Scrutiny

Well, that was fun. Most of you reading this know, or at least suspect, that there was quite the uptick in visitors over here this past week. Due to someone else’s blog post Saying Nice Things and linking to my review of Bill Cameron’s terrific new book COUNTY LINE.

Are they gone yet? Good. Because that kind of thing, while very nice and flattering and ego-boosting, can also be fucking terrifying. Seriously, it will mess with your head if you let it. And I’m telling you, as a writer: you can’t let it.

I don’t usually give advice to other writers, so I’m making an exception here. I’m going to say this once and then we will never speak of it again. Because we have better things to do.

This post is for all the relatively inexperienced writers out there, in the event they ever wander back this way. The ones who came over here last week hoping to identify some elusive quality that attracts or is supposedly worthy of attention. If you’re a successful published author, this is not for you. Go write another book or something.

Writers are a strange bunch. We spend so much of our time in these days of internet access obsessed with visibility and popularity. Twitter followers. Facebook friends. Blog hits. We jump up and down, flailing our virtual writing-cramped hands saying, “Me, me, look at meeeee.” And then people unexpectedly focus their attention on us and we’re all, “Whoa. No, don’t look. Wait, don’t leave. Hell, I didn’t wash my hair today. Come back! Just, OMG, don’t look. I mean, yes, look here!”

We’re psychotic. And horribly vulnerable. But mostly psychotic. Or maybe that’s just me.

This is not the first time that some random “something” out there on the internet has led a bunch of people to my blog. Far from it. It’s not even the first time an agent has linked to my blog. Although this was the first time so many people visited in such a short period of time. Not big numbers by most standards, not even close. Still, pretty big for me.

But for every person who chose to comment on that post (nine at last count), there were at least 100 who did not. That’s not 100 total, but more than 100 for each person who commented. And they’re still coming. Think about that.

Then think about the fact that some publishing houses and literary agencies have a web host name that is their company name rather than, for instance, Verizon or Road Runner. So while you might not know who your visitors are, you look at your blog stats and you know where some of them work. Or that they’re in New York. Or Canada. Or the UK or India or Australia. Or that they came over to read your book review and then spent two entire days clicking on dozens of past blog posts. Posts you don’t even remember writing at this point.

You want that kind of attention? Are you sure? Because this kind of thing has the potential to make you crazy. Crazier.

The double-edged sword of having access to blog statistics, and everyone with an ounce of sense does these days, is that it’s a really great feeling to know so many people made their way over to your dusty corner of the internet and visited your obscure little blog. The downside, and you might not realize this until it happens to you, is that you have NO IDEA what any of them thought. But I can guarantee you that a good number of them rolled their eyes and left wondering what the big deal was. “Voice? Nope, I just don’t see it.” And many who didn’t comment were simply following their mother’s sage advice: “If you don’t have anything nice to say…”

Now before people start jumping all over me, I’m not putting myself down. My ego is just fine. I’m being realistic. For every person who loves your “voice” or your writing, there will be several more who are unimpressed or who actively hate it. You don’t believe me? Go pick out ten books at random in a bookstore and read the first three pages and tell me how many you love enough to want to buy them. One? Two? None? And yet several people loved those books enough to publish them. Opinion about writing is subjective. Granted, some opinion is more experienced or respected than others, but it’s still subjective.

In light of that, the other thing I want to tell all you new writers out there is that “getting attention” is not, should not be, your GOAL. Attention by itself is meaningless. Worthless. Well, unless someone is paying you per blog hit. If you’ve found someone willing to do that, please contact me immediately. After which you will meet with an unfortunate accident and I will generously offer to take your place. You’re welcome.

This should be a separate post, but let’s just get this over with. I know this contradicts every piece of advice out there that tells unpublished writers how important it is to be seen, to gather followers. I disagree. And I’m serious about this. Your goal should be to produce great writing. Period.

