Distinguishing Between Straight-Up Advice and Paradigm Shift

Paradigm shift

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.

Read her entire comment here.

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.

Posted in Marketing & Promotion, Writing Advice.
Jane Friedman

Jane Friedman

Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in digital media strategy for authors and publishers. She is the co-founder and editor of The Hot Sheet, the essential newsletter on the publishing industry for authors.

In addition to being a columnist for Publishers Weekly, Jane is a professor with The Great Courses, which released her 24-lecture series, How to Publish Your Book. She also has a book forthcoming from the University of Chicago Press, The Business of Being a Writer (March 2018).

Jane speaks regularly at conferences and industry events such as BookExpo America, Digital Book World, and the AWP Conference, and has served on panels with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund. Find out more.

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79 Comments on "Distinguishing Between Straight-Up Advice and Paradigm Shift"

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Matthew Turner
Interesting thought, and links to Joel Friedlander’s post today. If a writer wants to go all the way they need to embrace the whole everything. It maybe scary, but in time you will learn to love all the aspects (or at least most of them) I like to think an author platform is the centre of the universe, and writing, marketing, engaging, genres, etc are all just part of it. It’s all about the author in the end of the day. They’re the one’s writing a great story, they’re the ones building an audience, they’re the ones creating something for… Read more »
Christina Katz

 I am not sure that it’s possible to embrace the whole everything at every moment and still succeed. Certainly not if participation is required. But I’ve not read the post you are referring to.

What I do think is that there are right things for our specific goals that we could be doing right now, and those are likely the best choices.

Matthew Turner
Like Jane says it’s a balancing act. If a writer tries to do Twitter, Facebook, Sign up to 50 Blogs etc etc then they certainly won’t be able to do everything justice Like you say it’s about choosing things that’s specific to your goals, and if you hit these with all you mite you won’t go too far wrong. It’s more about embracing everything that comes with the modern day author. The writing, the marketing, the publishing, the networking (in a nutshell that was what Joel’s Post was about), it’s all part of the process. For most, the day of only… Read more »
Bob Mayer

I believe commenting cogently on other people’s posts to be critical to a writer for a couple of reasons:

1.  It means you’re seeking out information to make you a better writer and business person in the world of publishing.
2.  People tend to read comments on their own posts.  It’s a way of building your platform by making comments (not self-promoting).  Focus on what has been written, then give your thoughts.

Christina Katz
 I would say this differently. I would say that blogging and reading blogs and commenting on blogs are three options for building a platform and that each writer has to decide if any of these actions makes sense for them. I do not believe that it always makes sense. I am not an ignoramus if I am not reading blogs every day. There are plenty of other ways to learn. And different people learn in different ways. There is only one best way to spend your time online and off and that’s in ways that make the most sense to… Read more »
I am intrigued to see the title “paradigm shift” in this article. When I consulted in the 1990’s to businesses attempting to revamp their use of technology, two colleagues of mine – Don Tapscott and Art Caston – wrote Paradigm Shift talking about the enabling effect of technology and shifts in how work gets done, how organizations integrate and the potential for inter-enterprise computing. Of course, today we take all those attributes for granted. Having followed your blog, Joel Friedman’s and Mike Shatzkin’s for more than a year now, it’s clear that not only are writers changing how they work… Read more »
Christina Katz

 All smart people… 😉


 For me, the paradigm shift concerning blogging, writing, and platform came when I recognized the whole thing is more like a coffee shop than a circus. Circus is about performance and entertainment. Coffee shop is about conversation among friends.

Of course I want to sell books as well as write them, but I find I have greater favor in the marketing arena when I’m primarily a friend rather than a salesperson. This isn’t saying I don’t do sales pitches. I do. I simply shape them around the common interests I share with others.

Christina Katz
 Go ahead and tackle this topic too, Jane. I hope you will. It’s the: I’m not a salesperson topic. (And thanks, TNeal, for bringing it up.)  I find this to be another one of those black and white thinking kinds of topics. A writer says I don’t want to be that, so I’m going to do this instead. But guess what? You are still selling. Don’t try to pretend you are not. If you have a product, and you are networking it, that’s selling. Bloggers who give and give and give, and then eventually ask for some kind of financial… Read more »
Jan O'Hara|Tartitude

That conversation stuck with me, so I’m glad you’re extending it. 
I’m naturally drawn to the holistic approach and I’m still looking for the intersection of what I’m good at, what I like, and what others find useful. (And ultimately worth purchasing.) As I get clearer on my direction, though, this sentence will be helpful:”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.”

Meredith Ann Rutter

Many years back, my sister told me I needed to “loosen up.” I think the concept applies here as well. I’m better able to see your point when I loosen up and imagine “writing” and “platform” as jiggling along next to each other on the same stagecoach.

