Seeking Balance in a World of Self-Promotion
I bit the inside of my cheek nervously as he scrolled through my Instagram feed. I’d spent months preparing for this writers’ conference. I’d designed the perfect one-sheet, labored endless hours over my book proposal. I’d buffed up my website and agonized over a tagline, but the literary agent sitting across from me was more interested in how many Instagram followers I had.
“Huh . . . six hundred,” he mumbled as he liked a photo and then, graciously, followed me.
“Uh, yeah,” I squirmed. It sounded like a lot, but I knew it really wasn’t. “Would you like to see my first chapter?”
“Nah, you’re published. I know you can write.”
I clutched my papers tightly in my lap as we continued to talk numbers. Number of sales, number of followers, number of subscribers, numbers, numbers, numbers. We never got around to talking about the concept for my next novel.
Now, before I go farther, I want to insert a caveat. This agent was nice. He really was. As uncomfortable as I felt during our meeting, I could tell he was genuinely trying to help me and was interested in my success. And I gleaned a lot from him. But it left me wondering . . .
Is it really all about platform?
Any content creator knows the struggle between producing work and building platform. Whether you’re a writer, artist, or photographer, it seems half the battle is getting the word out. In fact, they say the breakdown is something like 80 percent platform building and 20 percent content crafting. Yikes! I’m not a social media expert, but in my gut these numbers seem lopsided.
It goes back to the tension between quantity and quality. There has to be a middle ground, but how can we achieve that beautiful balance between organic engagement and intentional growth, between commitment to content and promotion? Especially if we consider ourselves Christian communicators, how do we manage writing from a distinctly Christian worldview—one that upholds humility and grace—while aggressively growing our audience to get that grace-filled message “out there”?
It’s a paradox, I tell you! A paradox!
All of this is freshly brewing in my mind, and I don’t have any firm answers to these questions. (Are there any firm answers?) However, I’ve landed on a few takeaways:
First of all, this struggle between message and platform is a natural part of the process. Navigating these waters means being okay living in the tension that is inherent with this kind of work. It’s a balancing act that will look different for each person. The important thing is to keep from tilting too heavily on either side of the seesaw. For example, it’d be rather easy for me to focus solely on content. My tendency is to hole up and create, refine, and polish, but to stop there would be a disservice to my message. If I truly believe in what I’m writing, shouldn’t I also promote it so that it can impact as many people as possible?
On the other hand, we can’t afford to get too wrapped up in platform. This is shifting ground, folks. It’s the rare person who can focus heavily on their public imagine without needing to consistently struggle with such things as people pleasing, pride, and neglect of real-life relationships. I’ve walked through all of the above and have had to check my mind, heart, and motives on many occasions. The moment “more” becomes an idol or our source of identity, we need to press pause. This side of the seesaw needs to be handled with discernment.
Lastly—some things I’m exhorting myself and fellow communicators: When we approach platform, let’s work smarter, not harder. Let’s handle it with intention, not reaction. Let’s approach it with a plan and with a time limit. Let’s set up hedges of protection so that our relationships, our writing, and our hearts do not suffer.
I’m reminding myself that it’s more important to be the right person than to appear as the right person. A big platform isn’t the enemy, but it also shouldn’t necessarily be the goal! Instead, let’s aim to simply steward our gifts well. In light of this, I’m committing to two things:
Do what I can with the message I have.
Trust God alone for the increase.
Will you join me, friend?