Q&A: Chuck Sambuchino on the Writer’s Platform

December 10, 2012

Whether you’re looking to self-publish or go the traditional publishing route, your writer’s platform — aka how you’ll sell the book — is more important than ever.

So it was smart for Chuck Sambuchino, who has become an expert on the topic of platform, to write a book about it. Chuck was here a year and a half ago to talk about landing a literary agent, and he always has concrete ideas to share, so I’m psyched to have him back.

Editor and author Chuck Sambuchino

Editor and author Chuck Sambuchino

Chuck is a Writer’s Digest Books editor, as well as a freelance editor for query letters, book proposals and novel manuscripts. He edits the Guide to Literary Agents and has a popular blog by the same name.

His new book is called Create Your Writer Platform: The Key to Building an Audience, Selling More Books, and Finding Success as an Author. And today we’re giving away a FREE COPY! Just leave a comment at the bottom of this post to get in the running. (One cool fact about this book: It includes quotes from ME!)

Let’s get started!

Alexis: You already knew a lot about platform when you started working on this book. Did you learn anything through the writing process that surprised you?

Chuck: You bet. Going in, I knew the book would have two major sections: 1) a large portion that detailed best practices for social media, public speaking, article writing, blogging, etc.; and 2) a lot of case studies that examined other nonfiction and fiction authors who built a platform from scratch.

But as I began writing the book, I kept coming back to a section of platform-building guidelines that would help everyone, no matter what they were writing. This section kept expanding, and ended up becoming “The 12 Fundamental Principles of Platform,” which appears toward the beginning of the book. These 12 guidelines delve into important principles such as 1) It is in giving that we receive, 2) You don’t have to go it alone, 5) You must make yourself easy to contact, and 12) Numbers matter–so quantify your platform.

This turned out to be arguably the most crucial section of the book. The truth is that every writer out there is working on a different project, and every writer will take a different path to platform success–be it heavy with social media or with groups and endorsements or something else entirely. But these 12 Fundamental Principles can help everyone on every level concerning platform.

So what I effectively learned along the way was while you can help someone by teaching them how to do something specific, such as use Twitter, you can help them more by explaining a more fundamental guideline of visibility and discoverability–such as the importance of being part of your community and understanding their needs (#11).

Is there anything you'll do differently with your own platform as a result of writing this book?

Create Your Writer Platform

Create Your Writer Platform

While writing the book, I came to realize that platform is about achieving a lasting connection with people. What I mean is that you can create an outstanding blog and get lots of page views, but unless people are permanently connecting with you in some way–be that choosing to follow you on Twitter, or signing up for your newsletter, or buying your book–then the bond with this person can be lost forever.

For example, if I get up and speak in front of 100 people, the key thing at the end of the speech is to 1) encourage them to connect with me, so that I can continue to teach them online, and 2) invite them to learn more about my books and possibly buy them. If a person leaves the room without deciding to connect with me more or investigate my books, then my connection opportunity with him or her has been lost.

So that one thing comes to mind–the need to try and establish a lasting connection with those who come across my path, whether we meet in person or online. Right now, I’m going back through all my old Guide to Literary Agents Blog posts one by one (2,000 of them, I believe), and ending each one by saying “Follow me on Twitter or befriend me on Facebook.”

There must be several books out there about platform already. What'd you think you could add that convinced you to write it anyway? Did you see any gap in the market?

First of all, I knew building a writer platform had been my business for several years, and that I could speak to the subject and truly help people. But I decided early on to give my book a big component that would set it apart from the others–and that component was in-depth advice and input from literary agents and platform-heavy authors.

Here’s the thing: I’m always skeptical when reading an instructional book if the instruction is coming from one person. As I read such a book, I just keep thinking, “But this is only the opinion of one person. How do I know this is the best advice for me personally?”

So with that in mind, I realized that, although I considered myself an expert on creating a writer platform, in the end, I was still only one person with one opinion and my own one path to success. How could I fix this problem? Simple. I needed to add the advice of many other professionals who were knowledgeable on the subject.

