Why Publishers Care About Platform

Michael Hyatt popularized the term “platform” when he started blogging about it in 2010. In 2012, he wrote Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World (Affiliate Link). Publishing industry professionals began using the term and evaluating a potential author’s platform.

A platform is the sum of an author’s communication assets by which they can directly reach readers who most need and want the author’s book. It’s the sum of people you can reach, whether through speaking, blogging, or collaborating with your contacts who have audiences. The size and validity of an author’s platform are seen as an indication of how well their books will sell.

A large platform doesn’t guarantee great book sales, but it does correlate well, so publishers tend to give larger advances to authors with larger platforms. Authors without platforms often fail to sell many books, especially nonfiction authors. 

Hyatt used his understanding of platform to acquire many of the top authors, making Thomas Nelson the number-one Christian publishing company during his tenure.

It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. 

It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.

The Big Short

The Problem with Platform

When authors think of platform, they typically think they need big platform numbers and ers to draw interest from a publisher. 

Platform is Gameable

But savvy authors can “game the system” by building a platform of numbers rather than readers. In desperate attempts to make themselves look well-known, authors participate in “follow-back” games where they follow one another on social media to build their numbers. Sometimes authors even buy 500,000 fake followers, and suddenly they appear to have a huge social media following. Technically savvy authors can manipulate the metrics to make their platforms appear larger than they are.

Platform is Too Focused on Social Media

When authors or publishers put too much emphasis on the metrics and number of Facebook fans, Instagram followers, or YouTube subscribers, they fail to account for engagement and passion.

It’s difficult to measure real human engagement on social media without the use of expensive digital tools. While large corporations like Pepsi may be able to spend thousands of dollars each month on tools to measure social media engagement, few authors can or will.

Platform Fails to Account for Word-of-Mouth

Platform fails to consider the number one reason books sell: word of mouth. A Twitter follower who simply followed you to help pad your social media numbers is unlikely to buy your book. People who will read your book and tell their friends about it are your best marketing asset. The viral spread of word-of-mouth marketing cannot be accurately measured.

Platform Fails to Account for an Author’s Influential Contacts

A focus on platform numbers alone doesn’t account for the author’s relationships with influential people.

Social media has changed since the early 2000s. It’s no longer an effective way to promote books without spending a dime. Social media is now mainly an advertising platform. If you want thousands of people to see your content, you must pay for advertising.

The More Useful Metric: Resonance

Savvy publishers aren’t necessarily interested in a platform simply because of its size but because of what the platform size indicates.

A platform indicates resonance. 

Resonance is a musical term. A note can resonate in a room and make the whole room vibrate to the tone of that note. It’s why some tones can break a wine glass while others can’t at the same volume.

In physics, resonance is like pushing a child on a swing. If you are in resonance with the frequency of the swing, you are pushing the child as she swings away from you. You are encouraging the swing in the direction it already wants to go. If you get the frequency wrong, you’ll miss your chance to push or push the child off the swing.

Being in sync and having resonance is important.

As a novelist, you can know you have resonance when your story aligns with the story happening in your reader’s heart. Resonance happens when your reader sees themselves in your main character. You’re pushing the reader in the direction they’re already swinging.

As nonfiction writers, you’ll know you have resonance when someone says, “Yes! You articulated exactly what I have been feeling recently!”

Resonance is why my blog post went viral and got a million views within a few weeks. People were already frustrated with courtship, and after they read my post, they shared it. My blog traffic jumped from 2,000 views to a million views per month because my article had resonance with a certain group of people.

Zeitgeist: “The general intellectual, moral, and cultural climate of an era.”

– Merriam-Webster Dictionary

The word “zeitgeist” sounds pretentious, but it encapsulates what resonance is all about. 

Three Kinds of Authors

Type 1: Authors Without Resonance

Most writers fall into this category, especially authors with few sales. The lack of sales can be explained by the lack of resonance. Authors without resonance are out of tune with the music around them and out of sync with the zeitgeist. Their timing may be off as they try to push a swing that doesn’t exist.

