by Janet Kobobel Grant
“Badges? We don’t have no badges. We don’t need no badges. I don’t have to show you no stinkin’ badges!” is a portion of a bandito’s dialogue from the 1948 movie, “The Treasure of Sierra Madre.” The stinkin’ badges also are mentioned, tongue-in-cheek, in the 1974 movie, “Blazing Saddles.” “I don’t need no stinkin’ badge!” has come to be a riff on any stinkin’ thing we happily don’t need.
If you want to know the phrase’s entire history, you can read about it here. Or better yet, to catch the humor of the scene, check out this 15-second YouTube video from the 1948 movie.
Today I want to write about the oft-decried requirement from publishers for writers to have a significant platform. I think it would be fair to say most writers would find the phrase “stinkin’ platform” apt. Writers want to write books, not build a bevy of friends and followers online.
Recently, as I talked to editors from two different publishing houses, I was relieved when I heard variations on the realization that not every author needs a stinkin’ platform. Here’s the scoop.
What Constitutes a Significant Platform?
The first group of editors I talked to acquire nonfiction titles. We’ve been hearing for years that, especially if you write nonfiction, you better come equipped with a noteworthy platform. But these editors had a refreshing take on that concept.
Before I recount my conversation with them, let me take a moment to define what publishers consider a platform. It generally can be made up of: public speaking; engagement in social media; blogging; a subscription-based enewsletter; YouTube; and podcasting. An author can have access to readers by focusing on one of these planks of a platform or might be spread out over all of them, with the total number of connections adding up to that writer’s ability to reach buyers of future books.
Writers want to know how to quantify “significant.” Publishers vary in how they answer that question, ranging from tens of thousands of connections as a minimum to at least a million on the high end of the scale. Yeah, I know, it’s a steep hill to climb.
Engagement vs. Size
The nonfiction editors I was meeting with came to the conclusion that mere size of platform can be a false way to view the ability to reach readers. If someone has hundreds of thousands of friends on Facebook, but those friends aren’t deeply engaged with the writer, that number is relatively meaningless. But if an author has 5,000 Facebook friends who enjoy the author’s postings and often comment on them, it’s this writer who is more likely to move the needle on the number of copies she can sell rather than the author with casually indifferent Facebook friends.
Publishers wish mere numbers would tell the whole story because that would make the determination of how much value a potential author is bringing to the publishing table straightforward. But writers can now breathe a little easier, knowing numbers aren’t everything and that authentic engagement does have weight in a publishing house’s decision-making–even for nonfiction.
Fiction and Platform
The second group of editors I met with started off our conversation by saying they have come to realize it’s unrealistic to expect a newer novelist to have a large platform. Upon what foundation can a fiction writer build that platform? Especially as a debut novelist, you can only engage potential book-buyers so much in your writing and research endeavors before your attempted connections take on a bland sameness.
Instead, this group of fiction editors looks for writers who are willing engage in platform building. They suggested an author could promote other authors whose writing they admire. “Be a reader and a recommender” the editors said. Befriend authors. Having the ability to connect online with people whose writing you genuinely enjoy is a luxury of our era; take advantage of it.
Collecting Social Media Take-Aways
While you’re making those connections, you can take note of how your favorite authors relate to their fans and figure out what you could comfortably adapt for yourself and the type of novel you write.
The editors believe being involved in social media translates into your coming to understand what works and what doesn’t when you post. What types of posts bring the most engagement? How can you extrapolate from your observations insights for making reader connections once you have a book to tell them about?
These editors believe that choosing to focus on one aspect of social media is the best route to go. Rather than dabbling in several mediums but not really figuring out what works for you, dig into one medium and gather all your friends or followers in that one spot.
Feel the Relief
I hope you’re taking a deep breath as you consider that some of the pressure to collect names and online connections has let up just a bit. None of these editors would say platform isn’t important. But each of them would say she–and the whole publishing team–is taking a more nuanced look at the planks of each writer’s platform.
What might you do differently as a result of reading this post? What have you found works best for you in strategically building your platform?
“Be a reader and a recommender” fiction editors advise wannabe novelists. Click to tweet.
Writers: Weary of trying to build your platform to a size that would impress publishers? This blog post has some good news for you. Click to tweet.
I sought to build a tower
to raise my words on high
so every fan and follower
could see me touch the sky.
