Building a Platform (for what?)


In the writing world, I feel this constant pressure to get to one place first, and then from that perch, I’ll be able to get somewhere else (i.e., the place I really want to be). I think a lot of this has to do with the word “platform.” Before you can expect an agent or publisher to be interested in your submission, you need to build a platform. To build a platform, you have to do something that appeals to many people. Often something that fits neatly in that category—the category: appeals to many people—has to be simple, readily identifiable, marketable, visually-interesting, formulaic, predictable. In other words, not new. Something that lends itself to a 20-second elevator pitch.

Maybe advice for busy new moms. Maybe 10 ways to slow down. Maybe gardening tips. Maybe a nice before/after picture of a newly-simplified living space. Maybe something funny the kids did. A beautiful latte with a heart in the foam. These are a few possibilities. There are many more. And they can have value, potentially. Even if it’s just a picture of the cat in the sun that makes someone smile, someone who has seen (and taken) a million pictures of cats in the sun.

And you could accept that broad category, whichever one draws you the most. You could say, I will start by curating or recording or musing about something with mass appeal. And even then, who knows how many followers you will attract? Maybe you’ll take in lots of tips about “successful” blogging and boosting your online presence, and you’ll apply them well and have some natural talent for publicity and self-promotion and you’ll get somewhere.

And then maybe you’ll have a platform. Enough followers, enough likes, enough friends, enough fans, enough, enough, enough! so that the guardian of some cultural access point whose approval you’re seeking (the editor or agent) will finally approve. At last you have enough—enough people who will pay money for something they will help you sell.

This platform pressure drains me.

Isn’t it highly possibly that you could invent yourself, reinvent yourself,  be that person that people want to follow, that person with a platform, that you could climb up high and see far and wide, then be granted the opportunity to speak to the crowd through some establishment channel like book publishing, and quite possibility the speech you’d want to give, or book you’d want to write would have nothing to do with that persona at all? That was the persona you used to claw your way to that platform. Do you jettison it? Would you be allowed to? Could you throw off your pink wig, trade your platform heels for running shoes?



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