I was born during the Jennifer Era of U.S. history. Jennifer Aniston, Jennifer Garner, JLo, and I joined more than half a million of our moniker sisters in dominating the baby name charts from 1970 to 1984, until those scheming Jessicas hijacked our reign.
Whether this trend can be attributed to the name of the doomed heroine in the acclaimed 1970 film “Love Story,” or to random cycling mass phenomena in accordance with mathematical processes, we all know it was a massively popular name back in the day and are wondering which hippie/hipster fad will produce another generation of Jens, Emmas, and Bellas.
My name is thoroughly unoriginal, and I’ve come to accept that. What’s more difficult to swallow is the apparent requirement in this digital age for writers to leverage their names as their brand.
Sure, it makes sense. If you want to reach an audience with your message, you have to get your name out there so people can find you and read your work. To build a successful author platform, you must create a social persona to which fans will flock and publishers will beckon for book deals.
It’s DIY marketing with an egotistical spin, and it seems if you ever want to go anywhere in the publishing world, you’ve got push yourself to promote yourself.
An inner conflict
In case you didn’t pick up on it, I was cringing between the preceding lines. I strongly dislike the concept of self-made publicity for many different reasons, including the aforementioned ordinariness of my name. The world has plenty of Jennifers; it doesn’t need another one running around tooting her own horn.
Also repelling me from the “be your own brand” strategy: my tendency toward shyness, lack of knowledge and desire to market like a boss, and fear – fear that others won’t like me, or that they will like me and expect a standard of excellence I can’t always (or ever) deliver, and fear that I’ll care way too much about others’ perception and evaluation of the person I project myself to be.
Aside from these unpleasant factors, the most stomach-turning aspect of self-marketing is its very nature. Count how many times I dropped an “I, me my” in the preceding paragraph. I sound as conceited as a 2-year-old.
I know there are millions of people out there pounding the social pavement to develop online personalities as a means to spread an important message or advance a worthwhile movement or simply make money as a business venture, and that’s fine. However, I think there’s a tension that can and should arise for Christian authors writing Christian books, a vocation and niche I aspire to pursue.
If you’re ostensibly writing to proclaim the gospel and convey the truth of God’s saving grace, how do you justify throwing your time, energy, and resources into promoting yourself? How can you reconcile God’s command for His people to be like Christ – humble, submissive to His will, seeking His exaltation above all else – with your endless striving for people to like you and follow your words?
He must increase
Prominent Christian authors addressed these and other concerns regarding platform building during an online discussion earlier this year. Beth Moore, Margaret Feinberg, and Karen Swallow Prior shared honest thoughts from their experiences in the Christian publishing industry, warning of the perils of social media ladder climbing and admonishing believers to fight the fleshly temptation to make ourselves known under the guise of making Jesus known.
I followed these conversations with rapt attention, as I respect these women and want to heed their guidance in venturing out into this field. Yet for all the wisdom I gleaned, the klaxon of prideful posturing alarmed and discouraged me, especially after researching the platform strategy and confirming it as the new norm for author best practices.
This brought me to a crisis of writing about faith: Accept the necessary evil of self-promotion to move forward with my publishing aspirations, or refuse to undertake this sinful endeavor and scrap the whole dang author idea.
Dismayed as I was, I kept thinking and researching and praying, and then came upon this article by a not-yet widely known writer contemplating “The Social Media Strategy of John the Baptist.” Reflecting on John’s gospel, she describes how the outspoken forerunner of Christ grew a following as he proclaimed the coming Messiah, and then once Jesus appeared on the scene, directed his followers to the incarnate Savior:
“God had given John a platform – he had become famous and influential in his own right. But John used his platform to draw attention to the only One who could satisfy and save their souls.”
John used the platform God had given him to draw attention to Jesus, not himself, and made this outrageously meek statement that should be the motto of every follower of Christ: “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).
I read this article, and pondered this verse, and thanked the author and John the Baptist for this critical reminder.
Any platform I have is God’s, not mine. He gives and takes away gifts, skills, relationships, email subscribers, Twitter followers, and “tribe” members for whatever purposes He intends – most specifically, to exalt His name and shower goodness on His people.
Knowing this, I can publish a blog under my name, post content designed to encourage others, even seek out new readers to engage and connect with, and do so with a clean conscience IF my heart’s desire is to increase Jesus’ fanbase, not my own.
With whatever my hands find to write, I pray that the efforts involved – from production to publicity – will point others to the King of Kings, the Word of Life, my Blessed Redeemer.
As the pastor at my church stated during a recent sermon on Daniel’s rise to prominence in the Babylonian Empire, all due to God’s divine appointment and his humble obedience: “The greatness that the Scripture teaches is best described by you moving through the world and leaving a wake of the Kingdom of God behind you.”
I will not do this perfectly. The Spirit will inevitably need to convict me, on a repeated basis, and I petition Him to have at it. He knows how much I struggle with craving approval.
I also don’t plan to write exclusively about issues of deep spiritual significance, and occasionally cover more lighthearted subject matter – particularly that of the deprecating, keepin’ it real variety. This is fun for me, and I hope my enjoyment of pouring out some creative juices edifies others and honors God, as much as any mocking commentary about a TV show can accomplish that.
