Writers write. Straightforward, yes? Not exactly.
Some writers hold down part-or full-time jobs, have active roles in their communities, raise children. Weekly loads of laundry are a given. These days we also blog, Tweet, gather fans on Facebook, and insert key search words into our smartly designed websites, thus building marketing platforms.
For the most part—especially when it comes to marketing—the above depicts me, my life, and I admit to having days when I wonder: Well, how did I get here?
Actually, this question has been on my mind this week because both an aspiring writer and a local journalist contacted me to talk about my experiences with Twitter. Me? Talk about Twitter? Eight months ago I was Twitter ignorant and content that way. A little over a year ago I had no blog and no website. I had one Facebook friend (my hair stylist) who tried and tried in the face of my resistance to explain what wonderful connections Facebook could help me make. I had little interest, I told him, and my Facebook account languished. I couldn’t even be bothered to put up a profile picture.
My problem? A very real fear of diving into the intertwined worlds of social media and self-promotion. I found the idea of shouting my name loudly from so many public bullhorns frightening.
Truly. I’m not being coy here. I know a few fiction writers, and nine-tenths of us want to let the writing speak for us because we are sort of shy. We all burn with things to say but prefer to say those things from the mouths of our characters and not our own mouths. The one writer I do know who has for years seemed entirely at ease with pitching herself makes me shake my head in amazement. “I’m not that comfortable, I may never be that comfortable promoting myself,” I recall saying to another writer friend more than once.
Now, it seems, I am that writer. Or a version of her. I blog. I’m on Twitter where I have about 235 followers. I have 76 Facebook friends. I post links to my blog on both social media sites, bombarding these patient people with my work. I no longer write with the sole purpose of finishing a work of fiction; rather, I work concurrently at the fiction and at building the platform so that I may have a shot at selling the latest finished work. Why the change?
Everything has changed around me and my fellow writers. I had to change.
The publishing world, certainly, has changed, become more revenue-driven since the days when the legendary Max Perkins fostered equally the careers of the well-known (Hemingway) and the lesser-known (Archie Binns, Pacific Northwest historical fiction writer). While it has never been easy for a writer to be published, editors like Perkins once brought along their novice talents with patience, waiting for an author’s readership to grow with each successive book.
Editors still seek out talent, but it gets harder for them to justify waiting while a writer’s career gets a foothold. Often if a first book doesn’t sell phenomenally well, an editor can’t persuade the publisher to gamble on book two, a book that may or may not do better in sales. And in a dull economy the sales from a blockbuster entity may just carry a company through some dark times. There are breaks to be had, but lesser-knowns and as-yet-unknowns usually need to market themselves assertively to make their big break into the well-known sphere.
The marketing effort itself has a different look, too. Connecting directly with readers still matters, but it’s no longer done primarily through your novel. With so many technological advances it has become both easier to connect—through emails, notices, e-zines, blogs, tweets, personal appearances—and more time-consuming to do so—it takes a lot of time to participate in each and every one of these arenas with dedication.
Time one could actually spend writing, oh, a novel, for example.
My journalist friend who was gathering information for his recent article on Twitter sent me the following questions: “I was wondering how Twitter has been helping you as an author. Do you find it helpful? Is it a distraction from actually writing?”
It can be, I have to answer. See above.
But I have become a more organized and focused writer as a result, and that’s nothing to sneeze at.
Neither is the connection. I have met other wonderful writers and food journalists who have offered me new venues for my work. Here’s how I summed it up for my friend’s cousin, the aspiring romance novelist who was considering dipping her toe in the Twitter pool:
“Get on Twitter right away…search literary agent lists, romance and other writers lists…start following people…then look over the lists of their followers and follow some of them. Soon you’ve got a good bunch you can keep an eye on and help. With luck and effort, they'll start following back.We writers may work harder at selling ourselves than ever before, but each of us participating in this mix has found our modern-day Max Perkins.
“Don’t be afraid of starting up conversations with anyone you have good instincts about. I've found everyone is very, very friendly and genuinely interested in promoting, not only themselves, but you too, through their alliances with others.
“We all help each other become stronger and more widely read writers.”
Better, we have found our readers. On our blogs, on Twitter, on the e-zines we are honored to contribute to. Writers write, and we’re writing more every day as the world gets more technologically and economically complex. We’re read in ways the writers before us couldn’t have imagined and in the end, that’s all that matters.
Writers write. But we need readers if we want to continue. We’ve always had to find those readers one way or another. It’s the same as it ever was.
This post originally appeared appeared as "Same As It Ever Was" on Jane's blog Food and Fiction.
The author of Hunger (Forge 2001) and The Mosaic Artist (to be released), Jane Ward is at work on her third novel, a weekly food and fiction blog, and a cookbook/memoir entitled Tattooed with Food. She is also a contributing writer to the online food magazine Local In Season.