If you think writing a good book is enough, watch this

I was speaking to someone yesterday who bemoaned the fact that ‘these days’ you need a platform, that it’s virtually impossible just to write a really good book and have its merit recognised by a waiting world. 

I’m not sure that was EVER true, frankly, but in a world where attention is at a premium like never before, it’s sure as heck not true now. 

In 2007, the Washington Post conducted a famous experiment: they put world-famous violinst Joshua Bell incognito in a subway station in Washington to busk. Bell regularly plays to packed-out concert halls around the world. The violin on which he played is a 1713 Stradivarius, its varnish made from honey and eggwhite. It’s acknowledged as perhaps the finest in the world. 

But here’s what happened:

In the three-quarters of an hour that Joshua Bell played, seven people stopped what they were doing to hang around and take in the performance, at least for a minute. Twenty-seven gave money, most of them on the run — for a total of $32 and change. That leaves the 1,070 people who hurried by, oblivious, many only three feet away, few even turning to look.

It’s context, see. No matter how good something is, if it’s outside our frame of reference the chances are we won’t even notice it. 

You can read the full Washington Post article here, or see the video, which almost makes you weep. But honestly, would you have been any different to those indifferent commuters? Would I? Probably not. And that’s why when you publish your book, you need to create the context around it, to create the buzz that catches attention, to demonstrate that people – important people, ideally – are already listening to you. Nobody was prepared to stop and listen for free, whereas three days earlier the same man with the same violin had given a sell-out, standing-room-only performance in Boston’s Symphony Hall at around $100 per ticket. 

As the Post puts it, what he was doing in that Washington Metro station was ‘art without a frame’. And if you don’t put in place the frame for your writing, good luck getting anyone to notice it, let alone read it.