I schemed to raise the numbers,
I optimized key words;
strove to miss the blunders
that alienate the hordes
of readers that would join me
on my triumphant quest
as I made a sort of history
stepping out with the best.
I sought a place so high, for to put myself above,
but reaching down to me,I found the hands of love.
Ah, Andrew. Leave it to you to put it all in perspective. Those hands of love are the hands we seek to replicate in our writing. All else is secondary. Good to see you here, my friend.
Judith, thank you so much!
Beautiful! Brings to mind the Tower of Babble… “to see me touch the sky.” Thanks for sharing!
Lori, thank you!
I love this Andrew.
Betsy, thank you so much. It does come from the heart.
This might be your best verse yet, Andrew–in rhyme & rhythm, in scriptural basis, in spirit and truth.
Shirlee, wow…thank you!
Mary R. P. Schutter
Andrew, I don’t know how you keep writing day after day in the midst of your pain and illness. I strive to make my writing touch people as your words do and definitely did today. Thank you, dear brother, for being my inspiration in so many ways.
Mary, what keeps me going is the love of God, and the love of this community. I’m so grateful for your lovely, gracious words!
Mary Kay Moody
Well-said, Andrew. Your skill keeps captivating me. Thanks for sharing your verses!
Mary Kay, thank you. I’m honoured.
Damon J. Gray
“Platform” has become something of a swear word, a choice expletive. Unlike chocolate, or puppies, it is unpleasant to ponder and discuss. It is a necessary evil.
I get it. The car salesman is not going to invest four to six hours in a man or woman who really loves the car, but has no money with which to purchase it. Neither is a publisher going to invest in a writer who has no audience to purchase the writer’s work.
So, we scramble to shamelessly promote ourselves and our work. We scheme, plot, implore, and entice. And we hate it because, as you said, we just wanna write! It has become something of an acid test. How badly do you want this? What are you willing to do, to sacrifice, What cost do you consider too high?
These discussions also dip our toes into that disquieting pool of motive. Why am I doing this? Is it because I love to write, or because I want to be published? If the former, then the blog should be sufficient, but if the latter, well … then we need to dig more deeply and ask “Why do you want/need to be published?” Is it ministry, or ego?
So, for now, I’ll just keep walking the path I’m on, being faithful to what I understand to be true, and let God guide me to whatever place he wants me to be.
Damon, the way I figure it, there has to be a combination of ministry AND ego. People might show up for what you say, but they’ll stay for how you say it.
When they stay, they’re staying for you, and it’s not a bad thing. God is personal to us; He’s a ‘Someone’, not a ‘something’, and an arid intellectual faith based on the logic of Scripture is a slender reed indeed.
Thus, we are enjoined to let ourselves shine, our personal faith in a personal God igniting our souls, and offering warmth to all who might care to draw near.
Damon J. Gray
Choice insights, brother. But coming from you, that’s no surprise.
Years ago (when I was still in full-time ministry) I had a discussion with another pastor about our work life, and he posed a question that ran something like this: “Why would anyone choose an occupation that involved repeatedly standing before large crowds of people and telling them how to live their lives?”
It was such an abrupt question, and it is a valid question that has stuck with me for almost 30 years now. I believe it is healthy to ask such questions on a fairly regular basis. “Why am I doing this? Why do I want this?”
Thanks, Andrew, for always keeping me honest with myself! I appreciate you very much.
Thank you for these helpful insights, Janet. I understand why a publisher would require a platform, especially for non-fiction. It’s pretty simple, really, and applies to every industry. If you’re in need of a babysitter and you have the choice between the one that is a good sitter, but needs you to pick them up and take them home, or the one that is a good sitter, has their own transportation, experience, references, pre-planned activities for toddlers, and a first aid certification…which one would you choose? Same principle here.
But it is nice to know that editors are taking a balanced approach. The willingness to work and build one is something all aspiring writers can achieve.
Amber, the babysitter is a good metaphor for the author with the platform and the one without.
Thank you for this bit of encouragement on an often discouraging subject. I like the idea of focusing on the planks that are working best for me and giving me the most opportunity for engagement, instead trying to score numbers on all of them. For me that place is Facebook and my blog. The biggest realization for me as I learn and work to grow my platform is platform=mission field=ground beneath my feet (or cyber space beneath my fingers I guess). I think reading good books is a gift, and I love talking about books and authors whose writing I admire. I haven’t done this well on my platform, but your blog encourages me to be more intentional about this. I may start with Miles From Where We Started (I’ve been singing its praises to everyone who’ll listen)!
