I have heard versions of this from many writers over the years:
“An agent told me that if I had 10,000 followers, they would sign me.”
“The publisher is interested, but wants to see 10,000 followers before they commit.”
In every case, the writer was clear that the primary interest of the agent or publisher was that they truly liked and wanted to represent a specific book. The writing came first. But the question of followers came up in the business side of making the decision to represent an author and their book.
Do you need 10,000 follower to get a book deal? I don’t think so. Largely, I think this number is entirely made up. Nothing magical happens for you, for your book, for the agent, or for the publisher when a writer gets 10,000 followers.
But it is not uncommon for someone to say something similar to the statements above, indicating that an author’s platform, and their ability to illustrate that they can reach readers is very important for business partners to consider if they can invest in that book. What are they looking for? Help in bringing this book to readers. And sometimes “followers” is simply a convenient metric to represent that.
Agents and publishers are amazing. They are people who truly love books, believe in the power of books, and work all day to celebrate them. Why would they ever hope that a writer has done the work to grow their platform or following? Some possible reasons:
- The author is well positioned to share the book with readers. Why? Because how people can learn about a book goes beyond basic jacket copy. An author shares the deeper reasons as to why they wrote the book, what the themes are and why they matter, as well as the human side of what it means to create it. I had dinner with an artist earlier this week and we were discussing why she will travel halfway across the country to see a single art exhibit. She talked about the difference between seeing the actual brush strokes vs a flat digital recreation on a screen. The trip allows her to immerse herself in the painting and consider the artist’s intentions. Of course, she will also be in conversation with others who helped organize, or are viewing, the exhibit.
- Ideally, because the author has spent months/years writing this book, they understand the marketplace around these books. There may be an expectation that they have either read widely in a certain genre or topic, or that they understand these themes in deep ways. In the process, perhaps this author has developed relationships with other writers of comparable books who they could be “in conversation with” for an online or offline event. Or they are aware of the podcasts they know they should be on, or have essay ideas (and where they would like to publish them) that would lead potential readers to the book.
- Part of how people find out about books is through their network. You as the author have spent a lifetime developing relationships with people who would love to support your book. This is partly why the Author Questionnaire that a publisher send to you after you sign with them is kind of like “This is Your Life,” filled with every meaningful connection you have ever made. The people who know you are those who will be the first to support this book. They have some incentive in bringing it to the world.
- Even though books can easily sell for years and years, the publishing industry still focuses a lot on a small book publication window: a few months around release. Here, seeing bigger numbers helps make the case that the book can possibly reach readers quickly. It’s not hard to do back-of-napkin math that if an author has 10,000 followers vs 10 followers, that there is a better chance of them selling more books when the book publishes. Developing a following can show preparation for this moment of sharing one’s book with others.
- Since the book is so important to a writer, I think there is often a hope that the writer will put a lot of energy into wanting to share it and talk about it with others. Not just for the promotional value of that, but for the experiential value of that. If a writer writes about _____ themes, or in ____ genre, wouldn’t they love if their life was filled with conversations about those things? I have spent my entire life as a creator of one sort or another. When I think back, sure I can remember what I created at a certain time. But I also remember the conversations I’ve had and relationships that have formed around this creative work.
- Let’s face it: the people who work at a publisher are busy and working across many books. They will provide dedicated resources to every book, but doesn’t always mean that they can provide 100% customized support consistently for a long period of time. If an author has shown that they have developed a following, it helps illustrate that they are invested in sharing their writing with others.
Is everything written above true for all publishers? Of course not. Is this an exhaustive list? Nope. But it is meant to make a point: while the number of “10,000 followers” doesn’t matter, the more foundational reasons why having an author platform does matter.
I think a lot of writers are shocked to hear that a publisher thinks that they the author is well positioned to help promote their books. This is where the common refrain comes in: “I just want to write, isn’t marketing the publisher’s job?” While there is no definitive answer on that, I try to always keep something in mind…
You can always just write simply for the sake of creating. And I can show you boxes of art and writing I have created over the years that I did just for the sake of doing it. Care to join me to the dusty boxes in my house’s 100 year old attic? But when you want to publish, you are partly engaging in the business side of the marketplace around creative work. When you sign with business partners (agents and publishers), the expectation around that writing changes. This is where the very concept of “what is the author’s platform?” or “how many followers/subscribers does the author have” comes in.
The Pros and Cons of “Followers”
By itself, the metric of followers doesn’t say much. Too often, we look at it like a lottery ticket: “More followers means more chances, right?” Chances for… people becoming aware of your book. Of considering buying it. Of actually buying it. Of reading it. Of being moved by it. Of posting a review for it. Of showing up to a book reading. Of telling others about it.
Yet, I have spoken to many writers who have 10,000 followers or more who tell me this:
“Oh, I have no idea who those people are. I don’t know what they like, or why they follow me. I don’t even know what to say to them.”
