Thursday, October 20, 2016

Does Platform Trump Writing Ability - Who Wins the Debate?

by Cyle Young @CyleYoung

As a literary agent, I routinely get asked which is more important platform or the quality of the writing?

For writers who are looking to get published, this is an important question to debate. It may be the most important question.

The correct answer is not as easy as it may seem. The winner of this important debate between platform and writing ability can change more frequently than the tide. For the purposes of this post, I will look at this great debate from a traditional publishing perspective as it pertains to unpublished authors. For self-publishers, a third-party candidate weighs into the equation—marketing/networking.

Unpublished Authors

No website. No Twitter, Not even Facebook...
I have looked at a great number of submissions from first-time/unpublished authors and wanted to scream because their work was sooo good, but they had zero platform. Zilch, nada, nothing.

No website. No Twitter. Not even Facebook.

Sure these are extreme examples, but I can’t sell books written by authors who have no platform. It’s very difficult to sell books by authors with a small platform—many times near impossible.

If you have an excellent book and no platform, some agent may be able to sell your book, but your success rate will be low and that path will be paved with a lot of rejection.

Writing is a Business

Your boo is your business.
You have to remember, your book is your business. It’s a marketable and sellable product. To sell your book you need to have influence enough to convince potential buyers to purchase your product. And you have to understand that a real-world business with no influence doesn’t get sales, because it has no platform.

If you owned a small business with no buyer influence, would you risk going on the television show Shark Tank and attempting to get billionaire investors?

No of course not.

Those billionaires would tell you that you had no proof of concept. No sales potential.

It’s the same way with most publishers. They want to see that the book has sales potential to an audience or fan base that you are already connected with. Maybe through speaking, YouTube, instructional classes, blogging, etc. and at the bare minimum they want to see that you understand platform and you are actively working on growing your writer’s platform.

As an unpublished writer, if you want to sell your manuscript to a traditional publisher, you need to spend 60%+ of your time and effort building your platform. If it’s not your passion, learn to love it. Learn to make platform-building part of your passion.

There is only one winner in the debate between platform and writing ability as it pertains to an unpublished author—platform.

What percentage of your writing time do you spend working on platform? How can you make platform your passion?

Does Platform Trump #Writing Ability - Who Wins the Debate? @CyleYoung (Click to Tweet)

Cyle Young is thankful God blessed him with the uniqueness of being an ADD-riddled…SQUIRREL!...binge writer. Not much unlike the classic video game Frogger, Cyle darts back and forth between various writing genres. He crafts princess children’s stories, how-to advice for parents, epic fantasy tales, and easy readers.


  1. Cyle, Great post. Thank you for your honesty. I have learned first hand that platform trumps writing ability. When I pitched my book the agents wanted to know how many books I could sell. The number 5,000+ seemed to be the correct answer. Writing is a job not a hobby. I schedule time for platform building. I've also learned to get my name out there by writing articles for free.

    1. 5,000 is a good number. :) More of course is always better.

  2. A slightly different twist on this issue is whether platform trumps message. Too often (IMHO), the message is secondary to platform. That's why the market is cluttered with "fluff" stuff but little real substance. I often wonder how famous writers of yore, who by today's standards had no platform--but whose messages are recognized even today and whose books are still bestsellers--would manage in today's marketplace.

    1. I wonder this also. I doubt some of them would be published today, solely based on platform alone. It's a sad thought, but living in today's society brings a wealth of opportunity for a writer to create platform and get their book or message an audience.

  3. Thank you for the encouragement! Working tirelessly on platform : )

    1. Hint: Mailing list is most important right now :)

  4. Eye opening! 60% of your time building your platform. It leaves me speechless trying to figure out how to revamp my time to consistently write, revise, and edit AND platform build). The keyword here is consistently.Time to get back to work on social media.

  5. Eye opening! 60% of your time building your platform. It leaves me speechless trying to figure out how to revamp my time to consistently write, revise, and edit AND platform build). The keyword here is consistently.Time to get back to work on social media.

    1. Edie mentions often about taking a specific amount of time each day and setting it aside to build platform, that's a great method and a great way to start.

  6. Somehow the fact that platform trumps writing ability brings to mind a quote by John MacArthur: "People no longer ask is it true, but does it work."

    1. Amen to that!

      My husband says I'm a contrarian. My knee-jerk response to most things is to go the opposite direction. If the crowd is doing it, I don't want any part of it.

      The problem is that I've been an artist for a lot longer than I've been writing and I KNOW that art is 20% creativity and 80% marketing. The same is true for any business.

      My problem is that I spend so much time fretting over doing social media (or which avenues to use), that all creativity goes clean out the window. Platform may be important, but it's pointless if you have nothing to promote!

      So I'm less interested in doing what's popular or what's seen to "work" than in finding the right mix for me, the books I write (and the art I make), and my overall goals.

      Platform plays a big part in that.

      Social media plays a very small part.

      My suggestion is to learn everything possible from people who know the business (like Clyde and Edie), then analyze the information. Find the things that work for you, change them as appropriate, and don't stress about the rest.

    2. That quote is so true in today's world!

    3. Carrie, I like that you are finding the right mix for you in percentages. :)

  7. I see big name women leaders saying, "Stop trying to build platform...." I get it, we need to concentrate on our audience needs. But if I don't do the work of platform, I won't have an audience.

    1. Jennifer, remember those big name leaders already have a platform, so sometimes we must take that into perspective. If we don't have a platform, we must build one through diligent and relentless perseverance. :)

      So keep building that audience. :)

  8. Building a platform when you're just starting out seems like a Catch 22 situation. I understand you need an audience ready and willing to buy your book, but how do you build an audience when you don't have published material to promote? What's the best way to build a platform for an unpublished author?

    1. Jeff you ask a good question. It's short, but it's not a short answer. I'm going to list some blog posts at the end of this reply, but here's my short answer.

      First, people don't follow us because we have things published. They follow us because we have something interesting to share. An author has to be truly famous before they begin to pick up followers because they write books.

      I built this blog and my platform years before I had a book published. I got that first book published because it was good AND because I had a solid platform.

      Here are some posts about platform building:

      This post is the last one in a series on building a social media platform:

      I hope this helps! Blessings, E