Sunday, September 6, 2009

A Sunday Rant

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

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.


Michael Bracken said...

ON PLATFORM: Unfortunately, too many early career writers think "building a platform" means shouting "Read Me! Read Me! Read Me!" at every opportunity. Alas, that tends to turn the potential audience AWAY.

ON SALES: "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."

Even in the short story trenches, name recognition can help make a sale. If an editor has a 3,000-word-hole to fill and has two stories of equal quality that she could buy to fill it, she's likely to then consider the name value of the two writers. Will putting Writer A's name on the cover sell more copies of the magazine than Writer B's? Guess which story she's going to buy.

And a writer's personality can kill a sale. If, while building your platform, you've revealed yourself to be a self-absorbed pain-in-the-ass, you just may be killing your sales. You can only hope that the sheer brilliance of your writing overcomes the distaste you leave in the mouths of everyone who comes in contact with you.

So, yeah, name and personality can affect your sales, even if you're "just a short story writer."

Brian Lindenmuth said...

I could have more to say about the topic at hand but but I don't want to at the moment -- so maybe later.

But I will say that you are at a point where we (and there are quite a few of us) who read your stories because it's one of YOUR stories. You have something of a brand established. But the difference is that you have developed one organically, the right way, from the story up.

Just my 2 cents.

sandra seamans said...

You caught me, Michael. I knew when I said name recognition that would bite in the butt, because I immediately thought of Stephen King, but since I'm not on a level with him, I just shrugged it off. I was thinking more at my level than the giant names or more prolific writers like yourself.

I've never seen the point of being a pain in an editor's ass. If I want to keep writing, they have to know that they can work with me especially this early in my writing.

sandra seamans said...

I've never thought of myself as a brand, Brian. I just write stories and the truth is, it still surprises me that people read them.

Conda Douglas said...

Michael makes excellent points, Sandra, as do you. Having just come from the Willamette Writers conference, I have a slightly different take on this. All the agents and editors screamed "Platform, platform, platform!" but then explained why. The publishing world has changed and a new author must establish a presence first now, before publication.

By happenstance, my next post deals with what is obviously a painful subject for many authors, building a platform.

sandra seamans said...

I realize that writers need to let people know about their work, but to tell beginning writers that they need a platform before they have a clue what's going on seems like putting the cart before the horse.

When I first came on the net about five or six years ago, I met a lot of beginning writers. They had blogs and websites a couple of publishing credits and now they've just vanished.

Too many writers want that quick fix publication. Week after week, it's hey, look at me. But the problem is, many of them aren't learning their craft. They've got a great platform but the underpinnings just aren't there to keep that platform standing. And no one is telling them how to build a solid platform that will endure the ups and downs of publishing.

Maybe this is the publishing industry's way of weeding out the poor writers?

pattinase (abbott) said...

I think novel writers are in such a state of desperation on how to sell novels right now that makes things like a web presence seem like a good idea. Their publishers and agents are steering them sometimes.
As short story writers, who earn little or nothing (except for Michael and a few others) we are not in the same bind. At my age, I am just happy to have someone publish it or read it. But if I was writing novels, I fear, that same desperation would set in. Every day there are less newspaper reviews, less library sales, less bookstore shelf space and bookstores themselves. What a state of things.

sandra seamans said...

And its that desperation that makes them sound like a bunch of hucksters hawking their wares. If the publishing companies spent even a fourth of what they give to their big name writers on publicity for their other lines, they'd sell a whole lot more books than what an author can sell on their own.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Amen to that.