The Opposite of a Platform

Today I spent several hours in a church hall selling a Haitian artist's painted metal artwork. To set up the sale, I exchanged a few emails with the woman who is his representative in Canada. I also put together some information about the event for the local newspaper.

During our email conversation, the Canadian representative cautioned me about releasing too much personal information about this artist, especially if this information is available online. The artist is concerned about attracting too much attention.

How many North American artists do you know who want to remain relatively unknown? My answer: none. I bet most artists have practiced the Award Acceptance Speech a time or two, in the privacy of the shower at least. (You google yourself. You know you do.)

Also, this particular artist isn't concerned about "selling out," or becoming somehow more important than his art, or any other idealistic notion.

His reason is purely practical. His community lost one of its vital young leaders in a shooting, a robbery-gone-wrong. The artist and his Canadian representative suspect that the leader's association with Canadians gave others in Haiti the illusion that he was worth robbing. People in Haiti are desperate; aid isn't getting to every place that needs it. A Haitian with a tie to North America is a good target for robbery -- or kidnapping and ransom.

How different it is in Canada and the U.S.! Here, writers "must" have a platform before (or while) writing a nonfiction book, so that your future readers pre-order your book from stores that feed data into the New York Times Bestseller calculators. If your platform is big enough, your publisher can expect more sales and therefore may invest more in marketing and promoting your book. (Yes, that's correct -- if you have been an excellent marketer, you receive more marketing support from the publisher than if you haven't marketed yourself and thus could actually use marketing support from the publisher. Those who have, receive.)

Writers are "supposed" to use Twitter and Facebook and blogs (ahem) and websites to develop this platform. In the olden days a few years ago, writers built platforms through op-ed pieces, newspaper columns, and speeches to civic groups about their expertise.

Those who write fiction hear similar advice. Agents prefer to take a writer as a client if the writer has a website and an online presence. Print-on-demand, self-publishing, and ebooks may all tweak the specifics of the advice somewhat. Also, the media through which you develop a platform has gone social, but the need for a platform is apparently beyond question.

I'm not bemoaning the need for a platform or saying it's wrong -- in fact, it's impossible to escape. Platforms are part of the landscape, just "how it is," a required part of a writer's life today. Accepted, not dangerous.

But in some countries, being an artist is physically unsafe, such as China, where artist and public intellectual Ai Weiwei was recently detained by government authorities.

And Haiti, where any success makes you a target -- literally.

So from my wee, golf-tee-sized platform, I wish this artist great success in maintaining his opposite-of-platform. I'd like him to be around to share his artwork for many years to come.