The first thing I did was interview 10 literary agents who deal with lots of nonfiction books, where platform is mandatory. These “Literary Agent Roundups” appear throughout the text, and address important questions such as “What are you looking for when you Google prospective clients?” and “When is a writer’s platform big enough that they should be confident in their submission?” After all, people build a platform specifically to get the interest of literary agents. I knew I had to get literary agents heavily involved in the book’s discussion.

Also, I made the entire last third of the book comprised of 12 long, in-depth interviews from writers who created their platforms from scratch. I included novelists, nonfiction authors, and memoirists. The final chosen 12 are all very successful writers, some of them best-selling scribes. I asked them all key questions, such as:

  • When did you first start to stand out in the market and why?
  • What do you consider the major aspects of your platform–the ones that are largest, and help you sell the most books and make the most money?
  • If you could go back in time and do it all over again, what would you tell your younger self in terms of platform?

Personally, I learn by example. With this book, it’s almost like I taught a college course to students, but brought in 12 guest professors throughout the semester because I understand the value of different opinions and how every student in my course learns in their own unique way.

Based on your research, what do you think are the top three things a writer should have as part of his/her platform?

First and foremost, a simple website. A website is key because it is a landing page. When people search for you online, you must have a landing destination where people can quickly learn about you and your writing and how to connect with you.

Second, think “new school” platform: Be active on a blog or Twitter. Both are good bets, but I would say you must have at least one.

Third, think “old school” platform: Focus on groups and organizations and personal connections who can help you. Who you know still matters. You are not alone in your platform quest. Think about who can help you–a regional group that promotes the successes of its members, a charity that will help you spread the word in exchange for a donation, or a cousin who knows the producers of CNN personally, etc.

Can you suggest a few authors we could check out who have succeeded at building a solid platform?

Some of the best I can think of are included in the book! Mignon Fogarty, for example (she writes the Grammar Girl books), is adept at using podcasts, her website, and Twitter to sell hundreds of thousands of books and build her brand.

Lissa Rankin, a women’s health expert who wrote the book WHAT’S UP DOWN THERE?, has a dynamite blog with tons of useful content. She used the success of the blog to grow a tremendous Twitter following and get herself quoted in lots of big media outlets. That’s all great platform stuff to understand and emulate!

Thanks, Chuck!

Writers: Don’t forget to leave a comment for your chance at winning a free copy of Create Your Writer Platform! Contest ends at midnight on Thursday, Dec. 20.

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    77 Replies to “Q&A: Chuck Sambuchino on the Writer’s Platform”

    • Lisa McKay says:

      Thanks for a great interview, and this sounds like a book that could come in handy for me right about now!

    • Alisha says:

      Great tips! This looks like a really helpful book. I especially appreciate the reminder about how important visibility is. Thanks!

    • Suzi says:

      Thanks so much for this Q & A. I have a book that is almost completed and has been sitting for over a year untouched. It has been weighing on my mind lately and people have been asking about it so I hink I need to re-open it but not sure where to start. Chuck’s book would be most helpful and probably motivating!

    • danielle says:

      The timing of this post is perfect. I loved the interview, and the book would be very beneficial as I’m starting to write again.

    • Anne Belov says:

      Great interview and very timely as i have just published my first collection of cartoons from my blog, The Panda Chronicles. If i don’t win the give away copy i will have to buy this book. Thanks again for this post.

    • Can’t wait to get my hands on a copy. Great interview.

    • Thank you for this interview. If I don’t win the book, I’ll definitely buy one.

    • Cindi Jackson says:

      Fantastic advice and very timely for a new author such as myself! Thank you!

    • Nicci says:

      Hi. How are you? I very much liked the articles and when I am done with the comment I am attaching myself to the links. I am not sure if I am signed up for the newsletter but I will sign up to see. I have a lot. Anything that helps me with writing I am okay with plus it gives me ideas for the other blog that I work on http://www.teribelle.wordpress.com. And hopefully, for when my book gets published it will be better because of these tips. Good luck to you. Bye!

    • As usual, great advice and insight. Now, if only Chuck can figure out how to extend days beyond 24 hours so us working folks can find extra time to write and promote ourselves.

    • Anna Roins says:

      Thank you for the useful information. I’m just starting out and fascinated by what I’m learning about the industry from Chuck Sambuchino.