The thing about getting attention for its own sake is that, once you get it, people will think it’s undeserved. Unwarranted. Unfuckingbelievable. You have a popular blog? So what. How many books have you published? How many have you sold? How many readers are willing to stand in line at midnight before the release date of your next book? How many people are shoving your book into the hands of strangers, telling them they just have to read it?

I’ve been over here quietly writing blog posts for almost five years. I don’t promote this blog other than a tweet, maybe two, when I write a new one. Sometimes I post a link on Facebook, if I remember. I suck at Facebook. I haven’t even put up a sidebar link over here to my page. But when I comment on other blogs, in that little box that says “website (optional)” I dutifully enter my URL. If people want to find me, they will. Several do.

This blog is a place to say things I want to say when I have no other place to say them. The place where I practice, where I stretch and warm up and get comfortable with my voice. Where I make mistakes. Get feedback. Where my writing has space and time to get stronger and more confident. A place to stay in touch with people who like me and want to read my books someday. I do it because I enjoy it.

But my ultimate focus is not on “promoting” myself. It’s on writing a great book. Great writing promotes itself, compels other people to talk about it, share it and come back for more. Without that, all the attention in the world doesn’t do you a damn bit of good.

For me, the internet is about making friends and having fun. Pushing back the encroaching dark edges of writerly solitude. I wander around hoping to do that and sometimes I get lucky and meet interesting people who like me back. Last spring, I made a new friend. He wrote a book. I read it and loved it. I could not wait to tell my other friends, the handful of people who read this blog regularly, how great it is.

In my opinion, that’s the only kind of “self-promotion” worth doing, the kind done in support of others. The only kind that has a chance of standing up to the scrutiny of strangers.

If you’re a writer and you’re doing anything other than that, you’re doing it wrong.

28 Comments

Filed under deep thoughts, writing

28 responses to “Scrutiny

  1. jenb

    Besides being a gifted writer(and yes that is my opinion) you are willing to tell the truth.
    And as a reader, the writing/story will ring true as long as the writer is being true to the story that is being told.
    So thank you for being true to your craft; yes, I know it is a bad word—-

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  2. Thanks, Jen. And yeah, I’m not exactly known for my tact.

    But craft is not a bad word. Not at all. And maybe I didn’t make that point well enough, but you really nailed it. Because it is exactly “craft” that new unpublished writers need to work on. We all have limited time and resources. And I see so many writers putting their effort into being “noticed” when what they should be doing is working at becoming better writers. Honing their craft.

    I really kind of shudder to think how many of them are now planning to write book reviews in order to get attention. They’re missing the point.

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  3. *snort* I just realized you were talking about “craft” as in glue and scissors and paint and crayons and other nasty artistic things.

    YES! That is a Very Bad Word. Stop traumatizing me.

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  4. The people who are just trying to get noticed–frequently my reaction is “for what?” I know my interests are idiosyncratic, so I don’t want to diss this style of publicity too hard, but I’m also not interested in following it or enacting it myself. I want to interact with people who are doing things, reading things, thinking thoughts, telling stories, not obsessing over how many followers, how to get more, who stopped, when did they, etc. Publicity as well as writing takes time and has a learning curve, so if I’m not having at least a little fun, I’m going to have trouble making it last.

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  5. Exactly. I don’t want to be part of a mindless horde and I don’t think I want one following me.

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  6. I often feel sad that my somewhat flippant posts get more comments than the ones that are meaningful to me (especially when they get no remarks at all), but I know I just have to keep doing my best. Plus keep chipping away on my stories. It’s work but worth the effort.

    I’m used to not being popular. I’d probably freak out if I suddenly had lots of people descend on my blog. Writing is the important part. As someone who’s done far too much retail, I know that consistent sales depend on having a great product. Without that, marketing does little good in the long run. I also live in a small town. Anything worthwhile gets promoted by word of mouth. It may be slow sometimes to draw attention, but reputation is more lasting than an ad.

