Just read a post by Jane over at dearauthor.com: “Books as a Business”. It’s a mostly good article with some interesting analysis, though I would change the title, at least; books are what we read, while publishing is a business.
Which aligns with my previous couple of posts, staying on the theme of writing as creative endeavor and publishing as business endeavor. The other day, I was chided on Twitter by dietpopstar for using the word “monetizing” with regard to writing, and who told me I’d “lost my way” as I’m supposed to be “a fucking artist,” and such considerations were “vulgar.” She’s arguably right about my using the word “monetize,” I admit; I probably should have chosen a different word or phrase, like maybe “I gotsta get myself paid, too, yo.” Which, at least, is funnier.
And that’s the trouble with blogging. Not the funnier part. The part about having to get paid.
I started blogging on MySpace in 2005, and over less than two years the obscure popularity went to my head. I had lost my way then, caring as I did about subscribers and comments and kudos. But see, back then, agents and editors were just starting on their whole “You need a platform if you want a publishing contract” spiel, which I’d call a digression except it’s still prevalent today, which at least makes it an extraordinarily long and consistent digression, but a digression nonetheless. I mean, I know it’s saying that agents and editors require aspiring authors to have a platform in addition to having a great book for readers, but that phrase I just emphasized is never really mentioned, is it? I suppose most people who offer that advice hope that it is already understood, but I don’t think it is.
I admit I got distracted. I admit I got wrapped up and burnt out and it’s really extraordinarily silly to say both.
It was part of the reason for my taking a break from posting writing online for most of this past year.
The other part of the reason was compensation. I’m going to let the Joker make my point here. To wit:
I think that’s a very cogent thought. I still have mixed feelings about the movie, but I think he nailed that one.
For further support, here’s Harlan Ellison discussing the subject in Dreams With Sharp Teeth, in an excerpt that could easily be called “Fuck You, Pay Me”:
I can’t say I’ve spent twice as much setting up and maintaining this blog as I’ve made from it solely because I’ve made nothing at all from it. Most people don’t make any money from blogging. When they do, it’s usually from selling the blog as a book, or maybe from ads.
Now, I have no issue with ads. I used to work in advertising, and I still love great commercials, but this site’s traffic–which has gone to null after I basically left it for a year–is basically null, so I doubt there’s any real point to advertising.
Point is, it’s a lot of effort and work and writing to what is often little end.
Because there are lots of ways to gets paid that gots little to do with money. The Nervous Breakdown is a good example of this; a great community of readers and writers coming together, and I’m not sure I’ve had a more rewarding experience online. Also, I got a drink at the reading in New York! So that’s worth it!
No, but really, my point is that blogging can be a major dilemma for a writer, and especially one just starting out. The writing is about creativity and stories and awesomeness, but publishing and distribution aren’t, and I confess I never started writing just to share the fun stories I was writing; I started writing to share the fun stories I was writing and become a best-selling author and get from it the sort of amount of money and fame that would make Solomon blush.
We see how well that’s turned out so far.
And I realize there’s no romanticism in admitting that. I realize that the idealization is that it’s writing! It’s a solitary pursuit committed by romantic souls who yearn to tell the stories in their hearts to millions of people.
But that’s never been what I’ve thought of it.
It’s a craft. I put as much careful thought and planning into the execution of a good, solid bookcase or bedframe or desk as into a story or novel. I don’t believe in a “muse”; I believe in words and putting them down. Oh, don’t get me wrong; I’ve always believed in sharing it with go-jillions of people–otherwise, why would I write anything down in the first place?
But the idea of writing as a “calling” or something? That it’s some pure pursuit in search of truth or something?
If I thought that idea had any credence whatsoever, I wouldn’t have gone to grad school to study things like craft and structure and story.
Then again, though, I also understand it’s no longer enough to just write good books. If it were, I wouldn’t be working on an MBA in business and marketing. If it were, a lot of writers a lot of people have never heard of would be making millions of dollars. And be more well known. And, you know, be read more widely.
