Why I Use That Dirty Word … PLATFORM

It’s a dirty word to aspiring writers. It is even unpopular among many agents and editors. It elicits snarls and sneers from people who just want to write great stuff and get their writing published.

I’m talking, of course, about the word “Platform.”

It refers to the extent of a writer’s influence. It answers the questions, “How big is your audience? How many people are already reading what you write? How many people are in your sphere of influence?” It helps a prospective publisher weigh not only on the quality of a person’s writing but also whether that person is capable of partnering with a publisher in the Herculean task of getting recognition and readers for a new book.

In one of my first blog posts as an agent, I wrote:

I am looking for people who are already having an impact. They are writing blog posts that a lot of people read, share, and subscribe to. They are connecting and engaging with large numbers of people on social media. They are speaking at events large and small, far and wide. They are not waiting for readers, listeners, and followers to come to them, they are already engaging with people about their genre and topic.

To some people, however, that’s an unfair standard. Numerous aspiring authors have expressed dismay at my insistence on a healthy and growing platform. One replied to my coaching efforts by saying, “I am not a ‘celebrity’ and have no desire to be. My sole goal is to be faithful, not famous.”

What kind of commercial publisher—who has a responsibility to owners, board members, shareholders, employees, and future customers—would be anxious to sign and publish someone who doesn’t understand that obscurity is not a selling point? That “A good name is better than fine perfume” (Ecclesiastes 7:1, NIV)? That a worthwhile message doesn’t have to wait until a book release to start having an impact?

If you owned a publishing house, would you look for writers who are waiting for their books to be published before building a following? Or would you want someone who is clearly passionate about a message and already networking with people, gathering a tribe, honing a message, experimenting with new technology, and using every resource available to say important things in impactful ways?

I think the question answers itself. As an agent, I’m willing to wait for a writer to demonstrate the willingness to learn, the desire to improve, and the ability to communicate well that will inspire blog or email newsletter subscribers, Facebook and Twitter followers, seminar audiences, radio listeners, and whatever else will say to an editor and publisher, “My sole goal is to reach people, even if that means I end up being famous.”

That is why I use the word platform. And why I look for writers who are building one.

 

113 Responses to Why I Use That Dirty Word … PLATFORM

  1. Rachel McDaniel September 6, 2017 at 5:25 am #

    I was one of those writers who’d cringe at that word, but not because of the reasons you mentioned. I was terrified of putting myself out there. Once, I realized it was fear, I slapped on my brave face and stepped out. I’m glad that I did, because I truly enjoy connecting with people. 🙂

    • Tisha Martin September 6, 2017 at 6:18 am #

      Me too, Rachel, me too!

    • Bob Hostetler
      Bob Hostetler September 6, 2017 at 7:58 am #

      Thanks for the comment, Rachel. I think fear does play a part for many people. But you’re right, many find, like you, that overcoming fear and connecting with people can actually be fun. And faith-growing.

  2. Judith Robl September 6, 2017 at 5:25 am #

    Bob, I understand your need for platform, but I’ve been blogging for 8 years, and I’m active on Facebook.

    I deliberately chose only blogging and Facebook because I cannot begin to keep up with more until I can afford to have help with social media.

    My audience, if you can call it that, is still small, and I don’t know what steps to take to increase it.

    If you have suggestions for that kind of help, I’d be grateful if you posted those resources as well.

    • Damon J. Gray September 6, 2017 at 5:34 am #

      Judith, I hear you. One of the great challenges with platform building is a shifting landscape. Today’s platform is built atop technology. E.g. you blog! That requires – makes use of – technology. And in the world of technology, there is no firm foundation. Six months is an eternity, and what was cutting edge six months ago is old hat today.

      I don’t know exactly where he is going to take me, but I just started (this morning) reading Michael Hyatt’s book “Platform – Get noticed in a noisy world”

      It might be worth a read if you have not yet done so.

      • Judith Robl September 6, 2017 at 11:35 am #

        Damon, thank you for your help. I’m relatively certain that Michael Hyatt will have good information and direction in that book. It’s on my TBR list. I have high hopes for it.

    • Tisha Martin September 6, 2017 at 6:30 am #

      Judith, I understand how frustrating it can be. Others may have a better solution for you, but I’ve heard that you should communicate and network using whatever social media you feel most comfortable.

      Have you considered using a social media generator like Buffer or Hootsuite? You can upload photos, quotes, etc. to any social media you like, set a date/time, and then all you have to do is converse with people. I’ve been using Buffer recently and absolutely love it! Super easy and a time saver!

    • Bob Hostetler
      Bob Hostetler September 6, 2017 at 8:01 am #

      Judith, in addition to what Tisha said, I recommend Michael Hyatt’s book, Platform. And there are several platform audio and video sessions on Christianwritersinstitute.com. And there is even a conference (http://www.mountainsidemarketingconference.com/) to offer help. Platform is much more than social media, of course, but those resources might be helpful. Thanks for commenting.

      • Judith Robl September 6, 2017 at 11:39 am #

        Tisha, thank you for taking time to respond to my comment. I tried Hootsuite a number of years ago, but found the learning curve a little steep and more time-consuming than time-saving. I’ll have to look into Buffer. Thanks for the recommendation.

        • Tisha Martin September 6, 2017 at 11:41 am #

          Judith, you’re welcome!! Thanks for communicating back. 😉 Hootsuite does seem challenging. Try http://www.buffer.com, this is in a very simple format. Let me know what you think.

      • Judith Robl September 6, 2017 at 11:50 am #

        Bob, thank you for the additional suggestions. Between your help and these other suggestions, I should be able to boost my platform somewhat.

    • Andrew Budek-Schmeisser September 6, 2017 at 8:12 am #

      Judith, I have a couple of thoughts that I hope may help:

      1) Be sure to keep a regular schedule with blogging and FB. Treat it like going to work. Be available at the same time every day you post, and post on the same days.

