The Privilege of Building an Audience to Serve

by Tess Enterline
published in Community

“Platform is about cultivating and serving an audience.”

I first heard book coach Chad R. Allen make this comment a few months ago. Now, Chad knows a thing or two about platform and books. He’s a former acquisitions editor, with over twenty years of experience in the publishing industry, as well as a writer, blogger, and speaker. He’s committed to helping writers get their books out into the world. When Chad talks, I listen, even when it’s about platform building.

I’ll admit that until I heard those eight words from Chad, my mindset about platform was almost all negative. To me, it was something that was taking time away from what I wanted to do most, which was write (I imagine there are some heads nodding in agreement right now.) 

It may be helpful to first mention why and when platform building became such a big deal.

“It’ll be a long journey.”

Those are the words of publishing industry expert and author Jane Friedman, in speaking about building a platform. 

“Platform is a concept that first arose in connection with nonfiction authors,” according to Friedman. “Sometime during the 1990’s, agents and publishers began rejecting nonfiction book proposals and nonfiction manuscripts when the author lacked a ‘platform’. They weren’t interested in the average Joe sitting at home who wanted to sell a nonfiction book but who had no particular professional network or public presence.” 

Agents and publishers want writers, she says, “who are visible to their target audience as an expert, thought leader, or professional.”

But how does one become visible to a target audience?

Yes, platform! No surprise, it won’t happen overnight.

“Platform building,” Jane writes, “requires consistent, ongoing effort over the course of a career. It also means making incremental improvements in extending your network.” She goes on to refer to platform building as “an organic process” that will be different for each author. “You’ll need to use your creativity and imagination, and take meaningful steps.”

Hearing a noted expert like Jane Friedman describe platform building as “a long journey” may sound discouraging. Just about anything that’s described as a long journey sounds a bit discouraging, doesn’t it? It’s like hearing someone say, “get yourself settled-in and comfortable ’cause this is going to take a while.

I’d like to suggest, however, that to hear someone like Jane Friedman say—about platform building—that, “It’ll be a long journey,” is actually quite encouraging. I’m encouraged when I hear a representative of the publishing industry acknowledge that it’s a long process … that it does take time. It takes the pressure off a writer feeling like it has to be done quickly.

Changing our mindset 

“Platform is about cultivating and serving an audience.”

The connection between “platform” and “serving an audience” wasn’t intuitive for me. In my mind I had to try to build a large platform because it would be the only way an agent or publisher would give me the time of day. The whole process felt cold, impersonal, and self-serving, like I only wanted a platform so that I could sell my book, and eventually sell lots of books. Imagine!

But after I let those words sink in for a few minutes, I became a convert. That mindset has made a world of difference in my approach to platform building. I went from “ugh, do I really have to?” to “who can I potentially serve with my newsletter and memoir?” Suddenly, building a platform became so much more meaningful.

Now, do I want a strong platform so I can sell lots of books? Of course. However, instead of thinking of each person simply as a +1 for my email list or a customer for my book, each person has now become someone who I can serve through my newsletter and memoir; each person is now a partner in this memoir endeavor. And besides serving an audience, I’m feeling much less lonely on this writing journey; my audience is with me.

Jane Friedman used the words incremental, organic, and meaningful in describing the process of building a platform. Those words are truly music to this writer’s ears. And if I may paraphrase a line from the movie “Field of Dreams,” Friedman’s words have somewhat of a “build it slowly and they will come,” quality to them, don’t you think? 

If I work—slowly and with intention—at building an audience to serve, that audience will be there to support me when I have a book to offer.

It has taken some time, but I’ve come to think of platform building as a privilege. It’s a privilege to create a community to serve. I hope many of them will do me the honor of becoming a community of my readers as well.

To this end, Chad Allen has provided an insight that can only come from someone with his years of experience. “Ideally,” says Chad, “your book will be an extension of what you’ve been doing for a long time—serving your audience.”

Tess Enterline is a creative nonfiction writer, currently working on her first memoir. She’s also a wife, mom, former hospital chaplain, dog lover, and fountain pen/stationery enthusiast (i.e., addict). You can visit her on her website at

Enjoyed this article?