The Problems with Building a Platform: Reader Burnout

All the publishing industry experts are saying it, the only way to succeed in authorship in these troubling print media days, is to build an audience (or platform) of enormous size.   A website that draws over 30,000 viewers/readers a month is a good start.  A few thousand twitter followers and facebook fan-page likes is a nice addition.  These publishers want your name known, respected, and continuously referred back to, before they are willing to take a bite on your true prize; a manuscript.
The problems with building a platform: Reader burnout
Some days, after platform building, I feel like I need some
tequila as well.  I wonder if Pee Wee ever feels this way
as he tries to rebuild his audience? 

This makes a lot of sense from their perspective.  It means guaranteed sales.  It costs money to manufacture a book.  Most publishers don’t make any money until a book exceeds 10,000 in overall sales.  Obviously this depends on tons of variables, but many traditional publishers who can’t see selling ten thousand of a said book, have no interest in said book, despite the content, quality, or need.  This is no different than the movie industry, the music industry, or really any industry that deals in talent and a form of art. 

So we, the art producing masses have given up hundreds, if not thousands of hours of art producing, to do social media-tizing.  We inundate our friends with links, and tweets, and events, and dates, and pleas to share our links, and recommendations, and if they will please follower us on nine different social media platforms.  We keep showing them glimpses of what it is we do.  We blog, we excerpt, we ebook, we stream our talents for free on the internet, hoping to draw in interest, all the while selling little or nothing.  We’re whoring ourselves out, to draw interest; but worse than whoring, we’re giving it away for free.   Ask the woman who exposes her polka dot bra, or 12 inches of thigh, if this is an effective way to attract a husband?  

creepy Carrot Top with shirt off muscles
Speaking of overexposed, put some
clothes on Carrot Top, you're a
comedian not a model.  
And like any over-exposed situation, the viewers get tired of the same old, same old.  I used to have a locker next to a girl who used her cleavage to every advantage she had.  At first I thanked the lucky stars to have near nudity so close to me on an everyday basis; but strange as it may seem, her boob teases became boring.  Excitement is about building up to something great that is going to come (I think it goes without saying what never happened).  Have you ever seen one of those five minute movie trailers that gives the entire movie away, and you look to the other theatre attendees and say, “Well, I don’t need to see that one now.”  That is what many of us artists are doing.  Streaming our music for free, throwing our words out there to be plagiarized, allowing our professional photos to copied and pasted as the backdrops of someone else’s homepage.  But if you build it, they will come?  Right?

Kris Jenner Kardashian book Well, kind of.  Currently, I'm involved in a social writing contest where the winner is guaranteed a book (well, an ebook) and $5000.00.  That's a nice chunk of change.  180+ people were accepted into this competition.  And each week I have to get as many tweets and likes and reviews as possible to advance to the next round.  Not surprisingly, all the authors under 25 are winning this competition, as they can easily motivate their thousands of social media friends to like, tweet, review, and pump up their material.  Friends are great; they will tell you your stuff is great when it is merely good.  That's nice.  But it isn't the real world.  The guy or gal who gets the most likes has probably not written the best story, but merely has the greatest platform of influence.  The American Idol winners don't always outsell the people who get voted off earlier, nor are they always better singers, but the most popular at the time.  It will be interesting to see where all these "platform" based authors will be thirty years from now, when their fan base is tired of reading average material.  My guess is it will be in the same boat as books authored by already famous people.  People whose influence is in the millions, like Kris Jenner (mother of the Kardashians) whose book ...And All Things Kardashian, should've sold millions of copies. But because the author is not an author, and simply a rich famous person, writing about being rich and famous, in the attempt to stay rich and famous, is another reason platform is a ridiculous concept, as these "celebrity" books have always proliferated the dollar bins and free boxes of garage sales everywhere.  Most people spending their own money with their own free will can sniff out a stinker.  Most people.

Star Wars Attack of the Clones Padme Amidala Natalie Portman balcony scene
Actual movie line from SW-AOTC: I
don't like sand. It's coarse and rough
and irritating.  Not like here.  Every-
thing's soft... and smooth....
(Anakin touches Padme's arm).    
I'm not saying that having a fan-base is a silly idea.  Of course not.  Fans spend money.  But fans genuinely flock to great material and intriguing plots.  I'm sure if I got to see George Lucas everyday in the process of making Star Wars, it would take the magic out of his classic movies.  If I watched those silly models of the Millenium Falcon, and heard the scuba diving noises that made up Darth Vader's breathing, and saw the first script of Attack of the Clones (even the final draft is pretty putrid), I would've stayed away.  But that's what publishers are forcing new authors to do today.  Let your audience grow along with the product.  Get yourself a market, get yourself some guaranteed sales, have a working machine already producing, so that we can jump in and amp up the process.  Great, thanks.

