Monday, March 22, 2010


I've recently been researching the nonfiction book market, specifically the Christian living/inspirational market. Apparently competition is very fierce in nonfiction, and having good content isn't always enough to get you published. When you try to sell a novel, agents and publishers want to know about your story—if it's good enough, they can market it effectively no matter who you are. In the non-fiction market, however, the identity of the author can be even more important than the content of the book. A nonfiction author needs a platform in order to demonstrate his or her ability to sell the book.

There are two parts to a platform. First, platforms are about qualifications. Do you have an advanced degree or an extensive professional history in the subject you're discussing in your book? Are you already an established and successful writer? Are you paid to speak on the topic? As I browsed through the Christian Living section of a local bookstore, I saw books by pastors, founders of urban ministries, university professors, clinical psychologists, motivational speakers, and even bestselling novelists. Each of them had professional qualifications to demonstrate their competence in writing a nonfiction book about Christian living.

The second part of a platform is about name recognition and popularity. In order for a non-fiction author to be considered a good investment, he or she must already have a large following that a publisher can exploit to get the word out about the book. Publishers want nonfiction authors who are considered experts in their fields and therefore appear on television and radio programs. Even better are authors who host their own television or radio programs. Already-established writers are great, even if they've been writing in a different genre previously. Bloggers with lots of followers or professionals with a whole host of connections are marketable. Any sort of fame—even being related to someone famous or having been present at a memorable historic event—can be exploited to promote a nonfiction book. In order to know whether they can sell your nonfiction book, publishers and agents need to know if they can sell you.

Unfortunately, we sometimes worry that we need a platform for life. We hesitate to step forward to get involved, to share our opinions, or to step forward for leadership because we don't feel we have a platform. How can we be leaders or give advice if we don't have extensive personal qualifications? How can we really share our knowledge if there aren't many people who are currently paying attention to us? Who will "buy" what we have to offer if we can't sell ourselves?

The good news is that Christian life isn't like book publishing. In order to fully participate in the Christian community, the only platform we need is the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit qualifies us to teach, preach, or lead in whatever ways God has called us, no matter what background we have. In addition, the Holy Spirit moves others to listen when God has something He wants to say through us. When Jesus himself first began to teach, he didn't have a platform. He was the unknown son of a carpenter, and as far as we know he didn't have any advanced formal theological training. Still, people listened to Jesus because he spoke the true Word, and he quickly gained a following. Likewise, when we allow the Holy Spirit to speak through us, we have all the platform we need. God's people will be drawn to our words because they are true, not because of who we are.

It's difficult to escape from the judgmentalism of a world that says we have to be someone special in order to do something special. Recognizing that God himself provides the platform for the work He wants us to do is a huge relief. We don't have to try to live up to the world's expectations because God is giving us the tools and help we need to live up to His expectations. Publishing platforms are about who you know and what you've done, but your ability to do God's work is based solely upon your loving relationship with Him.

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