Warning, Will Robertson! Beware Charges of Heresy!
I spend a considerable part of my day keeping up with news in the world of books, mostly because I write, so that makes sense.
Today’s topic just happens to focus on building the author platform—something discussed at length by a media guru HERE (more 5 reasons, 5 being some kind of magical number, perchance?).
The keywords for today are COMMUNICATION and TRUST. This allows the author to “connect” with readers, to create “experiences” with readers in order to establish a mutual foundation that loosens purses and allows/encourages validation for one’s creative efforts.
See what I did there? I allowed snark with a side of snide to creep into my virtual “tone of voice.” Deliberately, I might add, for I have serious questions about the thrust of this new marketing worldview that insists we writers become transparent to the world of
1. First off, let’s look at why I write—not why all writers write, because for every writer it is a unique experience. Take a look at yesterday’s POST if you want the skinny on the why, but it boils down to this… I write because the characters in my head have a story to tell. That means it’s not my story, it’s not your story, it’s their story. I transcribe it as best I can given the tools at my fingertips and whatever “gifts” I can bring to the table.
This is a very personal, oft times gut-wrenching and draining experience. It tends to bare the soul, to dig into secrets and lies and masquerades of the inner self, independent of the fact the story belongs to those characters (the downfall, perhaps, of intensely character-driven tales) and not necessarily my own. However, the transcriber does not exist in a vacuum. We cannot but be affected by the words pouring from our fingertips in a tidal wave of emotion and angst, joy and sorrow, despair and elation.
The fact I am affected by those words, the fact that I influence how that story is told, does not mean that the process need be open to the public. My suffering, my choices are my own and no one else’s. It is a compact I own between me and my characters, and no one else.
2. Secondly, insisting that having some kind of relationship between author and
consumer reader is the only way to create a meaningful reading experience is, in a word, bollocks. Exactly what is that supposed to mean? You can’t read my book unless, or because, we’ve established some psychic or virtual “connection” first?
How did the story become tangential to the process of writing?
Why have we removed the story to second class citizenship, reducing it to the category of widget, party favor, house-warming or hostess gift? How did it become an afterthought of a carefully constructed house of cards built entirely around the CULT OF CELEBRITY?
3. Last but not least (way cooler to say than thirdly), a Goodreads survey indicates that all the common must-haves in the author platform bag of tricks, including FaceBook, Twitter and Blogs, are spectacularly ineffective. Say what? And these are exactly the tools needed to establish that authentic relationship.
Can you say “mixed messages”?
What does grab readers is word-of-mouth, and yepper that one does rely on relationships between: co-workers, friends (real ones, you know, the kind who meet for lunch or phone each other to have, like, real conversations), church group ladies club members, the person sitting next to you on the bus, subway, cafe counter. Not you and me, the author, but you and bunches of other folks with whom you do have a real relationship.
But not you and me.
That word-of-mouth starts with…
Wait for it…
The BOOK is the single most neglected “thing” in this equation when authors are savaged by the so-called new reality.
Media is #2 ( hellooo Oprah!) and bookstores rank high also. I’ll ignore Goodreads since this is their survey, answered by their members. It probably has influence, but it’s one established between readers, not readers and authors (in a hell no, you really don’t want to go there way).
The term “added value” pops up here also. It’s used in reference to blogs. As an author/blogger (not necessarily one and the same—there are indeed professional bloggers who do not … um, “author”), you are expected to entertain, to find and
pander deliver appropriate and valuable content, to brighten lives, cure ennui and in all ways, shapes and forms become the go-to person for the last word on XYZ.
And write the next book. Yeah, about that…
Hope y’all don’t mind, but I have a date: with Jace and Nick, with Jackie and Zack, and very soon with Monty and Ben. I post their stories here and elsewhere for free before going commercial. It’s not “added value”, it’s just their stories.
Because I’m a writer.