      2) Don’t take a vacation from blogging; you can easily schedule posts ahead, so there’s really no excuse to hang a ‘gone fishing’ sign on your virtual door.

      3) Stick to your subject. If you’re blogging about homeschooling and you develop a sudden desire to write about North Korea, resist it…unless you can link the hermit Kingdom to your main theme, like describing how you explained Kim Jong-un to the anxious kids.

      4) Use hashtags, and join linkups. Five Minute Friday is an especially vibrant community (www.fiveminutefriday.com)

      5) Respond to every comment in a timely manner; remember, you’re building relationship, and people enjoy the interaction. That’s why they comment.

      6) Keep in mind the differences between reading on paper (or Kindle) and reading online. The latter mover more quickly; use shorter paragraphs and wherever possible, bullet points. Make your content quickly accessible,

      7) Don’t get discouraged at readership fluctuation. Many of my readers are parents, and I do notice a dip in my stats around back-to-school time. The Christmas holidays also drop readership, but I make sure not to slack off. There are people out there who are alone, and the blog’s something of a social lifeline for them.

      Well, that’s more than a couple, but I do hope they help!

      • Bob Hostetler
        Bob Hostetler September 6, 2017 at 9:56 am #

        Andrew, what a great reply. Very helpful, as your comments tend to be.

        • Andrew Budek-Schmeisser September 6, 2017 at 10:47 am #

          Bob, thank you; I am honoured by your words, and privileged to be a part of this community.

      • Judith Robl September 6, 2017 at 11:58 am #

        Andrew, thank you for all your help. I was aware of much of this, but I’m not familiar with hashtags and linkups. I’ll have to get to studying those.

        My main blog is an every Friday devotional at http://www.praisegarment.wordpress.com.

        I’d be grateful for any other suggestions you could make regarding that. If it’s too much of an imposition, please don’t feel obligated.

        Grace and peace,
        Judith

        • Andrew Budek-Schmeisser September 6, 2017 at 12:56 pm #

          Judith, I’m honoured that I could be of service. I’ll be heading over to Praise Garment shortly, and am looking forward to it.

  3. Lori Closter September 6, 2017 at 5:26 am #

    I am relieved to find I was not the only one dismayed by your first two blogs, Bob. Influence was at the top of your list, and originality of writing at the bottom. Some of us are more tortoise than hare; the arc and path of our growth as writers takes longer, and we may not have energy to do all you suggest. But Scripture is full of lowly people whom God raised up for His purposes and glory—sometimes, because they’d been faithful to the task and kept their eyes on Him. Isn’t the most important thing whether we have something valuable to say? That said, I believe there’s room for both our ways of thinking and wish you the best in your new career.

    • Bob Hostetler
      Bob Hostetler September 6, 2017 at 8:04 am #

      Oh, Lori, I’m so sorry to have given the impression by the order of my post on “Who and What I’m Looking For as an Agent” that originality is at the bottom of my list. That was not my intention at all. The order of things in that blog post was not a ranking from most important to least but of things that are ALL important.

      I agree with you that there is plenty of room for tortoises in writing and publishing. Part of what I was trying to help writers understand in my post above was that commercial publishers face economic realities and responsibilities that make a writer’s platform part of the equation.

      • Lori Closter September 11, 2017 at 6:47 am #

        I appreciate your clarification. Thanks, Bob. I do understand about those realities; they can be quite a shock to encounter when emerging from one’s writerly cave, blinking at the light of day and clutching a flag the size of a toothpick, when what’s needed is enough fabric to cover a football field. Anyway, onward …

  4. Damon J. Gray September 6, 2017 at 5:48 am #

    Bob, one of my life maxims is, “What is, is.” Reality is reality, and the fact that it frustrates me, confuses me, irritates me – whatever the effect may be – is irrelevant. What is, is. If we want our work published (traditionally) and widely read, it requires a platform.

    Platform may be a cuss word, but it is also a requirement for me to achieve my goals. I get it, but I don’t like it. But another reality is that no one but me cares whether or not I like it.

    Pushing back against the platform requirement, however, is fruitless, wasted effort. The smart and industrious writer will be the one who embraces the challenge and faithfully executes a battle-plan. I have to move, to march forward. Richard Stearns (The Hole in Our Gospel) quotes his pastor as saying, “God can’t steer a parked car.” It is not necessary to engage every aspect of platform building this week. Pick one thing, do it well, make it a habit, and then next week add another thing, a new habit to that.

    • Bob Hostetler
      Bob Hostetler September 6, 2017 at 8:07 am #

      True, Damon, and wise. We can curse the height and girth of a redwood all day or we can start hacking away at it, little by little. As Shakespeare said, “many strokes, though with a little axe, Hew down and fell the hardest-timber’d oak” (3 Henry VI).

      • Bob Hostetler
        Bob Hostetler September 6, 2017 at 8:09 am #

        Come to think of it, even Shakespeare worked to develop a platform. He had a literal platform for his plays, and patrons for his poetry (whom he almost certainly sought out). Shakespeare was no Bob Hostetler, of course, but he did all right.

  5. Barbara Ellin Fox September 6, 2017 at 5:57 am #

    Bob- even if it stings it’s helpful to hear from someone who is on the other (dare I say dark) side and refers to platform. I don’t know if you’ll be commenting on comments but I’m seeking advice. I have a pretty good following on my non fiction side, one that would be very easy to ramp up (if someone could provide another 6 or so hours in the day, or even 2). My fiction writing is related but not identical. Would an agent consider this situation as part of a healthy or useful platform? Thanks. Isn’t there some old adage about when the going gets tough the tough get going?

    • Tisha Martin September 6, 2017 at 6:13 am #

      Barbara,

      I’m wondering the same thing! 🙂 If our fiction and non-fiction platforms are closely aligned, can we use that as leverage?

    • Bob Hostetler
      Bob Hostetler September 6, 2017 at 8:16 am #

      Barbara (and Tisha), when you find those other 6 hours in the day, please let me know. I could use some of that.

