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Can You Have a Platform Without Social Media? Yes.

This past week a writer shared with me a familiar challenge:

“Publishers and agents expect authors to have a strong social media presence. I’ve taken seminars and workshops about social media. I feel like I understand how to do it, but I just don’t enjoy it.”

Today I would like to explain why I feel that if you are an author or artist, you DO NOT need social media in order to have “a platform.” Plus: I’ll tell you exactly what will make agents and publishers happy, even if you never touch social media.

First, Write a Good Book

Okay, the first thing that agents and publishers want is for you to write a good book. So, start with craft. Write a book that an agent or publisher will fall in love with, or one that fits a need in the marketplace that is obvious.

For Platform, This What Agents and Publishers Really Want

When an agent or publisher says, “We want to see that you have a strong social media presence,” they could actually care less about social media. What they are saying is this:

“Hi. We like your book. But you see, it’s really difficult for us to ensure this book will reach an audience, garner enough sales, and not be a huge waste of our time and money. So what would be great is if you could help us out. Since you are the author, you know this work way better than we ever could. It would be wonderful if you could forge a connection with the folks most likely to want this book. Those most likely to seek it out. To buy it. To leave reviews for it. To tell a friend about it. To create conversations about it. To create buzz around it. Because we can try. We have wonderful sales people, distributors, publicists, editors, marketers and so much else. But these people are busy. We are publishing 10 other books this season. They will do their best to ensure each book is brought to market as best as possible. But with hundreds of books being published into the market this month by various publishers, plus the thousands others being self-published, we just can’t guarantee success. So what would be great is if you could PROVE TO US that you have a clear sense of who the target market is, and show a clear ability to actually get them to take action. Thanks.”

Again, all of this is packed into the shorthand “We want to see that you have a social media presence.” In summary, agents and publishers want you to:

  1. Write a great book.
  2. Have a sense of who may love it.
  3. Have some way to reach them.
  4. Have clear ways to try to get those people excited about the book, so much so that they take an action: buy it, review it, post a review, tell a friend.

Social media is not the only way for you to reach your audience or encourage book sales or word of mouth marketing. There are many other ways to do this, including plenty that are way more effective than social media.

How to Establish a Non-Social Media Platform

The idea of “platform” has nothing to do with social media. It is about two things:

  • Communication
  • Trust

If you have that with a group of people who may like your book, then you have a platform. Social media is not a requirement in this equation. Now, here is the kicker, the part that trips many people up:

Platform does not require social media, but it does require you to be social.

That can bring up all kinds of anxiety in each of us. I wrote about this in my book, Be the Gateway:

“That sounds scary, right? The idea that you have to seek out your audience, one person at a time, and engage with them. Think of it as being back in high school — the same social fears we had back then still exist within us today. Maybe you remember that feeling of walking into the lunch room on the first day of school. You are holding a tray of fish sticks, and as you look out across the lunch room for a seat, you don’t see any familiar faces. You panic, not knowing where to sit. If you sit in the wrong place, you could be rejected by others, or perhaps you will sit with the “wrong crowd” and forever be linked with them. Or worse, you sit alone, looking as though you have no friends as you dissect the fish sticks.”

“When it comes time to share our creative work, the high school fears rise up within us. It can feel like that first day all over again, where all of the security of friendships, sense of place, social standing, and validation are wiped away. We feel vulnerable because we are sharing something we care about with the world, and others can reject us. It is as if you walked into the lunch room, except instead of holding a tray of food, you are holding your creative work. As you look around the room, you are hoping for signs of someone noticing you and waving you over to their table — to be welcomed into a community of people who will appreciate what you have created.”

So, what are other ways to develop a platform for your book or art, without relying on creating a big social media following? What could you say to an agent or publisher that would get them excited about your platform, even with zero social media followers? Some ideas:

  • “I do nothing on social media, but I speak at 40 events per year that will reach 8,000 members of the target audience for this book. These people have access to a wider audience of about 40,000 people, nearly all of whom represent the target market for this book. I will be out there, on the road, hustling for this book, speaking to ideal readers, all year long.”
  • “I don’t do social media, but I have close connections to these 10 people who do. Each of them have already read drafts of the book, and told me they will help me out. In total, their social media reach is about 400,000 people, and all of them have a following who would love this book. Let me take you through the specifics of what each of these 10 people will do to feature my book when it launches…”
  • “I don’t do social media, but I run a podcast that has 1,000 downloads a day. Over the past four years, I have shared more than 400 episodes, almost all of which focus on the topics from my book. In that process, I have established connections with about 120 people who are experts in this topic and who have strong credibility with my ideal audience. I’ll be reaching out to each of them with the following ideas…”
  • “I don’t do social media, but I volunteer for an event that caters to the exact readers for this book. In addition to those I reach directly with my work, I have a strong network of 400 other people who also reach the exact people who would love this book. I have constructed a campaign to work with them to help ensure this book gains traction. Let me tell you more about it…”
  • “I don’t do social media, but I own this amazing RV. I painted the side of it with the key message in my book, and have scheduled 100 stops across the country to meet with small groups of my ideal audience. I have called ahead to small organizations, bookstores, and events. I have created a marketing campaign that ties all of this together, and there is a charitable aspect to the work as well. In each stop, we will help highlight a cause that is central to the book’s theme. This has helped us get a lot of nonprofits involved too.”
  • “I don’t do social media, but I have already setup 20 interviews with people who my ideal audience really respects. These will be published as essays, and I have convinced a conference to share it with their attendees as a digital gift. In addition, half of these people agreed to share the interview with their network, and in total, that equals a reach of 8,000 people who love this topic.”