Pam Parker

Fabulous recap and post — thanks!!

Christina Katz

I don’t think in this economy that it makes sense any longer to compartmentalize in this way. Why not love all of it? Or figure out how…


I think what Christina was talking about and what most writers don’t get is writing is a job. It has a description, like any other job. People think the entire job description is: writing my X (book, play, television show, whatever). But there aren’t any job descriptions in the world like that. It always goes on for a page or more on what other duties you need to perform to support what your main function is.

And there is always the catch-all at the end, “Other duties as assigned.”

Christina Katz

 Excellent! Yes. We are only beginning to see the whole truth of what a writers day-to-day life is “really” like. For the most part, we are delivered the carefully publicized version. So no wonder there is little common awareness of what it’s really like to be any kind of professional writer, either full or part time.

I love the inclusion of everything into ‘this is what I do.’ It’s kind of a relief to think that I can just do what I do – writing, learning, promoting, self care, holding the covers for the dog, marketing, researching, sitting on the porch, platform building, story telling – and I don’t have to segment my one brain and one life.  In the living of this life, it certainly all feels like the same thing.  I honestly believe that the authors I admire most did a heck of a lot of promoting, selling, platform building, and never considered it… Read more »
Christina Katz

 Thanks for this comment. 🙂

Dave Malone

Jane, a little bit of Zen Buddhism wisdom goes a long and appropriate way. 🙂 Rockin’ post. For some writers, this could prove an aha moment–and this kind of post is why I tell any writers I know, seasoned or unseasoned, if they are not already, to read your blog. 🙂

Shawn Spjut

Jane: loved your response. I am just learning to balance all that goes with writing and finding that some things work, others don’t ( but I’m the only one who can decide what does). In every adventure we have to find the equipment that best works for us, be open to new ideas and keep our eye on the horizon.

Christina Katz

 Agree whole-heartedly!

Cgblake Author
Jane, While I have the utmost respect for you and Christina I am having difficulty wrapping my arms around platform building and fiction writing as one activity. As a former newspaper reporter I find it easy to generate three decent blog posts a week. I also view it as part of my responsibility to read excellent blogs, leave thoughtful comments and engage with other writers. However the process of fiction writing is much, much harder and requires a different mindset. I need to sit and tune out all the noise (no internet) and really get into the head of my… Read more »
Christina Katz

 Point well taken!

brother cliff

As an outsider looking in, it seems if the internal/Eternal fire to communicate is fueled consistently, we will eventually embrace whatever is necessary. Love overcomes all.

Dave Malone
@Cgblake I certainly can’t speak for Jane or Christina, but I don’t’ think they are suggesting that platforming and writing are one activity. But I do think they would gently disagree with you that the writing is paramount. Another way to put it is in terms of a baseball analogy (so, as needed, please forgive me for being a fan of minor league baseball). J When a pitcher throws a great curve ball, a lot went into that pitch. This gorgeous curve, this gorgeous piece of fiction, has been trained, tempered by all of his or her experiences, advice taken,… Read more »
Cgblake Author

Thanks for your comment. I think it comes down to striking the right balance between platform and fiction writing. When I published my first novel I got so wrapped up in marketing and social media that I neglected my WIP for more than a month. That is unacceptable for me. I forced myself to get my “butt in chair” and write every day.

This is a great discussion. Thanks again.

Christina Katz

 Great point. Often pressures from outside the author to be doing this or that throw the author (or writer) out of what he or she would really like to be doing.

Dave Malone

My pleasure. I appreciate your thoughts—and that needed reminder that getting one’s “butt in the chair” is so important (for me, it is down time to allow gestation of new work).

Christina Katz

Well played, Jane. 🙂

I have a lot to say and a busy day and a daughter who is having a meltdown because her mother cannot attend her “Festival of Learning” at school this morning.

But you can rest assured that I’ll be back as soon as I can. 🙂

Dr. Harrison Solow
I think, Jane, that as, when when one is in love with a person and radiates that love into one’s circle by many means (talking about the loved person, being interested in other people’s experience of love, sharing the state of being in love, being in a spirit of discovery about the beloved – and oneself and the relationship, etc) if one is in love with one’s work, the same thing happens. It isn’t an artificial process with a set of fixed rules (as, kudos to you) you have said many times. It is a natural outcome of a deep… Read more »
Christina Katz

 I found this kind of hard to absorb but I think I agree.