      Here’s my best shot at answering your question: while a novelist’s “platform” looks different than that of a nonfiction author, there are definitely cross-benefits. I’d say think of “platform” as “how many people will be in the loop as my book’s release approaches/happens?” Thus, while a nonfiction author may do more speaking gigs as part of a platform and a novelist might blog about a historical period, either or both contribute to the answer. Hope that makes sense.

  6. Laura September 6, 2017 at 6:01 am #

    Okay. I rarely comment on blogs, because most credible comments have already been made and I’m not one to be redundant. I’m a rebel of sorts, I suppose. Lol

    Yet, this one caught my attention. I thought you were joking at first. While I can appreciate your situation, I think this is amazingly one-sided.

    J.K. Rowling was completely unknown until she wrote a great story. No, her success wasn’t overnight. She struggled to get it into the right hands. I’m glad her agent didn’t demand a platform. We would have been denied a great read. Goodness, I thought she was a man for over a year.

    I know times are changing and the publishing world is more demanding, but I find this a bit extreme. Most first-time writers are 9-5 working blokes with families, mortgages, bills, church and/or charity responsibilities. The list goes to infinity.

    Most conferences, churches, libraries, schools are not too keen on inviting someone to speak unless they are published or hold a degree in the subject area. The hard truth is, most struggling writers do not hold degrees pertaining to the subject matter of their inspired story. Yes, some do, but a vast majority do not.

    Personally, I have never heard of an author until I read their book. I know times are changing, and it’s commendable to put your bait (work) out there for the younger audience, but that doesn’t always mean they’ll bite. It usually takes a hook to the nose via a published work.

    I respect your opinion, but I still hold fast to the belief that a great story and strong writing are the two towers of a worthy work for publishing.

    • Bob Hostetler
      Bob Hostetler September 6, 2017 at 8:29 am #

      Laura, thank you so much for the comment. While you’re right that no one had heard of J. K. Rowling before Harry Potter (and exceptions do sometimes prove the rule), the first Harry Potter book came out in 1997. Twenty years ago. A LOT has changed in publishing over the last two decades. At that time, no one was talking about “platform.”

      But part of your point is still well taken, I think. I don’t know any agent or publisher who will turn down a brilliant idea that is brilliantly written because the author is unknown. But those kinds of projects are far and few between. In today’s publishing environment, no one is LOOKING for capable writers who aren’t actively building an audience. And, speaking only for myself, I know many, many writers who write as well as or better than I do, so I work hard not only to improve my writing but also to develop every other advantage I can, including platform.

      I think your comment that “conferences, churches, libraries, schools are not too keen on inviting someone to speak unless they are published or hold a degree in the subject area” argues AGAINST your point. If conferences, churches, libraries, and schools are somewhat more interested in someone who has demonstrated an expertise or ability to attract audiences than in others, why should publishers not use a similar prism?

      • Laura September 6, 2017 at 10:12 am #

        Thanks for your reply. I’m going to,chew on this for a while.

  7. Cherrilynn Bisbano September 6, 2017 at 6:02 am #

    Bob, thank you for this great post. I am tweeting and reposting it. As a junior agent I get the question about platform all the time. Your article is perfect for them to read.

    • Bob Hostetler
      Bob Hostetler September 6, 2017 at 8:30 am #

      Thank you, Cherrilynn. All retweets and reposts are welcome! It helps with my platform, don’tchaknow.

  8. Tisha Martin September 6, 2017 at 6:08 am #

    Bob,

    Thank you, thank you for this post. Even though I think it’s wild that every writer must have a platform, I can only imagine why this must be so. Do you think it’s partly because of the electronic age in which we live? Everyone seems to be an expert about everything? For some, this is very true because they are experts in the industry they serve.

    Because of the “expert” mentality, perhaps that’s why many other aspects cause a writer to shun and run from this daunting stage called platform.

    “It’s so new. It’s *so* scary. I’m scared! I can’t do it. I don’t know even what I’m doing. Why is it even important?”

    It’s not my goal to even pretend I know everything (I certainly don’t know everything, if I did then I’d be really scared. That’s an awful lot of responsibility, and I’d rather just trust the Lord to lead me). 😉 But in the year I’ve been plunging the scary waters of social media and striving to build platform, I’ve learned it’s not so bad. And it’s actually quite fun. I’m no better than the next person because God’s given each of us our skills and abilities with which to serve him. We all have something to contribute to the world.

    As I was reading the above comments by these faithful fellow writers, Rachel McDaniel nailed it.

    Fear, she said.

    Fear pushes platform away from the writer’s ability of ever becoming successful. Fear keeps so many people from doing what they should be doing or from what they want to be doing. Granted, I’m very much an introverted person and don’t enjoy airing every scene of my life out for the whole world to see, but there’s a way to do it and still maintain that privacy. Once I realized that I was afraid and how to stomp it down, connecting with people has been the most rewarding part of this platform journey. Am I “there” yet? Nope. Do I want to be? You bet!

    I can’t remember who said it but I’ve learned to let fear motivate me, for in that I’m able to balance the rational fear from the irrational fear about platform and why it makes me scared. If I can answer the 5 W’s and H questions and write them down, I’m only giving myself the freedom to do what needs to be done and shoving that fear farther behind me.

    As King David said in Psalm 23: “He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.”

    A missionary friend of mine explained this verse in an empowering way. She said, “God goes with you everywhere. Down the road to the grocery store. On vacation. You can rest in security because he is with you and he will not fail you.”

    My fellow writers, graze in the security that the Lord is with you in every situation. Even as you build your platform and reach out to people. In my mind, platform simply means people. With the Lord at my side and a love for people, I can go anywhere and do anything.

    Okay, well, within reason. I am a Christian who happens to be a writer. 😉

    P.S. Authors, beginning writers, editors, friends, PEOPLE, I’d love to connect with you! Click my name to find my website and from there, you’ll see my social media links. I’ll follow you back–I would also love to engage in conversation. That’s what it’s all about. Let’s get this platform under our belts so we can do what we’re called to do!

