008 – Resonance and Why Platform is Not Important Like You Think

Here are the show notes for the most recent episode of the Christian Publishing Show.

You can listen to this episode here.


The following is the outline I used to record this episode. It is not the episode itself! I encourage you to listen to the episode if you can.


This is the third and final episode in a series about What I am Looking for as an Agent.

Previously we talked about courage (episode 002) and hustle (episode 003). I will have links to those episodes in the show notes.

Why Publishers Care About Platform:

  • Michael Hyatt popularized the term when he started blogging about it about 10 years ago. He wrote a book about it (Affiliate Link) in 2012.
  • Platform is seen as an indication that books will sell.
  • Authors without platforms often fail to sell many books, especially in nonfiction.
  • Hyatt used his understanding of platform to acquire many of the top authors and grow Thomas Nelson even bigger as the #1 Christian publishing company.

“It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”

The Big Short

The Problem with Platform

Platform is gameable by savvy authors.

“Follow me on Twitter and I will follow you back.”

Buying fake followers.

Using the follower churn method.

Many other ways I won’t go into here.

It focuses too much on social media metrics (Facebook Likes, Instagram Followers, Twitter Followers, etc.)

It fails to account for engagement and passion. Engagement is difficult to measure without expensive tools, and engagement does not always translate into sales.

It fails to take into account the number one reason why books sell: word of mouth.

It fails to take into account the author’s influence with influential people.

The More Useful Goal: Resonance

A musical term. A note can resonate in a room and make the whole room vibrate to the tone of that note. It is why some tones can break a wine glass while others can’t at the same volume.

In physics, it is like pushing a child on a swing. If you are in resonance with the frequency of the swing, you are pushing the child as she swings away from you. You are encouraging the swing in the direction it is already wanting to go. If you get the frequency wrong, you miss your push or you push the child off the swing.

As novelists, you have resonance when your story resonates with the story going on in someone’s heart. You are pushing them in the direction they are already going on the swing.

As nonfiction writers, you have resonance when someone says “Yes! This puts in words what I have been feeling recently!”

Example: Resonance is why my blog post went viral. People were already frustrated with courtship.

I will be using the word zeitgeist a lot in this episode and I thought it would be good to define it quickly.

Zeitgeist: “the general intellectual, moral, and cultural climate of an era”

Merriam Webster Dictionary


I think the word “zeitgeist” sounds pretentious, but there is just no better word. So please forgive me for using it.


Three Kinds of Authors

Type 1: Without resonance.

Most writers fall into this category, especially the ones with few sales.

They are:

  • out of tune with the music around them.
  • out of sync with the zeitgeist.
  • pushing and there is no swing in front of them to push.

Type 2: With Resonance

They are:

  • the authors who regularly write bestsellers.
  • “in tune” with the music around them.
  • in sync with the zeitgeist.
  • pushing the swing in the direction it is already going.

Type 3: Make Their Own Resonance

This type is very hard to predict ahead of time!


  • are often the unknown authors who come out of nowhere and write runaway surprise bestselling books.
  • change the zeitgeist. This is almost impossible to do. Some years, no author pulls it off.
  • cause the people around them to change their tune.
  • push the swing right before it is about to change directions.

How to Find Your Resonance

Resonance is about three things.

1) Resonance is about timing.

Culture changes over time.

Too early, and you are out of step with the Zeitgeist. You are pushing the girl off the swing.

Too late, and you are cliche. You are pushing after the swing has already out of reach.

This is why it is so important to read the books in your genre.

2) Resonance is about audience.

Each community vibrates at its own frequency.

  • Saying your book is “for everyone” is like standing at a bank of swings trying to push all the swings at the same time.
  • You have to watch the motion of a specific swing in order to push at the right time.

You can’t resonate with every community.

  • Being in sync with one community will put you out of sync with others.
  • Women in nursing homes and men on basketball teams don’t read the same books.
  • You need to know who your book is not for. That way, you don’t need to worry if they are unhappy about your book.

You need to join the community you want to reach.

  • If they won’t accept you, you won’t be able to find resonance with them.
  • If you hate science fiction and want to write a book to “fix” it, you will fail. This is what is wrong with The Last Jedi. It wasn’t made by fans of Star Wars. They tried to “fix” something millions of people don’t think was broken. Making Luke Skywalker a coward, the rebellion incompetent, and Rey a nobody was the “fix” that broke Star Wars.
  • Sometimes you need to prepare the audience for your message. This is what John the Baptist did for Jesus.

