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Self-promotion thoughts, part 4

This will, hopefully, be the last piece about self-promotion, and it's weighted toward the blogging spectrum.

A number of people on my LJ friends' list, and a couple here as well (waving at sartorias) have opined that they are too dull to somehow have the audience that others attract.

I don't think that's the problem, though. A long discussion about what readers are looking for from author blogs (with someone who has zero interest in ever being a published writer, or a writer at all) made me think for several hours of nothing else.

Now, a minor digression, which will be relevant in a few minutes.

At a certain point in life, what I wanted was security. I wanted a place to live that I was certain I could maintain. I wanted enough to eat. I wanted clothing on my back and utilities that wouldn't be turned off. I was willing to live in a way that provided these things, and I was lucky enough to be able to do so, as well. I got married, we bought a house, we had children; there's nothing heroic about that in the eyes of people who are not waking up sixteen times a night with their newborn child. There's not even anything interesting.

I could be accused of wanting--and having--a boring life. An uninteresting and uneventful life. This would, on the face of it, be true.

Many of the people I read have also struggled to make their life as boring as possible, in the same way that I've just defined it above.

The problem? Well, in reader or viewer terms, it's the same problem that stopped Buffy from ever having a happy relationship: it's not inherently interesting to a viewing audience.

It is also not a life that requires help, and often not a life that's easy to participate in. On the page, on the screen, it's thin. So the people who are going to be most interested in those details are almost of necessity the people to whom we're attached in real life, because those details are meaningful in that case.

But to the people who have never met us, and might never meet us, or might meet us five years from now at a convention somewhere? That life is impervious; there're no edges or dangly bits to hang on to.

Some of those readers come just for information; they don't actually want to know anything about us as people, because they don't feel it's relevant. Those people will find what they're looking for on our web-sites: upcoming publications, possible sample chapters, upcoming appearances (if they care).

But the people who form community on larger or active blogs (I keep pointing fingers at John Scalzi, and I'm almost starting to feel guilty. Almost) obviously want more than that.

It's my theory that what they want is character. What those of us who keep a firm wall between private and public often lack is, well, character. Take John Scalzi. You can easily imagine someone with his level of both snark and wit as a continuing character in a novel or a television series. Yes, he's writing about his life, his daughter, his messy, messy office, so in that sense it's real life minutiae--but he presents it as a character might present it. If we've come to his web-site because we like his books (and many people in the store who've liked his books have never heard of his web-site, or at least hadn't until I asked if they were reading it), we will find a Scalzi that matches the tone or voice of those novels.

He could be a character in any of them, even the very dark The God Engines.

Moving on to seanan_mcguire, you can see the same thing. Is she writing about bits and pieces of her daily life or thought? Hell, yes. But her daily life has demon cats, giant spiders, and idiots at video stores who try to tell her that what she really wants to watch is a rom-com, because she's blond, and a woman. She is larger than life in her posts and her drive and her accomplishments; she could also be a character in one of her own novels. Of course, given everything, she might not survive all that long in said novel.

Can you see where this is going?

Good. Because catvalente does the same thing, although not so much with the demon cats, and I think I would have loved to own her dogs. She is driven, and when she's in pain, she shows it. When she's struggling with her past -- divorce, the marriage that lead to that divorce, difficulties with her mother--she is creating a space in which her struggles almost have the voice of narrative.

Narrative drive propels readers, and yes--she would be an interesting character in a novel. But she blogs the way she writes: opens a vein, and goes where the blood flows. You can easily see the connection between her novel writing and her blog writing. She can just as easily claim self-loathing as she can transcendence.

It isn't that any of these three (and I could then continue on to point out other examples, but I think this is sufficient) are inherently more interesting in day-to-day life than, say, sartorias, mentioned because she commented on the previous post; it's that they've taken those experiences and presented them to us with a voice that implies character in an almost narrative sense of the word.

People read for character. They read for story as well--but they're not necessarily consciously looking for our lives to be story, and that leaves the character option.

So: if you want to appeal to readers across a spectrum, I think you almost want to approach the blog writing as if it were fiction. By this I don't mean "make stuff up", but rather, make what's there interesting, compelling; give it tone. Pretend it's a necessary scene in your novels, even if a quiet one, and think of a way to stitch the day to day into the universal.

When we write fiction--which is all made up, and therefore a lie--we make it true. We can all write characters that speak to readers, and if they don't universally speak to all readers, it's nonetheless true; if we couldn't, we wouldn't be published at all. So this act of writing isn't beyond any of us--or it shouldn't be.

HOWEVER -- and you knew this was coming, right?

This is not something that I am willing to do. So much of my life and the things that would make an interesting or compelling narrative of daily events involve the lives of other people, and if I am completely willing to expose my own foibles, weaknesses and angers, I don't quite have the right to expose theirs.

Nor do I think this is necessary. Do people benefit from self-promotion? Yes. Yes they can. But...

