Over the last week an online conversation has emerged about platform building. Beth Moore calls us Christward when she writes:
“This is what I know for certain. It would be unspeakably better for us to drop into obscurity than sell our souls. We may have to make the biggest sacrifice in our entire social media culture: we may have to settle for being unknown.”
Oh Beth. You are a gift to the body of Christ. Your grace, your humility. May we all continue to learn from you—in what you teach, in who you are, in how you live.
I wrestle with this issue every day—both for myself and for those I coach and mentor through the Write Brilliant Academy.
I’m passionate about raising a generation of writers who transform people’s lives with their words.
These are men and women who know they’ve been entrusted with a message and they’re stepping out to answer the calling on their lives.
To tell their story.
To become a thought-leader.
To allow their words to transform countless lives.
They aren’t on the sidelines. And they know that as they move forward with traditional publishing they will be required to answer questions about platform? That means Twitter, Facebook, and Insta followers. Blog traffic. Email lists. Speaking schedule. And more.
So how do you do this well? How do you navigate the landscape as a follower of Christ?
I feel a responsibility to help others do this well.
Perhaps because over the last 20 years, I’ve made countless mistakes.
I’ve written blog posts that have felt like bait and switch to readers (something I never intended yet deeply regret). I pushed a product too hard, and others not enough (to a publisher’s disappointment). I responded to tweets in anger and made statements that were a waste of everyone’s time. I became addicted to Twitter feeds and Instagram feeds and Facebook feeds that left me soul- starved. I started to believe in online friendships more than living, breathing ones. I started to believe the screen was my savior.
I’m still learning…every day.
Here are 4 Little Known Ways to Build a Platform and Still Protect Your Soul:
1. Root yourself in community.
You can have all the online friends you want. Just make sure you have more in real life.
For eight years, my husband, Leif, and I travelled together. I spoke and he managed me. For several years, we were on the road more than 200 nights per year.
My marriage would have dissolved if we didn’t travel together.
During those years, we became detached from our local community. I held onto a handful of long-time friendships, but we were out of sync with a normal paced life. We weren’t free for weekend barbeques or bar mitzvahs with neighbors.
I nurtured long-distant relationships with friends around the country via phone and text, but I missed the local, real-life connection.
Since then, Leif has gone on staff at Capital Church in Salt Lake City, Utah.
We are nestled into a community and I’m loving every minute of it.
No one cares about my profession. They care about me. And that’s a beautiful gift.
Jess and Matt’s kids attack me with bear hugs, Leah hunts treasures with me at garage sales, Ann and Andrea take long hikes with me in the rain, Greg and Jeri share their favorite restaurants, All are all antidotes to that toxic lollipop.
One little secret: I’ve spent a lot of time with the headliners of the largest Christian conferences and all of them—sooner or later—beg to get off the road.
I wish someone had told me that sooner.
2. Practice an abundance mindset.
Several years ago an upcoming writer and speaker asked, “How do you respond to Shauna Niequist since she’s your competition?”
“What?” I asked, stunned.
“You’re both Zondervan authors trying to reach the same market,” she said.
“First, she’s not my competition; she’s my friend,” I said. “And our audiences are people who need Jesus. At last count, I think there are at least 300 million in America. Together, I hope we reach all of them. And you know, it’s a good thing if someone loves Shauna’s books and mine.”
When I sat down to write Flourish, I called Shauna and asked for wisdom. She had released her best-selling, stunning devotional Savor. I asked if she learned any lessons. Shauna said, “Margaret, 365 devotions is a lot! I’d really suggest looking at writing a shorter devotional if you don’t want to feel overwhelmed.”
Because of her wisdom and generosity, I wrote a 52-week devotional with longer meaty entries that wasn’t overwhelming to the reader (or me). I’m so grateful for Shauna.
Yet the original question about Shauna has stuck with me, because it’s so easy to slip into a scarcity mindset in Christian writing, speaking, and publishing.
Budgets have limits. Event host select speakers. Publishers pick key titles each season.
When you’re tempted by scarcity thinking, look up and all around.
Turn to the left or right in your neighborhood and you’ll find someone who needs Jesus.
Who needs your story? Your message? Your encouragement?
Focus on the abundance and your life will fill with gratitude.
Side note: One reason I don’t see others as competitors is because I pray for them. I keep a list of speakers and writers who I pray for regularly tucked away. None of them know. But what if you made your own prayer list?
3. Keep some secrets to yourself.
I’m always haunted by the image of the temple prostitute. She gave away everything and transformed the sacred into the profane.
I’ve watched people who publish every thought, tweet every emotion, Instagram every moment, Facebook every minute, and I can’t help but wonder, What’s left?
This is a personal conviction for me so please hear my heart.
I’ve written many books and Bible studies and shared intimate details of my life, my marriage, my failures, my relationships with you. Each was written with a desire to draw you closer to Christ and life you’re meant to live.
But there’s so much I haven’t told you.
Oh, the treasures of Scripture. The tender words Jesus whispers in my heart. The aha! moments that transform me forever.
I hold many of these back. Why?
These are my greatest treasures and I savor them.
Some of the discoveries, particularly in my relationship with Jesus, well, they’re just between me and Him.
I love you, but I treasure Him more.
So don’t live a life where you feel like you need to publish every thought or whim or insight or aha!. Learn to keep your secret treasures to yourself.
4. Love, love, love your audience.
The students in the Write Brilliant Academy hear this over and over. We drill it into every lesson, every homework assignment, every step as they learn to put together a book proposal and grow their platform.
Writing is primarily an act of self-sacrifice.
Writing is never meant to be about you.
I know, it’s your story, your experience, your discovery.
But it’s still not about you.
Have you ever read a blog and felt like someone emotionally vomited on you?
Have you ever read the first chapter of a book and soon realized that’s all the author had to say?
Have you ever finished a book thought, Wow, I just paid $15 to listen to someone’s therapy session?
I believe writing is meant to be an act of service and love.
That’s why my students are constantly being challenged to write to the needs of their audience. To serve. To self-sacrifice.
I want to raise up a generation of writers who pen books that transform lives and have a lasting impact.
That act of self-sacrifice, of truly serving their audience, is meant to shape everything we do.
Our blogs. Our social media. Our emails. Our interactions. Our conversations. Our speaking.
So the next time you sit down to write—whether it’s a blog or book, a speech or sermon, a social media strategy or marketing plan—what if you paused to ask, “How can I love, love, love those I seek to serve even in this?”
I don’t have all the answers. I, too, have many questions. I will continue to make mistakes and face new temptations just like you.
But together we can learn from each other, encourage each other, and pray for each other.
Please know I love you and I’m for you,