Author Tension #1: The need for a “platform”


Platform 1I still feel near giddy about the fact that after 15+ years of fleshing out the ideas that undergird it, my book “10:10: Life to the Fullest” is finally about to become real!

The journey of writing has been filled with a number of high’s and low’s though, and I imagine I could blog ad nausea about some of those. The journey has also been filled with some pretty significant tension points, and I began to allude to some of those in my last post. This week I am going to highlight some of the most significant tensions I have felt along the path of publishing.

The first tension is the near obsession that the publishing industry seems to have with the word “platform.” Michael Hyatt has written the gold standard on the subject, and the sub-title gets to the essence of the word: “Get Noticed in a Noisy World.” On his website he describes why a platform is so important:

“As the former CEO and current Chairman of Thomas Nelson Publishers, one of the largest publishers in the world, I’ve met hundreds of hugely talented people with outstanding ideas. Unfortunately, most of them couldn’t get published. Why? They didn’t have a ‘platform.'”

Now at some level this makes absolute sense. We live in a day and age where every person that owns a laptop and a blog can claim to be an expert on whatever topic they choose. There are also more voices to sort through than at any point in history, and I’m sure Hyatt is right: There are lots of hugely talented people with outstanding ideas, and many of them never get the chance to have their ideas heard and interacted with.

I’ve read his book (and liked it), I’ve become a student of social media, and in all honesty, I’ve worked hard to fortify my platform. And yet, even as I acknowledge all that, I must admit that everything about it makes me uncomfortable. There is something so off in the human soul as it is – some part of us that so desperately wants to claw above the pack and bring attention to ourselves – and the whole platform thing colludes with that human brokenness in a way that makes me really uncomfortable.

And it’s not just at the individual level that I feel the tension. The whole marketplace is now organized around the idea of platform. Let me give a hypothetical (or not) example to make this point. Take Book A. It has incredibly original ideas, clever writing, and helpful application. But the author is not well known, doesn’t have much of a platform, and isn’t a marketing whiz.

Then take Book B. There is not much original content, the writing feels really ordinary, and you are not going to come away feeling all that challenged and inspired. But the author is coming out of a really well known mega-church, and the marketing strategy is fueled by a cutting edge social media – Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Thunderclap – the whole thing.

Which of these books is going to do better commercially?

I wish the answer wasn’t so painfully obvious. But it is. A crappy book with great marketing has a WAY better chance of doing well than an awesome book with crappy marketing.

Call it the Age of the Platform.

This is a tension I feel at a deep level. I’ve done a lot of work to position my book to do well given the reality of the need for a platform, but that’s not what I’m even talking about right now. I am thinking of the dozens of voices I know that have SO many important ideas to share with the world. They are amazing thinkers, feelers, and doers, and their writings would do so much to create transformation near and far.

But most of them don’t have a platform.

I’m not okay with that. I’m not entirely clear yet what I can or should do about this, but it’s something I think about a lot, and something I plan on continuing to address as I walk down this path of being an author.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this one as well!

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14 thoughts on “Author Tension #1: The need for a “platform”

  1. This is the very reason my book is sitting on a shelf. The thought of needing to have a social media presence and expose every part of my life to the world at large to self promote is very uncomfortable to me – especially as a single woman. I wish strong writing could stand on its own but working at a publisher I can tell you the saddest thing is when an amazing book sits on the shelf not selling while the not so great books are like wildfire simply because the author is known. With shrinking profit margins it is understandable why publishers rarely take chances on unknowns but it makes it disheartening if you are not willing to open up your life for public scrutiny.

    • Thanks for the comment Amie. I totally can feel the angst. I feel the same combination – the logic makes sense, but it still feels dissatisfying

  2. Thanks for writing this. 🙂 it’s precisely why I took me forever to start a blog. Much less decide to guest-post for the awesome people who have generously donated their platform for my small presence. It’s humbling. And at the root of it, I have to ask: what’s the point? I still am conflicted between the messages that voices need to be heard and that Jesus didn’t go pursuing the popular vote. And yet, at another level, too I look at it as a critical scholar. Many of the stronger voices (even when they advocate for others) are still those of white, middle class, evangelical decent. Where are the minorities? (which is ultimately what motivated me to voice anything). Platform seems to blend so easily into cultural assimilation and more patterns of dominance and power for me… its pervasive.

    • Hi Ruthie! I didn’t know you had a blog – i want to subscribe! What’s the web address?

      I think that tension you point to is so critical in this. I am actually doing a series right now contrasting David and Saul, and much of Saul’s ultimate undoing seemed to be his need to constantly be praised by people. When that becomes our motivation – regardless of whose voice it is – we set ourselves us for a fall.

      And yet at the same, i think your last line is right on too. Have to hold all these thoughts together as we talk about this. Thanks for commenting!

      • Hey Daniel!
        By “Blog” I mean, it has a whole 8 posts on it… 🙂 I’m still indecisive as to how much I want to write on my own. I’d love your feedback if you take a peek. I’m used to academic writing, so I’m looking for any input I can get on “normal world” writing. My blog should be linked to my commenting-account (via wordpress). Let me know if it doesn’t come up.

  3. I agree with Ruthie – thanks for writing this, Daniel.

    I like to remind folks that Eugene Peterson’s first book (A Long Obeidence in the Same Direction) was rejected by 20 publishers prior to it being picked up by IVP – so the world even before “platform” existed was nearly robbed of one of its best.

    Scot McKnight wrote on this at the end of 2013 (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2013/12/16/platform-and-publishing/) and I understand the need for business savvy in publishing.

    But on a deeper level, we don’t necessarily have a “code of ethics” in Christian publishing that determines what does and doesn’t get published. Should publishers engage in the buying-up-books in order to move a book up the NY Times Best Seller list? This is the same issue as how platform should determine the publishing of a book in the first place – both are asking the question, “How do we sell more?”

    I think this is a greater call for those who lead in the industry to exercise discernment and to ask the hard questions of how are publishers helping the voices of the marginalized be heard? Or are they simply responding to market demand?

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  5. I appreciate your comments.. the issue with platform and who and HOW people get it is that it severely excludes the voices that are not packages in blogs, books or fancy TED like talks…the voices that are speaking but never heard. Mainly the voices of the dozens of great leaders I know here in the Chi. I guess the trick is how to not ride the platform without a plan for the inclusion of those voices. Even speakers/writers that make the voices in the margins their PLATFORM actually never include those voices-they profit speaking for them. That is also a major trend…sad but God help all of us that happen to be graced with one. We all need help to stay in that tension so ti squeezes the best of us.

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  7. Hi Sandra – thanks so much for the comment! Yes and Yes – i’ve seen that too and it makes me ill. Would love any thoughts you have of how to best manage this tension – I respect your ministry and insights!

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