In stepping out on this precarious limb, setting up a platform for my writing work, I ask God to help me make wise choices in His strength, to value His truth above any other opinion or striving for “likes,” and to help me follow Beth Moore’s advice on navigating social media branding:
The answer will be found in serving God as faithfully and as purely as human hearts and souls know how and let Him build His own following and determine who listens to what voice and when.
Serving God with a pure heart isn’t ever easy, and the way forward isn’t entirely clear. Marketing as an author in the Christian publishing industry is risky business, with a danger involving soul-devastating consequences. The uncertainty weighs on me, and I expect to feel apprehension about this platform racket for however long the Lord allows me to write about Him.
But by His grace, I will forge ahead, trusting Him to send forth His Word either through or in spite of me, as I write under my humdrum, exceptionally unremarkable name, aiming to lift high the greatest Name in all the world.
13 thoughts on “Whose platform is it anyway?”
What deep and thought provoking words! This whole “platform” building has been a lifesuck for me from the beginning, as I only wanted to “write”. I love your perspective and find your pastors words to be one’s I’ll write down too and it’s such a wonderful visual picture …”leaving a wake of the Kingdom of God behind you.”
Thanks for your comment! It’s such a struggle as someone who just wants to write, not market. Praying that we all follow the advice from my pastor as we write to magnify our Lord and Savior!
I’ve thought about this a lot because it feels very uncomfortable “building a platform”–when honestly I have no desire to be “known.” That aspect kind of scares me. What I really want is to share what God has placed on my heart to help others. I listened to a FB live about how if we believe in our message and that it will help others, then we should want to spread it to as many people as possible. I’m not sure what that road looks like for me, but all I know is I want to follow where he leads me without forging my own way without him. Great post Jennifer!
I feel ya, sister! It’s such a tension to believe in the messages and stories God gives us and desire to spread them, while also disliking being in the spotlight. And there’s no perfect roadmap; just a command to exalt Him instead of ourselves in all that we say and do – easier said than done. 😉 Thanks for reading!
Wow, that bit about John the Baptist is way awesome! Finding the balance between humility and blogging has been something I think about often. THANKS!
I know! I wouldn’t have thought of that illustration of John the Baptist shifting his followers to Jesus if it weren’t for that author mentioning it in her post. Such an awesome example for us all. Thanks for reading!
I pray for God to give me the words he wants me to share every day. The part about John the Baptist was really eye opening for me. Thank you.
Thanks for reading, and I share your prayer!
From beginning to end, I read with a loud “YES!” in my head. I loved everything about this post, because it says everything I’ve been feeling. Self promotion is hard for me. I wonder “who cares what I’m doing today? Let’s talk about Jesus” but I also understand that there are certain parts of promotion that seem to be a must. Thank you so much for this reminder to always keep the center of our focus on Jesus. Yes we can talk about food, and fun in an effort to relate on to each other more, but it (for me anyways) needs to come back to the Lord. This was so on time for me.
So glad it resonated with you, and that I’m not alone feeling this way! I think it’ll help me getting to know other Christian bloggers, so we can hold each other up and remind one another of our love for writing of our First Love. Thanks so much for reading!
Hi Jennifer. Every single thing you wrote resonated with me. Including the fact that I too have a common name–perhaps there are even more Sarah’s than Jennifer’s. 🙂
I am bookmarking your post to read from time to time to keep my sanity in check.
From the age of 16, I have felt called by God to write. I write because I must–it’s like breathing. Plus I love it. Plus, I feel like God has messages he wants me to share with others. I can’t not write, if you know what I mean.
If I’m going to pursue the traditional route, self-promotion is a requirement no matter what. I have an editor friend in St. Louis–she said that someone can turn in a fabulous manuscript, but if they refuse to self-promote on social media, she will turn them down. So I agree, it’s a sort of necessary evil, but it’s also a good thing. I can reach way more people at one time through my email list than I currently can in person.
I’ll share some advice with you I learned from attending She Speaks this year: Jennifer Dukes Lee said that small platforms are actually more common than you may realize for first-time authors. She gave lots of examples of people who got book contracts with fewer than 300 followers on a single platform. The key is having a fabulous concept. She also shared that the church before Pentecost would be considered a small platform today, but look what they accomplished through the Holy Spirit’s anointing. That thought encouraged me so much, and I hope it encourages you too!
Hanging in there with you, and I’m glad to meet you!
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Oh my goodness, Sarah, thank you for your encouragement! I also feel that writing is as essential as breathing – though that comes labored, at times.
You make a great point about reaching more people through these platforms than you can in normal day-to-day interactions. That’s the upside of social media.
And thanks for mentioning that insight from Jennifer Dukes Lee, as well as bringing up the early church. It reminds me of the discussions at this year’s IF:Gathering regarding discipleship and how mentoring one or two people can multiply the fruit as they raise up others, and others after them, akin to the exhortation in Titus 2:3-5. And in the end, our words are a conduit for the Spirit, who accomplishes whatever He sets out to do.
Thanks again for your comments, and blessings to you in your ministry!
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