The comments from Wednesday's post opened my eyes to how pressured many writers feel today about marketing, building and maintaining a platform, and how it affects the time they spend writing.
I get it.
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We already struggle to find time to write; adding all of the social media responsibilities takes even more of our precious minutes away. The tug-of-war between doing what we love, writing, with something that feels vague and at times uncomfortable , social networking, exhausts us.
Maybe we want to hear, "you don't need to do anything but write a good book," from the experts? Maybe it would be nice to hear, "all that social media stuff is just a bunch of hoopla." Maybe we even long for, "the right book will sell itself."
Maybe, ten years ago, we would have heard all these and more.
But times have changed. Publishing has changed. Most of all, the competition has changed.
We are now competing against millions of other writers who are just as eager, even desperate, to get their books published and in front of readers. Yes, we need to write a good book. But even that sometimes isn't enough. There are plenty of good writers out there. Judge a contest. Head to your fellow writers' blogs. Good writing isn't scarce.
Building a strong platform doesn't guarantee a writer will land an agent or clinch a contract. It doesn't even mean she will sell 10,000 books. We can have a fabulous blog, a ton of Facebook fans, a huge Twitter following, a well-crafted book, and still not get any interest in our queries. That's one reason many writers have opted to self-publish. They've done everything "right" and still can't get a foot in the door.
I'm not saying this to discourage, not at all. It's just good to keep things in perspective. Writing isn't about earning a degree and landing a job. It's not about annual performance reviews and raises. We aren't employees. We're entrepreneurs. That's right, we're business owners, and our business is more than just our writing.
Imagine you're a chef. You decide to open a small restaurant. You find the perfect location, renovate it, create a menu, hire employees, put up a website, and advertise it. You easily spend 80 hours a week to start this venture, and when it opens, you continue to devote well over the conventional 40 hours per week there.
Why are you willing to spend so much time and energy at it? Because you love cooking and you want people to recognize your food. Sure, you could work as a chef at someone else's restaurant, but for some reason, your heart calls you to cook the meals you want to cook.
We could write for someone else. We could ghostwrite someone else's stories and not worry about all the social media. We could write content for a large company or type up technical manuals. But most of us have a powerful desire to write the books we want to write. It's not just about the writing. It's about our writing.
We say we just want to write. The chef might just want to cook. But he knows to make his business successful, he has to do more--much more--than just cook each night. He either does all the extra tasks like managing, advertising, accounting, and purchasing, or he hires someone else to do it. He doesn't have the luxury of "just cooking" anymore.
Don't you think it's worth it when he walks out into the dining room on a Friday night and sees a line out the door and every table filled? Will he wonder if he advertised enough? If the website was worth it? I doubt it. And since his food is divine, the customers can't wait to tell their friends about the delicious meal they had. More customers come. Ah, the beauty of word of mouth.
On the other hand, if he doesn't advertise at all, he might head into the dining room that same Friday night and see three customers, all family members. He might regret not putting the ad in the paper or forking over the money for a website.
But the food is good, right? Yeah, but no one is there to eat it. No one is spreading the word. Even if he starts advertising now, it might be too late. Restaurants are a risky start-up, expensive to run, difficult to make a profit at. He won't have much time to build a customer base if he doesn't have deep pockets, and unfortunately, he just wasted the prime time, the store opening, to get those customers in the door.
If you're at all discouraged by the amount of time you spend doing non-writing things for your career, please don't be. You're a business owner. Increasing your potential for profits is part of your job. Think of the time spent networking online as similar to the chef who places an ad in the paper or hands out fliers around town.
Teachers just want to teach. They do much more. They grade papers, create lesson plans, deal with parents.
Actors just want to act. They do much more. They grant interviews, go to red carpet events, travel at inconvenient times.
Doctors just want to help patients. They do much more. They deal with paperwork, insurance, staff.
Engineers just want to design. They do much more. They collaborate with other departments, order materials, create reports, hunt down blueprints.
Writers just want to write. We do much more. We study, query, create proposals, network, market ourselves and our books.
We don't know what tactics will make a difference in our future sales, but we do know we've given it our best shot.
If we reframe the idea of social-networking as part of our job description, we feel less guilty about the amount of time we spend doing it.
Do you consider social networking (blogging, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, e-newsletters, etc...) a smart way to build an audience and possibly grow buzz about your projects? If not, what are smart alternatives to build an audience in today's changing publishing world?
Have a fantastic weekend!