Now, some these examples are a little bit extreme. But they illustrate the gumption required to prove to people that you will adequately reach the ideal audience for the book. If you have concerns that agents or publishers are turning you down because you “don’t have a social media following,” then simply find another way to prove to them that you can reach the ideal audience for your book and encourage those people to buy it, review it, and talk about it.

In each of these examples, you find that communication and trust are key. That being social in some capacity, is required.

Why You Will Still Pursue Social Media as a Core Part of Your Platform

I’m sure that many of you are thrilled to learn that you do not need to use social media in order to establish a platform for your career as a writer.

But I want to be real with you, and give you an example of why you will likely continue to pursue social media anyway. I saw Jon Acuff share this recently:

Seeing this, a couple things came to mind:

What Candace, or more likely her publicist, did is within all of our reach: Physically create a fun package with our book, and mail it to someone we admire, who also happens to have a large social media following. Jon’s audience is likely filled with people who would resonate with Candace. The sticking point here? It costs quite a bit of money to create and mail that package. Those gloves costs $30, the copy of the book probably cost $3 to print, and shipping was probably $8. I’ll bet she printed up stationary, so all in we are talking about $50 to reach Jon Acuff with this package.

Now, are you more likely to spend $50 per person to attempt to reach someone influential? Or will you just send a Tweet, which is free?

Because these offline channels can become expensive in terms of not just money, but time and commitment. You can engage in social media while waiting in the pick up line at your kids school, but showing up to an in person event three towns away requires at least a two-hour commitment.

The image above is also a reminder of something: we all wouldn’t mind hitting the lottery. To find success as a writer or artist requires a lot of work. If you stick with it for ten years, and work really hard, you will likely find some level of success.

But wouldn’t it be nice to simply post a single video to the internet and suddenly find the validation and audience you always dreamed of? Just as Candace did:

Social media is difficult because the process of communication and trust is not easy to forge. It requires patience, caring, attention, and giving.

My point is this: there are many ways to forge those kinds of connections with other people. Many ways to establish a platform for your life as a writer or artist.

How will you make it happen?

-Dan

  • Dan, this is fantastic stuff. Really good, meaty content that you have been posting. In particular, this post has Cal Newport’s Deep Work written all over it! I love it, especially since I only recently read his book. I appreciate how you offer specific ways we can still reach our audience without directly using social media. Perhaps for those of us who still do use our social media accounts, it would be helpful for us to be more intentional about how/when/what we post instead of the temptation toward mindless scrolling as avoidance of diving in to our deep creative work. Either way, I wish very much I didn’t “need” social media, because I’d much prefer interacting with people face-to-face in real-time conversations! But, as you mentioned, we do need to take an honest look at the pros/cons of every way we connect with others.

    What I like best about your message is that you encourage, time and again, for us to make personal connections and build our platform slowly, over time. Your encouragement today was for me to stick with this for 10 years and I’ll likely see some level of success! I’ve been at it for 3, so another 7 is definitely doable. Thanks and have a great weekend!

    • THANK YOU SO MUCH for all of your thoughts on this!
      -Dan

  • Thank you so much for this, Dan. These suggestions have opened up a new vein of unexplored possibilities for me. Your thoughtful approach lends hope and energy, a welcome contrast to the anxiety-inducing “MUST-DO” lists that I see everywhere else. I truly appreciate your voice of reason.

  • Lisa Monks

    Excellent article. Thank you for writing this. It really helps to get the ideas flowing on how to promote my book, and myself in an honest way that resonates with me. I almost didn’t read it because I thought it would be another person telling me how to market myself and it’s only about a dollar amount. Awesome!

  • Kirsten Jones

    Thanks for this, Dan. These are great ideas and a lot of what has been holding me back.. the old, “chicken and the egg”.. no platform, no book. I’ve just got to start that blog I’ve been going on about, interviewing those people with larger lists, as it will help organically grow my list/platform in the process. Best!