Type 2: Authors With Resonance

Authors with resonance are in tune with what is happening in the culture and age in which they write. They are in sync with the zeitgeist, and their work resonates with large groups of readers. Authors with resonance regularly write bestsellers.

Type 3: Authors Who Make Their Own Resonance

Authors who make their own resonance are rare. They’re typically unknown authors who come out of nowhere and write runaway bestsellers. They change the zeitgeist and cause people to sing a different tune. They push the swing right before it’s about to change directions. 

It is hard to predict what will resonate within the culture or the church in the coming year. Every author wants to make their own resonance, change the zeitgeist, and push the swing the moment it reaches its highest point, but it’s extremely difficult to make your own resonance. 

How to Find Your Resonance

1) Resonance is about timing. 

Culture changes over time. If you’re too early and out of step with the zeitgeist, you will push the girl off the swing. If you’re too late, you’re still out of step with the zeitgeist, and you are cliché. It’s as if you are straining to push the swing after it is already out of reach. 

When an innovative, ground-breaking book changes the zeitgeist, dozens of similar books follow. Some of them may even be successful if they’re published soon after the initial ground-breaking book. But after that, millions of similar books enter the fray and simply become noise. The swing has already swung away, and the moment has passed. A cliché book gets lost in the noise.

I regularly advise authors to read all the most popular books in their genre, so they’ll know what’s happening in and around their genre. 

For example, if you’re writing about parenting, you need to know what the current parenting books are teaching. You don’t have to agree with those authors, but you do need to know what they contribute to the conversation.

2) Resonance is about the audience.

Each community vibrates at its own frequency. Our country has millions of subcultures, and each one sings its own music. For example, Christian women who buy books at Christian bookstores read different books than women who read exclusively on Kindle. 

Saying your book is for everyone is like standing at a swing set, trying to push all the swings at once. You must watch the motion of a specific swing–or observe a specific audience–in order to push at the right time.

You can’t resonate with every community. Being in sync with one community will necessarily put you out of sync with others. Generally, women in nursing homes and men on basketball teams don’t read the same books. If you resonate with one community, you will not resonate with the other.

Beginning authors often try to write for an incredibly broad audience. In essence, they’re trying to push the whole bank of swings. But the key to success is to focus on a single swing and stay in resonance with it. 

It’s important to know who your book is not for. One Christian author told me about an atheist who posted a video about how terrible this author and their ideas were. If you’re a Christian author writing for Christian readers, the fact that atheists don’t like your book is actually a great indication that it will resonate with the right audience. It doesn’t matter if an atheist doesn’t like your book if you weren’t writing for them in the first place.

It’s hard to accept that people outside your intended audience may be unhappy with your book. But once you identify who you’re writing for, you’ll feel so liberated.

If you can specifically narrow your audience, you’ll find it easier to resonate with them. 

Even Jesus had a target audience. He focused on the Jews first, then on the 5,000, then on the 72 he sent out, then on the 12 he called apostles, and more specifically on the three who were in his inner circle. That focus led to the gospel resonating all over the world. The three encouraged the 12 who encouraged 3,000 on the Day of Pentecost, who went from Jerusalem to Samaria and to the uttermost parts of the earth (See Acts 1:8).

Focusing on one audience requires you to trust that God will raise someone else to reach the other audiences. Jesus had to trust that God was going to raise up Paul, Apollos, and others to take the gospel to the Gentile world. 

If Jesus had to focus his earthly ministry, you need to focus yours.

Join the Community You Want to Reach

You need to spend time with the community you want to reach. If your target community doesn’t accept you, you won’t be able to find resonance with them.

For example, if you hate science fiction and want to write a book to “fix” it, you will fail because the people who like science fiction like it as it is. That was the problem with The Last Jedi. It wasn’t made by fans of Star Wars. The writers tried to “fix” something that wasn’t broken. Making Luke Skywalker a coward, the rebellion incompetent, and Rey a nobody was the “fix” that broke Star Wars.

