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.