Building a Platform: Interview with Agent Greg Johnson
Greg Johnson, founder of Wordserve Literary Group, has ridden the roller coaster of publishing for many years. Before working with authors, Greg wrote 23 non-fiction books and more than 200 magazine articles. He also worked for five years as founding editor for "Breakaway" magazine.
Greg has represented more than 2,200 books and negotiated more than 1,600 contracts (valued at more than $40 million) to over eighty different publishing houses. We sat down with Greg to ask him about a new hat he’s wearing these days: entrepreneur. With the help of a large team, he recently launched a brand-new website: FaithHappenings.com.
You’ve been an agent for a long time, and you have a full roster of authors. Did you decide to create FaithHappenings.com because having a large platform is now a necessity in publishing?
The final impetus for me was having multiple publishers reject a proposal every one of them loved because the author didn’t have enough Facebook friends. I thought, wow—Mark Zuckerberg is now affecting whether authors get contracts.
After a lot of prayer, thought, and conversation with trusted advisers, my conclusion was the best way to discover new readers and connect them with great authors—and serve the Church at the same time—was to create a site which would be “one-stop shopping” for Kingdom resources. The site allows people to find churches, concerts, events, counselors, speakers, books, devotionals, and volunteer needs in their local area.
I go to a missional church and one of my other goals is to get the serving population up from ten percent of the Church to twenty-five percent. It’s not just about selling my authors’ books—it’s about getting people involved with a cause greater than themselves, and connecting them with their local community.
Explain a little bit about what FaithHappenings.com is, and how it works.
Our goal is provide soul-enriching, marriage-enriching, and church-enriching resources for believers. Those who join by filling out a short survey will receive tailor-made emails full of opportunities for inspiration, encouragement, and meaningful service. They can customize the site and the emails to fit their interests and passions.
Our site is ecumenical and not political. Other people have a calling to address political or denominational issues, but we’re staying clear of topics that often divide believers. We’re not a type of Yellow Pages that advertises Christian lawyers or bankers. We’re very Kingdom-minded and our vendors and advertisers fit within that grid.
We launched in 13 cities, and have just signed up Area Coordinators for more: St. Louis, Seattle, Houston, Memphis, Richmond VA, Kansas City. The goal is 30 cities by the end of the year, and 75 by the end of next year.
I’m doing this to bring our authors a wider audience—a bigger platform, if you will—and to serve the Church.
Why do you think that having a platform is such an important thing for writers?
Readers’ buying habits and where they are spending their money has changed. Amazon made everything easy. People are busier, and it’s easier to get books online.
It’s also harder to find readers with so many blogs, podcasts, and self-published books out there. There’s a lot of noise online.
The world is changing; the Church is changing. FaithHappenings.com seeks to address that. Yet, it’s not simply designed to be a “bless-me” site.
If we as Christian businesspeople—entrepreneurs, writers, speakers—are doing things just for the sake of marketing, I don’ know how much God blesses that. Maybe He does, but ultimately people walk away from that type of platform because it’s self-serving.
We want to do things that outlive us and that affect people for the Kingdom. That’s what God smiles on and wants to bless.
What would you say to a Christian who’s having a hard time with the marketing side of things, such as the necessity of building a platform?
Some artists are called to a broader ministry; they have a unique, powerful and anointed message. They need to find ways to share it.
You have to work within the system. If you’re a Chick-fil-A franchise and you don’t do national ads, you don’t stay in business. They’ve learned the “necessary evils” to stay in business.
Writing is an intellectual property that has long-term value. It’s not wrong of publishers to ask an author to promote their own work. Make no mistake, 80 percent of the marketing is going to fall on your shoulders. If you don’t care enough about the work, then you don’t need to be an author.
Any writer has to find a balance and rhythm; if you don’t want to market, then just self-publish or don’t publish. That’s also a high calling.
What about those artists who are approaching burnout from the hamster wheel—necessary evil—of social media, promotion, interviews, speaking, etc.?
Some of us are called to—and privileged to have—a smaller, more face-to-face ministry. Of course, you don’t want to write a book and have seventeen people read it. There’s a stewardship element. If you have a message, and it’s compelling and unique to you, you’re being a good steward by trying to maximize that message.
But I have fiction writers I represent who are sick of the whole marketing thing. They’re shutting down their Facebook pages and blogs and going back to just writing. That’s their choice, and it’s a personal one. It will be tougher for them to sell books, though.
Life is a stewardship issue. Time, possessions, money, gifts, and talents are things we can either bury or use. Most people’s talents don’t lead them to fame, they lead them to a life well-lived. Many famous people won’t hear “Well done, good and faithful servant.” But the person that loved on their neighbor will.
Building a Platform
The idea of building a platform has become a popular way of talking about about marketing. What does that look like, when you're leading from the soul? So many of us cringe at the word "platform." How can we reframe the whole idea so it makes sense and plays a positive role in the Kingdom of God? What is the right perspective? Can building a platform and building the Kingdom of God co-exist? In this series, Building a Platform, we take a look at what it looks like to embrace marketing while leading from the soul and, at the same time, faithfully stewarding roles, responsibilities, and resources to impact the Kingdom of God.
Featured image by Greg Johnson. Used with Permission.
Graphic image by Patricia Hunter. Graphic deign by Jennifer Dukes Lee.