Passion Can Be Platform
A while ago, a good friend and fellow writer, Curtis texted me. “Well, it’s happening,” he wrote. “They’re making me do PLATFORM.”
Curtis and I share a kick-ass editor at a major house, an intuitive woman who tries to let her writers concentrate on art instead of brand. But Curtis’ second book wasn’t getting the pre-pub attention that the publisher had hoped for, and they feared it was because Curtis was totally offline. Curtis was a standout humor writer, a very funny person! The time had come for him to Tweet.
Our editor held out for as long as she could against the marketing team’s decree. After all, Curtis was a productive writer with a long career in advertising who regularly published satirical pieces in hotshot publications. So what if he wasn’t on the socials? But the gavel had come down. Curtis needed to join both Instagram and Twitter to support his book. Like, now.
“I’m here because my publisher told me to be and I don’t know how to Tweet,” went Curtis’ first post. “Get ready for fun.”
“I’m on Instagram now because my book isn’t selling. Where’s the bar?”
As I watched Curtis leave digital skid marks behind his maiden posts, I imagined our publishers texting back and forth:
Omg this is a shit show, can one of the interns teach C how to tweet?
Did anyone tell Curtis that Instagram is image-based?
Can we get someone to maybe post for him?
Curtis joined social media in 2018. Four years later, he has 213 followers on Twitter and 637 followers on Instagram. Curtis doesn’t like social media and he isn’t especially good at it. So why was he forced on it?
Platform represents a person’s ability to reach the right audience for their product. Platform makes the most sense in the non-fiction market where you want to match your message with a target audience: a pescatarian cookbook with the pescatarian community, a sobriety memoir with the recently sober. The drive for platform makes good business sense: if you’re going to write from an expert point of view, the publisher needs proof that people see you as an expert.
But at some point in the last decade, platform went from being a writer’s ability to reach the right audience to their ability to reach that audience via social media. And therein lies the rub. As you’ve doubtlessly realized, a lot of writers are serious introverts, built more for observation than pithy online posts. In the coaching work I do today, I can’t tell you how many people write me saying, “I’ve got great responses to my proposal from agents but they can’t take me on until I get to 20K followers on Twitter. I’m not even on Twitter. Help?” I myself was invited to collaborate in a Big Fancy Thing with the caveat that I get 20,000 newsletter subscribers, first. I had 1,500 at the time. I considered the emotional energy, time, and money it would take me to meet this ask. Among other things, it would mean allocating my writing time to follower-fishing, a prospect that made me sick. And if I’ve learned anything from the ever-changing, ultra competitive industry of publishing, it’s to run away from “opportunities” that make you feel bad before you’ve even started them.
Platform must be passion. One more time for those of you in the back: platform must be passion. If your platform isn’t your passion, you’re going to tumble off it into an empty void that will suck the joy and comfort from your writing, leaving you with imposter syndrome and FOMO and a sense that no one likes you. And who the hell needs that?
But what does it mean that platform can be passion? It looks like my friend Bruce Weinstein posting videos and advice to online knitting forums where he has an insane amount of engagement. Bruce doesn’t do knitting books — he’s a cookbook author, but the support he gets from his knitting community has put him on the bestseller list multiple times.
It looks like Amy Stewart whose newsletter is mostly about painting techniques, even though she’s known for her historical fiction. It’s Elissa Altman’s photographic journey of her difficult relationship with her mother on Instagram; it’s porochista khakpour’s pandemic baking and Chelsea Hodsons’ weird moodboards. It is the non-fiction writer Rachel Syme starting a quarantine pen-pal service called “PenPalooza,” and it’s the bestselling writer Chloe Benjamin documenting her efforts to knit the perfect sweater vest.
If you have a weird hobby, a niche passion, an incredibly odd talent, there is a place on the Internet for you to celebrate it, and that sweet spot can become your platform in a fun and genuine way. Spoiler alert: it probably isn’t Twitter, and it definitely isn’t Facebook. If you’re really good at self-effacing humor (or dancing), maybe TikTok is your match. If you’re obsessed with coin collecting, start a newsletter that has everything to do with coin collecting, and little to do with the hybrid memoir you are trying to sell. If you’ve got an amazing ability to make dinner in fifteen minutes, start a video channel that documents your prowess. “But I’m trying to sell a literary novel about World War II submarine commanders, what does that have to do with dinner?” you might ask, to which I would say: everything, because your passion is you, and that’s what readers want. They don’t want your peer-pressured IG posts and woe-is-me tweets, they want to see you shining, slaying, and doing your thing in the most you way possible. In the immortal words of Prince: “Why go half-ass and fake it?” Go on with your bad self and nourish a platform that you actually enjoy.
Courtney Maum is an author and book coach. She has a free newsletter with publishing and writing tips that you should sign up for because she’s known for telling you things that others won’t.