    • Bob Hostetler
      Bob Hostetler September 6, 2017 at 8:33 am #

      Hey, class, see what she did there? Go thou and do likewise.

      • Tisha Martin September 6, 2017 at 9:48 am #

        Bob, for some reason, I thought you were replying to someone else… 🙂 Good grief, I must be blind. 😉 I hope it encourages others who may be scared about platform.

        • Janine Rosche September 6, 2017 at 11:01 am #

          connecting! I think I could learn a lot from you, Tisha!

          • Tisha Martin September 6, 2017 at 11:33 am #

            Oh dear…I’m learning as much as the next person, Janine! You’re very kind. I’ve connected with you… your blog is cracking me up!

    • Kristi Woods September 6, 2017 at 9:38 am #

      Beauty of a P.S. Connecting now, Tisha.

  9. Sharon Cowen September 6, 2017 at 6:13 am #

    In all honesty, Bob, I found your platform after I’d read three of your books, and met you at a writing conference. Just curious about how that goes for others: which comes first the platform or the book?

    • Linda Riggs Mayfield September 6, 2017 at 7:14 am #

      Sharon, I start following people I meet at a conference or event on their web sites, so for me, their platforms follow and support their personal contacts. Otherwise, I’m much more likely to discover a book in a library or via the recommendation of a friend, then follow the author if I liked the book. The author’s platform has no direct impact on me at all. I have to wonder if there’s an age factor at work: Boomers not using or seeing the need for a platform before the book, millennials depending on it. If that’s the case, authors and agents would be wise to consider market demographics of the target readers before assuming the platform must precede the book.

      • Bob Hostetler
        Bob Hostetler September 6, 2017 at 8:40 am #

        Linda, websites and conferences are a part of platform, too. So is “the recommendation of a friend.” It’s not just about social media.

      • Tisha Martin September 6, 2017 at 10:37 am #

        Linda, I love connecting with folks at conferences. That’s an awesome suggestion! Which reminds me, I still have so many folks to connect with from the writer’s conference at Taylor University back in August. Life just rushes by…

    • Bob Hostetler
      Bob Hostetler September 6, 2017 at 8:37 am #

      Sharon, my first book came out in 1992, but even then, the editor who saw promise in my proposal, when he called me, said he was prepared to decline it explicitly because “no one’s ever heard of Bob Hostetler” until he recalled that Josh McDowell was under contract for a similar book. He put us together and Josh’s platform jump-started mine. Lucky break, I know, but you would never have read MY books if not for Josh’s platform.

      Also, I’d say keep in mind that building a platform is not just about selling books. It is also about honing your message, refining your skills, and figuring out what your future readers are saying, listening to, investing in, etc.

      • Sharon Cowen September 6, 2017 at 9:29 am #

        Thanks for the input/background, Bob. I’m glad Josh Mcdowell got you jump-started!

        I wonder, too, Linda, if us oldies, (aka I’m much older than you, Bob) do see things differently in regard to a platform.

        Glad we can have this discussion on this blog! Lol.

  10. Toni Wilbarger September 6, 2017 at 6:31 am #

    I understand the validity behind the platform. However, as one of those 9-5 blokes that someone mentioned, I just don’t know how I’ll ever find the time to blog, speak, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, have an email newsletter, etc. while still trying to write, edit, and keep informed about the writing craft. The fact that many agents will not even look at me until I have this is beyond discouraging. Seems it doesn’t matter if my book is good if I have no platform (or a weak one). Sometimes I wish I’d started writing and submitting when social media did not exist. The only thing I can do now is pray that God will help me in my efforts to build a platform, and that He will keep me focused on Him in my day-to-day activities. Because if I focus on the herculean task of building a huge platform, discouragement will be my only result.

    • Bob Hostetler
      Bob Hostetler September 6, 2017 at 8:43 am #

      Toni, please don’t be discouraged. It can seem overwhelming, but as I mentioned in another comment above, “many strokes, though with a little axe, Hew down and fell the hardest-timber’d oak” (Shakespeare). I’m glad to hear you say that God will help you in your efforts to build a platform. He is there just as He is in the writing process.

      • Pearl Allard September 6, 2017 at 12:29 pm #

        I’ll raise my teacup to that! Toni, don’t give up!

  11. Dan Story September 6, 2017 at 6:57 am #

    I’m curious, just how many followers of a blog would you consider necessary to make it a successful platform. I’m speaking only of a blog itself, not other platform avenues? And I’m speaking for a typical writer who posts regularly, but not an established best-selling author.

    • Bob Hostetler
      Bob Hostetler September 6, 2017 at 8:44 am #

      Dan, I’ll reply to both you and “rochellino” below.

  12. rochellino September 6, 2017 at 7:25 am #

    Thanks to Dan’s excellent tutelage we know that the average traditionally published book sells about 4000 copies, Knowing this makes it glaringly apparent in answering the question of “why” regarding a strong platform.

    What would be extremely helpful is to know what constitutes “strong platform”. A well known legendary icon of the industry we all know and love would probably answer “it depends”. I’m sure that it does depend on a number of factors. A minimum standard to strive for and exceed in all the areas of platform would be helpful. Its hard to know when or if you have arrived when you don’t know your destination.

    When all is said and done, somewhere along the watchtower, an assessment is likely made as to how many copies the “author” might be expected to sell on their own efforts via all channels (speaking, twitter/blog followers, internet presence, previous sales, etc.)

    The industry, I presume, has an idea of its own selling capability of an average title. When combining both sales estimates (author and publisher) a final, somewhat educated, decision can be made whether or not the book is likely to be a financial success.

    It seems that in the world of for profit publishing message doesn’t really matter as long as it isn’t deep into areas that are abhorrent. I don’t think its likely that a title will be published that has a great message but is judged to likely be a financial loser.

