Platform vs. Inspiration

My father was a “jack of all trades and master of none.” He was really good at fixing things with his hands, but wasn’t really fantastic at anything.

I guess that’s where I inherit my short attention span. Once again, time to be transparent.

My latest book, Chosen, has tanked for all intents and purposes. It is the novelization of the Old Testament story of Jonathan and those around him. I thought it turned out pretty good, but apparently no one else thought so. I talked to a friend who used to be an acquisitions editor for one of the publishers I have worked with in the past. He looked at it and, among other things, pointed out two major flaws. First, I was writing in a sub-genre that didn’t really have much of a following. So in that I couldn’t anticipate many readers waiting for that title.

Second, he brought up the dreaded “P” word: platform. The idea is that authors should establish an identity within a particular genre. They develop a following in that genre, and they stick to it. In essence, authors need to be predictable in their book subjects while being unpredictable in how those books are written.

I understand where marketing is coming from. When I put myself in the position of the reader and see myself in some Half Price bookstore, if I like a particular author, I look for more titles by him. But if those titles go from westerns to romance to sci-fi, I’m going to be confused. I want to know that what I buy is what I am looking for.

And then I put on my author’s hat. It’s a lot more fun writing what inspires you, even if the subject matter wanders all over the landscape. In the past 30 years, I have written (1) how-to books (2) children’s books (3) Christian suspense (4) steampunk and (5) sci-fi. No wonder my readers are confused.

I guess it comes down to choosing whether to follow your heart in writing, or follow your head. Once again, I have to go back to what I teach my students. My breakthrough in writing came when I was able to give the editor what they wanted. The same, obviously, goes for the reader. Writing is a business, one that I need to learn to take seriously. If I want readers, then I need to be faithful to them and their interests, especially if I want them to be faithful to me.


5 thoughts on “Platform vs. Inspiration

  1. Many, many authors have this dilemma. They want to write what they want to write, not what they have to write. Every author goes through this. Most of them solve the issue by using a pen name for the genres outside their own. It didn’t hurt Stephen King at all to write as Richard Bachman, and you may benefit from it as well. Kristine Katherine Rusch has a great deal of information on this subject on her blog, as does Dean Wesley Smith. HTH.

    1. Good suggestions, Dane. I started some of my books with a penname, then got rid of it because I realized I needed to establish my credibility as an author. Now I am tempted to resurrect it. I also checked out the websites for Rusch and Smith (interesting that they are married), and was impressed with the quality of information there. Thanks

  2. With respect, I disagree on two points. First, I don’t think you can count a newly released title down and out so soon. Not unless you’ve had a huge launch for it and really poured your heart and soul into marketing efforts. (Have you?!) Second, there is a difference between writing in different genres and letting your heart completely dictate what you write regardless of genre. Most of the unsuccessful writers I know are ones who want to write what they want to write but it doesn’t even begin to FIT in a genre. That’s different than a writer switching genres. If they are true geniuses, they may end up with one winner in their life. IF they’re lucky. Most of them, no matter how brilliant, will wind up completely unknown.

    Will it take you longer to build a following in a particular genre? Yes it will. But that doesn’t mean you should give up on the idea just because it isn’t immediately successful. If you want to switch genres, I say do it. But plan to spend even more time marketing. Writers, by and large, don’t understand marketing. However…as we very well know…some publishing houses don’t, either.

    1. Well, after two years of indie publishing, I realize that regardless of how many challenges I overcome, there will always be more. It’s an uphill battle, but it’s one many of us have chosen with our eyes open.

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