books with Athena

books with Athena

Sunday, June 27, 2010

LURK PROUDLY

Are you a lurker who reads publishing blogs but doesn’t comment or create your own blog? Do you fail to Tweet or network on Facebook?

Good for you!

You’re educating yourself about the publishing business without wasting precious writing time. Don’t let anybody pressure you into changing your ways until you’re ready. (Although if you happened to want to make an exception and comment today, I wouldn’t make you turn in your lurker badge. Promise.)

Yes, you’ve read a bunch of stuff that says every writer should be out here building “platform.” But my secret suspicion is that agents and publishers urge writers to spend all our time social networking and website-building so we’ll never finish our novels and they won't have so much slush to read.

But agent Donald Maass told it like it is last week in an interview with editor Victoria Mixon. “It's absurd to build a website before you finish your first draft.”

In fact, most agents say you need to finish a FINAL draft (preferably of several novels) before you query—and if you’re not querying, you’re at least two years from publishing. That means it’s absurd to build a website or otherwise rush into any time-wasting, cart-before-horse marketing activity.

In other words, don’t rent a store until you have product to sell.

Sierra Godfrey, Roni at Fiction Groupie, and Andrea at Bloggingmama have all blogged about various aspects of this issue recently. I think we’re all starting to realize how much the pressure to brand and market ourselves is interfering with the actual business of writing the best possible fiction.

Writing guru Hope Clark also wrote about this on June 25th, providing a helpful list of bad reasons to blog with a reminder that it’s harder to talk people into paying for your work when you’re giving it away for free.

It’s also harder to talk people into paying for your work if the sucky stuff you wrote when you were a newbie is hanging out here in cyberspace.

Becoming a professional writer is a learning curve like any other. You wouldn’t advertise your upcoming match at Wimbledon the first time you won a tennis match against your sister—but it’s funny how so many fledgling writers think they’re ready for the big time immediately upon typing “the end” on their first opus.

Q. So when do you need to start building your platform?

A. When you’re ready to query.

Q. When is that?

A. Six months to six years after you think it is.

I’m not kidding on that. If somebody had given me that advice fifteen years ago, I’d probably have a solid career by now. More on that in another post.

Don’t despair. This is something to embrace. Being at the unpublished stage of your career actually has a lot of perks. A couple of weeks ago, Agent Michael Bourret wrote a great post on the Dystel and Goderich blog about the joys of being “pre-published”.

He reminds us that once you’re published, you’re pretty much locked into a genre and a life dictated by deadlines and promotional obligations. Your pre-published days are when you can play with genres and voices—maybe turn what started as a memoir into a paranormal romance (hey, that brooding, angsty guy you had a crush on in high school MIGHT have been a vampire) or rewrite your YA novel in the smart-aleck little brother’s voice to create one of those MG boys’ books publishers crave—plus take three years polishing the manuscript until every word is luminous.

When your book is ready to send out, yes, you will indeed need a website (a web designer reminded me recently that a blog IS a website) and you might want to start gathering followers on Twitter and Facebook—although by then they will probably have gone the way of Friendster and MySpace, and some more trendy privacy-invading time-fritterers will have taken their place.

Until then, if you love blogging and social networking, go for it—but remember this is playtime. Serious writing should always come first.

And don’t forget our lurking friends, who are probably already offline as we speak, rewriting that tenth draft that will rocket from slush pile to bestseller list, while the rest of us are Twit-Facing our careers away.

I don’t want to lose any of my wonderful followers and commenters (welcome to my two new followers!) but if you have to make a choice between commenting here and rewriting your book, go rewrite. You can always drop by later for a lurk.

22 comments:

  1. I'm on the other side of the spectrum (writing quite awhile, agent who recently landed me a three-book deal) and I agree wholeheartedly with this post!

    It takes awhile to find your voice and figure out where you're going to land. My first book deal about 4 years ago was for Silhouette Bombshell, and I'm infinitely glad I didn't waste a lot of time building a brand on that action/adventure platform, since the line collapsed before my book hit shelves.

