Certain family heirlooms draw instant mental images of my grandma: an ornate handheld mirror depicting a Victorian woman twirling in a resplendent red dress; a lamb-shaped refrigerator magnet declaring, “Ewe’s Not Fat; Ewe’s Just Fluffy”; an antique anniversary clock that managed to survive four generations without sustaining injury to its delicate glass dome.
The clock is an elegant, Old World relic. It draws power from a torsion pendulum, a mechanism comprising four chrome balls that oscillate clockwise and counterclockwise, powering the clock’s gears in mesmerizing fashion. I spent many cherished moments nestled in my grandma’s lap, staring transfixed at that clock resting beside her fading plush recliner, not knowing that it could run an entire year on a single winding. I didn’t realize how it represented the perseverance of a devoted daughter of Christ.
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.
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.