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Why You Need a Professional Blog (Part 2)

Photo of the bookstore The Dusty Bookshelf, courtesy Julie Velez

My dusty dreams

It’s been nearly three months since I told you that you should start a blog to become a better writer. My attitude hasn’t changed a whit, but my advice has.

You see, when I was…let’s say twelve, I decided I wanted to be a writer when I grew up. I liked writing well enough, I loved reading, but my reasoning was extremely practical: I wanted a job I could do from home. I wanted a job I could do from any home, because at the time I figured I was going to be living in a castle in New Zealand by the time I turned twenty. I didn’t want geography impeding my career.

As I grew up, some things changed. I gave up on a lot of my plans for my future, but one childish fantasy lingered. I believed, with all my heart, that I would be a fabulously successful novelist before I turned twenty. It wasn’t something I spent a lot of time dwelling on, it wasn’t a motivational sort of thing, it was just something I knew. It was a logical truth. There was no question to it.

And then I grew up more, and that didn’t happen. I hit twenty without getting discovered (and, for what it’s worth, without sending out a single manuscript submission). At twenty-one I finished a pretty decent fantasy novel and started sending it out, but I got no bites. At twenty-two I did a major revision, a complete rewrite really that dramatically improved the story’s readability, and even as I took on my first full-time job to pay the bills, I spent a year aggressively shopping my novel to publishers and editors. And I got nothing.

Somewhere in that process I finally started to realize that getting rich and famous wasn’t a foregone conclusion. I started paying a lot more attention to the process, started reading writer and publisher blogs, started learning all the dirty rumors that circulate about the dreaded slush pile. I began to get a concept just how many new novels are mailed off to publishing houses every day, and how very few new authors actually get published in any given year.

Then something sad happened. I gave up. I came to accept that I had about as much chance of getting published as I had of winning the lottery, and I stopped sending off submissions. I stopped writing. I stopped hoping. I watched my lifelong dream wither and die.

And that wrecked my life. I sank into a deep depression. I became a terrible employee, a terrible husband, and a terrible friend. I stopped trying to accomplish anything, and just spent my days killing time. It was a miserable experience. I tried to live my life based on a childish expectation, and I paid a terrible price for it.

Lucky for me, nobody walked away. Not my wife, not my friends, not my family. They kept believing in me, even when I didn’t, and they brought me out the other side. I grew up a little. I became a better person, and started writing again. It took me two more years, but eventually I even started looking into the publication process again — this time without the distorting lens of entitled disappointment. I learned something then that I should have seen years before:

It’s not enough to write a good book. That’s just the beginning of the process.

Building a Platform

The fact of the matter is, writing and getting published is a process. It’s a slow process — most published fiction authors are in their thirties when they sell their debut novels. It’s also a challenging process that takes a mighty commitment, but it’s a process that works. The first step is to write a fantastic manuscript, which is our favorite part. Once you have that manuscript, though, it’s time to start getting noticed.

These days, they’re calling the process of getting noticed “building a platform.” When you send off a manuscript submission, one of the most important things to include in your cover letter is a paragraph describing your platform. If you’re actively involved in a social organization, you can talk about that. If you’re important enough to get media coverage, you can talk about that. If you’re a widely published author with a huge fan base, you can talk about that. That’s what an acquisitions editor wants to hear.

That’s no help when you’re just starting out, though. How are you supposed to get a fan base, if you’re not published yet? The answer, of course, is with a high quality, effective website. You have the chance, right now, to start letting the world know who you are, and why they should care about you. You have the chance to start convincing Google that anyone typing your name into their search page is looking for you.

It’s more than just name recognition, though. The internet makes it easy for you to demonstrate the ability you’ve been developing. Show off your writing chops! And don’t stop there. The internet rewards authorities, subject matter experts, so start establishing yourself as an authority. As you do that, as you gather real followers and create a real demand for your words, you make yourself more and more appealing to all the acquisitions editors who’ve been signing your rejection letters.