    You know what you are looking for in platform. WHAT IS IT?
    Serve up a great big helping of QUANTIFIED platform “must haves” please!

    • Bob Hostetler
      Bob Hostetler September 6, 2017 at 8:53 am #

      Well, it depends. (Sorry, had to say that). But it’s the truth. If you want a number, how does 10,000 sound? But the reason agents and editors say “it depends” is that all numbers are not equal. For example, having 100,000 Twitter followers is great, but not if many of those look like they are shadow accounts or purchased followers. An email list of 10,000 is awesome, but if you tell me you have an email list of 2000 with a monthly open rate of 25%, that might be even better. Or if you speak to 5000 people a year that might be more persuasive to an agent or editor than if you have 5000 Instagram followers. It’s not just raw numbers, and it’s not just social media. It’s network. It’s connection. It’s relationship. It’s how many people are in your circle of influence. And many agents and editors just want to know you GET IT, that your influence is GROWING, that you’re not “whining” and “woe is me-ing” about those mean demanding publishing people but you’re learning and developing and marketing yourself and your message NOW instead of waiting for a magic pill from a commercial publisher. If you want only the shorthand, I’ll say, 5000 minimum. But so much more goes into it than that.

      • rochellino September 6, 2017 at 11:02 am #

        THANK YOU!

        I said “A well known legendary icon of the industry we all know and love would probably answer “it depends”. So voila, what else could you answer.

        All kidding aside its very helpful to get an idea of the scope that agents/publishers are thinking. Now to figure out an average conversion rate that translates into actual book sales (by numbers of copies and/or dollars) derived from the authors platform. From that we will know what the author is expected to bring into a book deal besides a great book.

        BTW, when I get the expected conversion rate I will be adding the word “super” in front of the cherished title of “well known legendary icon……..”

        • Bob Hostetler
          Bob Hostetler September 6, 2017 at 11:48 am #

          I should add that it’s not so much publishers thinking in terms of “how many books can we sell vs. how many the author sells?” It’s less precise than all that. They just know that they more visible and active an author is, the better things go.

  13. Rebekah Love Dorris September 6, 2017 at 8:17 am #

    *I review books for Tyndale, and I have to admit a familiar face will get a request-to-review from me before an unknown will.*

    As a fellow crill in a packed ocean, I’ve felt overwhelmed too. Two things give me the resolve to post my next video on Instagram, hit “publish” on a blog post, or comment on a site like this:

    1. As the LORD was with Joseph, He will be with me.

    2. God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: That no flesh should glory in his presence.

    That means I qualify! I expect Him to help me because of Jesus’ promise, “I will never leave thee nor forsake thee.” If He didn’t, life would be meaningless anyway. Might as well stake it all on Him!

    • Carol Ashby September 6, 2017 at 8:38 am #

      I LOVE that krill image, Rebekah!

    • Bob Hostetler
      Bob Hostetler September 6, 2017 at 8:56 am #

      Rebekah, I too love your krill metaphor. And your emphasis on process over destination. We sell God short when we assume He is active (or blessing) only in our “arrival.”

  14. Kimberly Joy September 6, 2017 at 8:29 am #

    What if we looked at building a platform differently-as a way to meet the needs of our readers and add value to their lives? Even Jesus had a platform of sorts. He fed and healed the multitudes, even as He sought to deliver the greatest message ever known to man.

    • Bob Hostetler
      Bob Hostetler September 6, 2017 at 8:57 am #

      That’s exactly right, Kimberly. Platform is value. Delivering value builds platform.

    • Tisha Martin September 6, 2017 at 11:35 am #

      Kimberly, I love this!

  15. Carol Ashby September 6, 2017 at 8:32 am #

    I write fiction, so platform is a challenge. Platform is a natural requirement for nonfiction since it relates directly to the content of the books. For fiction, not so much. I have Hyatt’s Platform book, and it is very worth reading. I’ve watched numerous webinars on building platform and social media, so I’ve got lots of tools in the chest. But figuring out how to actually build numbers of Facebook friends/followers who might buy a book or getting a massive email list of followers of your blog? That still mystifies me.

    I get many visits from readers who click the newsletter link at the back of a book they’ve already read and enjoyed, but they don’t sign up to receive a newsletter. I get personal emails and comments from the newsletter page saying they loved the book and are eagerly awaiting the next (I treasure every one!), but they usually don’t leave their email on the newsletter email list. I don’t leave my email address myself, so why would I expect others to?

    I accidentally discovered something that yields fiction sales at a 10% level, so I’ll share it. My main platform is my Roman history site. With a Ph.D. (in chemistry, not history), I can research and distill academic sources into information-rich, concise articles about my time period. I have to do the research to write with historical accuracy, so I decided to share it on a website. Several of the articles are on page 1 or 2 of a Google search on the topic, and my big winner, crime and punishment in the Roman Empire, is between #1 and #4, depending on the day.

    I track the number of international views by country (88 countries so far), and whether there are international sales of my Roman novels each day. The number of international sales is more than 10% of the number of international views (and a single visitor might account for more than 1 view). I NEVER expected that effect. Why would a Romanophile in the UK or South Africa or India or the Philippines want a Christian novel about forgiveness or about abandoning a successful political career to follow Jesus?

    So is there a lesson learned here for fiction writers? Maybe, but how does a fiction writer routinely find that sweet spot where people who want your “platform” also want your book? I have no idea.

    • Tisha Martin September 6, 2017 at 8:54 am #

      Awesome advice, Carol!! Love your spin on Roman history, by the way. I have a friend who’s interested–sending him your way… Yes, I’m learning that this type of “strategy” encapsulates “platform” in a small way and helps to attract your readership.

      I mainly write historical fiction and creative nonfiction about the American home front set in the Midwest during WWI, WWII, and the Korean Conflict, so naturally my “platform” would be about everything that falls under those categories. If I wanted to narrow it, I also write specifically about fraying family relationships, broken dreams, and a determination to rescue both. My characters are involved with horses in some way as well.