    Even after my agent started shopping me with a different book & different genre, there was a lot of maneuvering and strategy around whether I should be pitched as romantic comedy or quirky mystery. There was no sense wasting a lot of time building a platform in those early days when the platform needed to change from month to month.

    Bottom line, writing should always be your #1 priority, but ESPECIALLY in those earlier days. I didn't start bloggging/tweeting until about a month before my agent landed me my recent romantic comedy deal, and I can't tell you how glad I am about that. It's given me the chance to use my social media time wisely (and in a concentrated way) while still saving time for actual writing.

    Great post!

    Tawna

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  2. I'm on the other side of the spectrum as well, debut mystery novel for young readers published and second one coming out in the fall. I didn't start a blog/website until after I got the first contract. Blogs have to be about something (other than taking the garbage out) and offer something to the reader. You need to know why you're blogging. I agree that job one is the writing.

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  3. Good advice Anne. Thanks for the permission (lol) to lurk. I'm so much better at that than commenting.

    Have a good week.

    ........dhole

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  4. I wish I had waited to blog but I did it because I was querying. Had I known then what I know now...I wouldn't even be here lurking... but I'm glad I did it. I know a lot more now, not just about blogs but agents and the business so it was a good thing for me. Luckily my platform has stayed more or less the same so... Thanks for another great post.

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  5. Lurkers Unite!
    I'm with you, Miss Allen.
    Shalom,
    Charlie

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  6. Thanks for writing about this (and for the link). This is something I've been worried about. I started blogging before I started writing so when I wanted to back off blogging and only write...I thought maybe that was a bad idea. It's good to know I was on the right track!

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  7. Blogging and platforming and branding is a decision, yes. But I don't feel any pressure whatsoever to do it. I do it because I like it. Because I'm a big fat mouth who likes to talk about writing. I do it because I value the community and connections--people like you, Anne. And you put me in touch with Catherine. And on.

    Does blogging take away from my writing time? Not really. Maybe I'm lucky though. I have only a set amount of time to write/blog/play each day, and I use it wisely.

    I made the decision to have a web site because I was putting my name out there. This, for me, has been part of my publishing education. I never felt pressured to have anything, but I know people, as Piedmont Writer mentions, feel that they need something while querying.

    I'm curious about those who feel pressure.

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  8. I lurk very selectively. I don’t know how people find the time to cruise blogs, twitters, youtubes, etc. Maybe it’s my age. I don’t have the patience! So, I am grateful for this wonderful blog and those you suggest. Another informative post.

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  9. Hi Anne! Very interesting post! I would have to say that I'm kind of in the middle on this. I resisted starting a blog, thinking I didn't "need" or want one, but I'm so glad I did. I look at mine as more of a journal. I hardly ever post any of my "writings", and if I do, it's only a sentence or so. I DID list some of the chapter titles of my book, which got a lot of comments and interest...and that's what I was hoping for. I also find the comraderie of other writers' blogs, plus the ones of totally different topics to be of great interest. Thanks for your always cool and interesting blog!! :)

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  10. Great post, Anne. That said, I must admit I do blog and tweet quite a bit, but I suppose that's generally aimed at fellow-writers in a community sort of way. Obviously I hope readers will come along for the ride too, but I do take your point. I imagine, if/when I am at the stahe of having a book coming out, I'd probably start a dedicated blog just for that as well as keeping my "writing" blog. Does that make sense?

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  11. I've been lurking here for a while.
    Two things in favour of a blog while writing: the friends you make will help you through bad and bitter times; and writing discussions/comments can spark ideas as well as keep you focused.

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  12. I started my blog while querying my first novel (one which I queried before i was ready, lol.) I started the blog to "build my platform", but continued to blog because I liked it and met a lot of great people. I also think I've learned a lot while blogging because I focus on craft in my posts and learn by researching topics and reading others blogs.

    However, I won't lie. It does take time. In the year I've been blogging, I've completed two manuscripts. Maybe I would've done more without the blogging, but I wouldn't trade it. I've just had to learn recently how to balance it better because if you let it, it can suck all your time.

