An incompetent blog

According to Janet Reid, renowned NYC literary agent/blogger, a.k.a. The Query Shark, I don’t need to write a blog! (And no, she is NOT afraid of the competition.)

I am an unpublished novelist. No one is scanning the web for me. No one is interested in what I might say. Does this fact hurt my feelings? Of course not. This was the case before I started blogging and it remains the case now that I blog.

So why did I ever start a blog?

It was the panelists at a series of James River Writers Shows. They persuaded me. They kept pounding away about “building a platform” via Facebook, Twitter, Tumbler (whatever that is), Snapchat, etc. — but especially — The Blog. This all seemed to me like putting the cart before the horse. You might be curious about your favorite author and follow his/her blog but you are not going to be curious about me, not your favorite author and not published.

Having a Platform, the advice went, will help a writer get a literary agent for a manuscript. The bigger your platform, the more prospective buyers there are for your book. As a blogger, the greater the number of your followers, the greater the interest in any book you might write. Hordes of followers look good to agents, right?

It seems to me it might be easier to Built a Platform for a non-fiction writer with a narrow field of  focus. Writing on a specific topic attracts readers interested in that topic. Spiders or the history of asphalt or the genealogy of prize swine. Or maybe you start out as a blog —  and because you are a clever person with a clever idea — say Noah Scalin — you generate so much interest you turn your blog into a book.

I am not that clever, or that focussed, and my doubt about my ability to Build a Platform ahead of possible publication was well founded. There is no public interest in me or my opinions or expertise (if I have any expertise besides knitting socks). Most reasonable people who aren’t public figures — and there are SO many of us — would share this doubt about being up to adding anything substantial to public discourse, let alone to inspiring hordes of loyal followers.

Janet Reid, NYC literary agent, probably does have hordes of loyal followers. But unlike me, Janet Reid can bestow the wit and wisdom of experience and expertise gained from years of focused hard work. She Entertains — Educates —  Engages — Inspires. (Those are bullet points from various instructions on how to write a successful blog.) Earlier this week, Janet Reid magnanimously invited  her readers to submit 15 word elevator pitches for their unpublished manuscripts. She lured her followers in with the promise that she herself, and her other followers, would ruthlessly critique the offerings.

What a hook! As one of the legions of unpublished authors, I wanted to bite, but honestly, FIFTEEN words!? I’m still refining a query letter of 280 words.

Reading the submissions and critiques is truly educational. Also, a bit crushing, as in: OMG! I will NEVER be able to do this! Luckily, I am not standing in an elevator next to the literary agent of my dreams and only have this one chance to pitch my book with the perfect fifteen words. Nor do I anticipate this ever happening.

Janet Reid’s blog may well be an example of The Perfect Blog. She offers something many  people are looking for. Her readers become followers because she delivers expertise. Those among that group wise enough to apply her advice will be better for it.

My blog rambles about all over the place. It tends to bump into different readers as it wanders about, and then, most often, waves good-bye to them as it trudges up the next grassy slope.

So there you have it. An example of an effective blog — Janet Reid’s — and an example of an ineffective blog.  Will my blog become more like Janet Reid’s if my manuscript for Thrift Store Daze ever materializes as a book on the shelves of Barnes & Noble?

Don’t bet on it.

In the meantime, is anyone interested in my thoughts on knitting socks? I can recommend a good blog.

Ignore at Your Peril

It’s the start of a new year — the season for self-assessment and goal-setting. The season for lists proclaiming The Best of 2016: the best movies, the best books, the best headlines, the best Facebook Memes, the best tacos, etc.

Now that I am an experienced blogger — twenty posts in four months!  (I am trying to be funny here) — I have an obligation to share what I’ve learned in an end-of-year list!

So here it is — the best advice on blogging that I didn’t quite follow!

#1    All writers must blog.

  • Unpublished writers blog to build a platform to impress potential literary agents.
  • Published authors blog to promote their books.

To be honest, Point #1 is not something I just learned last year. Point #1 is something that speakers at James River Writers Writers Workshops have been pounding into my head for uncounted sessions. Point #1 is advice I resisted because it seemed to me that if every writer is writing a blog there couldn’t possibly be enough readers to go around. I thought I didn’t know anybody who read blogs.

Actually, I myself read blogs.

My sister writes the lovely Stag Beetle Power for homeschoolers in Portland, Oregon. I live on the other side of the continent but she posts occasional photos of my nephew and lots of photos of gorgeous scenery and close-ups of wildflowers and critters. And it’s packed with news of interesting local exhibits and workshops and great parks.

I have a high school friend who has traveled Tibet by pony and Europe by bike and walked the Camino de Santiago. She blogs to share her travels with her many friends. There is a lively young family I know, with adorable curly-headed children, who appear in a blog about their life, overseas and stateside, and I look at that. Their photos make even Cleveland look good. They post mouth-watering images of the exotic foods they cook, too.

chocolates-once
A watercolor that was intended to show the chocolates.

 

And writing blogs? There are some great ones. I’ve been reading those for years. my  Miss Snark, Literary Agent is my favorite. (Alas! She no longer writes this blog. The archives, however, are an entertaining education.) And Evil Editor! Bless his heart! He’s always ready explain “why you don’t get published.”

And, predictably, there are lots of blogs about blogging — LOTS! (And much of the advice is contradictory, beginning with the basic premise above that authors must blog because their readers will look for them even though many writers, like myself, are unpublished and nobody is looking for us.)

And, like most everyone else, anytime I want to know how to do something — roast chicken, knit cables, make a snow globe — I Google it. And often I end up finding the information I need in someone’s blog. So I was reading blogs even though I thought they weren’t blogs. Maybe everyone with a computer is also following one or two blogs and thinks they aren’t.

Maybe there are enough readers to go around.

#2    Writers are wise to develop a public personality before they need one.

Obviously, I learned this too late to apply it to my blog.

Besides, I don’t have the energy to develop a personality.  A personality requires upkeep and there’s a whole list of stuff I’m already not keeping up with!

Presenting a deliberate, alternative personality? I couldn’t do that with a script! Brain fog and bouts of exhaustion make me choosy about how I deplete my stamina.

It might be fun for a party, on a night I was up to it. Blue eye-liner and false eye-lashes and a wig. Maybe a hat with a sweeping ostrich plume and dangley earrings. I wouldn’t even have to say anything! I could just look mysterious. Maybe I wouldn’t even have to sit up straight. I could sort of drape myself across a piece of upholstered furniture.

That would be an easy public personality. Too bad it won’t work in a blog.

five-chairs2
Sometimes my watercolors also lack focus 

#3  Consistent subject matter is essential for a successful blog.

Okay. Just give me a D-. “Things I am Thinking About Today” is just NOT a consistent theme.

But, it’s early days yet. If I keep writing, maybe I’ll sight a Compelling Theme, like a drowning swimmer, bobbing up in this sea of words. And maybe I can throw out a life-buoy and pull it to shore and get a acquainted it. (Don’t hold your breath!)

In the meantime, this undeveloped personality will aim for consistency in the frequency of posts. It’s a modest goal. I might even pull it off.

But will anyone read it?