Platform and Publishing

Publishers are concerned about platform, and how to measure that is changing. Evidently Mark Driscoll has a new line of books with Tyndale called Resurgence, and I provide below the questions being asked of potential authors about their platform.

Publishers are businesses, of course, and they want to make money on each book. They want to accomplish this ethically and reasonably and efficiently and abundantly. OK, within reason, that’s fair.

I have some concerns.

First, I’m not convinced twitter followers measures platform accurately or adequately. One can, after all, ramp up one’s twitter followers simply by following others over time — it may take work but one can easily increase one’s “followers” — who may not be followers in the sense publishers want.

Yes, if a given potential author has built a following on twitter over time — through ministries, etc — that number may measure a platform. But I would wonder what a pastor’s church’s size (as a platform) and a pastor’s twitter followers (as a platform) have in common.

Second, platform publishing is the single-most discouraging element of publishing I have seen develop in my career. Why?

Because platform is the clearinghouse before the book’s content.

Because the bigger the platform the easier the contract, which means the content of the book is not the clearinghouse nor the major reason for the contract.

Because big platform does not promise the person is an author or has something to say.

Because the first (author issue) is why we now have ghostwriters, which disgusts plenty of us.

Third, platform publishing means those without a platform have almost no chance of publication. Which is the problem: decision to publish ought to be based far more on the content of the book proposal/book than the platform.

Fourth, I get hundreds of books sent to me each year, many of them by people with a sizable platform, and I can say without reservation that the bigger the platform the less the author has to say (not always, but often). Big platform authors are guaranteed sales. They’re not guaranteed good content. I get books on my desk from no-name authors that have much better content than big-name authors.

Fifth, some pastors and authors wrote the magic book that really did work. On the basis of that one book, or one idea, publishers offered the same pastor/author a bundle of money and a series of contracts … on the basis of that book. There is no promise that one great idea will lead to another great idea. I’ll avoid giving names.

Sixth, a final point about the nonsense of how books are promoted. More than one author has had friends and churches buy so many books that the book was driven up the NY Times bestseller list — all from one rich donor or from one church that bought so many copies. Some authors plead with us to purchase a forthcoming book all on the same day from Amazon to drive the author’s name up the bestseller list. Both of these are sheer manipulation. And it is embarrassing to see a book’s review fueled artificially by “staged” or “promoted” reviews — that is, a publisher sending out free copies with the requirement/request to review on Amazon in order to get a higher number of reviews. Famous books, after all, have lots Amazon reviews. Everyone but the unsuspecting sees this for what it is: manipulation.

I know a pastor who was given a 3-book contract, a previously unpublished pastor, had no idea what he wanted to write about, but was told “We’ll take care of that by listening to your sermons.” At about the same time a young author sent me a manuscript that was rejected by the same publisher because he had no platform, but they did agree he had very good content.

It’s time that Christian publishers gathered together with some authors and some social critics to talk about what’s going on. Things have gotten out of whack.

Writing is hard, hard work; finding a good idea even harder; putting a really good idea into a really good book form the hardest of all. There is no correlation between big platforms and good books; there is a correlation between big platforms and sales; it’s time for good books to get the upper hand.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.


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