Thursday, February 03, 2011

The Value of Blogging

Right now I'm struggling with the value of keeping a blog as an author, whether published or unpublished. I know many agents and authors think building a web presence before being published is essential, but I'm not sure I've seen the light quite yet. Yes, I read author blogs, but I don't read the blogs of authors whose books I read. I read author blog to learn more about writing, but I don't want to know anything about my favorite authors. I want to believe their characters were conjured out of thin air and are really living and breathing somewhere. Not knowing too much about the author preserves that illusion.

My other reason for not reading certain author blogs is this - I'm afraid that if I read the blog of an author I like, they'll give me a reason not to like them anymore. I once was following a writer blog and found that I just wasn't liking her as a person. For me, her posts were often self-congratulatory or out and out bragging. After one particularly self-loving post I vowed never to return.

I also worry about how to strike the right tone in blog. Unless you write non-fiction, I don't know how a blog can reflect your work and I know firsthand that the wrong tone can turn off the reader. I followed a blog for awhile that used the most over-written language I'd seen since college. The author wrote in a way that seemed so self-consciously "writery" that I knew she had to write her novels the same way. If I'd never read her blog and seen her book in a store, I'd probably be inclined to pick it up. Now I'd go out of my way not to read her book.

So that's my dilemma - do I continue to blog in the hopes of networking while simultaneously opening myself up to the possibility of alienating future readers? Or do I accept that most readers wouldn't even think of visiting an author's blog?

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

How to Build a Blog Following

OK, so the title of this post is somewhat tongue-in-cheek. I say that because I'm fairly certain, based on the zero comments I have received to date, that I have no blog followers. But that doesn't mean I'm not trying. Last night, when I should have been in bed an hour before, my husband asked me what I was still doing up.

"I'm building a web presence."

He gave me a curious look. "Is that a real thing?"

I know I have a long road ahead of me, but I am trying.

I've started by studying those who I think are the masters. Writers who have a large online following and lots and lots of comments to every blog post. But in trying to figure out what they're doing right, I've discovered a lot more about what others are doing wrong. I've visited lots of blogs, done more commenting in the past few months than I've done in all my 14 years online combined, and I'm starting to see an obvious pattern about what makes me (and others) follow one blog over another.

A Successful Blogger Responds to Comments

This is something that jumped out at me right away. When I started tiptoeing into the comment arena I first only commented on blogs that had very few comments themselves. "Surely they'll read my comment and even respond," I thought. I also avoided commenting on popular blogs. "This author has 50 comments already," I reasoned, "So they're unlikely to respond when I say the same thing everyone else is saying."

But the opposite appeared to be true. The popular bloggers, even if they had hundreds of comments, still found time to insert a personal response or two. They recognized that someone had taken time out of their day to comment on their blog post and it was clear they appreciated it. The less popular bloggers, on the other hand, never bothered to respond. Not even a "thanks for dropping by!" The result was that some blog posts were creating a dialogue while others were merely diary entries of someone I felt less and less connected with. I'll let you guess who I began to revisit.

A Successful Blogger Comments on Other Blogs

I see blogger links on sites all the time but they rarely entice me to click through. I can't say the same about blog comments. When someone leaves a funny, insightful, or even controversial comment I'm often compelled enough to click through their profile to their site. It's like the comment has given me a small taste of what the blog will be like. Also, bloggers often visit the sites of their commenters, both in interest and as a way of being polite (you took the time to drop by, I'll return the favor.) Bloggers who don't comment on others' blogs miss both these kinds of traffic.

A Successful Blogger Posts Regularly 

Whether it's every day, or on a MWF-type schedule, you're going to lose your audience if you go for long stretches with no new posts. There are exceptions to this - like if your blog is so fantastically interesting that people are willing to wait between posts - but you're more likely to lose readers if you post sporadically. You're certainly guaranteed not to gain followers this way.

Of course, there are many other ways to build a blog following, but these are the ones I've observed recently.

What about you? What is it about your favorite bloggers (other than their interesting posts) that keep you coming back?

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

What's Your Best Time to Write?

There are two things I need to write well on a daily basis: time to write, and the right time. Rarely do these two things overlap. Through lots and lots of trial and error, I've discovered that I write best somewhere between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. That's when the creative juices are flowing and I'm at my most alert and focused.

But that's the right time. My actual time to write usually falls after 8 p.m. That's when both kids are in bed and I have the computer to myself without any distractions. Except that my husband walks in and out of the room about twenty times. And the after dinner munchies start kicking in. And it takes me a full hour to decompress after the day before I can put myself "in the zone." And my head starts to become fuzzy the closer and closer I get to 10 p.m.

