A Monster In The Writer’s Closet: Platform-building

For the longest time, it has been my goal to become a writer and publish books. Eventually, I discovered writing was as natural to me as breathing. It is my automatic response to things. It’s how I figure out what I think and how I remind myself of what is true. It creates an opportunity for me to reach people and inspire them to feel something.

a monster

But getting my content to readers is a completely different story. That stresses me out. Why? It’s something we call platform.

This term is used in the publishing industry in a slightly different way than most people are used to. When you hear an author or speaker talk about their platform, they mean their following. It’s the number of followers, the email subscribers, their social media visibility, likes and shares, website traffic, invitations to speak, and their general credibility and desirability within their market.

In the same way businesses prove their relevance through sales, writers must also prove their relevance through numbers. By those standards, there’s never a point where you “arrive.” It focuses on growing and continuing to move up. Building a platform always demands more.

I thoroughly understand why the publishing industry is on the route that it is. Publishers are making really savvy business decisions and they’re understandably cautious about unknown authors who don’t yet have a solid record. Plus, in the long run, their methods will prove to be most beneficial for both the writer and the publisher. When writers are forced to develop their “built-in audience”, it diminishes the risk for everyone involved and increases the opportunity for success.

I’m not here to complain about how the system works or say that it’s not fair; because, if we all took a moment to look at the situation objectively, it really makes a lot of sense and it will eventually be for all of our benefit.

Instead, I want to talk about the biggest struggle behind it all: keeping my heart and head in the right place while not burning out from trying to earn my spot in an industry that can take a lifetime to break into.

Shifting our mentality to focus on developing a platform changes the way we approach the art of writing. We may swoon over the days of Jane Austen, Louisa May Alcott, and Beatrix Potter (at least, I do), but that’s not how things work anymore. It’s not about sending your manuscript however many times it takes for someone to give it a chance. It’s not even about following in the footsteps of J.K. Rowling, because fiction writing and publishing might as well be a completely different world than non-fiction, with different rules.

It’s about making wise business decisions. It’s about marketing and networking. It’s about establishing authority and credibility within your field and around your topic. Success is measured in numbers, and without the numbers, the writer is without the job they seek.

To work in the non-fiction writing industry, it’s now less about the desire to become a writer and more about the determination to be an entrepreneur.

An entrepreneur views their work a lot differently than a writer.

A writer sees their work in the way I talked about above – it’s like breathing, it’s a way of living, it’s an opportunity to influence others and make an impact on the world.

An entrepreneur views their work in numbers – it’s about the likes, shares, followers, views, subscribers, mentions, endorsers, and the recognition.

If your goal is to be an influencer, you cannot succeed as a writer without first succeeding as an entrepreneur. So we must learn how to be both a writer and entrepreneur without sacrificing even one element of either.

Suddenly, the entertainment industry makes a lot more sense to me. People sell their souls in order to share them. They try to outsmart the system by doing whatever it takes to receive the attention they believe they deserve. Does that make it right? No. But I understand why people do it a little more than I did before. And it begs the question…

Are we training Christian writers to play the same game?

Are we putting numbers-above-all? Is our motivation sales rather than changed hearts?

Like I said, it’s not the method that’s the problem. But in order to work in this industry, we have to continually examine our hearts. We have to speak Truth back to ourselves and keep our focus in the right place as we navigate the difficult and sometimes consuming pursuit of the numbers we need to reach our goals.

It makes me resolved more than ever to do this the right way, with integrity. I will earn the opportunity to be heard and work to give my best self to people who have entrusted me with their precious time and attention.

But that doesn’t make it any easier when you’re in the beginning stages (still), with a meager following that seems to scream in your ear, you’re not important; what you have to say doesn’t matter.

It does matter. If you’re a writer, let me remind you: IT DOES MATTER.

Honestly, I’d have to put “platform building” in my closet of monsters because it not only intimidates me, it highlights all my insecurities. We already live in a social media obsessed world where the infamous “like” trumps all. To some, it represents popularity. To others, it represents money. To me, it’s a monster with which I’ll always struggle – to give into it just enough to work in this industry but keep it far enough away so it won’t invade my heart. I cannot let it define me. It may measure opportunities available to me, but it will never reflect who I am. It will never classify my ministry or restrain the path that Christ has ordained.

Even if you only have five followers on your blog, those five people have been placed in your care so you can minister to them. Their presence is no mistake, nor is it a sign of your lack of impact. It’s a direct indication that the Lord has given you an opportunity to influence others. They are the ones who need to hear what you have to say, and in this moment, they are your mission. The Lord will continue to grow your reach as you are faithful where you are now. You don’t need to worry about all the people who aren’t there – just focus on who is in front of you today and keep showing up for them.

I know sometimes you want to give up when you don’t get the kind of response you hoped for on a piece that you poured yourself into.

I know sometimes you want to hide when your social media “likes” feel like an embarrassingly low number.

I know how much it hurts to be rejected because your numbers aren’t big enough yet.

I know it can feel like your voice isn’t good enough or your message isn’t important; that you can never make a difference and the world has declared you a failure. But keep going. Even if your audience is only ever your small circle of people, it still matters. The greatest influencers are those who are available to live life right next to other people, not just speak to them distantly through a page or computer screen.

The people in front of you are your people and they need to hear what you have to say. So keep speaking, writing, and showing up.

7 thoughts on “A Monster In The Writer’s Closet: Platform-building

  1. Jean-Marie Lawrence says:

    I am in LOVE with this post! Everything you said here is so true. As both a writer and an entrepreneur, I can attest to how hard it is to “break out” (or whatever phrase for success you want to use). For a long time, I focused on what I didn’t have- the numbers, the clients, the attention. And it got me nowhere, which of course caused me to focus on the nowhere and doubt instead of on the tasks God has called me to. But when I stopped all the self-defeat and negativity – when I focused on God and His purpose for me, and less on the stats, suddenly it all began to click! The things I needed to fulfill my purpose began to show up. And you know what? They were actually right there all along. I just wasn’t looking in the right direction because I was focused on the wrong things. Thanks for sharing your faith! Keep trusting God, and know that your words absolutely matter!

    • MaryLynn says:

      It can be so difficult to keep our focus in the right place! But good things are ahead of us if we focus on the tasks the Lord has placed in front of us today!

  2. Peggy Zizvari says:

    Very good words, MaryLynn! You have been given a valuable gift of thinking and writing well. You know your gift-giver in no way is focused on how high your numbers are! You are right in step with Him as you write about focusing on the task God has given you instead of being fixated on getting your platform stronger–it’s one of the many paradoxes in following Christ: he/she who is first will be last; the one who is faithful with little things will be entrusted with bigger (more influential?) things; the one who is willing to be a fool for Christ’s sake is wise in God’s eyes. You are growing so much, MaryLynn. I think you are destined to be an influencer because you already are!

  3. Shannon says:

    This is the second post today I’ve read with this same message. Maybe God’s trying to tell me something 😏 Everything you said is true…and I’m just starting to figure it all out! Thanks for sharing!

  4. jessicavanroekel says:

    This was a great post! Thank-you for sharing. I wrestle with the whole ‘platform’ building thing, it does make sense and is quite logical, but to keep my identity and sense of who I am in Christ separate from the platform is important and creates a tension within me that keeps me consciously aware of my heart.

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