I am a big fan of Chris Brogan — his TRUST AGENTS is one of those books I practically hurl at people’s heads (in a good way), I recommend it so much — and although he talks about how social media and community-building applies to business, a lot of what he says applies to writers.
The line between writer and creative entrepreneur is thinning all the time. Soon it might just disappear.
In this entry in his Overnight Success series, Chris talks about how platform-building and community-building come before success, not after. This is an important point for writers to realize. I was at a workshop where the instructor was urging the members to get online and start building our author platforms and holding me up as an example (not that I’m some expert, although I like to think I’m working on it).
“But she,” said one woman, pointing her pen at me, “is on a different level from the rest of us,” meaning that I am published and they are not.
But that’s kind of the point. I would have done so much better if I had developed a robust online platform before my first book came out in 2005. If there’s one thing I’ve learned since publication it’s just how difficult it is to win people’s attention and trust (and money) enough for them to take a chance on your novel, let alone win them over as loyal readers.
Also, it takes time.
Think about what needs to happen for word-of-mouth to build: someone has to buy your book, then actually read it, then recommend it to friends, who need to actually read it, then recommend it to their friends…and so on.
In the old days of publishing (which now seem as long-gone as the dinosaurs), publishers gave you the space and patience for that to happen. If they published you in hardcover, your first readers had a year to get the word out about you and jumpstart the second life your book experienced when it came out in paperback.
If you were published in original paperback, publishers would nurture you along for four or five books while you steadily accumulated a readerbase.
Not that any of this was guaranteed — or easy — but you had that fighting chance, and it enabled someone like Dean Koontz to survive as an obscure midlist writer (under various pseudonyms) for twenty years before breaking through to the bestselling lists (again under different pseudonyms, which indicates that maybe, just maybe, personal talent, skill and effort can mean as much if not more than luck).
Things are different now.
Writers are so focused on the Holy Grail of that first book contract, which (usually) takes ten or more years of serious writing practice to attain, that they often don’t realize that the second (and third and fourth) contracts can be as challenging. Publishers can’t afford — and are not willing — to carry you anymore. They want numbers. As in sales numbers. They want you to burst out of the gate like the sleekest of racehorses. If you don’t, they drop you, and you face the challenge of starting all over again, possibly under a different pen name so that the stink of poor sales won’t trail you and drag you down.
I’ve learned enough about social media and platform-building to know what I wish I’d known before I was published, and in this series I’ll be talking about that (alternating with my write like a bad girl series).
In the meantime, another book I can’t recommend enough is Jeff Vandermeer’s BOOKLIFE: Tips and Strategies for the 21st Century Writer.