On Wednesday, my friend Nancy Thompson made her monthly Insecure Writers Support Group post. She's published now, but admitted to feeling a bit of a letdown. Part of it, I'm sure, is the physical reaction to the go-go-go that was her blog tour and the high of being able to go to Amazon and Barnes & Noble and say, "Look, that's me!" At some point, you're just going to run out of steam. But she was also noting how hard it is to connect with readers. Nancy noted that, while writing The Mistaken, she connected with writers, which is great, but she goes on to say:
I didn’t take the proper time to make more connections, the kind I should’ve made in order to help sell my book. Writers make great friends and give wonderful support and advice, but, for the most part, they're not really buyers. Readers are buyers
We'll say it again, because it's important: Readers are buyers.
I'm a dedicated reader of a number of blogs, a regular participant in the Absolute Write forums, and one thing that comes up all the time is the notion of 'rules'. You know them well: Don't use adverbs. Don't use passive voice. Show, don't tell. Write what you know. The rules have a place, but they cause a lot of problems for new writers who see these rules broken all the time by established authors. And the confusion is compounded when New Writer posts a two sentence excerpt on a forum because they're confused about grammar, and they get an answer that says something like, "Grammatically, you're fine, but I'd be concerned because that sentence is all telling." They then get lectured by four or five people for telling when they should be showing. I hate those kinds of answers because they ignore context, and they ignore the fact that sometimes, it's just plain best to tell.
Now there's a new rule, a rule that is heavily-pushed by industry insiders: "you must have presence." 'Presence' in this case refers at the very least to a website, though preference is given for interactive social media. Like the 'Show, don't tell,' and 'Don't use passive voice' rules, a lot of new writers are taking this to heart, and the result is a lot of blogs out there like…well, like this one, and a lot of writers despairing over what it means.
The problem is that new writers almost invariably blog about writing. There's nothing at all wrong with this. It's a good way to help process and channel the sometimes maddening things we go through, and it's a great way to meet people and to learn and be inspired. I've gained so much from reading your blogs and interacting with you, and from forcing myself to write something meaningful twice a week. Best of all, I can say there are some real friendships that have formed through this effort, and I don't make friends easily.
But Nancy is right. Blogs like hers and mine attract like-minded people, and those like-minded people are mostly fellow aspiring writers. And as Nancy says, writers are not buyers. Yes, when I am published, some of you will buy my books (now we're getting ambitious: it's not enough that I'm saying 'when', I'm assuming multiple books – dream big, or go home!). Many of you will promote it on your blogs and participate in blog tours and interviews and, like ripples on a pond, word will spread of my fantastic contributions to literature – to other writers. Getting the word out to the general reading public is another story.
So, how do we do that? Lisa Regan made a great point in the comments section of Nancy's post: "it's hard to connect with readers when you have nothing out for them to read." What reader (meaning the generic reader, as opposed to the aspiring writer reader) is going to visit this blog? There's no reason for them to come here because I have nothing published, they don't know me from Adam. And if I did somehow find a way to attract them here, well what's there for them to see? A wanna-be writer whining about how he's stuck in the middle of his manuscript, or recounting a crazy dream that relates to how anxious he is about sharing his work. Who really wants to read that? Other writers who are in the same or similar boat, that's who. When I'm published, I would need a different sort of presence, I think, for the benefit of reader readers who are interested in me.
There's a lot of energy being expended on the internet by writers trying to establish presence. My feeling, the longer I'm involved in this, is relax. Blog if you want. Tweet, Facebook, whatever. But don't break your back on any of them on the assumption that it's going to help get you an agent or a publication deal, or that it's going to sell you a lot of books when you do get your deal. Because chances are, you'll be trying to sell yourself to yourself.
What do you all think? Am I nuts for saying this? Or is there some other way to really connect with and build a readership before you've been published? I really want to know.
Have a great weekend!