In 2003, my publisher and I planned the release of my first book to coincide with a speech I was to give at a conference. On the plane ride home after the speech, I was seated in an aisle seat near the front of the coach section. As attendees from the conference passed by on the way to their seats, three or four of them briefly congratulated me on my new book. Finally the guy sitting in the window seat next to me looked over and asked, “Who are you, anyway?”
It’s not often that any of us have to explain to a stranger that we aren’t anybody of note. I told the man that I was a university teacher who’d just written a book on experiential education. A national experiential education conference in town had just finished up, so a significant percentage of the people who would ever read my book were probably on the plane. He was satisfied with my answer and returned to his novel. I remember thinking that had I been anyone he’d actually heard of, I wouldn’t be sitting in coach.
Most of the time I relish my anonymity. Still I wish that I had a little fame attached to my name when I try to find a publisher for a new book project. Obviously publishers and literary agents look for quality writing and fresh ideas, but simultaneously they want to know about a person’s platform. In publishing jargon, platform is the reason that someone might buy a particular author’s book. Much of it is the author’s celebrity status. If one of my earlier books had been a best seller or if there were thousands of people reading this blog, I’d have a platform. Neither is the case, and I don’t have much of one.
A few years after the airplane incident I was sitting in a hotel lobby waiting for a friend, and I noticed that the man sitting on the sofa next to me was reading a book that I had written. The best action would have been for me to do nothing, but after a few minutes I said, “Excuse me, I wrote that book.” The man immediately stood up and walked away.