Michelle (msagara) wrote,
Michelle
msagara

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.
Tags: on-line, self-promotion
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