So what's a girl to do? Both of my children have an almost unearthly ability to always be awake when the other is asleep, so two kids napping at once during the day is but a far off dream. And I considered going to bed early and getting up early for a few weeks to write at 6 a.m., but I'm pretty sure I'm even less of a morning person. For now I have no answer. I tap out edits in the evening and then in the light of day I cringe over everything I wrote the night before. Sometimes each sentence feels like a dream where you know what you want to say but when you open your mouth no words come out. Most of these blog posts have been written during this horrendous hour, which may explain some things.

So how is it for you? Can you write at any time of day or do you have a "magic hour?"

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Why I don't tell people I'm writing a novel

If I were to tell you I was moving to L.A. to try to make it as a movie actress, would your first reaction be "Great! Call me when you're in a movie with Tom Cruise and I'll go see it"?


But this was basically the reaction of a family member when my mom told them I was working on a book. "Just tell me when it's published and I'll go buy it."


So why the disparity? Most people are well aware of the difficulty of "making it" in the television or movie industry, but for some reason the average American doesn't see the publishing industry in the same way. They walk through racks and racks of books emblazoned with "New York Times Best Seller!" and think that's the norm.

I read one novelist's recent guesstimate that there were only 250 writers in the U.S. who were making a full time living just from selling their novels. This wasn't counting money made from holding writing workshops or other writing income. Just book royalties that added up to a full time income. Two-hundred and fifty people out of tens of thousands of writers. 

I've try to get this point across to many people who respond with instant excitment over learning of my writing.

"You can make enough that your husband can stay home with the kids!"

"Not hardly," I respond, and cite the figure above.

"So are you sending it to publishers?"

"That's not how the industry works. I have to get an agent, and then a publishing contract, and then the book actually has to sell well if I want to publish again. And so many other people are going through the same process that my book really has to be stellar to have a chance. Even then, lots of great writers are never published."

"But they aren't you!"


The ridiculously unrealistic responses depress me somehow, but then there are the rest. The realists. The ones who look at me the same way I might look at someone who told me they were writing a novel. The look of "Yeah, so what? I'm sure lots of other people can say the same thing. How many are published?"

So for now I keep my writing mostly under wraps. I tell myself it's just a hobby while at the same time working ferociously towards the goal of publication. So am I the only one? Is everyone else shouting their writing from the rooftops or do you keep it to yourself? If you do share with others, what do you tell them, and if you don't, what are your reasons? 

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Arriving at Your Ideal Word Count

I'll be the first to admit I am a verbose writer. I was only a few thousand words into the first draft of my novel when I decided to research word counts. Everything said a historical romance should clock in somewhere between 80,000 and 100,000 words.

All I could think was, Whoah. How on earth am I going to write that much?

A mere 116,000 words later I was wondering something entirely different. How on earth am I going to cut at least 16,000 words?

I've read that many first time writers have the same problem I have. Their first drafts are entirely too long. Like, WAR AND PEACE too long. So I started on my second draft and tried to find anything I could possibly cut.
First I looked for weaknesses in my writing. Deleting adverbs was on the top of my lists. My characters couldn't just smile. They had to "smile sympathetically" or "smile slyly" or "smile devilishly." Delete, delete, delete.

Then I tried to be aware of when I used the same word or phrase over and over. It seemed I liked to use the phrase "caught my eye" an awful lot. Oh, and the word "seemed." Seems I can't get enough of it.

I also discovered my fondness for explaning character motivation, and then re-explaining it in the next paragraph. And then rehashing it again in the next. Oh, and as was pointed out by the editor I hired, I started far too many lines of dialogue with "Oh."

At the end of my first draft my word count was 96,000. Yes, I cut 20,000 useless words. Then I read a book on editing your own work and read through again. This time I read back through everything with the goal of just making every line tighter and better. Even without trying to lower my word count, I cut an additional 15,000 words!

No scenes or characters have been cut. Just lots extraneous words and description. It saddens me sometimes that because I wrote the first draft at a rate of 1,000 words per day, that I essentially deleted  more than a month's work of work, but I wonder if I could have done it any other way. I wrote everything that came to mind, and only aftwards sifted through the mess and polished only the most essential information. If I'd tried to start out by writing only the essential the final product might not have been rich as I think it is.

I believe a great quote attributed to Michael Angelo can be applied to the art of editing. To paraphrase, someone asked him how he carved the statue of David, and he replied that he started with a block of stone and removed everything that wasn't David. That's how I like to see my approach to writing.

Some writers start with an anorexic framework and add to that. Others start with something bloated and over-written and carve it down from there. What kind of writer are you and how do you move your word count into a marketable range?

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Should I Pay for Editing?

