Why I Stopped Building My Platform (and started writing my book instead)

In the world of traditional publishing (and even on the indie side), writers are told, “You must build a platform.” I’m not going to go into all the details of what platform building entails, suffice it to say, it’s primarily a process of going after numbers–popularity indicators–like website traffic, subscribers to your blog, followers on Twitter, and so on. In January, I got really serious about improving my platform. I devised a social media marketing plan. I created a blogging calendar based on SEO. I mapped a strategy.

One problem with this, however, is that I find the work of platforming building to be completely soul crushing, mind numbing, and incredibly discouraging. Writing posts based on SEO makes me feel cheap and reduces my writing to trite crap. (And you see these kinds of posts everywhere: 12 ways to do this, six great tips for that. Shoot. Me. Now.) Twitter may look like a breezy banter, but putting together a series of effective tweets takes an hour or more. Every. Freaking. Day.

I often likened platform building to pushing a boulder uphill: as long as you’re pushing, you’ve got momentum and it’s ok, but the moment you stop, the effing boulder rolls back down to the bottom of the hill. I stopped pushing the boulder to take care of my mom after her hip surgery. And poof! The boulder was at the bottom of the $#%@! hill. And I didn’t have it in me to try to get the bleeping thing rolling again.

Thus began the wrestling match. On one side: Tara, who wants to be a successful author. She’s ambitious! She wants fame and fortune! Her opponent: Tara the caregiver, writer, artist, gardener, friend, daughter, wife, child of God. She nurturing! She cares! She wants to serve in love!

Author-Tara is incredibly fearful that if I don’t do what “they” say, and build no platform, me and my book will be dismal failures. Caregiver-Tara looks at the service I give and says, “So what?” I believe that Caregiver-Tara is right, yet there was a huge interior struggle over what it means to do great work and be significant in the world. And I admit, there is a lot of pride at stake. At times, in unhealthy ways, I lust for approval and recognition, so this push-pull represents a significant area of temptation and greed for me. This struggle has also forced me to come face to face with additional, less savory aspects of myself.

When I was working on platform building, I found myself comparing myself with other people–those whom I perceive as more successful than I am–and feeling jealous. I coveted what I thought they had. They seemed to have it easier than I did, to come upon success and recognition with less effort. Those thoughts led me into a spiraling round of self talk that sounded a lot like entitlement and disdain. “I work hard! My stuff is great! How come they’re getting all the goods? What about me?” This is not. Healthy.

The only way that I could find peace with the platform building was to stop doing it. To help you comprehend what a big deal this is, publishers now will dismiss me without a second thought (instead of jerking me around for a couple of months and then rejecting me; as a productivity coach, I find this to be a big win for everyone involved). All the big poobahs in publishing swear that platform building is a necessary ingredient for success so, essentially, this particular leap looks like one in which no net will appear and my career will go splat. And I’m trying to learn to be okay with that, if that’s what happens. Cuz you can stick a fork in me: I am done with this platform-building torture. Period.

And still…I want very badly to publish a book and be successful with it (that is, that the book will sell and be in the hands of many readers who will swoon over it). So how do I do that without submitting myself to publishing-business-as-usual, soul-crushing platform building? I wish I could say I have this all figured out but I don’t.

Here’s what I do know:
» I believe really great content trumps SEO obsequiousness and social media priss. I am so, so committed to giving my very best: writing, spoken word, courses, and, eventually, my book.

» I believe that there is a real hunger for the sound of the genuine. I am so, so committed to being real, authentic, and vulnerable in the public space.

» I believe that you are the contribution that will make the world a better place. I am so, so committed to equipping, empowering, and encouraging so you can be free to do more of what you love.

» I believe that trust, faith, hope, and love are worth risking everything for. I am so, so committed to surrendering to God’s will for me, whatever that is. Even if it means that my book flops.

So I’m writing my book. With all with my heart and soul. Putting it all on the page without (much) worrying about how this will turn out in the end.

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Are you a writer or an author? Have you been through a similar struggle with platform building? I’d love to hear from you. Leave a comment below.