How much of Patricia Briggs do you see on-line? How much of Jim Butcher or Charlaine Harris? How much of Megan Whalen Turner? Or Suzanne Collins? Or Nora Roberts? They have on-line presence, but it's minimal. And they're clearly doing all right without it. None of these writers were promoted to greatness, either; they built it, word-of-mouth, over time.

I know that there's huge pressure to self-promote. I know that there's huge pressure to do more more more. But I can't help but look at the writers who did "nothing nothing nothing" and are still #1 NYT; Suzanne Collins doesn't appear to have a blog; she has a static information site. I think the most important thing you can do for your career, bar none, is to turn in that next book on time. If you can't, blogging-for-self-promotion, or on-line for same, is a total waste of time. Blogging for sanity, blogging to keep in touch with your friends is not a waste of time, because we all need to be able to step outside of our isolation -- but frequently when that's our incentive to blog, we're not writing in a way that will draw crowds, and often not quite writing in a way that builds them and keeps them together.


( 23 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 4th, 2010 06:10 am (UTC)
I've enjoyed all of your posts on self-promotion, but this one really resonates. Hope you don't mind if I link it from my LJ. (If you do, just let me know and I'll take it down.)
Oct. 4th, 2010 06:12 am (UTC)
I don't mind at all--please feel free to link away.
Oct. 4th, 2010 06:32 am (UTC)
Oct. 4th, 2010 06:16 am (UTC)
This is so insightful and helpful, thank you. Fascinating even though I don't aspire to writing; self promotion is something that applies to some of us in other fields as well and I find that aspect very hard. You've really pointed out why to me. Thanks.
Oct. 4th, 2010 10:48 am (UTC)
I've enjoyed these posts, Michelle. Thanks for taking the time to write them.
Oct. 4th, 2010 11:53 am (UTC)
I love this post and I totally, totally agree.

I'm not a published author so promotion isn't a concern (yet?), but I really have no intention of using a blog I started mainly as a way to connect with other like-minded people as a marketing tool. I have a similarly "boring" and comfortable life - and I want to keep it that way. I don't want internet drama or publicity pressure or what have you to intrude on my life or my family. If that means I'm not an interesting enough character to draw a large audience - well, so be it. I'll just have to work harder at writing the best books I'm capable of.
Oct. 4th, 2010 12:36 pm (UTC)
I keep telling people that I have a boring life but many interesting friends. I'm glad to count you as one of them. How often do I blog? Maybe once a year or two. But, I love to read what you and my other friends write as it keeps us connected when we are far apart. Thank you.
Oct. 4th, 2010 12:44 pm (UTC)
::does a wacky dance::

::honks horn::
(Deleted comment)
Oct. 5th, 2010 02:21 am (UTC)
I will be linking this along if you don't mind :)

Please do :).
Oct. 4th, 2010 01:10 pm (UTC)
This, very much this. I'm another who doesn't have an exciting life most of the time, and who doesn't feel comfortable writing too much about it anyway.
Oct. 5th, 2010 02:24 am (UTC)
This, very much this. I'm another who doesn't have an exciting life most of the time, and who doesn't feel comfortable writing too much about it anyway.

The thing about blogging is often this: no one has an exciting life. It's treating the unexciting as fiction, as those interstitial scenes that people often hate to write, but still have to make compelling (somehow), that makes it seem more interesting than it is.

But: I have two kids and I like to converse and touch base with friends and fellow-LJers without having to measure all the words through that filter.

And you're the only person who has a Skirt of the Day!
Oct. 4th, 2010 01:28 pm (UTC)
I am not an author - not even a writer of any kind, just a reader, but this sure explains why I have such a hard time posting in my own LJ. I read and comment (sometimes), but rarely post more than birthday wishes. Part of it, I think, is that I don't want to sound like a whiner. And when things are going well, who has time to post unless they've made a habit of it.
Oct. 4th, 2010 04:37 pm (UTC)
I have the sartorias blog in my friends list
So I can read it, and I don't read it for having sartorias turn into a character of her own life. She always has interesting links, views and questions and I read those to ponder together with her commenters and to read what others have to say about the topic she is talking about that day (same with her posts on BVC).

One thing I hugely admire her for is that she manages at a level of 99% to answer every single one of her commenters at least with an initial answering comment. You feel part of the dialogue that way. And if the comments take of on a tangent that's just fine and can go into the 20 or more of comments.
Oct. 4th, 2010 04:38 pm (UTC)
Re: I have the sartorias blog in my friends list
Addendum: not that I'm not happy if she shares bits, like her wedding anniversary or her birthday. But I don't read her blog for those, they're a bonus.

Same as I don't read your blog for those ^^.
Oct. 4th, 2010 06:27 pm (UTC)
Re: I have the sartorias blog in my friends list
Yes; on mine too :). I love what she thinks about, and the way she talks about writing processes (hers, others). I meant no criticism of what she does or what she's achieved, and used her only because she'd mentioned she lacks charisma in the previous post.

She'll always have a community, but it's a community based on interest and subject.
Oct. 4th, 2010 06:50 pm (UTC)
Re: I have the sartorias blog in my friends list
Oh, if you think I read your mention of her in this post as criticism from your side, that wasn't my intention.