I like the way you’re thinking of platform as a mission field. That helps to alleviate the uncomfortable feeling that you’re constantly engaged in ego-inflating self-promotion.
It’s a joy to hear that Miles from Where We Started is your latest read you want to shout out to others. I know Cynthia would appreciate it.
This was very encouraging. I loved the title, which of course drew me in. I knew the reference and so it was relatable.
I appreciate the extra info about how more editors view the platform issue. Perhaps there’s hope for me yet! ; )
Oh Janet, it’s shouting time for me. I am so relieved that I don’t have to use the many social media avenues. I can just stick to what works best for me. Wow, this let’s me breathe a huge sigh of relief because initially when I created my website in 2017, I signed up for a Twitter account, but seriously Twitter makes me feel like it’s on the level of a strobe light that induces seizures. I have been dragging my feet to even seriously start tweeting. My brain and mind just can’t do that. I like to have uniterrupted periods of quiet for deep thinking, and for creating. Although, music also helps me create.
Anyway, I am delighted that I can focus on my blog, website and Facebook. I do want to learn to effectively use Instagram since that is less “hyper” than Twitter.
I just bought podcasting equipment after reviewing a ton of YouTubes and articles on podcasting. It’s a rather steep learning curve but so was creating my own website and blog with no prior experience.
My goal is to have everything stem from my website as the point of central contact, interaction, and various outreach to my audience.
I have always had a passion to convey stories, Biblical truth, and instruction to benefit listeners or readers, and have been praying about and looking for an outlet for expressing my creativity in a variety of manners.
All I am doing, as the Lord guides me, grows from a deep passion and commitment to help others. No longer able to work hands-on as a nurse due to injuries I suffered in 2009 as an R.N. Patient Care Manager in homecare, God has given me a deep well from which to draw from.
I love people. I love giving them hope in the Living Hope, and I am willing to get in the yoke with the Master and head down as many rows of soil as He sees fit, to plant, water, and harvest until He takes me home
You have no idea how happy this post and the information in it has made me. Thank-you so much for sharing this with us. This helps provide better focus for me. I mean one person can only do so much. I don’t want to be a jack of all trades and a master of none.
I’m glad I could bring relief to you from the demands of being all things to all people. Yes, focus is the best way to succeed with social media. But the very nature of social media seems to push us in the direction of over-reaching. Most of us very quickly come to understand one social medium while a different medium stymies us. I got Twitter right away; Pinterest never sang my name.
Thank you for the encouraging insight, Janet. I used to follow my blog stats daily. I realized I was weighing the worth of my words in numbers instead of relationships. Statistics can lead me into temptation, engagement links me with others. I still check my stats every few days, but I don’t hang my self esteem on them.
Mary Kay Moody
Thank you, Janet, for sharing this. Many of us have experienced the overwhelm and discouragement from the scattershot–be on every media platform–approach. Definitely breathing better! (And planning better, too.)
A couple of years ago, we had a publicist for a publishing house speak with our local ACFW chapter. He emphasized the importance of engagement and how that was a big piece of what the pub board looked at when considering an author’s book.
Your words today are definitely reassuring. I feel like, lately, I’ve been using much of my available time trying to keep up with building my platform. As I read your post today, my mind is already trying to figure out ways I can decrease building time and increase engaging time on a couple of venues. Thank you for this, Janet!
This is the second ray of sunshine and sanity I’ve seen in the past few weeks concerning platforms for new fiction writers. I have the domain, I’ve test run a few blogs under pseudonyms. But I am relieved that I may not have to invest, up-front, possible writing and editing time in the construction of a Potemkin Village in the hope that I will one day be able to populate it. I think the platform part will be FUN, but I really want to work on getting the best horse I can pulling this cart. I know, two many metaphors. I know, I’ll write a blog post about that!
I write the Sir Robert Carey historical crime series. I like using Facebook, rarely tweet and almost never go on instagram. Most of my readers, being educated, middle class, often ex-military and older, gather on Facebook. But I have to admit that my followers and email list are pretty small, a.k.a. tiny. But they are very enthusiastic and helpful, so I’m glad editors are realising that a million followers isn’t necessarily the best start.
I’ve been at it for a while now and feel that organic growth, while slow, is still best.