      • Carol Ashby September 6, 2017 at 9:41 am #

        Thanks, Tisha! Have you tried making a website about your era?

        • Tisha Martin September 6, 2017 at 9:43 am #

          Carol, yes, I’ve a website going. It’s https://www.tishamwrites.com. I am continuing to gather resources, it’s a process. 🙂 By the way, my friend says Thank You for your website.

    • Bob Hostetler
      Bob Hostetler September 6, 2017 at 8:59 am #

      Carol, the “sweet spot” you refer to is often, as you point out, a happy serendipity rather than a grand strategy. But it DOES come as a result of repeated effort in the same direction.

  16. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser September 6, 2017 at 8:33 am #

    Bob, I suspect part of the dismay comes from the need to have to start using social media in a disciplined and focused – and commercial – way.

    Most people started using FB to connect with friends, and started blogs as a kind of journaling that they could share. The paradigm shift to social-media-as-marketing-tool is pretty big, and can leave one feeling a bit guilty, as if somehow betraying a trust. “He used to post cute memes about unicorns, and now all he talks about is his book!”)

    And that segues into something else…the social-media-marketers I’ve STOPPED following are the ones who make it all about their book, and the current giveaway, and the “I’m so excited to announce…” thing. If I may use an example, check out Beth Vogt’s site (www.bethvogt.com). She almost never talks about what she’s writing or what she’s written; her blog uses thought-provoking quotes to generate discussion, and she has a lot of loyal readers…including me.

    • Bob Hostetler
      Bob Hostetler September 6, 2017 at 9:00 am #

      Great point, Andrew. Social media is social. Amazing. I have friends and acquaintances who forget that and use it only for marketing. I ignore or hide those people.

  17. Sharon Cowen September 6, 2017 at 9:32 am #

    Ack! How did “McDowell” not get the capital “D” in my post? Now here’s another rub for us oldies: we think we’ve input things correctly, and alas, we haven’t! I am having cataract surgery soon! Maybe that will help!

    • Bob Hostetler
      Bob Hostetler September 6, 2017 at 9:59 am #

      Sharon, I have know idea what you’re talking about.

  18. Janine Rosche September 6, 2017 at 10:08 am #

    Honest question here, relating to God’s will and the concept of platform. Perhaps I am naive, but my go-to response when a post fails to gain traction is to assume that this goal (at least at this time) is not God’s will. How do you all handle these thoughts? Do you have a verse you lean on? I hesitate to hold stubbornly to what I think I should do. I’ve read Jonah’s story and found it isn’t wise to challenge God’s will!

    • Bob Hostetler
      Bob Hostetler September 6, 2017 at 10:17 am #

      Janine, keep in mind that this is off the top of my head, but I’d say you’re thinking too much. Or thinking too much about the minutia. I never evaluate God’s will according to the “success” (in numbers) of my individual blog posts or articles or tweets, etc. I focus instead on “a long obedience in the same direction,” which includes preaching, teaching, and writing as well as learning and developing my platform. It’s fun that you should mention Jonah; seems to me his was a “a long disobedience in the OPPOSITE direction!” I wonder how the story would have been different if Jonah had started off in the right direction and just kept going, however ploddingly (or even grumblingly)?

      • Janine Rosche September 6, 2017 at 10:50 am #

        “Long obedience in the same direction” is going on my wall. Thanks for the encouraging word. Maybe I should spend more time in Nehemiah 6: “I am doing a great work and cannot come down…” to do laundry, or cook dinner, or wallow in pity. Which makes me think…I have revising to do!

        • Tisha Martin September 6, 2017 at 10:52 am #

          Janine, I adore this!! May I quote you on my blog in a post I’m doing about platform? Links back to your site are in order. 🙂

          • Janine Rosche September 6, 2017 at 11:11 am #

            Sure! I followed your blog a few minutes ago. I’m from the Midwest, too, so I’d love to read your stories!

            • Tisha Martin September 6, 2017 at 11:17 am #

              Midwesterners unite! Ooh-Yah! 🙂 Sorry, the rest of you, but this is a special moment…

        • Bob Hostetler
          Bob Hostetler September 6, 2017 at 10:56 am #

          That phrase is (brace yourself) a quote from Friedrich Nietzsche! I can’t claim to have thought of it. Eugene Peterson made it the title of a wonderful book on discipleship, which I highly recommend.

          • Janine Rosche September 6, 2017 at 11:09 am #

            “‘Long obedience in the same direction.’ –Not Bob Hostetler” is now on a post-it on my wall.

            • Bob Hostetler
              Bob Hostetler September 6, 2017 at 11:10 am #

              PERFECT. I’ll take it.

          • Tisha Martin September 8, 2017 at 7:54 am #

            I’ll have to find the original quote then. Group effort, group effort.

    • Rebekah Love Dorris September 6, 2017 at 10:36 am #

      Ha! Krill! We sure don’t want to be Jonah! 😀

      Janine, two Scriptures helped me realize I don’t have to live by timidly tiptoeing through the maze of what God’s will MIGHT be. Here they are:

      Proverbs 4:26-27

      Ponder the path of thy feet,
      and let all thy ways be established.
      Turn not to the right hand nor to the left:
      remove thy foot from evil.

      ~ and ~

      James 3:17-18
      But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.

      If an action aligns with both these, and if I’ve “acknowledged Him,” I want to continue down the path He directed, even if my emotions fuss about it. Which means I need to go make my daily video.

      • Janine Rosche September 6, 2017 at 10:43 am #

        Thank you, Rebekah! I appreciate the encouragement!

        “…even if my emotions fuss about it” YES!

  19. Natalie Hidalgo September 6, 2017 at 10:33 am #

    Wow. Nice way to shoot new authors in the foot. I guess I will keep limping along. I can see why so many of us new writers get discouraged. So in order for you to notice a writer they must already have been noticed by someone else who had a lower bar to jump over. It seems like the requirements come from those who started out, got published, and got into the industry before the need for a platform. sigh.

