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.

Labels: , ,