Columns > Published on August 11th, 2022

Dear Writers: Stop Trying To Build A 'Brand' Or A 'Platform'

It's common for writers who are starting out to wonder how they can build a brand or a platform for themselves. 

Supposedly this will get them noticed by agents and editors. It'll help them grow their follower count so they're ready for their eventual book deal. It's the first step in building a reader base and a career. 

It's also a bunch of bullshit. 

I say this as someone who once believed it, way back before I published a book—and then had it reinforced, over and again, why brand-building is a Quixotic quest. 

Because at the end of the day, you are not a 'brand.'

You're an artist, not Extra-Spicy BBQ Pringles.

Sure, there are authors who have social media presences that, when examined without nuance, can sort of be considered a brand. Gabino Iglesias doles out encouragement while speaking about the importance of diversity in publishing. Michael J. Seidlinger pokes fun at the anxiety of being a writer. Christoph Paul and Leza Cantoral, who run CLASH Books together, do a great job of selling their authors while letting their personalities shine through. Andrea Bartz has turned a lot of authors onto Tik Tok by talking about the success she's had over there. 

The thing is: these aren't brands. These authors didn't amass followings by coming up with some cutthroat marketing plan. They're authors being themselves, with just a little bit of narrative consistency. 

The truth is, social media doesn't really sell books. It can certainly move a few copies and help you with discoverability. Once you have a bunch of books under your belt it's a good way to keep your fans in the loop about upcoming releases. But it's not your pathway to the bestseller list. 

Years ago an agent buddy said this, and it really stuck with me: Ten thousand followers is not ten thousand sales

That doesn't mean you shouldn't use social media, or it can't be useful. But for authors starting out—and I work with a fair bit in my role as a freelance editor—I encourage them to look at it less as a tool for building a brand, and more for an opportunity to find and build a community. 

The key concept in social media is social. Twitter and Instagram, maybe Facebook, and currently, Tik Tok, are great places to find communities of readers and writers. You'll find new ideas and critique partners and discover events where you can network. You'll get access to new opportunities, like short story submission calls.

And you'll find people to commiserate with when things get hard. Because in publishing, things are always hard. 

I would gently suggest, too, that you avoid a common pitfall among younger writers: selling yourself as an expert. I see a lot of writers who think that they need to establish themselves as an authority, and start doling out advice to people—without having any real experience or cred to back it up. It's okay to share your experiences, to talk about what's worked for you and what hasn't. But you might not be the best person to explain how querying works if you haven't successfully queried yourself.

You don't even need to be on every social platform. I spend most of my time on Twitter and Instagram. I've been trying out Tik Tok, and had a little success there, but creating video content isn't really my wheelhouse, so I'm not putting too much pressure on myself. I've all but abandoned Facebook. 

It's got to be something you care about enough to use. Tweeting for the sake of tweeting isn't really an effective marketing tool (just ask any of the self-published authors who just tweet out the Amazon link to their book over and over, or spend all their time offering it to random people). 

Sure, Tik Tok is big right now. But if you're not the kind of person who wants to come up with a semi-consistent schedule for creating video content, you shouldn't feel pressured to get on there. 

And Facebook, I think, just generally sucks right now. Especially since, even if you have a 'fan' page, you have to pay them for anyone to actually see what you post. 

Just, stick with the thing you enjoy, where you'll show up consistently and your personality will shine through.

Over time, you'll find friends. And then professional connections. And then readers. 

Before you know it, you'll have your "platform."

About the author

Rob Hart is the class director at LitReactor. His latest novel, The Paradox Hotel, will be released on Feb. 22 by Ballantine. He also wrote The Warehouse, which sold in more than 20 languages and was optioned for film by Ron Howard. Other titles include the Ash McKenna crime series, the short story collection Take-Out, and Scott Free with James Patterson. Find more at

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