I'll be honest. When I first started writing it never occurred to me that I could or should send my manuscript to a freelance editor. The thought of paying money out of pocket for something that might never pay me back seemed silly. I figured I'd get plenty of feedback from my alpha readers for free.


Not that my readers weren't great. The problem is, they know me. Feedback was positive and vague. Great for encouraging me to keep writing, but not valuable enough to improve my manuscript. I soon realized that if I wanted my novel to be good enough to submit to an agent, I needed an outsider's opinion.

I found an editor through an agent's blog and submitted to her my first 8,000 words. I chose that word count because it encompassed my first two chapters and seemed like the best value for my money. The feedback I received was invaluable. It gave more direction to my editing and also gave me hope that the novel might reach publishable quality.

Now I'm facing a new dilemma. I'd like to send all of my manuscript to this same editor for an edit, but it calls for a substantially larger financial output than the first time. Namely, ten times the financial output. I'm doubting myself, or more specifically, my novel, and wondering if it is really worth the money.

Here's why I think I should bite the bullet and pay for the new edit:

Professional input can only improve my novel
This isn't to say that I think every suggestion from the freelance editor will be perfect. I do plan on evaluating each of her suggestions and applying them as I see fit. But I know from her first edit that she has great insight into what makes a story work. She has worked in the publishing industry and specializes in my category of fiction. My first 8,000 words are better for it. I can have alpha and beta readers out the nose, but until I work with someone with more knowledge of the industry, I don't think my novel can have the same potential.

Hobbies cost money
I would love for there to come a day when I can say "I'm a writer" not "I write." That day has not come. For now, writing is a hobby, plain and simple. I've been working on this manuscript for a year and a half now, with the only cost to me being that first substantive edit. Even if I pay for an edit of the entire thing, the cost to me over that period of time will be about $50 a month. Maybe that's an expensive hobby for some, but to me it seems reasonable.

I have to think of it as an invest
Getting this novel to the best it can be is not just a money investment. It's an investment of my time. The longer I go slogging about through edits with no direction, the more time I spend. And even if I'm not being paid for my work, time is money. I want to know as soon as possible if this novel is worth even more of my time, or if I should move on. If it is worth it, then these extra edits could also mean the difference between months or even years of querying an agent.

This book is like my child
And don't we all want the best for our children? Yes, I could probably make my children's clothes, but they would go out into the world bedraggled and urchin-like. That's why I pay good money to make sure they look as good and are as comfortable as my budget allows. Granted, my novel is a very distance third-child that I'm hard pressed to find time for, but it still deserves my money and attention when I have it. In the same way I want my children to reach their full potential, I want this novel to be the best it can be, even if it is never published.

So how do you feel about paying for editing? If you have, do you think it was a valuable investment?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Why Blog?

I've never considered myself a blogger. I consider myself a writer. I know those two titles are often one in the same, but for some reason I've struggled with understanding where they converge. At one point does a novelist start blogging? When you sign your first contract? When you land your agent? What happens if you start to blog and then never progress further than your novel's second draft?

It was all these questions and more that has kept me from blogging. Now I've decided to chuck aside all my trepidation and go for it. So what if my novel never gets further than my alpha readers? I'm going to blog because:

It's a chance to write without "writing."
So often in the evening, when I have my only free time to edit or write, my brain never fully cues up to my satisfaction. Words hang in the air just out of reach. Chapters run together and I have trouble remembering what my protagonist did last and what she's doing next. It's at these times that I need a break, but not from writing. A break from the novel. The problem is that if I stop writing my skills become stagnant. Enter the blog. A chance to flex my writing muscles and keep them fresh for the day I'm ready to return to my book.

It's a chance to engage others.
I get a lot of value from reading other writers' blogs, but until recently I thought I had nothing to offer if I wasn't published. The thing is, that's not true. I am published, just not as a novelist. And who's to say that being published gives you wisdom? I've learned more than I ever imagined over the last year and a half through the process of writing and rewriting and much of it I wish I'd known before I started. Perhaps I can be that blogger for someone else?

It's a chance to build an online presence.
I'm going to admit this right now: I'm scared of others finding my blog. Why? Because if they find it and like it they'll keep reading. Then I'll have all of the words I jot down so hastily out there for the world to see. I know that being an active part of the marketing of your book is the new normal of the publishing industry, but it still seems odd to me. Do I want to read the personal blog of my favorite authors? Not really. I like reading a book and falling into the fantasy it creates. To think of the writer behind it ruins that fantasy for me. But I know there are many others who I wouldn't be aware of if they didn't have an online presence. So while I do see the very real value a blog provides an author, I'm still scared to death.

Despite all my misgivings, I'm still here online and ready to start a new chapter in my life. Let it begin.