3) Resonance is about listening.

  • You need to be able to hear the music around you to be in tune with it. You need to watch the swings. You get the idea.
  • As novelists, this means watching the movies that your target readers watch. Reading the novels they read.
  • As nonfiction writers, this means finding where the conversation about your topic is taking place and joining that conversation. Depending on your topic this may be blogs, podcasts, Reddit, Facebook groups, etc.
  • Look for the questions people are asking about your topic.
  • Blog about your topic and watch your analytics carefully to see what is resonating.

Final Thoughts

  • Resonance is so much more than how many people follow you on Social Media.
  • Platform can be a sign of resonance, but it is not how you make resonance happen. Resonance is the horse. Platform is the cart the horse drags. Don’t put the cart in front of the horse.
  • If you want to write books people want to read, you need to write the kind of books that people want to read.
  • The key to resonance is to reach beyond yourself. Authors who write from a selfish place rarely have the vision to see how the swing is moving.

Sponsor: Christian Writers Institute

Platform: a Conversation with Thomas Umstattd, Mary DeMuth, and Michael Hyatt

This course is a one hour webinar with Thomas Umstattd, Mary DeMuth, and Michael Hyatt about Hyatt’s (new at the time) book Platform. Save 10% with coupon code “podcast

The post 008 – Resonance and Why Platform is Not Important Like You Think appeared first on Christian Publishing Show.

16 Responses to 008 – Resonance and Why Platform is Not Important Like You Think

  1. Sandra Schoger Foster January 14, 2019 at 10:58 pm #

    This has been most helpful. You are right on. It’s the resonance that is key and we need to hear more about that aspect. THANK YOU!!

  2. Shirlee Abbott January 15, 2019 at 3:58 am #

    Thank you, Thomas. This clarifies more than an author’s platform. It answers a question I’ve been asking myself about a church’s social media presence. Likes and shares don’t reflect transformed lives. Building a better website isn’t a substitute for discipleship–personal growth, person by person.

    • Lori Altebaumer January 15, 2019 at 7:37 am #

      Building a better website isn’t a substitute for discipleship… so true!

  3. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser January 15, 2019 at 7:34 am #

    Here on my Last Lecture tour
    you won’t find the way to dreams;
    Dr. Pausch wrote that lovely fleur-
    de-lis of hope; your future gleams.
    ‘And It Was Beautiful”; dear Kara’s heart
    etched in her fading sunset sky;
    she wrote humbly and with such art,
    and we wept to see her die.
    My life was a cautionary tale;
    you don’t want to walk those roads.
    And at sweet surrender, I really fail,
    spitting hate at cancer’s goads.
    My platform’s small, so it may not fit
    them ‘cept he what don’t know how to quit.

  4. Lori Altebaumer January 15, 2019 at 7:47 am #

    I’m looking forward to listening to the podcast later today, but this really did “resonate” with me. In the financial industry there is a term for just moving stuff around but not really gaining any ground (unethical advisors do this to generate commission for themselves). That term is churning. And I can’t help but think that a lot of what we as authors are doing in trying to build our platforms is quite a bit like churning. Authors follow other authors just for the sake of growth in numbers. I know that ultimately this can introduce us to other markets, expand our reach, but sometimes I wonder if we are really gaining any ground for the Kingdom while we play the social media numbers game. Which reminds me of another saying “If Satan can’t make us bad, he’ll make us busy.”

    • Mary Kay Moody January 15, 2019 at 8:46 am #

      Lori, grateful to learn about churning. And I’m making a reminder of your quote about Satan making us busy!

  5. Patrick E. Craig January 15, 2019 at 8:18 am #

    I agree that the best books are those that resonate with the reader—they find themselves realizing that they have felt exactly the same way the protagonist feels and if that happens enough in your books it “binds” the reader to the book and the author. So the question is, how do you make readers “aware” of your books so they know to read them?

    I was a professional musician for years and we all knew that if you copied the latest “hit” you were just a top-forty band and not an innovator. It seems to me that reading what your readers are reading or watching what they are watching puts you behind a step—producing books that are ‘old before their time?’ What’s your take on that ( or anybody who’s reading this)?

