A couple weeks ago I wrote a column for Writer Unboxed, “Should You Focus on Your Writing or Platform?” In short, I said it’s a balancing act, but there are times when you should probably emphasize one over the other.
It generated more than 100 responses, many insightful and valuable, from working writers, established authors, editors, and agents. My colleague Christina Katz was one of the last to comment. Here’s part of what she said.
This post really makes me chuckle … I wonder how much time folks spent reading and chewing on and commenting on and spreading the word about a post ABOUT platform rather than actually spending any amount of time actually cultivating and working on their own platform?
I am a person who does not distinguish between writing, selling, specializing, self-promotion, and continuing ed, and also a person who sees all of these things as essential and necessary to my writing career success. …
For me, there is no separation. Writing is the center. (If you read The Writer’s Workout, you saw the diagram.) But it’s all critical. There’s nothing to debate.
I’m (mostly) in the same boat as Christina. I find it impossible and irrelevant to distinguish between writing activities and platform building activities. My approach is far too holistic.
So why did I write a post splitting them up?
Because most writers don’t and CAN’T see them as one activity. They’re still asking questions that show they need some concrete ideas on how to manage what they perceive (and what can be) a very real split in one’s life.
There may be nothing to debate for people like Christina and myself, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a very real problem for writers to address until the struggle resolves itself.
Or until writers undergo a paradigm shift.
Briefly defined, a paradigm shift is “a radical change in personal beliefs, complex systems or organizations, replacing the former way of thinking or organizing with a radically different way of thinking or organizing.”
I can write (or speak) on the platform topic forever, but ultimately, I can’t change your mind about marketing/selling being inseparable from writing until you have your own experience or insight that validates what I’m saying. Or, I might convince you logically, but you might not feel it.
And in my opinion, this is why so much is written about platform. People are still figuring it out, trying to find what feels right, but they haven’t experienced the paradigm shift where it all starts to make sense, and they’re no longer torn on how to handle it.
Here’s one area where I partly disagree with Christina: If you commented on my post, you were participating in a community of writers, and making yourself seen in that community, and that’s indeed a part of your platform … where you’re active, the relationships you build, the places where you’re known. So make sure you’re spending time and energy on places that matter most to you and your work. Eventually it won’t be blog posts related to author platform … unless of course you’re trying to be a platform expert.
And: writing may or may not be your center. For the past two years, teaching has been my center. Much of my writing spins out of things I teach. I create instructional materials and modules, I refine them through extensive research and reading, and I put things in formal writing usually as a last step, and even then, only when I have sufficient motivation (e.g., an article assignment that pays well).
That’s because formal writing is sometimes the worst possible way for me to help someone. A conference workshop, Twitter chat, or webinar is often a better way for me to inform and engage. The topics I write and teach on can change overnight.
But it’s true that writing is the center for many of you. Just not all. Frankly, I’ve been advocating writers have yet another paradigm shift regarding writing and books. I see books as just another medium—and not always the best medium—to entertain and inform, but that’s another post for another day.
Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) has nearly 25 years of experience in the media & publishing industry. She is the publisher of The Hot Sheet, the essential newsletter on the publishing industry for authors, and was named Publishing Commentator of the Year by Digital Book World in 2019.
In addition to being a professor with The Great Courses (How to Publish Your Book), she is the author of The Business of Being a Writer (University of Chicago Press), which received a starred review from Library Journal.
Jane speaks regularly at conferences and industry events such as Digital Book World and Frankfurt Book Fair, and has served on panels with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund. Find out more.