      Anna Roins

    • Great interview and such great advice Chuck. It is so helpful in these times when authors have so much pressure to build their platform. It can feel overwhelming and your book sounds like a great way to get a handle on it in the most productive way. Good luck with your book.

    • Lesley Morgan says:

      Am I the only one who finds the idea of self-promotion exhausting and daunting? If everyone self-promotes, don’t we just dilute our value in a sea of competing brands and platforms? And on the other hand, can we succeed without it?

      • Alexis Grant says:

        Hey Lesley! I think a lot of writers do feel that way. I love this stuff, but I think of it more as making connections and offering value than “building my platform.” I think the key is to find a part of it you DO like (and sometimes that just means getting better at it so you feel comfortable and grow to enjoy it), and sticking with that.

    • Nate Worrell says:

      I feel like making up my own term – platformance – the success of your platform. I’m curious to read the case studies. Does 1,000 followers lead to 100 sales or just ten and does that vary from individual to individual?

    • LF says:

      Great suggestions on sites that worked! I wonder if there are any from fiction writers….

    • Mary says:

      As a young writer, this book would be very helpful! And I’m excited for the chance to win!

    • Candace says:

      thanks for the great advice!

    • Minh-Tam Le says:

      Thank you for sharing this article. I would love a chance to win and add it to my writing tool belt. Hopefully spread the word as well. Best wishes.

    • Jaimie Engle says:

      Wow! Thanks for the great information. This sounds like a wonderful book to add to my library. Recently, I have been building my platform, via my website, Twitter, and volunteering at the elementary school’s after school writing program. I am glad to see that I am moving in the right direction, and look forward to expanding my platform with some tips from your book. Thanks again!

    • Chad Schimke says:

      Hey Chuck! I’ve read several of your articles and posts on editing, platform and submissions. Please keep it up, your advice is invaluable. Thanks, Chad Schimke.

    • It’s amazing how social media has changed all professions. Without a good understanding of at least a couple forms, a person doesn’t have a chance of building a brand or a platform. I’m hoping that my efforts to engage in Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and provide info on my website will over time build an audience.

    • Debey says:

      This is exactly what I’m working on right now. Hence, the book really would come in handy. So, throw my name in the hat, too, please!
      Thanks!!!

    • Sheila Deeth says:

      You’ve hit on exactly my concern with “how to” books on writing, publishing, marketing etc. I should definitely like to read this… I need to read this!

    • Hank says:

      Can always use more help!

    • Jessica says:

      This is information that I’ve been looking into a lot these days. It’s fascinating and so powerful when used well.

    • Really does sound like a great book, you can never get enough writing tips!

    • Kevin Kato says:

      Being somewhat ‘old school’ myself – and as an extroverted writer a rare breed (or so i’ve been told) – I appreciate the idea of getting out there and meeting real people in the real world. After writing for hours the last thing i want to do is spend more time on my butt in front of a computer screen.
      I would like to delve into the strategy of public speaking as noteworthy promotional avenue. My first thoughts on this would involve book readings and, for the non-fiction writer, a (casual) seminar/presentation on whatever subject matter. Anyone have any thoughts on what a writer of fiction might try? Particularly a wrtier who has yet to ‘make it’ and thus has little credibility as a purveyor of literary and publishing wisdom.

      • Hey Kevin. I am fortunate to live near a thriving Writer’s Center that holds open mic readings from time to time. But I’ll bet if you could gather up a few other authors, freelancers, or poets, you could pitch your local community center or library to do a free reading night. Or a local coffee house or even a pub (we have some in Baltimore that do this.) Of course, offering a bit of wine & cheese never hurt, either! Good luck,
        Melanie

    • Nicky Moxey says:

      Is a platform more, or less, important for a fiction book?

    • I would love to get a copy of this book. I’ve just started with this whole platform concept and am trying to figure out the best way to tie it together with a future work of fiction.

    • Thanks for the helpful advice & insights.

    • Joe Levit says:

      Hi Alexis,

      Thanks so much for interviewing Chuck about his new book. The information sounds fantastic, especially “The 12 Fundamental Principles of Platform”. And Chuck, thanks for sharing a few of those Principles. I can’t wait to read more about them.

      Best to you both,
      Joe.