I agree that social media isn’t a way to sell, but I do connect with readers who love many of the same things I do. In all honesty, if it’s all about ‘real’ (and I don’t like that word, I have great friends I never see face to face) then I might as well just give up. I don’t have people I lunch with or work with or play with to discuss books and start that ‘word of mouth’. Your view is probably more realistic, but for someone like me equally impossible!
I don’t disagree, Sessha, since I am in the rowboat next to yours. However, the media gurus seem hellbent on convincing authors they have to engage at a level that goes above and beyond simply discussing mutual interests. And the fact that sales are then predicated on the success of establishing and maintaining those interests loses sight of the fact that it is the book that deserves the attention—not how well I crochet or how much I donate to animal shelters or how I cook spare ribs for 200 of my closest friends. If you want connections, all the tools in the world are there, but I don’t want those connections to be the raison d’etre for what matters most to me: my characters and their story. What I really fear is losing sight of why I should write.
This is well thought of and I fully agree with your essential insistence that you write THEIR stories. I feel the same way and refer to myself as a chronicler, not a “real” writer. The craft, how far I’ve gotten, I cannot judge all that. But as for trying to become famous, two minor points.
First, it’s chicken soup at worst- a lot of social media doesn’t work, but it makes ME work, and while I know I’ve established some good contacts and relationships, but have not achieved fame, I do believe that blogging, even forcing myself to do blurbs and write enthusiastic ads for my own work has been good for my art.
Second, you can’t ignore that everything you write into your platform is now wonderfully permanent, and only grows over time. “Doesn’t work”, what does that mean? Wait twenty years, see who discovers you- maybe a random lost search result leads them to your blog post, they’re amused, they sample you. Boom, new reader: and they start telling people… everything the pundits predicted just a little late. And that includes this ironic and well-written slam you’ve just written- I know I’m a tad more interested by it and it’s my first introduction to you.
Thanks for commenting, Will. I do agree, it’s soup, or pond scum, or worse out there.
What I’ve seen lately are pundits who advocate all the thou shalts for writers entering a not-so-brave New World of publishing. I urge writers, new and experienced, to take a minute and consider what it all means. Do we really want to make our work nothing more than a commodity, a secondary consideration to creating a crowd-pleasing persona (I call them shills, but that’s me)?
I have nothing against blogging, not at all. All I’m asking is: are you blogging for the right reasons and do those reasons add to or detract from your core creative need which is to write that next book. Blogging can and does fulfill that writing obsession to some extent, so long as it addresses the writer’s needs and not some marketing imperative.
As for permanence, I’m at an age where that simply is no longer a factor, so I come at this from a foreshortened perspective.
But, as they say: your mileage may vary.
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Oh, you ask so really good questions here! I love blogging and all the other things I do online, but I got tired just reading his post! I think a lot of these marketing posts are people trying to meld Traditional way of doing things with the new writing paradigm, and exhausting authors in the process.
It is exhausting, Darke, and I’m not convinced it’s worth the energy we all put into it.
It’s beyond exhausting. It’s funny how we keep hearing about how we ‘have’ to do these things, but after reading the comments here and other places, writers are close to telling all these ‘experts’ to go to hell.
Or at least to give it a rest. Of course, we can’t just dismiss everything, but with the volume turned up to ear bleed level, it’s tough to separate the nuggets from the dross. I’m all for a time out.
For myself, I don’t care whether readers want it or not. I put enormous effort into making my books as good as I possibly can. I don’t owe then anything and I do not choose to expose myself.
I do have a blog, but the posts are never personal, and whether I have 3 visits or 300 or 3,000, I don’t particularly care.
The n you are focused on what makes sense to you, Marj. It’s unfortunate so many new to this game (and even some old hands) have yet to find their comfort zone.
I have spent way too much time looking into SEO, and other marketing “musts” to connect with potential readers, and, bottom line, I can’t really devote myself to marketing. No doubt having reached an even riper age than you, I write, and am about to publish, because I loved the ideas that prompted the story. But, once into it, it became the story of the characters, some pulling some huge surprises, and I don’t really care about becoming a salesman for it.
