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Do I need a million social media followers to impress a literary agent?

Let's be brave and tackle what some writers consider to be one of the hardest parts of a book proposal: the Platform & Marketing section. I’m referring especially to memoirs here, but the sample principles apply to most kinds of nonfiction.

In your memoir, you have a fascinating story. You have written it beautifully. But unless you get that story out there, it will stay on your desk unread and utterly unappreciated. Don’t let that happen! Your book proposal is your pathway to getting your memoir out into the world. And your Platform & Marketing section is your pathway to getting your book into readers’ hands.

Platform & Marketing

This is one of the book proposal sections that authors struggle with the most. In the first place, you’re a writer, not a marketing guru. Secondly, you may not have a massive social media following. What to do?

There's a prevailing voice that says, well, if you don't have a big social media following, you need to drum it up fast. What do I say about that? Just, no!

Spinning up an instant audience would be a very inauthentic thing to do. It would be a waste of your energy. It is almost impossible to drum up the kind of social media following that will impress a literary agent or a publishing editor, in a short time span.

Think instead of the marketing and the platform piece as your credentials. It's the way you reach and connect with the people that will want to read your book.

It may be that you’re an expert in your field, even though you’re not well-known in the wider world. Or it might be that you have written articles on your memoir topic that demonstrate your expertise, connect you with people, and show that you have an established voice in this area. Bring all your credentials and published works that relate to your memoir, and lay them out in your book proposal. Tell us about it in the bio and tell us again in the Platform & Marketing section. Repetition is often a good thing in book proposals: it helps the time-poor agent or editor who is skimming your document.

It is important to remember that you don’t have to be famous to get your memoir published. Yes, it is true that many memoirs out there are from people we already know about. But, according to a study by publishing expert Jane Friedman, almost a quarter of recent publishing deals worth talking about, are not linked to celebrities, high-profile journalists, or current media stories. Notably, of those deals, most of the authors didn't have a huge social media following. So take heart if you only have 10 followers on your Insta, or if no one retweets your nuggets of wisdom.

Insta fans vs book buyers

Remember, too, that even if someone is an Instagram influencer, that doesn't guarantee that their book is going to be a success. There's a big distinction between having a million followers on Instagram and having people who will actually buy your book. Not all of those Instagram people are book buyers. They love you as an influencer, but they're not going to buy your book. So, being able to demonstrate in some other way that you connect with people who do buy books—and will buy yours—can go far further than any number of Twitter or Insta followers.

If you want to learn more and get practical guidance, click here to access my on-demand webinar How to Write a Book Proposal for Your Memoir. This is an in-depth conversation with memoir expert Joanne Spataro, in which Joanne and I discuss the details, the whys and wherefores, as well as the pitfalls of writing a book proposal for your memoir. You’ll be guided through the entire process with useful pointers, tips, and expert advice.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay


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