This isn’t just someone being humble, I’ve sensed the total confusion and fear that they have. So to these people, followers weren’t a sense of total validation and connection to an audience that will support them and their books. It was one of distant apprehension. For some of those writers they even admitted: “I’ve stopped posting.”
I’ve also seen writers who have thousands upon thousands of followers, but very little engagement. There are times I would do side-by-side comparisons of someone who has 10,000 followers vs someone who has 500 followers: they each had the same level of engagement on their posts, with the same number of likes and comments. In other words: an author with 10,000 followers would consistently have 20 likes per post, and an author with 500 followers also consistently having 20 likes per post. Which is “more effective”?
In other words: the metrics of how many followers you have can sometimes be hollow, if it is not an engaged audience. And if we consider just one possible goal here: followers who buy your books and support your writing, isn’t an engaged audience the one you want? Which begs the question: would a small but engaged audience be more valuable than a large unengaged audience?
Is having a lot of followers good? Sure. Some benefits:
- The more people you reach, the more potential you will feel you have to spread the word about your writing.
- The more people you reach, the higher your chance of luck. So much of how buzz around books happens is about luck and engagement. Being seen at the right place at the right time by the right person.
- When one metric is higher (in this case, followers), it becomes more likely for other metrics to be higher. For instance, a higher conversion rate from a social media follower becoming a newsletter subscriber, who then buys your book, and then posts a review of that book online.
Connection and Engagement is What Matters
What writers dream of is someone being moved by their writing or books. That it helps someone escape, to understand the world better, or themselves better. That it can inspire them, change them, and heal. It is about the depth of human connection.
This is why everything about how I help writers connect with readers is framed around the concept of Human-Centered Marketing. And why every step of the methodology I use focuses on writers forging meaningful connections with readers.
I’ve often heard that “word-of-mouth marketing is the only marketing that works,” and that has always resonated with me. Even though we have powerful tools we can use to share our writing, in the end it is about a person resonating with what you write, and then taking an action to share it with someone else.
We can try to measure these connections via followers, subscribers, likes, reshares, views and the like — but those individual numbers don’t reflect the true purpose or value behind the connections we seek.
All things being equal, if someone gives you the choice between having 10,000 followers vs having 10 followers, it is reasonable to choose the larger number. But I want to ask you a question. A writer reached out to me who said they really appreciate the way I talk about human-centered marketing, and focusing on authentic connections with real people in how you share your writing. They even shared with me the story of a deeply meaningful connection they had with someone through social media. They said: “[That experience] was a tribute to the power of giving and the personal reward that ensued. It reframed the value of social media in a very Dan-Blanky way.” What they said next was fascinating:
“But I would trade that experience, as valuable as it was, for 10,000 followers.”
Oooooooh! That statement fascinated me. Which would you choose? One meaningful experience, or 10,000 followers? As I considered this, I understood that baked into the phrase “10,000 followers” is the hope that it will lead to many meaningful experiences.
A writer Lori Fontaine recently reached out to me and said:
“I’ve [shared my writing] for over 20 months now and through your encouragement I’ve learned to have the courage to open up and reveal the person behind the art. You’ve taught me that what is swirling in my head actually matters. Thankfully, I’ve heard from subscribers that are grateful.”
Your voice matters. Sharing and connecting your ideas and writing to others inherently changes their lives. It makes the world better. Is having 10,000 followers a good goal? That’s up to you. But regardless, I encourage you to focus on sharing what you create and why in a manner that feels authentic to who you are, and truly touches the hearts and minds of others.
And I think if you can prove that you are doing this to any partner you have in publishing, be that an agent or a publisher, it helps them understand how you are able to support the book you wrote.
What I think some agents and publishers want is not 10,000 followers, but rather this: “Can you give me some kind of indication or proof that you can meaningfully work to put this book into the hands of readers? Because that is difficult. We are going to try really hard. But you know what helps? If you — the expert on the topic, the person 100% embedded in your niche, genre, or industry — have spent a few years developing the relationships needed to help us out.”
Does anyone really know what to do with 10,000 followers? Will they really publish you just with that metric?
Instead, it is an indicator that you are a partner that can not only write a great book, but help it connect with the people who will appreciate it most. Do you know what else they would care about just as much, or perhaps MORE than 10,000 followers? For starters:
- If you speak at 30 events per year.
- If you are actively a part of groups and organizations that your potential readers love.
- If you run a business that has successfully served your market for years.
- If you show them ANY metric that indicates that you have developed a meaningful connection to your ideal readers – be it a newsletter, blog, forum, in-person events, or so much else.
- If you show them a marketing plan more thoughtful and strategic than “I’ll Tweet about my book. Then Tweet again.”
Here are some essays I have written previously on this topic: