Friday, May 25, 2012

An Aversion to Marketing with a Fear of Bleeding

A lot of people, myself included, blog because they're writers, and these days a blog is pretty much an obligation for a writer. Though you see the occasional article reminding you that some authors sell books just fine without participating in social media, there is a powerful sense that you absolutely must participate in social media or no one will buy your books. Ever.

Great. So you're a writer, and now you have a blog. What do you do with it? The obvious thing is to post news of whatever you're publishing. This makes your blog sort of a brochure. If someone reads one of your stories somewhere and wants to know more about you, that person can come to your blog and find out more. This reader can see what you've been up to and then maybe check out some of your other work.

I am sure this happens occasionally. I, in fact, often check out other people's blogs that way. But if you are not as famous as Neil Gaiman, there is probably no one besides your partner and your best friend — if you're lucky — who hangs breathlessly on your every blog post, just dying to hear more about what you've been working on lately.

This brings up a few questions. Can you grab those people who sometimes check you out and maybe keep them? Is there something you can do or say that will increase their interest in what you're working on? Also, can you "build an audience?" In other words, can you start to gather a group of people who are interested in what you say and what you are working on lately?

This is where I think it breaks down for many people. Writers are being flogged with the notion that they need to "build audience." And that they can somehow use social media for that. I'm a writer, so I know.

But I'm also a reader, and I can tell you that many writers I'm interested in manage to turn me off with the way they use social media to build audience, reducing my interest rather than increasing it. And I think I might be guilty, too.

Here's the thing: Maybe you can be a stone cold marketer and use those guides to social media to build audience. If so, you probably shouldn't be reading this. But I'm someone who wants to build audience — translated back into real people talk, I mean, I want people to read my blog — but I have an aversion to marketing. I feel like real people, the readers I want, can smell marketing and will avoid it like the plague. I know I do. I have stopped following many blogs because they seemed like nothing more than self-serving news feeds.

So I asked myself what I like as a reader. What makes me more interested in a blog, rather than less?

It turns out to be the same thing I like in any writing. It's when the author bleeds on the page. When the author is passionate, surprising. I'm engaged if they're engaging. I don't want to read transparent attempts to sell your book. I want to know what made you mad as hell, and what you love. I want you to teach me something. It's a tall order. But if you win me over that way, I'll follow you far. I'll buy your work and click your links and go like your stuff on Facebook and whatever stuff like that you want me to do.

So, you know, a really tough step one, and then you'll have me in the palm of your hand for all the steps after that.

Can I do that as a writer? If the only blogs I like are the ones where the author bleeds on the page, can I follow suit?

That's hard. I fear bleeding. I do it slowly. I do it with lots of revisions. When I write stories, I absolutely bleed on the page. I never wanted to do it anywhere else. I never wanted to do it in front of people. And while I stand by what I write in my stories, I have a real fear of revealing my real self on my blog, my real opinions, my true voice. What if I come out and say something I only hinted at in a story, and as a result someone decides she hates me and won't buy my book? That's only the beginning of my fear.

I think that blogging has a lot of elements that amplify this sort of fear. The system of reward and punishment makes it hard to be brave about bleeding on the page. That's something I plan to explore in upcoming posts.

But the title of this post is my rough title for this series: An Aversion to Marketing with a Fear of Bleeding. That's a statement of the problem I'm trying to solve.

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