This past Friday, a spirited debate arose over a post by Jane Friedman at Writer Unboxed. Pointing out that beginning writers who lack fame or fortune (I’m here, Jane) need to have an online presence, she offered guidelines to help writers decide whether they should spend more time on writing or more time building a platform. Her common-sense approach counsels, for instance, that you should focus more time on your writing if you have not yet completed or revised a manuscript and that you should focus more of your available time on platform if, for instance, you need to prove to an agent or publisher that you have an audience.
The comments in response to Jane’s post came in at a rapid pace with writers offering differing opinions on how best to allocate their time, as well as varied reactions to different types of social media. Some expressed dread at the mere idea of Twitter but felt ease in expressing themselves on Facebook and on blogs. Folks in the industry warned that it is essential to start building one’s author platform the moment you start writing a book and that if you wait to build a platform until you have a publishing contract, it’s too late.
[Reading all this, I was sweating bullets.]
Then literary agent Donald Maass pointed out that for fiction writers, to a large degree your writing is your platform and that, while it is important to connect with readers, “Platform’s just a lump of concrete until you’ve got a rocket to launch from it.” Don referred to a recent industry study of factors leading to “awareness” of a book prior to purchase which found that the #1 factor in selling a book is in-store promotion. Next in line is word of mouth. And, the study concluded, social networks are near the bottom.
In response, Jane pointed out that social networking is all about word of mouth but she and Don agreed that, in the end, the writing is what sells the book, that a knockout book is its own best word of mouth. Then, after reading a ton of comments, Jane also concluded: “Some days I feel grateful I’m not a new writer!”
[Panic was setting in.]
On Saturday, in a post on Writer Unboxed, Porter Anderson analyzed Friday’s discussion and suggested, basically, that we should all just take a deep breath. As he pointed out, we can spend too much time online to the detriment of our writing but we can also spend too much time offline doing things other than writing.
Where does that leave the new writer?
A number of Jane’s commenters were writers who had already published, had a book release in the offing, or had more than one manuscript in process. And while their views were insightful, it left me wondering what I as a new writer, an unpublished writer should make of all this?
Balance! That was the common theme struck by Jane Friedman, Donald Maass, Porter Anderson, and the dozens of other commenters on this issue of writing versus platform. And the fact is no one can tell the writer, new or otherwise, how to strike that balance. Each of us has to decide how much time can be spent productively on platform while maintaining a laser focus on creating a rocket to launch from it.
I feel compelled to work on platform because, in this transitioning industry, we are expected to have a following. But having only recently started this blog, I am painfully aware of how long it takes to build one. That’s not surprising when you consider that there are more then 73 million WordPress sites throughout the world and that WordPress users post around 500,000 new posts a day.
Given these stats, I cannot imagine why anyone would ever wander onto my blog, stay there, and someday even buy a book I’ve written because they’ve gotten to know me as a blogger. And yet, I know that it happens. Over the past couple of years, I have bought books based on recommendations, reviews, and personal connections that I have found on Twitter, in blogs, and on other online sites. I have discovered some amazing writers that way.
Also, I find blogging useful because blogging is writing. It requires focus and discipline and, like a good novel, a blog should provide value to the reader. So I will continue to blog but I will spend most of my writing time revising and re-envisioning my novel.
All of life is a balancing act and one we should embrace. Now that’s something to work on every day.
How about you? Do you think the rules are different for new writers when it comes to platform versus writing? How do you manage it? Would love to hear your suggestions.
There are several movies that I have seen more than once, but I hardly ever watch the same movie two days in a row (unless you count the time I was an usherette and saw everything multiple times. Who else do you know who can recite much of the dialogue from “The Sandpiper”? Who else remembers “The Sandpiper”?). Anyway, I recently saw “The Descendants” with George Clooney and happily watched it again the next day with my niece. It had a strong narrative structure, full of conflict, character arc, and trenchant dialogue. But what touched me deeply was the penultimate scene. If you haven’t seen it, I won’t give it away except to say this (OK, spoiler alert): the look on George Clooney’s face when he realized that what he felt for his wife was empathy was so restrained but so emotionally loaded, all at the same time. Wouldn’t I love to create that kind of emotional response in a reader?