There must be a synergistic relationship, but for a writer, or at least for me, it’s somewhat difficult to maintain a balance. How do you separate writing high quality essays and stories and books from writing stuff for a website? The Nervous Breakdown is great in that regard, because it’s high quality stuff for a website, but again, no payment, but again, well compensated. That community does create a totally brilliant experience for all involved.
But then again, I can’t give my creditors my heightened sense of community when they send me account balance statements.
Well. I mean. I suppose I could. But I’m not sure they’d know what to do with it, and besides that, have you ever tried to put a stamp on a heightened sense of community? Slippery little bugger.
Joking aside, part of the problem may be that the best way to market writing is more writing. Filmmakers create a trailer that hopefully gets you to buy their DVD. Musicians put up a few tracks you can stream free and then purchase for a buck or two. Writers–er. Write to get your attention for more writing. This is probably why book trailers have taken off like they have. Like the one for Greg Olear’s Totally Killer:
Which is totally awesome.
Maybe also why Henry Baum (North of Sunset), a writer and musician, is putting together a series of tracks to highlight chapters for his The American Book of the Dead.
Really interesting idea, I think.
I think part of the problem, at least for me, is seeing agents and editors make bold claims about platforms without much talk about great books. Then again, considering Going Rogue, Hooking Up with Tila Tequila, and the Twilight series, it’s pretty clear that great books aren’t what command huge advances, publishing contracts, or spots on the best-seller list, respectively.
Thing is, I chose those examples precisely because it gives a moment to talk about platforms. Tequila’s was, arguably, MySpace and VH1; does either audience strike you as likely to rush out to buy books, and hers, if I’m not mistaken, came and went pretty quickly. I really haven’t heard anyone else mention it. I only do because I used it as a case study, so I’m somewhat familiar with it, and because we had similar roots (though hers are darker, whoa!). Palin, on the other hand, had a very different platform of right-wing conservative people who were interested in politics and voted, the latter of which I think is key. No, they didn’t vote in enough number to get her into office, but she is a person who helped inspire people to take action; from a marketing standpoint, that’s one of the most difficult things to achieve.
Worth noting, too, as I learned via Ron Hogan’s Twitter feed, Palin didn’t need an agent, and didn’t have one; rather, she had enough interest from publishers she hired a lawyer to broker the deal. Obviously an enviable position to be in.
But I think the final example is the most interesting, at least from the viewpoint of writing and marketing. Because Stephenie Meyer never blogged and didn’t have Twitter or Facebook. Still doesn’t, so far as I can tell. Neither does Rowling, but neither existed when she started out. And Meyer has already broken beyond Twilight (with The Host).
But still I read agents often opine that they don’t really look at a website unless it’s getting upwards of 30,000 unique visits per month (or some such). About how important it is to build and maintain a platform.
Here’s my point: the most important thing on which writers can build a good platform is good writing, regardless of where it may be, and good writing is pretty much the best way to market more good writing. Also: no amount of site visits or Twitter followers is going to make bad writing good, but trying at either can distract from attention to craft (this is, alas, from experience. I wonder how much better a writer I might be if I hadn’t been so distracted by subscribers and numbers). Finally, and here’s a big one; for people who hope to make a living from writing, marketing and maintaining a website represents a challenge at finding balance if only because it’s sometimes difficult to figure out which writing you’re hoping to make money from, which you’re hoping to use to market, and which you’re just trying to share. Because those three aspects are often not mutually exclusive.
This is a dichotomy and dilemma I fear I will continue to struggle with.
Well. Until I have a go-jillion readers who each give me a dollar so I have a go-jillion dollars and then I can stick it in my ears and bathe in moolah and I won’t have to worry about it anymore.
Because that’ll be awesome.
- Rethinking Publishing
- The Top Twenty Movies of the Decade: Numbers Eleven