    Thanks for the linkage, btw. :)

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  13. Very good points everybody. Some of you have great blogs, and I appreciate the time and creativity you put into them. Obviously, I spend some time blogging and tweeting myownself, but like you, I do it for community and because I enjoy it. I only meant to address the pressure on newbies to "build platform" too soon.

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  14. I enjoy your blog a lot! An I do lurk often. :)

    I spent a solid 3 years building networks online, and that's paying off now as I prepare to launch my novella. It's nice to know I have that backup, but I certainly didn't start doing all of that until I was writing work that was resembling something good. :)

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  15. Such a different take on the whole platforming thing. And I think you're right.

    A popular blog can augment marketing, but it won't write the book for you. Plenty of writers, unestablished, make it without.

    I wonder if this isn't really a matter of going with your strengths? If you are good at social networking, be good at social networking?

    All I know is that platforming takes me (enjoyablely, sometimes) away from writing.

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  16. I've been lurking a number of writer and agent blogs for a year now. For me, it's all about learning. My first shot at a writing career was more than a decade ago. Then, life intervened. Now, fifteen years since I last published anything, I'm back. But I've found that, thanks to the internet, everything has changed: No more SASE's, simulantaneous submissions are not only permitted but encouraged, and advice and encouragement are available for free, 24 hours a day, on-line. So I lurk and I read and I learn.

    No one knows me, yet. I haven't got a blog and I don't twitter. I have a Facebook page, but that's just for family and friends. I only comment on others' blogs maybe once a month, but I did finish a novel in the last 9 months, and have started the revision process. The writing comes first, it has to. I don't want to wait another fifteen years.

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  17. Thanks for de-lurking, Michelle. You're just the reader I'm speaking to. Congrats on finishing the novel.

    I had the same experience. Because I had a publisher during most of the last decade, when they went under, I had to start again in what is in some ways a whole new business.

    But in other ways it's easier now. So much important information is out here on the Interwebz that was never available before. When I think of all the clueless query letters I sent out a decade ago, I just cringe.

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  18. Anne--your posts are always so well thought out and persuasive, I love how much time you spend constructing posts that'd work just as well in print in a magazine (that sounds like a diss, but it's really a compliment; it means I think your posts have a long-lasting quality to them, rather than the Internet's usual ephemeral, disposable taste). At the end of the day, I agree that the work comes first--absolutely. And seriously, I don't know how many "followers" or "friends" translate into sales. Who knows. But I enjoy reading your blog and I think you enjoy reading mine, so there you go!

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  19. And now for a Dumb Question. What's with the term "lurking." Connotation is sneaky, evil, a no-no, illegal, wrong, etc. I thought blogs were Public Publications open to Public Viewing with the Blogger praying for MORE Public. Lurking implies sneaking around doing something you're not supposed to be doing, like hacking into a private account or something. I'm presuming the term started for some reason?

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  20. Let's try this again. Blogger wouldn't let me comment on my own blog this morning. Annoying.

    Samuel, thanks a bunch for the compliment(s) You're right. I find your blog full of wisdom and positive encouragement.

    Churadogs, bloggers have called non-participants "lurkers" for quite a while. I guess it comes from neediness. We put down people who stop by but don't give us our propers. And you're right. It's silly. The more readers the better. And most of us lurk most of the time.

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  21. Thanks for the link to Hope Clarks list of blog reasons. Very helpful - and my blog isn't about writing, but life coaching! Looking forward to lurking through the Internet....

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  22. Anne, hmmmm, giving propers. I wonder if that started when maybe blogs were "personal" and not responding would be considered rude, like not replying to an email? Nowadays, blogs are more like public magazines and nobody would call somebody a "lurker" if they failed to send a letter to the editor (which is what a comment is) after reading a magazine article. Guess the tag stuck even though the medium has changed?

    Now. let's see if Blogger has stopped its hissy-fit and will accept this comment.

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