    I must remind myself that if the Lord opens the door, no one, including your perfect client wish list will close it. I am not against learning social media and learning to grow a following, but I am against the message that there is no open door.

    • Bob Hostetler
      Bob Hostetler September 6, 2017 at 10:46 am #

      Natalie, please forgive me for having given the impression that there is no open door. That was not at all my intention. And thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to correct that impression. God definitely opens doors in surprising ways, whatever the realities of the economy and the publishing process may be. I had hoped by my post to depict what we are all up against, and what publishers have to contend with. I would say, don’t be intimidated by the challenges, be challenged to learn new things, pursue new ideas and technologies, and get your message out with or without a commercial publisher, before and/or after your first book release. Agents don’t owe me representation, and publishers don’t owe me publication. Those things are earned by people who grasp the realities and revel in the lifelong process of becoming and being an effective evangel.

      • Natalie Hidalgo September 7, 2017 at 9:07 am #

        Bob, Thanks for your reply. I must admit that my comment was written in a place of dismay at what seems to me an overwhelming task. I don’t even have a smart phone and I have near panic attacks at the speed of new technology out here that I must learn to navigate. I joke with my son that he will need to program my toaster one day, but it is not a joke. For some reason, I woke up one day and realized that technology surged past me faster than I could keep up. It is scary to me and I feel like I suddenly find myself in a foreign land not knowing the language. It’s hard to explain. Weird eh?

        I can see your point better after I picked myself up off the floor and started to breathe. Platform really is a dirty word.

    • Tisha Martin September 6, 2017 at 11:39 am #

      Natalie,

      I’m so sorry you’re discouraged. I totally understand. Up until six months ago, I was lost in a sea of listlessness, not sure how to handle this “platform” issue. What the world did it mean? How do I DO it? I so appreciate this blog post because we creatives can see how to do it, how to build platform.

      Bob prefaces “platform” by saying:

      “It’s a dirty word to aspiring writers. It is even unpopular among many agents and editors. It elicits snarls and sneers from people who just want to write great stuff and get their writing published.

      I think the question answers itself. As an agent, I’m willing to wait for a writer to demonstrate the willingness to learn, the desire to improve, and the ability to communicate well that will inspire blog or email newsletter subscribers, Facebook and Twitter followers, seminar audiences, radio listeners, and whatever else will say to an editor and publisher, “My sole goal is to reach people, even if that means I end up being famous.

      That is why I use the word platform. And why I look for writers who are building one.”

      It’s ok if we fail. It’s ok if we struggle in connecting with people. No salesman sells Nike tennis shoes to every person they meet–or the first time. The important part is that we get up, dust ourselves off, and go at it again. Besides, communication is *hard* sometimes. As many have said, writing/editing/publishing is about building relationships and adding value, especially in the Christian realm.

      P.S. If I can help you build your platform in any way, please reach out to me. I’m learning this platform thing as much as you are. Let’s connect and encourage each other, shall we? https://www.tishamwrites.com.

      • Natalie Hidalgo September 7, 2017 at 12:39 pm #

        Thank you for your encouraging words. I know there is hope that I can learn to navigate this new world even if I snarl and need to be dragged into in. I am almost finished with my revision and have invested too much of my life to my book to not try. Even if I truly resent it. I can totally see how it will create a reason for the enemy to tell someone “why bother” in order to silence them. I did send you a note on your site. 🙂

  20. Brennan S McPherson September 6, 2017 at 10:42 am #

    Everyone thinks being demanded to have a platform is unfair.

    Until you try to publish your first book without one.

    You don’t need a book published to start a platform. Just start building relationships with people wherever and whenever you can.

    • Bob Hostetler
      Bob Hostetler September 6, 2017 at 10:48 am #

      Thanks for the comment, Brennan. I often say, “Cynics say, ‘It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.’ I say, ‘Christian publishing, like the rest of life, is about relationships–building, nurturing, and expanding them any way you can.'”

  21. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser September 6, 2017 at 11:33 am #

    Don’t know if this will help anyone, but here’s how I see platform – in a positive light.

    – It’s a place to stand, where I can be seen from afar…and can myself see further.

    – It’s sturdy, so it doesn’t shake in the wind.

    – Its foundations go deep into the bedrock of faith, so the storm will not break it.

    – And it is wide enough to provide shelter to any who seek it.

    Having a platform where people have found some measure of comfort, and a strengthening of their own courage and faith has been the greatest privilege of my life.

    Platform is, quite simply, why I write.

    • Tisha Martin September 6, 2017 at 11:51 am #

      Andrew, what an inspiring POV. Thanks so much for sharing!

    • Natalie Hidalgo September 7, 2017 at 12:42 pm #

      Thank you. I will post your words next to my computer to remind me.

  22. Pearl Allard September 6, 2017 at 12:25 pm #

    This is the clearest explanation I’ve read of the necessity of platform. Thank you for helping me understand why I have permission – and a duty – to pursue excellence in reaching people. Really appreciate this post!

  23. LK Simonds September 7, 2017 at 10:40 am #

    Not sure if “day late” comments are seen by anyone, but I’ve been thinking about this string since yesterday. Lots and lots of energy here (86 comments), too much for it to fade completely with the day.

    I’ve come to the conclusion that I must decide two things: What do I really, REALLY want from my writing? and What am I willing to do to get it?

    Elizabeth Strout once told an interviewer that she doesn’t know anything about marketing because her publisher handles that. Another lawyer turned writer is Kristin Hannah, who probably doesn’t worry much about building a platform either. It seems to me that platforms have sprung up like dandelions since the publication of Mr. Hyatt’s book. But the truth remains that a few – perhaps very few, percentage-wise – writers will stand out from their peers, whether the seascape behind them is flat grey anonymity or spotted with platforms like rigs in the Gulf.