But how many of us have burned out our readers?  How many have already given away our great stories for free in an attempt to garner positive reviews?  How many are making pennies on the dollar for our blood, sweat, tears, soul, emotional core, and creative limits?  It's exhausting work trying to impress random strangers, without giving something away.  In the process, the people we really love, who are linking, and sharing, and liking, and promoting our stuff, get tired of the process.  It's human nature.  "What?  You haven't made it big after three months?  Oh, too bad."  And they stop reading, stop liking, stop listening to what you have to say.  "It's still good," they say, "there's just so much of it..."  Yeah, well it's what I have to do to get the right people to notice.  

Roadies building a stage
"Hey, we're platform working here, crank that AC/DC
up to 10 and get us some PBRs, okay!?"  
I'm sorry I've invited you all along on the platform building process.  I actually once saw some roadies build a professional stage platform for the band U2.  It was impressive watching those guys go to work with very little time and tons of heavy equipement and gear.  It was almost entertaining to watch them work.  I'm sure it wouldn't be fun to watch everyday.  I hope some of you who've been with me this whole process will still have the energy and excitement to see the actual performance on the stage instead of just the "platform" building stage you've been witness to so far.  Ironically, it is these people, the people who have done so much work for me, who are the most wanting to actually buy my finished product.  These people, whom I owe so much to, the ones I'm tiring out, yet they still want their investment of time back in a finished product.  Thank you, you've been an excellent customer.  Now if you'll excuse me, I have to put some more clothes on, as I think I've revealed too much already.  


  1. Chris, good blog. How true...I know exactly what that feels like, not only with the writing but with the music and the art as well. Making pages for people to "like." Building a "fan base" for the music. Twitter feels like the silliest of all. It goes against my core to be marketing like this, from one whose default place is to hide out. Self-promoting feels disgusting to me and yet, if we are trying to make somewhat of a living off of what we love to do, it has become the necessary evil. I have so far refused to link my facebook page with my reverbnation music page, although reverbnation keeps telling me that that's the way to build my stats, the trickle down effect ultimately sales. I don't want to use my "friends" in this way, it feels like Amway. We need managers, doggone it, those people who are born to promote.

    1. A former professor once told me, if you don't drink your own Kool-Aid, who else will? He said to me, if you're too shy to "bug" those on FB "closest" to you, then that lack of confidence will shine through to everyone else. I've always struggled with this advice.

  2. Pure artists have such disdain for the salesmanship, networking and self promotion it requires to become well seen or well known. Why? I wish I could answer that. I struggle with that myself. I put up with a job that spends 90% of its time selling and 10% of the time creating copy. I'd rather spend 90% of my job creating copy. Why does selling feel so lowly? Or are pure artists just lazy?

    Much like everyone having a college degree these days, the internet has allowed journalism and literature to be watered down. The internet has allowed every person to be a freelance photographer or writer. So how does one rise above that noise if you're principally against promotion? Besides sensationalism and plagiarism, what else is there?

  3. Bob, I'm not principally against promotion, I just don't appreciate it like a marketer would. I know a ton of bands who were good enough, plugged away for years, getting every gig, radio appearance, recording opportunity, but because of some unforeseen blockage, their careers in music never really materialized. I think it goes for artist of every field. At some point, the "luck" factor, whether that is having a friend in the industry, an influential person who discovers it, or whatnot, that makes some people "make it." I'm not against showing my work to all kinds of people. But am I showing it to the "right" people? Probably not. I like my audience, but they aren't the people who are going to get me channeled to where the money is. Not that I do this for money. Okay, yes, I would like some money.

    In a nutshell, there are too many voices, and not enough ears.

    1. Agreed. Guess you better start writing all your stuff with the angle that it's an "attack on America." Remember, luck happens when preparation meets opportunity.... or nepotism.

  4. I understand ... and agree. Marketing my work is not something I am especially good at, and not something I enjoy. I know I can get better at it with enough time and effort. The trouble is motivating myself to do something I don't enjoy for long enough to get better at it. And so the circle goes on and on and on.

  5. Great stuff Chris. If I ever happen to meet a guy who knows a guy who knows a guy, I'll be sure to shove your name out there to him!

    1. Thanks RC. Strangely enough, I already know some people who know some people, and even influence isn't enough to get your work looked at. The book industry has suddenly become the most cautious business model in the nation, and that, not ebooks, is going to be their downfall.