Using Your Platform

Just this week Writer’s Digest published a blog post on Facebook explaining why aspiring writers should start a blog. It is packed with good information. Here are a couple of its best points, from the section, “How Will This Help You Get Published?”

You need a starting block. You don’t want to start thinking about a site/blog the moment you need one. There’s a learning curve. Wouldn’t it be much better to have familiarity with site or blog building tools, to already have a structure in place, to already have a knowledge base? These things take time to learn, grow and improve. By the time you DO get published, your site will be far more refined and sophisticated if you’ve been tinkering and improving over a number of years.

You need to develop an understanding of online interaction. Once you have a site/blog, you can start experimenting in ways you couldn’t before. You can comment on other blogs and link back to your own site, you can make mentions of it on Facebook and Twitter. You can add it to business cards, talk about it at events, etc. And you can watch how visits are affected or not. It gives you a baseline to work from when you REALLY want your site to accomplish something. Wouldn’t it be great if, in the early stages, there wasn’t pressure for the site to perform or grow?

I recommend reading the whole thing, though. It’s not terribly long, and it gets into some good specifics.

I followed on from there to another article, this one from a blog called Writer Unboxed, called “Audience Development: Critical to Every Writer’s Future.” The abstract of that one is the same as the Writer’s Digest article I shared in the last Week in Words — publishers are fundamentally incapable of getting your books in the hands of the people you want to read them. That responsibility falls on you.

Giving Up on the Gatekeepers

So what’s the point of publishers, then? There’s a lot to be said for the value of editors, as Toby reminded me earlier this week. Beyond that…I don’t know. There are arguments to be made (and I provided a link to a blog up top that is anxious to make precisely those arguments). I don’t really have any vested interest in making them, though.

When it comes right down to it, it seems like the major publishing houses are making themselves increasingly irrelevant (a topic I’ll address in a lot more detail next week). The thing about it, though…either way, what you need to do is exactly the same. You need to learn to be the best writer you can, you need to write a compelling manuscript, and you need to establish a strong platform to market yourself to the audience you want to reach.

Maybe you’re doing it so you can land a good agent and get a contract with a publisher who expects precisely that of you. Maybe you’re doing it to build your own distribution network for self-published e-Books. Either way, you need to be blogging. If you need to know how to get started making a professional blog, go back to last Tuesday’s article. I understand if you skipped it at first, but that message is more important to the Creative Writers out there than to anyone else at all.

Photo credit Julie V. Photography.

5 Responses to “Why You Need a Professional Blog (Part 2)”

  1. Delanie says:

    Great post – very helpful and full of lots of good advice – thank you!

    Yes, you need to write for YOU foremost and the “rest” will follow.

    Having a blog is the perfect way to practice your skill and refine it.

    • Aaron Pogue says:

      Thanks, Delanie! It was great to hear from you.

      I took a class in college, “Individualized Writing,” which was all about writing personal nonfiction in an interesting way. At the time, it seemed like a strangely narrow topic (especially for a required course), but looking back on it now, it could just have easily been named “Introduction to Blogging.”

      For storytellers, it’s so easy to get caught up in creating new worlds and people, and stringing together a fascinating plot…and lose track of the storytelling. I feel like blogs force us to bring everything back to real life, and relearn the art of saying something ordinary in an interesting way.

  2. Dave Doolin says:

    “Individualized Writing” does sound like blogging.

    Do you have your notes?

    • Aaron Pogue says:

      Chances are good. I never throw away anything with words on it.

      I’ll have to check. I didn’t actually make the connection until about ten seconds into that last comment, but it was sparked in part by an email conversation I had with Julie Roads yesterday over what it is that makes her writing so special.

      She’s mastered the blog-story format. I should do a feature on her sometime.

  3. Trish Pogue says:

    Yes, Aaron doesn’t throw anything away. Unfortunately, I enjoy getting rid of things that we haven’t looked at in years. Hope I didn’t throw your notes away too.

    I bet there is a university close to home that needs to add Introduction to Blogging to their fall line up. And you already have the curriculum started.