    • Beth LaMie says:

      It sounds like the input from agents adds another dimension to your book that is missing from others. We learn so much from what works or doesn’t work for real people. Looking forward to your timely advice.

    • Love Chuck’s blog and follow him on Twitter (which is how I saw the link to this blog post.) Sounds like an awesome book!

    • Have begun reading your book (as part of a Writers’ Digest package) and really enjoy it – haven’t gotten to the interviews yet! Thanks for making the elephantine task bite-size.

      Sincerely,
      Linda

    • This is really good advice. Your book just went on my Christmas list. And it is so true, I would’ve never known about Grammar Girl if not for her extensive online presence. Now I can’t live without her.

      The best part about Twitter and blogging for me though is feeling connected to the writing community. I love making friends that I really converse with online, not just cyber number friends.

    • Thanks for the great post. Now, if I could magically create about four more hours in the day!

    • Alexis and Chuck, this interview is a success. It made me want to go buy the book before I even finished the post. Excellent. I launched my blog today about storytellers and story lovers so platform is heavy on my mind. I can’t wait to read Chuck’s book.

    • Christine says:

      After speaking to a group of 100 plus people at readings and lectures, I have often felt that I should have received more emails and web hits. It wasn’t until I read this interview that it occurred to me that I should “encourage them to connect with me, so that I can continue to teach them online.” It’s such a simple solution to implement. I had one of those “Duh” moments. Thanks.

    • Saturn Bull says:

      Yay! Great info. Thanks so much!

    • Bo Henley says:

      Thanks for such a great interview. Chuck is The Guru on platform and how to use it and doesn’t mince words about how to achieve. Just wish it wasn’t so terrifying for newbies such as myself! Congrats on your own input to the book too, Alexis. A definite New Year resolution – buy this book!

    • Great interview! I think building relationships is key as you mentioned. And how lucky we are to connect with others via social media that we may never have been able to before.

      Thanks for the great information.

    • Thanks for the interview. I always pass around a sign-up sheet after I’ve done a speaking engagement. That way, you can send periodic updates, even if you don’t do a regular newsletter (which I don’t).
      The first time an author friend of mine told me I needed a platform, I said — “what’s a platform?” Times have really changed.
      I am not a fan of Twitter:
      Tweet Rebellion: From Peeve to Principle « melanielynngriffin,
      so I’m relieved to hear Chuck say “blog or Tweet” – I truly don’t want to be forced to tweet – LOVE blogging, though, and would like to learn more about how to build mine. Thanks for the interview, and for the chance to win the book.

    • I HAVE your book…it is EXCELLENT!!!! I would love to win a copy of it to place in a drawing for members of the weekly writing group I attend.

    • deborrahcornago says:

      Hi Alexis:

      This was a great interview you shared to us hopeful, dreamy-eyed writers. I have always wanted to be out there so I can get get to my targeted audience. Only two books in amazon.com and I have gained quite a following among some youngsters. Still, I want – no, I need – so much more to sustain my writing “addiction”. It’s not the money that keeps me writing, but the realization that there are really those who need me to write on, and be my unique self. Thank you for helping us realize this through the helpful tips. Special thank you also to Chuck Sambuchino.

    • L'Tanya says:

      Excellent tips, especially about the need to think both old and new school.

    • Kara says:

      Getting quoted in big media outlets is a tough one. I hope his book has more details on how Lissa Ranking does that!

      • That is a tough one. The good news is: It gets easier as you go. In other words, once you get quoted by one outlet (USA Today, for instance), then your credibility shoots up, and you become a more “official, knowledgeable” source for other big outlets to contact.

    • Mindy Long says:

      Great post, Alexis. I am always inspired when I visit your site!

    • Lindsey says:

      Great interview! The book sounds that it would be such a great tool!

    • janet says:

      thanks for sharing. would love to get the book 🙂

    • Paula says:

      Awesome interview and I simply MUST have that book! Thanks as always for the inspiration!

    • Jenna says:

      Thank you, Chuck & Alexis! This is incredibly interesting. Though I do have a simple website and am very active on Twitter, I’ve often left the old school platform out of the equation – not consciously, but more because it never even crossed my mind to leverage those IRL contacts as well. I appreciate the insight and really look forward to reading more in the book!

