“How many social media followers do I have to have to get a book deal?”
This question was posed to Danielle LaPorte and me on our recent Publishing Power Hour Spreecast call. D’s answer–5,000 – 6,000–was pretty spot on, if not conservative, especially if you want a deal with one of the top five publishers: Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, Penguin Random House (yes, they merged), Hechette, or Macmillan. But that wasn’t the whole story.

With loads of questions to get to on our call that day, time was tight and neither of us could get as detailed on the topic as we would have liked. But that’s what blogs are for, so now I can…

There’s some REALLY good news for those of you who do NOT have thousands of followers. EVEN if your efforts at gaining social media followers are feeble at best, there are LOTS of other things you can do to make yourself attractive to agents + publishers.

My sister, Carol Allen, a world-renowned Vedic Astrologer, who gets a quarter of a MILLION unique visitors a month to her website and has 200,000 people on her newsletter list, has a grand total of 114 twitter followers. She’s only recently joined the Facebook party. And yet she has agents begging her to let them represent her and has for years. Carol, who is still playing hard to get with traditional publishing (despite my best arguments), simply because she makes so much money selling her products to her list, likes to spin the famous Conan O’Brien quote and proclaim, “If you combine my YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook savvy, I’m a youtwitface.”

Did I mention her 200,000 newsletter subscribers?

My little sis and I aren’t so dissimilar youtwitfaces. While I care more lately about playing on social media, I, too, have been so busy over the years writing books and helping others do the same that I didn’t have a lot of mental bandwidth to devote to social media ladder climbing. And, truth be told, I wasn’t too stressed out about it, thinking there were/are other equally (if not more important) things I could be doing to ensure my next book’s saleability.

I still think so, and I’ll share them here with you now.

Oh, and just to be sure I’m not biased, I did a quick check in with two of my fave agents, who concurred that what I’m about to tell you is indeed accurate. Their latest thoughts on the matter are included below.

So, here we go. The OTHER top three things (besides social media numbers) that agents and publishers are looking for… and often trump the importance of social media in your ability to get a book deal:

  1. A GREAT book idea, with a great title, executed beautifully. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. First and foremost, it’s about the writing. You can social media a bad book to the high heavens, but it’s not going to have legs. The goal I think we’re ALL after? A book that’s so well written that it gets on the bestseller’s lists and STAYS there because word of mouth makes people rave about it to anyone who will listen. They share it with their friends, buy it in bulk for presents, and celebrate when it finds a sweet spot in the media. It rises above the noise not because social media alone got it there, but because the book is so damn good people can’t stop talking about it, and, BUYING it.
  2. A PLAN to get it out into the world. This is where your proposal comes in. Your detailed business plan outlining what you book is about, why it’s needed, why you’re the best person to write it, and how you’re going to sell it in the world. Just like your book, your proposal needs to be well written and engaging. The goal is to make the reader (an agent or editor at a publishing house) want to keep turning the pages and SIGN you. Here’s where you work it to make them to fall in love with you and your topic. Every agent wants to sell a book they love. Therefore, your job is to do what it takes to make your proposal ROCK. Study proposals that sold and emulate them. Get support. Enroll your friends for their feedback. Find an editor to give you another set of eyes–a beautiful polish. Outline your plan. Your Big Beautiful Book Plan will take you there. Give it all you’ve got. Which brings me to…
  3. Screen Shot 2014-07-06 at 9.05.53 AMLIST ALLIANCES: this is big big. In my experience, this can positively kill social media numbers. Let me give you an example. Let’s say you have 1,000 followers on Twitter and Facebook, but you have several people listed in your proposal who have promised to blast their lists about your book on the day of publication. Let’s say their lists are large: tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands. I’ve seen books sell like peanuts at a baseball game with targeted lists like this.

By targeted, I mean: if you’re selling a dating book and your buddy has a dating site with 75,000 people on his newsletter list, those are YOUR people. When that person “blasts” their list by writing a newsletter/blog about how fantastic your book is, odds are, you’re going to have some high sales, which generates buzz, which hopefully you’ll keep going with your marketing. That said, it doesn’t always have to be a targeted list. Example: in 2008, a very cool client of mine blasted his general list of 200,000 newsletter subscribers (his brand is as a spiritual success coach) about my then new book, Generation Green: The Ultimate Teen Guide to Living an Eco Friendly Life.  The book then raced up the Amazon sales charts, beating out the then uber-popular An Inconvenient Truth for many weeks. Top sales for the little guy (literally and figuratively… my son was my co-author).

Those are my top 3 favorite ways to get a book deal, but there are so many other things you can do as well, many of which you’ll find in Your Big Beautiful Book Plan.

I’ll include more in next week’s post called YouTwitFace, Part II.

In the meantime, a few words of wisdom from a few agent pals:

From Laura Yorke, literary agent at the Carol Mann Agency in New York:
“Someone writing a memoir, for instance, might not have any platform–or social media–to speak of. So what counts there? The writing. It is all in the writing of a good story. It is much harder today to sell books like these than it used to be. Much harder. But not impossible. And if an author has extra cash, hiring a freelance editor and a publicist to work with the publisher is often a good idea. What publishers detest is having proposals filled with concocted social media and platforms that don’t really amount to anything. You are wasting their time making them read quasi-real platform and marketing information. If you don’t have it, be honest. It will serve you better in the long run, I promise. There will always be a market for great stories, told really well. It is tougher to find the markets these days, but they will always exist!”

From Ken Atchity, film producer and literary agent in Los Angeles at Atchity Entertainment International:
“I’ve sold books for folks who have ZERO social network skills OR contacts. On the other hand, it sure can’t HOIT. Remember one thing when anyone tries to discourage you with statistics: ‘The odds don’t apply to me.'” 

Okay. Back to our Sunday. Until next time, to quote bestselling author Cheryl Strayed, go and “write like a motherfucker” my friend!


P.S. If anyone in your life would benefit, please forward this to them.

P.S.S. Leave me a comment and let us know what you’re doing to stay focused on your writing.

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