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Friday, March 23, 2012

Writers, Time, and Social Networking

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.

Dining room #1
Photo by dicktay2000

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!

14 comments:

  1. I think if we're going to have to market ourselves, we're living in a great age to do it. No door to door, no paper trails really. I can make connections, build friendships, interact with people all over the world...in my PJ's. Uh, that's a sweet deal! :)

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  2. Yep, I think all of those have helped ME to discover new writers, so they're great venues for me to use to build my own platform. Of course, I'll really see how much it all "worked" if and when I have a book published.

    I actually enjoy social media; it's actually difficult to tear myself away and tell myself to write (even though I love writing too). To me, "building a platform" is fun, not work. But you know what they say about too much play...

    Happy Friday!

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  3. I want people to eat my food.

    Yes, I see how the intention of connecting with others--seeing it in that light can truly impact how our work will sell.

    And like you, I've spend a good deal of time understanding social networking as a part of my career of choice.

    You are a champion, Jill. Through and through!
    ~ Wendy

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  4. Good morning!

    I woke up to no Internet--again! So I'm at our beautiful library right now. What a pretty view! The river, geese, ducks, and a historic brick building are directly across from the huge expanse of glass I'm in front of. I should work here all the time!

    Jessica P: I am so with you! Anything I can do in yoga pants in the comfort of my own home is fine by me!

    Lindsay: I do too. There have been times over the years where I've needed to back away either due to time or my mental state, but I aim for consistency. Social media blesses me!

    Wendy: Oh, thanks! I think we need to continually remind ourselves that we are a business. My business is me--my author name, all of my books, and all of the way I get my name out there. :)

    Thanks so much for stopping by!

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  5. Teachers just want to teach. They do much more. They grade papers, create lesson plans, deal with parents.

    Amen to that one! I don't know how many times when I was teaching that I complained, "I wish I could just TEACH!" But there are so so so many other things we have to do.

    Excellent comparisons, Jill.

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  6. Jill, using your chef analogy, I used to think that since I hadn't opened the restaurant yet I didn't need to advertise. But now that I've begun to blog, twitter and FB, I realize how important those social networks are. And when I become published, it will be wonderful to have those in place. Great post!

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  7. I've just come to accept that it's all part of the deal of being a writer. Excellent comparisons.

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  8. Was it just me, or was the writer's list the longest?? ;)

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  9. This is really great stuff, Jill! I do consider the time I spend online part of my "career." but yeah it can get overwhelming. I find I'm able to enjoy those non-writing things when I see it as relationship-building. Writing can feel solitary sometimes do all those things help turn it into a social experience. :)

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  10. I consider blogging and social media integral aspects of my job as a writer. I wrote for two years in isolation. Had I sold a book back then, I'd have had no clue how to promote it--or even that I was expected to help promote it.

    Only by connecting online did I learn what was expected of a published author today. The added bonus was the many wonderful friendships I've formed. I can't get over how many people are awaiting the release of my book this summer and want to help spread the word. That's what it's all about: friends helping friends.

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  11. What it has boiled down to for me is - first I have to have that great food. All that advertising isn't going to help me if my restaurant is serving crappy meals, and if the advertising is taking away from my ability to prepare those meals, it's time to cut back on the one to focus on the other.

    So, when social media starts to flood the time I need to hone my writing skills, that's when I step back and cut down. Get the writing the best I possibly can FIRST, and then I can worry about putting myself out there.

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  12. I've been a bit stressed since I signed my contract and realized I've got to write a new book, because once it gets closer to release time I'm going to be really busy. And it's hard to figure out how to budget not only my time but WHICH social media to focus on, as we've discussed.

    Great post, Jill.

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  13. I find myself struggling with the time suck of social media, but it does have its perks and benefits (friendships being one of the biggies). And I hope when the time comes to publish my own novel it will have been worth the effort. I think it will.
    Jill, your list of other professions, and the reminders of the tasks they perform in order to be successful at what they love is eye-opening. Thanks for laying that out. It helps put all we do as writers into perspective.

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