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I am an unpublished novelist.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.

Premature Eruption

I appreciate a well written blurb. It’s an art form I understand and admire. It takes skill to compose a terse but compelling summation of a novel. A good blurb dives right into the emotional heart of the book, plunging into the throbbing core of the plot. It grabs you by the eye-balls and says READ ME!

The blurbs on my Kindle screen, on the other hand, are usually bad. These blurbs and the corresponding book cover appear on the screen before I swipe the screen to read my own book. The ad is meant to entice me to buy the book. But, rightly or wrongly, when a blurb is bad, I assume the book is bad, too: probably a self-published novel that has never passed through a critique group, let alone fallen under the eyes of an editor. To be fair, a Kindle screen blurb — at twenty-five words or less —  has to be the devil to concoct. (And I’ve never tried to do it.)

Here’s a bad blurb from my Kindle screen:

A baby vanishes from the womb without a trace. A fossil upends two centuries of scientific theory. A prehistoric virus kills thousands within days.

Would you buy this book? I didn’t. Those three sentences just make me think of that Sesame Street song “One of These Things (is not like the others).” Except I can’t pick out which thing doesn’t belong.

Here’s another blurb:

20th Centry Fox developing for film. An award-winning story of one family’s struggle to survive a massive terrorist attack that destroys America.

This is better. But the hype at the front is off-putting. Do I believe it? Do I care? Does it make me want to read the book? Not really. And the second sentence is the plot of every other contemporary dystopian novel.

Gabriel Miller swept into my life like a storm. There’s one way to save our house, one thing I have left of value. My body.

We are not amused. If there’s a connection between the first sentence and the second, you wouldn’t know it from this blurb. And would I trust an author who uses a period instead of the colon I am expecting? But at least this blurb pricks my curiosity. Is the body in question valuable for organ harvesting? Blood plasma sales? Scientific experiments? (My curiosity wasn’t strong enough that I bought the book.)

I think the blurb below has been on my Kindle since I bought it. Maybe absence would make the heart grow fonder because familiarly, in this case, has definitely bred contempt.

3 massacres, 2 detectives, 1 writer and 0 answers. A dark thriller you can’t put down with a twist you won’t see coming.

Plot? Hero? Nada. I didn’t buy this one either.

Here’s the plot of the books I buy over and over, in every permutation, as long as the setting is historical British Isles and there’s a Duke somewhere nearby.

Two people meet and instantly hate each other. Through misunderstandings and mishaps, desire flares between them. They succumb. They marry. The end.

Predictable? Yes. So why would I read such a predictable book and not, say, a novel like Ken Follett’s Eye of the Needle (which I found in our Little Free Library):

“An absolutely terrific thriller, so pulse-pounding, so ingenious in its plotting, and so frighteningly realistic that you simply cannot stop reading.”

And ” . . . leaves the reader suspended as the book speeds to a breathless finale!”

I don’t read thrillers. I don’t read fiction that scares me, shocks me, keeps me in suspense, or keeps me awake. No rapes or mutilations or blood dripping through the floor.

I do read fiction other than bodice busters but it’s always fiction that entertains, transports, intrigues — unchallenging fiction to effortlessly pass the hours when chronic fatigue/fibromyalgia has me down and I’m not up for anything else. I read fiction to escape from the things that scare me in the real world.

And it’s harder every day to ignore those scary things.

For example: It’s only February and my asparagus is up more than two weeks earlier than we’ve ever seen it. And the bluebirds were fighting the sparrows for the birdhouses in the yard two weeks earlier than last year. (The bluebirds lost again.) The sparrows are sitting on eggs already, which is something I don’t keep track of from year-to-year but I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen them sitting on eggs in February.

Capitol Sparrow
Sparrows nesting behind blue walls.

Very early this month,out on the screened porch, about twenty of the black swallowtail chrysalises opened and the butterflies came out, only to die trapped in the cheesecloth-covered mason jars. Three or four of the insects died still crawling out of their winter homes, probably felled by the sudden return of cold weather. I had intended to remove the cheesecloth in time for the butterflies to fly away and find flowers to feed on. Who was looking for butterflies in early February? Not me.

Two butterflies were still alive. I placed them in a garden bed, on top of the foul-smellng purple deadnettle, and hoped these early blooms appealed. I hope the butterflies enjoyed a few days before winter temperatures caught them.

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Jar of black swallowtails with perfect wings.

There were a dozen more chrysalises intact. Those are now in the refrigerator until I am more confident of the weather. This February looks like spring and the birds and peepers sound like spring. But it makes me uneasy.

It makes me uneasy in the same way finding caterpillars on the parsley made me uneasy last November, when I brought them inside to save them from the frost. It makes me scared in the same way watching video of the calving of an iceberg bigger than Manhattan scares me.

The world I know has changed. It continues to change in unpredictable ways.

I read non-fiction. I read  newspapers and informative magazine articles. I attend forums and listen to podcasts.  I can find my cheeks wet with tears during a discussion of health delivery systems for impoverished children. Real life offers more than enough to make my pulse pound, my blood boil, and my heart sore. Real life is more than enough suspense for me.

The seas rise and powerful tornadoes scour the land as dangerous shifts in climate threaten the lives of all earth’s inhabitants. An extraordinary tale of greed and ruthlessness, of bravery and sacrifice — with a heart-stopping climax of unforgettable power!*

I like the blurbs for the thrillers. I just don’t enjoy the actual books.

 

 

*This blurb is based on rave reviews of Eye of the Needle.