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What We Leave Behind – The Real Meaning of Your Platform as a Writer

I have been obsessed with this photo taken in 1939 in Gordonton, NC.:

What are these people laughing about, discussing, worrying about? What were they doing 2 hours after this photo was taken? Over 70 years later, what is left of this scene? Well, I’ll show you. Watch this 11 second video:

This is a photo taken in 2010. What is missing? Everything.

Sure, some things remain: the exact stones that precariously support the porch are there doing their job for more than 7 decades, as are the rough hewn posts:

I work with writers, and my particular focus is on developing a long-term writing career. Sure, I focus on marketing tactics that people can use today, and on book launches, social media, audience growth, etc. But what will people remember of your writing 70 years from now?

People talk about an author platform in funny ways. They talk about blogs. And Twitter. And marketing funnels. And email lists. They talk about 99 cent ebooks. And Goodreads.

And while these things are elements that support the platform, they are not the platform itself, just as this porch is not the meaning within the photo. The effect you have on others is the platform. The meaning and purpose behind your work is the platform. The information you share that reshapes someone’s understanding is the platform. The story that inspires and opens new doors – that is the platform.

This empty porch, this is not a platform, just as a well-designed website is not a platform:

The platform is the moment of connection that you can hardly put your finger on, and lasts in our memories, unconscious and worldview long after we experience it:

How does your work affect the world? Not because it was on some best seller list; not because you have 20,000 Twitter followers; not because your blog post got 50 comments; not because your book trailer went viral.

What is the legacy of your work 70 years from now? What is the deeper meaning that you can’t capture in a photograph?

What lasts?

What remains through relationships, through the impact you have in sharing ideas, information, or stories?


Photo credits:
1939 photo: 4×5 nitrate negative by Dorothea Lange for the Farm Security Administration. Image now a part of Shorpy.com.
2010 photo: Taken by Cole Rodgers.

  • Great post Dan. Thanks. One of the trends we talk about is the “Talmudification” of the Internet. I think is is worth thinking about how the conversations about a book will extend and enhance it know that so many of them can be captured and aggregated (if we don’t all drown first)…

  • I loved this Dan. Thank you – inspiring and grounding in equal measure. I love the photo too.

  • EvelynKrieger

    Thanks for reminding us to keep the big picture in mind as we navigate a world of sound bytes.

  • Dan, That rocked. Not one stitch of advertising was left. Their smiles sure stuck with me though. I hope my legacy is counted in the millions of connections people make over a lifetime. I have started to really focus on that as my main intended impact. Thanks for continuing to inspire this writer.

    • John: great point about the advertising! Thank you so much.

  • Thank you, Dan, for the perspective. So much of today’s talk is about the aforementioned numbers & lists. Understood, as publishers must make a profit to remain publishers. BUT… the woman who emailed me to say she just finished my book & was crying because it was exactly what she needed, exactly when she needed it? She’s not interested in numbers & social media & bestseller lists. And that’s why we write. I’m ordering this print so I can keep where I can see it every day. Great reminder.

    • Brian: what a great example – thank you!

  • Janet Oakley

    Love that photograph. There is so much going on it. You remember the sense of ease as everyone visits and tells stories. I can’t recall if it was you who said we all need one raving fan. I met one of mine at a library read where only two showed up. But loved what I had to share about the story behind my novel. They didn’t have money but they were already lined up to get the book from the library. Another woman told a bookseller that it was one of the best books they had read. I struck something. I hope it continues with the prequel.

    • Janet: thanks! Isn’t it amazing how it just takes ONE powerful connection to forge a powerful relationship? That it’s quality, NOT quantity that matters?

  • Rosie McGee

    What a great post – thank you! As a first-time author of a (self-published) memoir, I have been immersed in all those marketing issues that have gotten my book out to more readers. But, as the reviews started coming in, emphasizing how my stories touched the reviewers, I was reminded of why I dove so deeply into my memories to write the book in the first place. And as Janet Oakley says below, “All we need is one raving fan.” It’s not the “fan” part that touches me as much as the, “You moved me.”

  • Gordon Long

    Great ideas. “The more we give, the more we get,” and all that trite stuff is actually true.

  • Lynne Watts

    This post relates to so many aspects of establishing a platform. It is so easy to get lost in the details that we forget that it is the relationships that not only matter but also that ultimately drive forward the project. Every success I’ve had as a writer or speaker I can trace back to a relationship–not to creating the perfect website or the required number of tweets or posts…

  • Michael Cairns

    Fantastic post, thanks.
    I think the advantage of talking about a platform in terms of followers and so on is that it makes it concrete, something that’s easy to aim for.
    In amongst the writing and editing, it can be nice to have the simple, measurable targets to achieve and help you feel that people are listening.
    Having said that, I think that you’re entirely correct with your point of view. The most important question has to be what are they listening to and how will it move them?

  • Fantastic post, Dan, and the powerful images, taken together, are an example of compelling but simple storytelling. Bravo!

  • Picture is priceless. By the way, Dan, it’s because of your abilities to help writers like me focus on our platform that you’ll be remembered 70 years from now. Thanks for the goodies from your http://www.wegrowmedia.com. I’ve come a long way in a short time.

    • Well that is a very nice thing to say. Thank you Mary!

  • Lisa Tener

    One reason why that word “Platform” doesn’t seem to quite cut it anymore…not that I have a better word to suggest…

  • Brilliant, succinct, memorable. I almost want to co-opt it! Instead, I’ve RT’d. Well worth the share. As I tell my clients, “You will be defined by what you leave behind.” It applies as much to our author platforms as it does to personal and corporate histories. Thanks for a great reminder of what it’s all about.