Let's Talk About Platform
Let’s talk about platform.
If you’re a writer, maybe you bristle at the thought and feel like the “p-word” is as vulgar as any four-letter-word out there. I’ve felt that way, too. (Just so you know up front, this post won’t include practical advice on how to grow your platform. Kind of the opposite, actually.) The thought of “having to grow my platform” in order to ever write a book is daunting and frustrating. Can’t I just write a book about Jesus and pray someone will buy it?
I can certainly write the thing and prayer should be a part of it. But publishers generally look for three main things when considering a book proposal: concept, content, and platform. Your platform is how visible you are as an author and how you connect with your audience. So, your platform could include stats such as website views, social media followers, podcast downloads, people on your email list, etc. (it can also include a lot more than that). Having a large platform means you’ve cultivated and connected with a specific group of people who are likely to purchase your work.
Most people don’t walk into a book store and literally judge a book by its cover anymore. We used to peruse aisles and pick up books that looked interesting, even ones by unknown authors, and hand over our $14.99. Those days are long gone.
Now, you typically have to have an audience before a publisher will even sign a contract with you. You have to do the marketing work and have buyers lined up around the corner. It’s freakin’ hard, and it’s hard to love the work and dig into the writing with your website, social media, email list, or whatever other numbers hanging over your head. Pretty soon those numbers start to feel like the end-all, like growing those numbers is the most important thing and a measurement of your worth and the quality of your work. So how do you grow your platform without losing your soul?
I sat in a coffee shop a few weeks ago talking about this with an industry professional. After about twenty minutes of us venting about the modern challenges of book publishing, I felt myself sinking deeper into my chair and questioning why I’m even bothering pursuing this. What’s the point?
Maybe he could sense my discouragement through the phone, because the tone shifted gears. He said (and I’m paraphrasing), “If your primary goal is to grow your platform and it doesn’t happen, you’ll have lost money, time, and resources—not to mention the discouragement and feeling of failure that could set in. But if you look to serve God and serve your reader and then your platform grows, great. If not, great. You’ve still honored God and served the Church. Nothing is wasted.”
There are techniques and strategies we can employ to grow our audience and reach more people. Marketing is a valuable tool, and I’ve taken my fair share of online marketing courses (and they’ve been super helpful!). But the growth of our platform must be secondary to the glory of God and the growth of souls.
In Art and the Bible, Francis Schaeffer wrote, “How can art be sufficiently meaningful? If it is offered up merely before men, then it does not have a sufficient integration point. But it can be offered up before God…So the man who really loves God, who is working under the lordship of Christ, could write his poetry, compose his music, construct his musical instruments, fashion his statues, paint his pictures, even if no man ever saw them. He knows God looks upon them.”
I have not mastered this, and I’m at the very early stages of having to work through it on a professional level. Right now, much of the pressure regarding platform comes from my own head, but I know many others who feel that pressure from agents, publishers, editors, or others. In some ways, it only gets harder as you walk further down the road.
Yet I’m realizing when I get so hyper-focused on the thousands of things I have to do to grow my platform, I feel like Peter sinking in the water as he took his eyes off Christ. The pressure to grow, hustle, get more content out there, beat the algorithm, or learn everything about SEO, can leave me feeling like I’m drowning. But when those things get put in their proper place—because I do believe they have a place—and my gaze remains fixed firmly on Christ, there is freedom and joy in doing the work he’s called me to do.
So we take the next step in our work, handing over to God whatever we have to offer. We learn marketing skills. We implement tools to grow. But first and foremost, we write and create to honor God and serve others. We get to speak truth and beauty and grace into the world, and our success isn’t measured by who or how many people end up listening. If the platform grows, great. If not, that’s okay. It’s all by the grace of God and for him, anyway.
Nothing is wasted.
God, may our platforms, however big or small, long-lasting or short-lived, be built on you. May our work be one more way we can shout your name and boldly display your kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.
Photo by Nick Morrison on Unsplash.