his blog. I really appreciate him doing this and I’m learning from each segment he does. Recently he got this question: How big of a plaform does an author need?

I know many agents are looking for an author to have a big “platform.” What does a big platform look like to you?

Chip answers:

“A platform is a number. You speak? How many people do you speak to over the course of a year? You write a column? What’s your readership? You’re on radio? What’s your listenership? You blog? How many hits do you get? You do a column? How many people read your work? You belong to organizations? How many people are you connected to? All of those are numbers — just add up the numbers, and you’ll know how big your platform is. The bigger the number, the happier a publisher is going to be. More important is how many people you actually have some sort of relationship with — that is, how many of those folks do you speak to or consider an acquaintance? Can you suggest what percentage might actually purchase a book? A small publisher may be happy with a platform of ten to twenty thousand. A medium sized published may be looking for a platform that is at least forty to sixty thousand. A large publisher may not be all that interested if your platform is less than 100,000 — possibly not interested if your platform is less than 250,000, depending on the project.”

ID-100261424After I pick my jaw off the floor, I started thinking about those numbers. Ten thousand people needed to satisfy a small publisher? A quarter of million people or a large publisher won’t even give you the time of day. Those numbers are simply staggering.

I really wish this blog was anonymous (well more anonymous than it is), because I might like to submit to Mr. MacGregor’s agency one day. But I have to wonder, if I had a platform of that size, why exactly would I need a publisher or agent? At that point, I’ve connected with thousands of potential readers. It’s simply a matter of what the conversion rate is.

The only thing a publisher could offer at that point is paper distribution. While it might be nice to see my name on a book on the front table at Barnes and Noble, that’s highly unlikely. Slots for debut novels are getting harder and harder to get. In all likelihood, I’d have one or two copies spine out in the fantasy section. In exchange for those paper copies, I would have to take much smaller royalties than I could get self-publishing.

I understand publishers want authors to assist with marketing the book. That makes sense. But it sounds like what Mr. MacGregor is communicating is that they want you to come with your readership already reached as well. What exactly are they doing at that point? Cover? Editing? Couldn’t those be purchased from quality freelancer (perhaps even those who formerly worked for a big or even medium sized publishing house)?

Maybe this is something I’ll learn as I continue on my journey but today, it seems like the publisher doesn’t offer me much if I’m already bring the platform.


image: “Cartoon Businessman With Megaphone” by iosphere. Image courtesy of iosphere /