I just wanted to clarify what sartorias special niche is in my daily rounds on the internet. I occasionally drop by Whatever, but I don't participate there. It's entertainment reading, not usually topics that engage my thought.
Oct. 4th, 2010 10:30 pm (UTC)
I think you've hit the nail on the head with the 'people read for character' - and I would not want to write for an audience, where every time I blog I'll have to wonder 'how do I present this'? 'How can I get the most out of this event?' (I'd add Robin McKinley to the list of people who have built a blog following by writing about their life in this manner - I like her blog tremendously, but it's a performance, and I would not wish to imitate it. I think this might go to explain why she feels compelled to keep blogging on her schedule - most of us would, if faced with Life, post less frequently, but we don't have a contract with our readers to entertain them.
Oct. 5th, 2010 02:28 am (UTC)
most of us would, if faced with Life, post less frequently, but we don't have a contract with our readers to entertain them.

I think this hits the nail on the head. As writers, we do have that contract with our readers: it's called a book. Or an ebook. But I think the push from above to self-promote heavily turns all of the non-writing into, well, writing. And I think writers can do this, but -- it's another novel's worth of work a year, or more, and I'm not sure it would fill our need for socializing, for letting our hair down, because we'd always be in the spotlight.

We'd always be under review.
Oct. 5th, 2010 08:22 am (UTC)
As writers, we do have that contract with our readers: it's called a book. Or an ebook.

Different medium... and you're entirely right. The problem I see with this promote, promote, promote madness is that there are only so many hours and spoons in the day and people are doing the promotion/ high profile blogging *instead* of writing. This defies the object.

(I like Jim Hines' recent analysis of his sales that shows that clearly, *books sell books*. Also, being a good writer helps.)

The madness is much worse in nonfiction. A lot of agents appear to have drunk the Koolaid and tell new writers 'you need to have a platform or I won't take you on.' By which they mean a high-profile blog, national speaking engagements, or TV appearances - an inbuilt audience.

Well, building a career in those fields takes time and energy, which does not leave much time and energy for researching and writing books. Also, publishers are publishing vast tracts of nonfiction from new authors every day of the year in any number of fields where you just cannot build a platform: if you're ito WWI airplanes, igneous rocks or 18th century cloth merchants you're unlikely to be in demand at corporate events; but you might well make a living writing books, so telling new writers 'build a platform or forget it' ignores a tremendous amount of opportunities.
Oct. 5th, 2010 02:39 am (UTC)
Yeah, that. I say as someone who has been reading this journal for years and also knows a certain spider-petting blonde up close and personal.

Though I think there is a middle ground in which one is, say, very opinionated in public on topics of mutual interest. I like Jon Stewart for his character/as a character, but I don't know anything about his personal life except that he used to have a view of the Twin Towers. He presents an engaging, consistent, public persona, but he keeps it to the public. I know fannish folk like that, who I read because they always have something clever or insightful to say about the latest fannish news.
Oct. 8th, 2010 03:33 am (UTC)
Reading this whole series has been so thought-provoking. Thank you for taking the time to work through all these ideas and responses.

I have had to be online a lot recently to support a new book, after being told by my editor that I needed more visibility. And after only a couple of weeks of it, I'm EXHAUSTED. I want to run for the hills! I don't know how the folks you mentioned manage it--this must be a question of personality. But I'm grateful for the permission to write without feeling guilty that I'm not holding up my end.
Oct. 11th, 2010 05:42 pm (UTC)
Late comment
Actually, Nora Roberts has a substantial online presence; she shows up often and comments at romance-oriented blogs, notably Smart Bitches, Trashy Books. She has a well-earned reputation as a mensch, and online she only cements that: gracious, humble, and wickedly funny.

I raiser this because it's a method of online presence that isn't always acknowledged: how you behave in other people's spaces is as important as how you behave in your own.
Oct. 23rd, 2010 08:36 pm (UTC)
Thank you!
A very good post that sort of sums up my problems with any more promotion than I'm doing. I don't want to make myself into a character (although some of my more popular posts, like me and the SNAKES! probably read as a character.)

I have the same problem continuing my posts on Lyme disease -- I actually am rather a private person, and I posted a lot at a point where I was looking at dying, so informing people about the condition seemed important. But how could I write a book about it, well, without invading the privacy of other people? People who, even if deeply disguised, would still, eventually, be exposed -- and not necessarily in a good light?

We can say "A good book will be discovered." Well, yes...but I wrote good books. Then I got sick and disappeared. Now, a decade later, I have a good reputation, and no visibility. So all I can do is position the books out there in reprint, and get back to writing.

I may need to expand on this a bit, because pleasing my current readers is the promotion I'm most interested in, while finding other like-minded readers. Something to blog about! (Only half kidding. Blogging is also writing that will never get paid for, in a certain way...I know a couple of writers who view it that way.)

I have trouble keeping up with all the interesting people on LJ. If I set up an interactive blog, no writing would happen at all, which would be sad and drive me nuts.

( 23 comments — Leave a comment )