Dear Jon: A Story of How NOT to Build a Platform

I’d been blogging for just over a month when one morning in the shower I was struck with a fantastic idea: I would email Jon Acuff to ask if he would guest post on my blog.

Brilliant! Why hadn’t I thought of this sooner?

I couldn’t dry off fast enough. I threw on my sweats and zipped downstairs to my computer, where I composed the request in a flurry and hit send. I even suggested to Jon that I would guest post at his place, if he would prefer that (I’m accommodating that way, you know).

If you don’t know Jon Acuff, he’s the author of the books Stuff Christians Like and Quitter. When I emailed him he hadn’t yet published his highly successful Stuff Christians Like, but his blog by the same name was wildly popular. At the time he had thousands of followers and received more than 100 comments on each post.

I, on the other hand, had exactly two followers (one — my husband — if you don’t count me).

I did know one thing for sure, though, and that was the fact that I needed to build a platform if I had any hope of landing an agent and publishing my book. After all, that was why I launched the blog in the first place, and I was determined to make this platform-building thing happen. The book was written; I assumed I had the hard part done.

Jon Acuff had a mega-platform. I had none. So the perfect solution, I figured, was to lure some of his readers over to my place, where they would be wooed by my stunning prose and become fans of my writing forever.

Voila! Instant platform, right?

You can probably guess what happened.

For starters, Jon Acuff politely declined my tantalizing offer. The fact that he responded to my email at all speaks volumes about his character. He kindly mentioned that he didn’t typically write guests posts or feature guest posts on his blog (something I would have known, had I been reading his blog for more than two weeks), and then he said this:

“Just write what you know from the heart, Michelle, and people will read it.”

I wasn’t pleased with his response. In addition to the intense shame I felt for proposing such a ludicrous idea, I was dismayed that there wasn’t a quick fix, a magic bullet, to platform-building.

“Write what I know?” I thought. “Write from the heart? What the heck is he talking about? There’s got to be a better way.”

As it turns out, Jon was right; there is no magic bullet for platform-building. There is no quick and easy way to build a following overnight, because the fact is, blogging and other social media are not simply about luring readers to our words, they are about building a genuine relationship with those readers.

And that takes time. And it takes genuine writing — writing from the heart, you might say.

I’ve been blogging for just over two years now. I still don’t have a mega-platform, but I do have something I never expected. I have online friends. 

People come to read my posts, yes, but many of these readers are also people with whom I have a genuine relationship.  We visit each other’s blogs and leave encouraging comments. We retweet each other’s posts. We offer support and advice to each other via email. And when I have the rare opportunity to meet some of these people in person, we continue our conversation face-to-face, as if we know each other well.

Because we do.

Despite the fact that I die a little every time I think about my foolish email to Jon Acuff, I don’t regret that I sent it. Jon graciously taught me an important lesson about this business. In the end, it’s not as much about the platform as it is about the people.

So what about you? Do you have any mortifying platform-building stories? And what have you found to be the key to successful platform-building?