There’s been a notable spike in new traffic here lately, partly from Twitter and partly from the blog being favorably cited recently by Editor Unleashed and ASMP’s Strictly Business Blog. (Thanks!) In light of my last two posts being a bit more ranty than usual, and my schedule next week being crazy, I thought it would be a good idea to pull together some of my favorite posts so far this year, starting with those focused on writers and marketing.
Developing a Platform
After offering our individual takes on a variety of topics and looking into our crystal balls to speculate on where things were going — a unanimous vision of increased disintermediation and the power of writers to control their own careers — we took questions and what was most notable was that the majority in attendance were not terribly marketing savvy and something as simple as setting up a blog struck many of them as being a significant challenge. A few didn’t see the value of it at all, missing the forest for the trees, seemingly still believing that a writer’s only job is to write.
I’ve realized over the past several months that there’s a tendency to oversimplify things, to assume everyone has a certain level of web and marketing savvy (not to mention free time), starting discussions about writers’ platforms, curating communities and “free vs. freemium” way too far ahead of the curve. For a lot of writers. something as seemingly simple as setting up a blog can become a huge, time-consuming effort for which the long-term value isn’t always quite clear or worthwhile.
It’s not about YOU. The most common mistake writers make when developing a platform is narcissism, thinking that “it’s all about ME!” The strongest communities share something in common, and it’s rarely the glorification of a specific individual, brand or distribution model. (Those are cults, and while some writers certainly have them, they’re not the norm.) Barack Obama made his Presidential campaign about our hopes for America (”Yes WE can!”), and while he had an extremely fanatical base of “true fans”, the vast majority of his supporters were brought together by what he stood for and how it related to their own hopes, dreams and goals.
The FREE Debate
When I ran my weekly poetry series back in the late-90s, the least-attended nights were usually the free open mics, when the smaller audiences were predominantly poets looking for stage time. The best, most-attended nights had a cover charge and were a curated mix of featured poets plus an open mic that attracted both poets and non-poets. It’s a pattern I’ve seen remain consistent over the years here in New York City, and it’s one that’s not unique to poetry readings.
For the unknown (or unproven) writer, a “freemium” approach is a strategic question that should be based on one’s long-term goals, and is arguably more appropriate for non-fiction writers and poets than fiction writers, as there are fewer ancillary opportunities for the latter beyond licensing deals. For non-fiction writers, speaking gigs can be more lucrative than the average book deal, and there’s still a viable freelance market for quality content in many niche publications. (Fiction writers can and should leverage the freelance market, too, and could potentially position themselves for speaking gigs.) Poets can follow the indie music model by selling limited-edition chapbooks and MP3s; assuming they have an engaging stage presence, they can also get paying college gigs and workshops.
[A guest post by Dan Holloway.] For me, as for the majority of people with a great cultural product looking to break into the market, that means what matters most is getting exposure. For many of us, going through the traditional channels just isn’t an option; I write gentle, thought-provoking literary fiction that will never sell more than a few thousand copies. I don’t make financial sense for publishers.
The vast majority of self-published books are vanity projects, most by authors who never bothered to attempt to go the traditional route because their primary goal was getting the finished product in their hands, not the “validation” and “legitimization” so many tend to associate with a traditional publisher. As a result, the closest they’ve come to being edited is a cursory reading by a couple of friends or family members followed by compliments and encouragement to pursue their dreams. It’s like poetry slams where 10s are mandatory; most of it is self-indulgent dreck with a narrowly defined audience of one.
Six months may as well be six years for how much things have changed and I don’t think it’s just my perception. I left the magazine industry right before the bottom fell out of the economy and I’m very glad I wasn’t trying to land another publishing job at the time because, as you know, industry layoffs have been relentless. But I think there’s never been a better time to be a writer. There’s nothing to hold you back now if you have the initiative and talent to succeed. There are no gates to hold back a talented writer any more.