April 19, 2014 by Julia
I much prefer to write in a tiny corner of the internet and wait for someone to notice than to actually market myself. You could call that “not selling out;” you could also call it laziness. Either way, I realize it’s fairly normal. I assume most artists would rather hone his or her craft than gather an audience. I think of celebrities on the awards circuit, all the grumpy geniuses on talk show couches (Tommy Lee Jones comes to mind), as per their contracts.
But if we’re going to make stuff, we’re going to need an audience eventually – and I’m not even talking about financial gain. I’m just talking about the need for people: witnesses, opinions, interaction, recognition. I mean, it’s important to me that I meet my own standards, and can be proud of my work. I also love the process of writing, and don’t just do it for the end game. More often than not, though, we need to send our art out into the world for it to feel complete, real, fulfilling.
And I want that, too. But these parts of building an audience confuse me:
How big do I need my audience to be?
As a kid, I wanted to be famous – now, I’m not sure what exactly the point of fame is, other than the obvious benefit to one’s ego. (Which…I shouldn’t be so hard on the ego. Mine needs attention just as much as the next person’s, and there is nothing wrong with that.)
In blogging especially, there is an issue of quality readers vs. quantity of readers. There are the people who “follow” you without ever reading a word, in the hopes that they’ll get a “follow” from you – a sort of trade. I suppose it’s easy to collect a bunch of these “follows” if you play that game, but to what end? Who cares if no one is actually reading anyone else? So weird to me.
Of course I am interested in attracting more “quality” followers, though – basically just readers who actually read. I am guilty of following (and adoring) massive blogs like Momastery without ever leaving a comment, so I don’t dare to qualify good readers as ones who always interact with the writer. But the more people I can reach with words, the more gratifying my writing is. And yes, receiving comments has the potential to make my day.
I see other successful blogs with numbers in the thousands and comments I could scroll through for pages, and I wonder if that is what I secretly want. To be honest, I’m not sure where I’d find the time to respond to all those commenters. But it would be nice to get bunches of them. Nice enough to spend hours a week building up a larger audience? I don’t know! Maybe. Maybe I should try and find out.
At what point does self-promotion cross over from smart to just plain irritating?
I don’t want to become one of those people on Facebook that constantly remind you to follow their pages and beg you to “like” them, for the sake of your friendship or your humanity or whatever, regardless of whether or not you have any interest in their subject matter. I don’t follow sports blogs because I know nothing about sports and I couldn’t care less. In the same vein, I don’t invite young single people to “like” my blog on Facebook because I assume they’d be bored by all the parenting stories.
Anyway, I don’t want to be all up in people’s faces, trying to get them to like me. But there is the issue of: what if they missed a post, because I didn’t finish it until midnight? What if there are people who might want to pass on the blog page to friends, but haven’t gotten around to it and just need a reminder? See, I am already annoyed by that last sentence. Sorry. Urg. There isn’t much self-promotion that I don’t find annoying, beyond the first post or two announcing a new venture or performance.
Also, I notice that whenever one of those massive blogs starts to do more promotional posts for their latest book or paid online work, I start to trust them less, and sense a decline in the actual writing and subject matter. It may only be my imagination. But part of me wonders if we only have enough energy to devote to art, or to ambition. It seems tricky to uphold both at the same time.
And yet, people put themselves out into the public arena on a consistent basis, and it seems to work for some of them. Not sure if it would work for me. Confusion, I tell you, confusion!
Do I really have to do it?
Don’t people get discovered, go viral, develop a cult following all the time without going through the motions of “putting themselves out there”? I would be surprised if any of these events happened to me, but it’s possible that the tiny hope of it, without any marketing effort on my part, is keeping me in denial about the fact that I could be making more effort, you know? Like that .01% chance is enabling my lack of ambition.
Don’t get me wrong, I have plenty of motivation to write! Just not to promote my writing. Is that a bad thing? How bad?
Maybe part of the issue is that it’s just me, here on this blog. If I was working with a team, and we were depending on each other, I would want to pull my own weight and do the work of networking and so on. (Not that I would always enjoy it, but I would be responsible about it.) But it’s difficult to find the motivation when there is no obligation to anyone but myself.
Writing a book or essay is different, too. Somehow, tirelessly sending your work out into the publishing world seems more honorable to me, as opposed to selling yourself in the blogging world. And if you are lucky (and hard-working) enough to get a book deal, I realize it’s expected that you will work with a team to spread the word about your book so that it might actually sell. If I were EVER to find myself in that position, I would NEVER complain. Well, I do have a talent for complaining, but I wouldn’t do it in a public forum and you better believe the sheer gratitude would kick me in the ass until I’d made a complete fool of myself trying to sell my book. At least I hope that I would get over my own “integrity” (aka pride, introversion, and fear of annoying people) enough to get to work on the marketing. I would owe that to whatever publishing house was giving me a chance.
I wrote a real novel before Fiona was born, and then spent the next few years (Yes, years. Not sure if that is something to be embarrassed about, or proud of. Both?) editing it into its eighth draft, getting feedback from close friends and anonymous message boards, researching literary agents, and preparing synopsis, summaries, query letters, etc. It was hard work, and not as much fun as writing or editing the novel itself. But the publishing process was something I respected, and I wanted it to show in each packet I sent out to agents. In the end, I queried about fifteen agents, two of whom requested the manuscript and showed interest – one of whom left me with such warm, encouraging feedback that I almost didn’t mind when she didn’t take me on.
But I got so tired of the “business” aspect of writing that I decided I had to get back to a more enjoyable form of writing in order to stay sane…and here I am.
…Writing about being confused. And loving the catharsis! I do hope to go back to that novel, and fiction writing in general, at some point in the near future.
I would love to hear your thoughts,whether you are a reader or a fellow blogger or a published author.
And a very happy Easter to you and your loved ones!