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This Dangerous Platform

Writers who are honest feel fear about self-promotion.

The initial excitement and hope fades into something else, and those fears can blossom into putrid black blooms. (Did you know there's a guy leading seminars on how to make videos go viral who intentionally falls off a stage and posts the videos on YouTube as examples? The quest for fame does make people do some pretty stupid things.)

I get one of two questions from authors when they're about to be published. The first is, "What should I do to get the message out?" And the second: "What if I become a phony?" (they don't always use that term. But I know what they mean.) Phonies are people who fake it. They don't feel real, so they have to pretend they know what being real is. And they desperately have to prove it to you. But even if you have fame shoved on you, problems with being a phony only come when you begin to worry about it. Fame requires authenticity and people know the real deal when they see it.

"But won't I have to change?" they ask. Well, yes, but you always have to change, even if you don't become well-known. Remember Holden Caufield's big fear? After the success of The Catcher In the Rye, part of the reason Salinger disappeared was because Holden was a part of him, and when fame came, it became his prison. Can we blame him?

How do you write without being affected by all that noise? You have to ignore it. People will not like it and they won't always like what you write. But fame or no fame, everything changes you and it's your job to take it all as it comes and continue responding positively and inspiring the same. Everything is an opportunity to invest a little more.

Many people say “God, if you make me famous, I’ll use it for your glory” but if you really meant that would you want to be famous? I’ve told several authors I’d only take their book forward if they promised not to become a phony when the accolades came. Most have no trouble saying it, expecting few accolades. People who stand on truth are far from the danger of falling off their platform, big or little. I haven’t seen many dramatic changes in authors who went on to become famous in their genre or area of expertise because I tend to work with well-grounded people. No matter what you might get at some conferences and reading the trades, publishing books isn't much like American Idol.

I once read a great email from Dave Eggers whose postmodern memoir Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius went on to become a #1 bestseller for several months, and somewhat launched the "young po-mo memoir" publishing phenom (along with Augusten Burroughs, Haven Kimmel, Lauren Winner, Don Miller, several others). Eggers denounced the perception that fame had made him a phony, contesting he didn't much care if people thought he'd sold out. Because look what he was able to do with it, much more good than he'd ever been able to before. I think that's something. How does a kid with his story end up with that truth–that giving to others for a higher purpose is the real focus and worrying about selling out is so juvenile and self-conscious?

I've always been a myopic kid, so concerned about "selling out." But once I saw how adolescent it really was, I decided to be done with it. The right question is, "Am I selling out right now to the idea of changing things for the better?" Because that's entirely up to you. I’ve had a half dose of fame since growing up in a fishbowl as a pastor's kid, possibly to inoculate me and convince me it's a necessary evil and certainly not something to strive for.

You may think you'd like fame, but believe me, sane people don't like it. You think it'd be so nice being known, being of interest. But fame is never really being "known." What people know, they want it from you, and many act as though they have a right to claim it. They don't, but when you're famous, you don't get to decide that. I grew up the oldest son of the senior pastor at a growing church. I was known in that little circle in our small town, so even becoming a book editor took me time to embrace. I still don't enjoy the attention I sometimes face. People come with all kinds of expectations that feel very similar to being told I had to perform perfectly to set a good example, and that this was God's plan for me, to do good things so others would. Then God would be happy. I never knew if what I was doing was enough or good enough, and most the time, I fought the desire to secretly rebel just to get the voices out and deny their access.

In my limited experience, the more people you encounter, the harder it becomes to hear God.

The struggle is good and worthwhile, but my portion of fame has taught me that the challenge is only an opportunity when I'm striving very hard against it to hold onto resting in God. Will you become a phony? Or are you sold out to changing things for the better?

People who become phony are people who don’t know themselves. They want to present an image and fit in because they lack assurance about who they really are. Most of us know this on some level, but plenty of folks–self-proclaimed Christians–self-promote like crazy, as though becoming famous may finally convince them they're lovable and finally overwhelm their fragile egos with sufficient evidence that they're good enough and smart enough for people to like, doggone it. And some become crazy, attention-grabbing loud mouths.

Listen: when there’s no misunderstanding about where our identity is secured, that doesn't happen. On the other hand, if there’s a in you wanting to be liked, affirmed, comforted by a surrogate daddy, you will smell desperate. And it's a bad cologne. Writers conferences usually reek with it, people desperate to be published. It’s hard to miss. But the real phonies are those with an entourage. They have handlers and no real ability to write. The book is their next chance to be a star and pop the panacea to keep the affirmation fixes coming, the endless fixes that haven’t quite fixed them. Regular folk don't have to worry much about becoming a vampire like them.

My best advice for those worried about self-promotion is to get with your maker right now. Do some soul work and ask the omniscient Creator to point out any place where there’s still a desperation in you to be loved, affirmed, comforted or known. He'll show you and your eyes will be opened. Do the work he gives you. And forget everything else and just keep doing it. Give that to him and let him fill that void in you. You will find your peace and no substitute can look attractive when you have that.