    • Wayne Meyers says:

      Its scary how critical it is for an author to have a platform these days. I still see many aspiring authors who do not have a Facebook “fan” page, or who have a twitter account with 100 followers. Social media takes time and effort, and there is no better place to start than NOW.

      Having a successful platform is the only way to rise above the oceans of self-pubbed stories, and to attract a publisher’s interest beyond the story itself. Let’s say they have two or three books that grabbed their attention equally. One author has an active blog, thousands of Facebook and twitter followers, posts every day and encourages fan interaction, etc. The other two have the bare minimum, but aren’t really leveraging these, either because they don’t know how, or they think this becomes important after the sale.

      Who do you think will win the contract?

    • Lois Hudson says:

      Great interview. Thanks. I’m an “older” writer (as in quite) and shudder at the prospect of platform building. It seems impossible at this stage, but am looking forward to this book.

    • Ami says:

      Thanks for the interview! Great answers! I’m looking forward to checking out the book.

    • Celeste Leon says:

      Thanks for the great tips. I love the questions you asked various authors and look forward to checking out the book– it looks like it helps to makes a potentially daunting experience less so!

    • Bob says:

      Great advice, Chuck. Thank you! Not as funny as garden gnomes or political dogs, of course, but extremely helpful. 🙂 And Alexis, thanks for publishing this interview.

    • This is a great interview and contains so much interesting info. Writing can be so selfish (sometimes!) and I really appreciate those that are out to help us novices.

      I’d say I’m off to buy the book, but I think I’ll wait and see if I win first! ;0)

    • I already had plans to revise the landing page of my website (http://www.davidjkent-writer.com/), but now that I’ve read this I know I need to do it soon. I’m looking for suggestions of which WordPress themes are best for writers. Any ideas?

      Thanks for the great interview and book.

    • Very good article. Very helpful. And the book looks exceptionally helpful as well.

    • MD Galvin says:

      I appreciated you asking who is doing it well. I listen to Mignon Fogarty’s podcast and follow her on twitter so that example was right on the money for me. Thanks for an excellent interview!

    • Stephanie says:

      So, as a Rejected Writer Extraordinaire I’m currently seeking all of the help/advice/industry grade tips I can get my hands on. Years of rejection do make a person rather disheartened. I’ve never really wanted to self-pub because the people in my writer’s group (mostly older men… like seventies older…) told me once that self-publishing is for people who aren’t good enough to publish traditionally. Over the years I’ve read/heard arguments both ways and still I just can’t get over what they’ve instilled in my brain. For me personally… I think I’d want to publish traditionally a first time. If all goes well then I might consider the prospect of sel-pub. BUT anyway… I’m rambling about stuff that is not even the main topic. The point of my comment is that I’ve just barely started using social media as a way to help my writing. Okay, wait… that’s a lie… I started 2 years ago with IMDBpro to help network and get advice for my screenwriting… but as far as my fiction pieces go, I’ve always been the type that never wanted to share my work with the internet. In the past 2 years I’ve e-met people and am just starting to venture into the world of social media/blogging to build not just a group of “followers” but a group of ‘advice-givers’ and people who can critique… Social media isn’t just about TAKING though… It should be a give and take situation. A person trying to build a media platform should be willing to give other people feedback as well as take it. So… with that said, I shall end this novel of a comment by saying… PICK ME. I’m the one. I’m curious to see what Mr. El Chucko has to say about all of this. Especially because I’m finishing up a YA novel to send out into the world.

      @SillyStephWhat on Twitter

    • Bex says:

      I had the pleasure of meeting Chuck in person on a writer’s workshop on the Greek island of Ithaca in August this year. His help and advice about platform building, together with his overall knowledge and support for writers was invaluable. His advice has helped me to built my online presence via Twitter and my blog, so I’m sure his book will offer the same help and advice to every budding and existing writer out there.
      :0)
      Bex
      http://www.leavingcairo.blogspot.com

    • Ellen Keigh says:

      Great and timely topic– just beginning the process, nice to have a blueprint to follow!

    • Alexis Grant says:

      Jenna’s our winner! Thanks to all of you for participating, and to Chuck for a fabulous Q&A!

    • Many thanks Mark, glad you found it useful. 🙂

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