If you don’t like a certain genre, don’t try to write in that genre to “fix” it. You will fail because fans of that genre like it as it is. If you write an Amish book to try and “fix” the Amish genre, it’s like you’re trying to create your own resonance, and that’s almost impossible. 

Prepare the Audience for Your Message

If you’re trying to change the tune and get people swinging in another direction, it helps to have someone go before you. John the Baptist went before Jesus to prepare the way for his zeitgeist-changing message. 

3) Resonance is about listening. 

You need to listen to the music around you to be in tune with it. To return to the original metaphor, you need to watch the swings. 

A novelist needs to watch the movies and shows their target readers watch and read the novels they read. If you’re afraid to read books in your genre for fear of being derivative, you need to work on your voice and craft. You also need to understand resonance. If you don’t know what’s available to your readers, you may be derivative without even knowing it. By the same token, if your book is far too different from others in your genre, you’ll be out of sync with what your reader want and expect.

Nonfiction writers need to find out where the conversation about their topic is taking place. Then they need to join that group to listen and learn. 

Depending on your topic, you may find the conversation happening on blogs, podcasts, Reddit, or Facebook groups. If you don’t know where the conversation is happening, you’re not ready to write a book. 

Nearly every topic has an online space dedicated to its discussion. But if you happen to find a topic without a home for discussion, create a place where people can talk to each other about it. 

Once you find the community, resist the temptation to jump in and start sharing your wisdom. Before you say or post anything, listen to what the community members are saying. Make notes about the questions they’re asking. After you’ve made observations, you can answer those questions in the community forum, on your blog, and in your book.

If you blog about a topic, check your Google Analytics to find out if it’s resonating. 

Resonance is Not Platform

Resonance is much more than the number of people who follow you on social media.

Platform can be a sign of resonance, but it’s not how you make resonance happen. Resonance is the horse, and platform is the cart. Don’t put the cart in front of the horse. Start by finding your resonance, and your platform will follow.

Using tricks and games to boost the number of followers on your social media account will not increase your resonance. But resonance will increase your followers.

For example, Jesus’ message so resonated with Andrew that he ran to tell his brother Peter. The woman at the well so resonated with Jesus’ message that she ran back to town and told everyone. 

If you’re willing to take the humble path that requires listening, you will find your resonance. 

If you want to write books people want to read, you need to write the kind of books that people already want to read.

Some authors only want to write the story that’s on their hearts without considering what other people want or need. I think that’s a selfish approach. You need to find the place where your calling intersects with the world around you. That’s where you’ll find your resonance. 

Authors complain and get frustrated when the world isn’t resonating with their books. But the problem isn’t necessarily the world. The author either isn’t listening to the audience around them, or they’re singing to the wrong audience. 

The key to resonance is to reach beyond yourself and have a servant’s heart. If you want to have followers, take a cue from Jesus: If you want to be first, you must serve. Believe it or not, Jesus’ words still apply, even in the online world of social media. Authors who write from a selfish place rarely have the vision to see how the swing is moving. 


Christian Writers Institute

Platform: a Conversation with Thomas Umstattd, Mary DeMuth, and Michael Hyatt

This course is a one-hour webinar with Thomas Umstattd, Mary DeMuth, and Michael Hyatt about Hyatt’s (new at the time) book Platform. Save 10% with coupon code “podcast.”

Thomas Umstattd’s Mastermind Groups

Do you want help and encouragement in your writing career? I have three mastermind groups for published authors, writers, and influencers.

My mastermind groups meet monthly with me via video call. Groups are limited to ten participants, and each one has a chance to share their progress, challenges, and goals. Each mastermind also gets to pick my brain and receive encouragement from the other masterminds. You can learn more here.

If the group you want to join has already been filled, please join the waitlist.