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  7. One time a photographer linked my rant blog about wedding to a site used by, you guessed it, wedding photographers. Suddenly folks from Greenland to Idon’tknowwherestan were visiting my blog. One commented on my shoes (which were in a photo) and on the Photographers website one person said I was a “Jaded Guy” (oops! I’m a girl) So it just goes to show you, one never knows what people google.

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  8. SD, don’t even get me started about search terms. A recent one was “painful lump that gushes blood when squeezed” and I’m looking at that and thinking, holy guacamole, if you have one of those, get thee to a doctor, stat. Don’t sit there googling it! And I loved your rant about weddings. It was hysterical. Guess we’re both jaded.

    Jaleh, in spite of recent evidence, this blog is not popular either. Really, it’s just not. Very small town over here. The first time I had a giant surge in stats, and I don’t even remember now what it was about, I totally freaked out. Was convinced I’d never be able to write another blog post. People were WATCHING. OMG! Well, you have to get over that. You can’t let it matter. And really, with so many people using Google Reader and RSS feeds, there’s no way to know how many people are reading. More than half the recent hits came from Readers rather than the actual post.

    The thing about writing is that it improves with practice. And that can take years. Blogging is good practice. So yes, keep chipping away. It’s the only way to do it.

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  9. Good points. And I laughed reading your blog. It sure makes me feel a little better about my miniblog (you know, the standard 7 followers who happen to be friends…) I’m focusing on writing my novel, not blogging! Although I wouldn’t cry to get lots of hits. I’m as vain as the next girl. Probably just as psychotic, too.

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  10. Melinda

    Well, I’m not sure what to say except that I am one of the many who wandered this way because of that special link, read the blog, and loved it. I bought the book too ;-p. It should be here Tuesday, so I’m excited by that. But mostly I’m excited to hear another voice out here in the wilderness. You made me laugh, and think, and feel a little bit less alone. So I hope you don’t mind if I stick around for a bit. Maybe kick off my shoes and hang out on the couch. I promise, I won’t be reviewing any books on a blog anywhere. I suck at reviewing books. And movies. I literally failed that section of my writing class in college. Sad, but true. At any rate, I just wanted to say…hi, it’s nice to meet you :-).

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  11. Are you kidding? Melinda, I’d love it if you felt comfortable hanging out here. That’s the best thing about the internet, feeling a little bit less alone. Well, that and pictures of Hugh Jackman. And good grief, if you really love a book, tell everyone. Seriously. Write the best review ever. But do it because you LOVE it. Careful of that couch, though. There have been some wild parties over here. Mostly while I’m on vacation.

    Rebekkah, I’m glad it made you laugh. But be careful what you wish for. Seven people who like you and support you is a blessing. Treasure every single one of them. They’re a whole hell of a lot easier to talk to than 1000 people intent on maintaining silence. 8)

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  12. Also, for those of you who are new over here . . . probably my next post will be about my cat. Or what I ate for lunch.

    Just saying.

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  13. Adrienne

    I’m another person who found my way over here because of the link to your book review, and now that you’ve called me out, I guess I should say hi. Hi. I enjoyed your review so much that I really was LOLing, and my kids were looking at me like what little mind I have left had completely shriveled into a raisin. So from one neurotic writer to another, keep up the funniness!

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  14. Melinda

    mmmmm Hugh Jackman! Oh, and I have two furbabies myself so I’m very pleased with kitty posts. *heads off to see the latest LOLcat.

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  15. How nice to come home from a very long day at work and find another unsuspecting victi– um, I mean, another writer friend. Hi, Adrienne! So glad I could make your kids look at you the same way mine look at me. Isn’t it comforting to know they’ll be the ones to decide at what point we should be committed once we get old?

    Melinda, if you like cats, you might appreciate the post I linked to in my last comment above. Unless you’re squeamish. Or are overly fond of mice.

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  16. McB

    I’m disavowing any knowledge of any wild parties that may, or may not, have taken place on your blog while you were, or were not, on vacation.