And from there, you won’t have to shun the limelight, though you may want to. If you can use it as one more of his gifts for reconnecting with others, you may end up feeling his smile on you. Imagine his pride in you for investing wisely. Be realistic and don't expect it to be easy, invasive fans waiting to confront you about your sins, mobs of hungry faces looking for a morsel of your flesh, enemies who'd like a chance to stone you. Most people won't care. It normally takes a long time in publishing to gain people's attention. But some will care too much. And they'll hurt you with their hurts.

Remember your real goal is hearing those words: “Well done. Well done my wonderful son, my wonderful daughter of grace.”

Faith is a gift. It is not an ability to gain. It is not a commitment to muster. God supplies it to those who ask for it. So ask. And use your platform the same way you use all his gifts, to highlight the wonders you’ve been shown. To point others to the source. To turn their eager faces to the one who provided your eyes to see it. The ones who help you craft it. The supporters who readers need to know have helped and invested so they could receive it. The endless gifts given to make more and more opportunities to share his love.

As a good friend of mine likes to say, all is grace. And I've discovered it’s really true. All is grace. So what part of ALL do we not yet understand?

8 Responses to “This Dangerous Platform”

  1. Not being famous, I have no advice to give, but I found a bit in The Lacuna (Kingsolver) interesting. The protag considers the work of his two employers, Diego Rivera, whose works “[command] men to rise from their knees and fight!” and Frida Kahlo, whose paintings are smaller, “something people find dear” (p. 161). I don’t know if this has anything to do with fame or not, but it strikes me as somehow connected, perhaps with the ideas of faith and gifts you mention above. Some people will turn their fame into something good, a noble cause. But some will keep their focus on that one small thing, and I think that’s good, too. And hopefully God will give both the grace to remain faithful in each task.

  2. Miss Audrey says:

    I’m trying to focus. I’m trying not to get caught up in anxious anticipation or in defeatism either one where getting published in concerned. It’s not always easy to find that middle ground.
    And as this post indicates, I think it’s pretty much the same when a person actually becomes that coveted ‘published author’. There has to be balance. I see a need to balance how we think of ourselves. We are warned in the Scriptures not to think too highly of ourselves. We have to have a positive self image though while we’re at it. For we are God’s workmanship, created in His image…
    I found “Some Writing Reality Checks” on your sidebar and sat for a good dose of it.
    Reality One: Posted on June 26, 2008
    So remember as you’re climbing and imagining looking back down on the journey you’ve taken: the pleasure is in how you performed down there, not how you stand at the top.
    Challenge One: Posted on September 06, 2006
    It’s time to tell our bookstore owners that love is more important than safety. If our reading material offends Christians, let them be offended and welcome in the riff-raff. Tell them that you reject the idea of insulating ourselves for narrow-minded customers. Challenge them to consider more books that could bring in some of those people Jesus is most wanting to reach, the neighbors he calls us to love. What if every Christian bookstore became a bookstore for God?
    On my own blog’s Side Bar:
    I am a Christian and will never be ashamed to say so. I may offend some people. I figure that’s okay. Some people offend me.
    Remembering my purpose: Posted on August 17, 2006
    And when you write, think about the effect you’ll have on generations in the future of your dedicating not to what’s unique, but what’s everlasting.
    And my Platform?
    Credibility is everything. For the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
    Writing for a Greater Purpose. Thank you Mick.

  3. Mary DeMuth says:

    I remember hearing Randy Alcorn speak about this. When I heard his words, I was a non-agented aspiring writer. He basically said, “Any fame gives you a greater responsibility to serve.” I took those words to heart and have tried to serve as much as I can. It really helps keep things in perspective.
    I laughed recently when someone said to me, “I can’t believe I’m meeting someone famous.” It just didn’t register in my heart. I am not famous, nor do I consider myself thus.

  4. Miss Audrey says:

    Thank you for leading the way in your authenticity, transparency and vulnerability. Truly you reflect the light of the Lord’s goodness and grace.
    As I venture further in this publishing industry I can only pray that in my own walk and service that I can bring honor to the Lord and walk worthy of the vocation of which I have been called.

  5. Jim Rubart says:

    Toward the end of the film Notting Hill Julia Robert’s character says, “The fame thing, it isn’t real …”
    She’s right. It’s a vapor. Only gold will last. The gold of relationship with the Lord and relationship with others.
    As Mary likes to say, we’re called to make Him famous, not ourselves.

  6. As always Mick, your words are some of the good ones floating out there in cyberspace clamoring for our attentions. Thanks for continuing to faithfully and honestly pen the words God lays on your heart. We all benefit…

  7. “Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self”
    – C. S. Lewis (1898 – 1963)

  8. Holley Gerth says:

    Mick, thank you for these soul-calming words. I’ve read this post before and I’m here again because I’m prepping to teach a workshop on social media at Mt. Hermon. I’m quoting you as my closing (the paragraph that starts with “My best advice is…” plus the sentence below). I appreciate your perspective and truth-telling here and I know others will there.
    p.s. I got to spend the weekend with a friend of yours, Ann Voskamp. She’s all joy, pure grace, a GIFT.

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