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.

About Tara Rodden Robinson

I'm Tara and I help people do more of what they love.

Comments

  1. Well I am glad to read this. In a way I believe that you build it and they will come (or not in which case you build something else)

    I agree with you, Good Content will always win over SEO.

    I am proud of you for writing the book, but I am even prouder for doing it your way… because I know that it is the hardest one

    Love

    APO

  2. Tara – I love this post!!! It reminds me of a few of my favorite films – Glengarry Glen Ross, True Romance, and others – where you can pick almost any section/part, and have it stand on it’s own.

    I’d rather sell my wares, workshop to workshop, church to synagogue, podcast to podcast, then to sit and repost quotes and facebook updates all day. Besides, I’d lose all my friends and family if I did this (and I have un-friended people because they do this).

    How about this – I’ll purchase two of your books, providing you with some wiggle room to not have to do the platform shuffle.

    • Hi Avrum,

      So glad you enjoyed the post! It’s been percolating through my pysche for a while–how to express the desire to be successful but not remain chained to how “they” say that I have to go about creating an audience for my work. I’m totally with you–there’s a lot I’m willing to do but this kind of selling myself (that is, the platform building/SEO pandering kind) isn’t in me.

      Thanks for the offer! I’ll take you up on it. And I’ll do the same for you!

      With gratitude,
      Tara

  3. Ah, the eternal struggle between making our art and “promoting” it. I have been blogging and “social media-ing” for 5+ years. I think that the author platform has been elevated to an obscene position in the lives of writers (although it probably makes more sense for a nonfiction writer, who is looking to build their credibility in their subject).

    I am working on a memoir that reads more like fiction and I have come to the conclusion that my number one job right now is to FINISH THE BOOK. Period. I still blog—when I have the time and I have something important to say—but, like you, I’ve decided that my energies need to be better prioritized. And I really get that boulder-falling-back-down-the-hill thing. It can be exhausting tiring to have to be always building up the momentum again.

    So much good advice here, Tara. Best of luck with that book!

    • Hi Judy,

      So great to meet you! I’m grateful to hear your thoughts and to be able to cheer you on in finishing your book. I just put signs up all over the place that read: “Everything you want will come to you when you finish the book.” I chant it like a mantra every time something threatens to pull me off center.

      Stay in touch so I can celebrate your success!

      With love,
      Tara

  4. Mark Denu says:

    Tara,

    I don’t know what your goals are but my vote goes to a grass roots marketing campaign. Focus your efforts on the product and count me in for a copy.

  5. Thanks for this–I get it! Often it feels that if ALL of us are doing the exact same thing then ALL of us are following each other and does that propel anyone in the right direction? Feels like a Big D*** Circle to me! I’m getting off the merry-go-round and just do the work, finish my book and nurture the real relationships in my life…my SEO will be just fine, thank you!

  6. I thought I’d have something interesting to add from my experience – but all I can say is I’m behind you 100%! Being your authentic self in every moment is hard to do, but it’s what we have to do to be successful on our own terms.

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  1. [...] after I decided to stop all the platform building torture I told you about recently, I took some time to ask myself: what do you want to be, Tara? The first [...]

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