    Has the dog recovered yet?

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  17. LMAO! And look who is over here suddenly acting like the innocent bystander. Nice try, McB.

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  18. me

    Psychotic. Yep, that’s pretty much me in a nutshell.

    I can’t bring myself to do my own blog. I wrote a guest post on someone else’s blog this week and I am totally freaked out about it, still wondering whether or not it was a good idea. Eeek people are looking at me! Or, eeek people are not looking at me! Or, eek, people will think I’m a self-absorbed, uninformed twit! I’ll just stick to working on my writing alone and commenting other people’s blogs instead (and maybe drooling over Hugh Jackman). Safer that way. For me, and probably everyone else, too.

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  19. C.J.

    So the ego is intact, good. 🙂
    I was another one who found my way here through the link. I wasn’t one of the “nine” who commented.
    Don’t be so quick to assume no more comments were made because we didn’t like or agree with your review. Before I was done reading it, I added you to my favs… right under Books Ends, Janet Reid, Navigating the Slush Pile and Query Shark.
    Then I checked out the rest of your blog (love it).
    I now have five blogs I will follow on a regular basis. Damn you! I don’t have time for this! HA!
    Just wanted to say hi and let you know, I’m watchinnng you.

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  20. [gulp] Well, CJ, it’s nice to know you’re diversifying your blog reading, because this is like one of those tricky SAT questions: Which one of these things is NOT AT ALL like the others? Not that I’m not delighted you like my blog, because I am. I just think you’re going to be disappointed when my next post is about oatmeal. Or the squirrel in my fireplace. Or something. (I’m totally faking that whole ego thing.)

    ME!! Where’s the link to your guest post? I didn’t know you were doing that. Damnit, woman, there is a time to promote yourself just a wee bit and this is it! Now I’m going to have to track you down and slap you silly. How, exactly, do you imagine this safer for you?

    And, um, why do you say “self-absorbed, uninformed twit” as if that’s somehow a bad thing?

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  21. Just watch out for the guac stains on the couch. Not that I would know anything about that.

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  22. Oh lord, I’d forgotten that wild party we had here whilst KDJ was away. Good times. Um… not that I was responsible for any damage, mind you. By the way, when are you going on vacation next? Just asking.

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  23. I’m not going anywhere until I get rid of Clyde the Fireplace Squirrel. You all are wild enough without a squirrel in the mix. So to speak.

    And thanks for the reminder to forward the bill for the dry cleaning. And the sand blasting. And the therapy.

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  24. Geez. You bring one camel onto someone else’s blog, and all of a sudden you’re getting sued.

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  25. me

    As demanded — er, requested — here is the link to my guest blog, wherein I talk about self-publishing, particularly as it relates to my work. Don’t say you weren’t warned.

    http://writeiam.blogspot.com/

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  26. Melinda

    OK I just read the cat tail (er, tale). OMG, that is hysterical! I remember one of my fur babies doing something similar to me. I was laying in bed, still in between sleep and awake, when she jumped up and perched on my stomach. Since she did this quite often to wake me up, I didn’t think anything of it and kept my eyes closed. I reached up and started stroking her with one hand and realized she felt very stiff. VERY stiff. Taunt, even. I opened my eyes and there is my cat, perched on my stomach, her face inches from mine, with a mouse dangling from her mouth. A mouse which was very much alive and kicking. I screamed, and simultaneously bolted upright and out of bed, and threw the cat across the room. She dropped her prize, which ran under my bedroom door and headed off for parts unknown as I screamed. My cat glared at me for the rest of the day. There she was, bringing me a present and look how I reacted!

    We never found the mouse. But we smelled it…for several days.

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  27. Oh, Melinda. I’m laughing and cringing at the same time. Can’t imagine waking up to a live mouse in my face. No need for caffeine THAT morning. At least we were able to dispose of the carcass.

    See now, ME, how easy that was? Proud of you!

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  28. That’s a great post! A lot of food for thought

    Like

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