Hope Clark
Jane I did a presentation on platform at the Oklahoma Writers Conference this past weekend, and it was overwhelmingly successful. Why? Because I didn’t paint platform as a different task than writing. It’s inherent. It’s part of a writer’s personality. When we hold other professions, we often lead with who we are – teacher, plumber, Realtor, attorney, etc. We talk it, walk it, breathe it. However, many of us see writing as a clash with platform, as if we have to be separate entities to be successful at both. It’s a package. It’s you being a writer, and others wanting… Read more »
Christina Katz

 And thanks for waving my book around, Hope. I heard it through the grapevine. Much appreciated. Agree with all you’ve shared here.

Your brand and your writing are separate beasties and to confuse them would be to err on the side of confusion. Platform is an all encompassing “buzz word” at the moment to describe both activities, but a blending cannot happen unless both mindsets are understood. Building your list and authority enables you to reach contacts and consumers. It is a permission-based reach-out activity that is akin to creating your own PR. In most cases, the writers are the brand that are the subject of promotion and not a particular book. It doesn’t matter whether you are commenting on someone else’s… Read more »
Christina Katz

 Hi Jan, I’m sorry, you lost me part-way into the second paragraph. Too many buzz words for me to be able to take them all in. So, I’m going to skip the rest…


Ouch.. My mistake, I thought the comments were open for conversation that may well include different perspectives.

Christina Katz

Hi Jan, I’m sorry. I’m not trying to offend you. I’m saying that I am having a difficult time following your perspective. You are using the word “brand” as though we all know and agree what it means. Maybe that’s why I’m having trouble following. I am sure you are saying something intelligent but I can’t follow your logic. I see in the last paragraph that you are a career marketer, and this probably explains why I’m losing the gist. You are conversant in the lingo, but I got left behind.

I love what you are saying, Jane, and I agree that we have to integrate all the ways we reach out to others with what lies at our center. When my first novels were published in the 1990s, my center was writing and my outreach included book tours, teaching and giving speeches. I loved my life, and when e-stuff came on the scene, I ignored it as long as I could. Eventually, kicking and whining, I began to blog and to learn about FB and LinkedIn and et.al. but I really resented the need to do so. Finally I decided… Read more »
Christina Katz

 Excellent example. Thank you, Sue.

Melanie Marttila
As a writer with a day job, I feel that my platform development has become/replaced my writing practice.  Yes, I can blog and critique and guest blog and tweet and like and share and G+ to my heart’s content.  I can create a virtual community of practice, but I haven’t worked consistently (e.g. more that a couple evenings in a row) on my WIP for some time.  This makes me sad, but I’m stubborn (among other things).  I’m not giving up and I feel that perhaps a personal paradigm shift is coming for me.  When it does, all the pieces… Read more »
Marina Sofia

 You’ve spoken straight from my heart.  I am still struggling to master the juggling.  I love all that I do, that’s the problem.  But WIP has to come first – for me, for now.

Christina Katz
Busy, bumpy day. Sorry to be so slow to respond. I think another excellent blog post would be how people define “community.” It’s a word I hear so often, applied to so many scenarios. But I am not always feeling this sense of community that people are saying exists…or that could exist for me if I would only spend more time reading and commenting on blogs, I suppose. I’m not looking for community. I’m looking for quick intelligent reads and that’s pretty much it. Your writing, Jane and that of your guest posters, is either going to educate and delight… Read more »
 Jane, Thanks for this excellent post on a subject so many of us writers struggle with.  And thanks to all the readers especially Christina for the very helpful comments.  My novel will be out in March 2013, but already the publisher has given me a lot of platform building “tasks” they would like me to focus on. (I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed as there are so many areas out there to work on). I realize the importance of doing this, but I also have an exciting idea for a new novel, and I want to get started doing research. When… Read more »
Aine Greaney
I must admit that I came to the ‘writer platform’ concept pretty late in my career.  For me, it is always a push and pull between the “actual’ writing and all the community/platform-building activities that are necessary.  I enjoy both, but each draws on very separate parts of myself and my skills as a writer. The blogging/posting/commenting stuff is more aligned with how I am in my day job. But the creative writing part (I write fiction and personal essays) uses a different narrative voice and it serves a different subset of my career goals.  Do those goals intersect? Yup!… Read more »

I guess I understand how some see it as two separate things and others see it as one thing. It makes sense to me either way and I know I have to find the balance between the writing and platform aspects, whether I’m looking at them together or separately. Thanks for sharing! 🙂 

April Line
I would never accomplish any writing or blogging or anything if I read and commented on more blogs.  I get lost in them!  I love them.  I love discourse.  And whenever I spend the time reading other people’s blogs and “commenting cogently,” I often get material for my own blog, and new ways to frame my thinking.   I just spent 40 minutes, and didn’t even read 100% of the comments here, but briefly, I did comment on the last post, and think I said something along the lines of “I just need to write.  Blogging/platform building is one way… Read more »

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