Platform Versus Passion

This past month I went to back-to-back conferences. One was an entrepreneurial program and the other was Book Expo. At both conferences, I ended up talking and thinking a lot about books. The two conferences exemplified to me two writing extremes: the platform writer and the passion writer. They’re not mutually exclusive. I’d argue that the most successful writers are those who have figured out how to be both. But this is what they look like:

The platform writer wants to have a book to boost their credibility and professional legitimacy. I met a lot of these people at the entrepreneurial conference I went to. They’ve heard they should have a book, that it’ll bring in more clients and speaking gigs, make them experts in their fields. A lot of these people just wish someone would write their book for them. They want to be spending their efforts on their business, where there’s real moneymaking potential. In their mind, a book looks good and they want it to be something their proud of, by their identity isn’t too wrapped up in the process or the publication itself.

Then there’s the passion writer. These are the writers I end up talking to at BEA. Because it’s not a good venue to pitch your book, those writers who do pitch books at BEA have generally paid a lot of money or finagled their way in there to get to agents and editors. My heart goes out to these people because they are definitely in the passion category. They care so much about their projects. They’re projects are their babies. Women often use pregnancy and laboring metaphors when they speak to you about their process, and far too frequently these writers are too attached to their projects and don’t understand that good writing doesn’t make up for a nonexistent platform.

So . . .

If you are one or the other of these writers, don’t despair. It’s not a bad thing to be a platform writer or a passion writer. It’s just important to know which you are. Why?

Because if you’re the former then you might want to adjust your strategy a little bit. You might want to hire someone who can transcribe or ghostwrite. You might want to consider self-publishing your first book to get your feet wet and to have something immediately available to your clients. Start with a downloadable e-book.

If you’re the latter, then you might benefit from taking a day off a week from your writing to focus on your platform. Publishing is changing so much, and it’s harder than it’s ever been to get published without a platform. You can build a platform, yes, which I’ve written about in a previous post. But also, importantly, don’t assume that your book is one of a kind. I personally advise my clients to love their books, yes, feel passionate about them, but help agents and editors help you by understanding the books that are similar to yours. And don’t be so tied to your words and your concept that you can’t change if and when someone comes to you with feedback, editorial remarks, or because they want to publish you.

The vast majority of you probably see yourself a little bit in both of these scenarios. And that’s okay. It should be a healthy balance. When you pitch yourself to an editor or an agent you want to be informed. You want to wow. The platform part tells the industry professional that you know what’s up, that you’re worth taking a risk on. (Because unless you have proven book sales from a previous book, you’re a risk.) The passion part tells the industry professional that you’re willing to kick your butt into high gear, that your book means the world to you and that you’re not going to get sick and tired of it (even though you will).

It’s a hard act to balance—to be both kinds of writers. Neither extreme makes for an ideal publishing candidate, and being just in the middle is a lot to ask of yourself. So just feel into which is more true of you, and consider that you might need to focus your energy, your proposal, your attention on the other when you go to present yourself and your book to the world.

Brooke meets up with a skeptical Jon Stewart at BEA:

Until next month.


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