    • Andrew Budek-Schmeisser January 15, 2019 at 11:17 am #

      Patrick, I’m no expert, but for what it’s worth, I think one has to look at what your readers are reading and watching to find out why they’re reading/watching it.

      Two examples come to mind.

      First, Jonathan Livingston Seagoll (1970) and Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance (1974) came out at a dificult time; campus and racial unrest and the Viet Nam War really seemed to have torn the country’s fabric, and readers wanted a new direction, some meaning that would lead them past the perceived failures of church and state.

      What readers were seeking was a diferent path; what they needed next was a way to integrate an enlightened life into an unenlightened world. Bach gave this in 1977’s Illusions: The Adventures Of A Reluctant Messiah, which was both entertaining and a thoughtful look at what the grace-or-satori-driven life would look like against an indifferent world (Bach successfully continued developing the theme of ‘living with enlightenment’ in 1984’s The Bridge Across Forever) . Pirsig’s efforts to follow Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance didn’t fare as well, drifing into value-based metaphysics.

      The important thing, I think, is first the identification of the current zeitgeit’s failing, and second (and much more difficult), the ‘direction of flow’ of the yearing for something better.

      A second example could be taken looking at the dystopian YA series The Hunger Games (starting in 2008) and Divergent (first book in 2011). These books both addressed the challenge of living in a society gone mad, and resonated becaue that’s what the world felt like in the first decade of the twenty-first century. Readers weren’t looking for something ‘better’; they were hoping to hang on, hoping that the ways in which they could identify with the protagonists would give both strength and insight for survival.

      Dystopian subjects were perhaps self-limiting, because they were scenes writ small against larger catastrophe, and the ‘next step’ would have involved much more of an epic sweep in describing a societal rebirth and reconstruction.

      Please take all this with a grain of salt; it’s simply my on opinion, somewhat informed, but certainly not ‘professional’ in any sense.

      • Thomas Umstattd, Jr. January 15, 2019 at 11:25 am #

        @Patrick As for how to get the word out, I have an entire podcast on that topic at http://www.novelmarketing.com.

        @Andrew Your point about identifying the problem in the zeitgeist and fixing it is excellent! Well said!

  6. Mary Kay Moody January 15, 2019 at 8:44 am #

    Interesting and very helpful. Thanks for clarifying some questions I’d been pondering! And to the poet in me, resonance is a lovelier word and concept than platform.

  7. Sonja Anderson January 15, 2019 at 11:12 am #

    You say something in the podcast to the effect that if Christians are upset with what you’re writing, you’re probably missing the mark for resonance with your book. Writing in accordance with broadly-accepted Christian beliefs seemed easier before the current political climate! Unfortunately, the Christian community seems more divided than ever.

    A Christian woman recently ranted at me as I stood at a holiday bazaar book table with my Christian novels for kids, all because my characters run into different religions on their way to a transforming encounter with the presence of Christ. Simply acknowledging the existence of different cultures and something about each one that Christians can respect was going to “turn kids astray.” Ouch. I’d be more upset if it wasn’t the most-checked out novel in my public school library for the past two years!

    • Thomas Umstattd, Jr. January 15, 2019 at 11:26 am #

      @Sonja You are right about culture fracturing. There are more swings than ever at the swing set. “Christians” and even “Evangelical Christians” are now too broad to easily target. You have to get more specific.

  8. Dina Sleiman January 15, 2019 at 1:40 pm #

    Very insightful. Thank you.

  9. Judi January 15, 2019 at 1:57 pm #

    This was such an excellent podcast, Thomas. Thank you! I’ve been wanting to do “resonance reconnaissance” for a book about battling fear. This podcast confirmed that I’m on the right track and gave me new insights and understanding of the concept. Thank you!

  10. Jeanne Takenaka January 16, 2019 at 8:51 am #

    Thomas, this was extremely insightful! I appreciate your take on resonance. As a pre-published writer your thoughts on what we writers need to consider to be successful . . . well, they resonated with my heart and increased my understanding. Thank you.

  11. Regina Merrick January 17, 2019 at 11:00 am #

    Thomas, this has been wonderful. I’m going back to listen to the other two parts – and then I may listen to this one again! My favorite? “If you want to write books people want to read, you need to write the kind of books that people want to read.”

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