Over on SMFS this weekend there's been a discussion about author's platforms. And yeah, I kind of started the ball rolling after reading this blog post by Gayle Bartos-Pool http://writersinresidence.blogspot.com/2009/09/buiding-platform-introduction.html
What really pissed me off about this post was that in her steps to building a platform she lists "creating a web presence, getting your face out there (sort of on the 10 Most Wanted list) and discovering who you really are in the first place." And you should do all of this before you've even finished your book. Do you see anything there about being the best writer that you can be? No? I didn't either. And assuming that you're going to sell a novel before it's even written? Please. There are published authors out there who aren't that confident.
When I write, I want the reader to get to know the characters, to see their faces, to hear their stories. I don't want them picturing some grey-haired old grandmother who forgets to comb her hair in the morning. I know who I am, I'm the writer who put those characters on the page and tried to stay invisible while I was doing it. Is knowing me going to sell this story? I don't think so, and I've got a collection of rejection letters from editors, who do know me, that prove that fact.
The story should always come first. It's my understanding that it usually takes one to two years from submission to the point where your book is published. That should give you plenty of time to drum up publicity and get people talking about your STORY. After all, Dan Brown wasn't DAN BROWN before "The DaVinci Code" even though he was already a multi-published author. And nobody in the world knew who JK Rawlings was before "Harry Potter" hit the bookshelves. It was the story that took their names to a new level, not web sites, not twitter, not FaceBook, My Space, or CrimeSpace.
I remember reading a piece one time about "A Christmas Carol" by Charles Dickens. The story was written as a newspaper serial and when the boats from England were docking in New York there were crowds gathered yelling up to the crew asking what happened to Tiny Tim. Dickens was a "rock star", not because everyone knew him personally but because he wrote a story that spoke to the readers. Mark Twain is another example. Want someone newer? How about Robert B. Parker and Stephen King and Anne Rice?
Yes, a writer has to help publicize their work, but make it about the work, not the writer. All of the early interviews I saw with JK Rawlings, she talked about Harry and his world, not the world of JK Rawlings, that came later when she proved she could tell a story.
Am I wrong about this? I very well could be. I'm just a short story writer not a novelist, but even here, in the world of short stories, it's not my name or personality that sells a story but the story itself.
Oh, if you're looking for a dose of reality about the publishing business - give this a try.