I do love the connections I’ve made online with people I may never meet, but I find creating a marketing plan to farm readers to be daunting, to the point that I can’t invest myself as I, according to the gurus, “should.” Maybe being too old to care (not that I don’t, but you know…) is a really nice place to be. The idea of writing to sell put me off way too long. I’m sure it’s robbing some wonderful, creative writers now, too. That’s a shame.
Age does bring perspective (sometimes, though not always). What I find with age is a niggling concern there’s not nearly enough time left to create a worthwhile legacy for the characters I’ve come to love, admire, hate, despair over and cherish. It’s about them, after all, isn’t it?
This is a wonderful post.
I have battled in the past with doing what the so-called gurus tell an author to do, and have seen little results. I found it so frustrating and stressful. I recently decided they can all go to hell.
I’m sort of in the same boat as Sessha above. I don’t have the ‘real’ people around me to start the word-of-mouth interest. I’ve met great people online that I will probably never meet in person. Many are very supportive.
I also blog, but not a lot. I blog when I feel like it and the subject matter is usually books or other interests I have. I’d rather be adding to my current WIP then worrying about my next blog post.
I write because I enjoy it. It’s a compulsion, a creative outlet for my imagination. If the stuff in my head didn’t have a way out, my head would pop off. :)
So far, this works for me. I’m less stressed, more creative, and happier. If I don’t have an author platform, or a gazillion followers, so be it.
“Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self.” Cyril Connolly
That’s a great quote! I shall “steal” it if you don’t mind.
Thanks for sharing.
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While I agree with most of what you’ve said here, I also wildly disagree with it.
You see, most people (including marketers) don’t have a clue what the function is of an author platform–and yes, I do hate that term.
Author platforms DON’T SELL BOOKS. That’s not what they’re for and anyone who tells you that is telling you bullshit.
Author platforms are for retaining readers *after they’ve read and enjoyed your books*. They are for letting those readers know that yes, you still exist and the next book will be out in xyz months. They are for communicating tidbits about the story, or simply about yourself, *to people who are already fans* and who you’d like to keep in the loop, because you don’t want them to have gone off and forgotten about you the next time you publish a new book. And because you prefer not to let retailers do this for you (for one, the notify email function at Amazon doesn’t work 50% of the time), and because you like to treat your loyal readers as special. Because you want to give them ARCs or specials, or you want to let them know you’re going to be visiting some con or bookshop. Such a community of hardcore fans is important in creating that illusive word of mouth. That’s what an author platform is for.
But don’t spent too much time on it or obsessing over it. Just be present on a couple of social media sites and have a website and blog where you post what makes your fiction tick or whatever you like. Never mind the other BS, and the only thing you need to know about SEO is to choose a title that’s relevant to the content of the post. I use a plugin called WordPress SEO, and use it for posts I want to show up on searches. It takes 5 minutes per post. For personal updates and stuff, I don’t bother, only newsy or information posts.
Good hint re: WordPress SEO. Thanks for that.
The stats I see on this website show very little interest when it’s about books, except for *this* one which has a lot of authors interested and responding. Generally the number of views is high when I offer my serial reads or discuss topical, non-publishing issues. However, when I run free offers, announcements about upcoming titles, run contests, etc the views plummet. I think people, even fans, are numbed by the sheer volume of chatter about the BookVerse.
Bleh. Just saw the typo in my post. “spend” not “spent”. That should teach me replying to blog posts at 6am.
My posts about new releases, and especially about background info of fiction, are often well-visited. For example, I put up a post with photos of the inside of a canal house in Amsterdam, which I visited when I was there last October, and the post gets hits almost every day.
I think the bottom line is: try what works for you, and do more of that.
Good advice, Patty. Folks seem anxious to find the magic bullet or that one-size-fits-all solution, and of course, it doesn’t exist.