    I’m asking myself those two questions over and over and over. What do I want from my writing? What am I willing to do to get it? It seems to me the answers will direct me toward my path. Maybe I’ll be willing to hang out – perhaps for years – in that drugstore (slush pile) at the corner of Hollywood and Vine in the hope against hope some influential dealmaker discovers me. Or maybe I’ll strike out on my own and sell, sell, sell myself and my work. Or maybe I’ll choose a hybrid of the two. The only option I think I’ll leave off the table is quitting. I don’t think I’ll quit writing, come what may.

    All that said, don’t underestimate the power of your ministry through your websites. I was ministered to by a post from one of the writers who commented here. Something about not eating a corn dog when a steak is one the way. Thank you, Jesus! Thank you, Rachel. And thank you, Bob.

    • Tisha Martin September 7, 2017 at 11:00 am #

      LK,

      Glad you commented!

      I love the ministry aspect through website. I think Dan Balow had mentioned this in a previous blog post. You bring such insight to this post. Thanks for sharing!

    • Bob Hostetler
      Bob Hostetler September 7, 2017 at 12:26 pm #

      “Day late” isn’t too late at all. Thanks for commenting, LK. Like any ministry, the ministry of writing demands the kind of examination you’ve described, and a whole lot of work besides. So glad “quitting” is off the table.

    • Rachel McDaniel September 7, 2017 at 1:42 pm #

      LK,
      This blessed me so much to read that my blog post ministered to you. 🙂 That’s what I love about the Christian fiction network – we support and encourage one another. I pray that His grace overwhelms you and your writing endeavors.

  24. Rebekah Millet September 7, 2017 at 1:27 pm #

    Thank you for such an honest post on a topic that is so important. Social media has completely changed the world of writers and readers. More pressure on the authors to attract and maintain true followers, but also the reward of connecting with people who support and enrich the writing experience.

    • Lisa Simonds September 7, 2017 at 7:28 pm #

      Rebekah, thank you. I was trying to be honest, mostly with myself. I don’t know my answers to those questions, but honesty is a big piece of it. So your comment meant much more than you might know. Surely the Spirit of the Lord is in this place.

  25. Sandra Allen Lovelace September 8, 2017 at 5:46 am #

    Thanks, Bob. You’re right. Platform does strike fear into the hearts of many Christian communicators. The driving force for me is one you mention, connection. After all, that’s why I speak and write. God’s given me a message to inform, affirm, and inspire, and I darn well intend to get it to the audience He intends it for.
    By His grace I’m making good headway.

    • Bob Hostetler
      Bob Hostetler September 8, 2017 at 6:42 am #

      Sandra, you’re absolutely right. Great point. If my goal, or “driving force,” as you put it, is to be a “published author,” then platform is an obstacle. But if my goal is to inform, affirm, and inspire people, then platform fits right into my purpose.

    • Bob Hostetler
      Bob Hostetler September 8, 2017 at 6:44 am #

      How strange is it, that we Christian writers, who claim to write in order to touch hearts and lives rail against platform, which is about gathering an audience of hearts and lives?

      • Tisha Martin September 8, 2017 at 6:50 am #

        This is the heart of platform…

        Do you mind if I quote this and attribute you on my blog, Bob? I’m putting together an informative bite-sized post about Platform for beginning writers … trying to spread the word and encourage.

        • Bob Hostetler
          Bob Hostetler September 8, 2017 at 6:59 am #

          Tisha, feel free. Just send me all the royalties.

          • Tisha Martin September 8, 2017 at 7:23 am #

            Royalties? What royalties? Unless this will end up in a book contract … okay, sure, all of 30%. You got it, boss. I’ll send a contract agreement. 😉

      • Rebekah Love Dorris September 8, 2017 at 7:54 am #

        Good question. Maybe because it’s one thing to burn with a message to share. It’s another thing to step on a table and share it.

        God bless those on the table who pull us up, kicking and screaming! God bless you!

  26. Tisha Martin September 8, 2017 at 6:53 am #

    I’m sure many of you have already found this handy tool but I hadn’t known about it until a few weeks ago. Awesome stuff!

    http://www.justunfollow.com is a site that helps you find content for a list of keywords that you can set up for your brand, clients, or yourself. I’m already using it and love it!

    (Compliments of Bob Hostetler at Taylor University’s Professional Writing conference 2017.)

    • Bob Hostetler
      Bob Hostetler September 8, 2017 at 7:00 am #

      Thanks for remembering….and crediting….and sharing.

  27. Janine Rosche September 8, 2017 at 6:58 am #

    I’d like to know if I am shooting myself in the foot before I’ve even gotten my boots on.

    I have split interests for my career:

    1) I love to write christian romance stories. I believe I’m good at it and those who have read my work have been encouraged and touched by it. I’d love to be able to share my tales with others, so I don’t want to give that up. However…

    2) I also love to encourage christian women in their individual well-being as well as the relationships with their families. My ability to build this platform is stronger, since I already teach these concepts at the university level. I also have a lot more avenues for growth (like getting a PhD) or collaborating with friends’ successful ministries.

    I would think that these two genres share a good chunk of their audience, as I regularly have a fiction book and non-fiction Women’s Interest book on my nightstand. Sometimes I think that if I can make this work, I will have a more dynamic career. Other times I think I’m like a hopeful singer on a reality show trying to sing country and pop. I can hear Simon Cowell telling me to figure out who I want to be.

    Any advice?

    What do you think? Sometimes I feel

    • Janine Rosche September 8, 2017 at 6:59 am #

      Whoops. Sorry about the weird fragment at the end there!

  28. Bob Hostetler
    Bob Hostetler September 8, 2017 at 7:03 am #

    Janine, I encourage you to pursue “all of the above” (see my post on this site titled “Write Like Baseball”). In general, of course, nonfiction writing lends itself more to platform building, but you would not shoot yourself in the foot to pursue platform in either area, nor to keep developing in both fiction and nonfiction. You never know which might “click,” so to speak.

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