Anyone who gets updates on my blog knows that I haven’t posted anything in a while, and I’m here to say that I’m not going to post anything for a while longer (except for this, of course). There are three reasons for this, two practical, and one ideological. The first, more mundane reason is that very few people read these posts (and I greatly appreciate the fact that some of you do); the second is that I’ve become insanely busy. I’m teaching four classes, one of them new, as well as working on my anthology, Nietzsche and the Philosophers, as well as trying to write my own essay for that volume. In addition, I’m working on a new novel. Add to that the duties and obligations of both work and home, and I just don’t have the time or the energy to do any blogging.

The Mistake of Self-Publishing

The more serious reason has to do with my evolving attitude about a writer’s online presence. Let me begin that discussion by saying that, in my humble opinion, self-publishing is for the most part a big mistake. It encourages both those who aren’t ready to publish and those who just shouldn’t be published to glut the marketplace with material that’s mediocre at best, and often far worse. With regard to the former, instead of putting in the time and the hard work and effort (I estimate about ten years, give or take)—and leaving behind those first, weak attempts that should’ve been aborted—these writers put them out there for all the world to see and hardly anyone to buy. It takes a great deal of time and words written in order to be able to hear your writing, to hear your mistakes. So these would-be authors can’t yet hear how crappy their prose is, and haven’t yet figured out that that their characters are shallow, etc. Instead of going through a kind of apprenticeship and putting in the effort to produce something good that either a literary agent or an independent publisher is willing to take a chance on, they self-publish. On the other hand, some of these folks just aren’t cut out to be writers; they’ll never have the chops. Their work is the equivalent of that sophomoric poetry or music we all produced in our early years. Now, instead of molding in a shoe box at the back of the closet, the stuff gets tossed, with all the other detritus, into the online literary market place.

Let me pause to note that I’m sure there are good writers who, for whatever reason, self-publish. Perhaps they enjoy the absolute autonomy of the process; perhaps they haven’t yet found an agent or a publisher, whether independent or industry, who shares their visions of things. It’s a hard path, and I don’t mean at all to denigrate their efforts. I’m talking about the majority here.

An Online Presence

The phenomenon of self-publishing has led to step A: These would-be Hemingways take to social media to hock their wares. They have no other way to market their writing, and online promoting is largely free (Twitter and Facebook) or at least cheap (a website, a blog). That then led to step B: The claim, now largely taken as Gospel, that an author must build an audience and promote him or herself, even before, and whether or not, he or she has published anything. Consequently, Twitter (for example) is full of users who call themselves writers, discuss the writing life, post platitudes about writing, either without having published a word or after having self-published a substandard piece of work. (I’ve seen posts by people online calling themselves writers that made me wonder if they were even fully literate. No joke.)

It’s true that (at least some) agents say that an author needs to have some sort of online presence.  Many won’t take a writer seriously if he or she has no track record at all or is publicly invisible. But that means putting up a website or blog, perhaps posting some short stories, seeing if you can get pieces of short fiction published in print or online journals. It doesn’t mean promoting oneself as a writer, pre-marketing works that don’t yet exist.

[Of course my whole discussion here is about fiction writers who blog; it’s not about non-fiction writers whose medium is a blog, which is now a perfectly legitimate platform for nonfiction work.]

Me Right Gud!

If you couple the sometimes-adolescent need to express one’s feelings (in writing), along with the sometimes-adolescent need for validation, and throw in the public format of the internet, you get the phenomena described above of a deluge of self-published crap and empty self-marketing—empty because there’s nothing yet to market. People want celebrity without actually having any talent and without having actually done anything interesting (and unfortunately, society and the media often foster that desire, rewarding some who are talentless and unproductive with fame and fortune). Some believe if they post enough pictures of themselves and tweet and blog about every minute and mundane detail of their lives, those lives will somehow matter, despite the fact that they aren’t really living, just living vicariously on the internet. The Cartesian dictum, “I think, therefore I am” is transformed in the 21st Century to “I tweet, therefore I am.”

My Current Situation

I’ve written ten or eleven novels (not sure because I’ve lost count, and at least one was aborted in the middle), one of which was published by an independent press. I had two subsequent e-publications through what my agent at the time called “agent-assisted self-publishing,” which he concocted as a kind of hybrid notion of working through an agent and self-publishing. Really, I was just self-publishing and he was helping me do it. At that point I got on the bandwagon, joined Twitter, started a blog, updated my website. I had gone through the apprenticeship, so I wasn’t putting out crap, but nonetheless I did fall under the spell of the so-called common wisdom that I had to pre-build an audience for that next real publication.

Nothing came of all this. No one bought my e-novels, and I spent precious time composing blogs and supposedly building an online audience, when I should’ve been doing the actual work of a writer: writing and getting better at writing. It’s this realization that led me to quit blogging and to cut back on my online activities until I actually have something real to promote.

Killer's Coda: A good book nobody bought.
Killer’s Coda: A good book nobody bought.

I refuse ever again to self-publish, and while I have nothing at all against independent publishers—there are many fine ones who are doing excellent work—I’m dedicating myself to the traditional route of industry publishing. And that means finding an agent who has real connections, which means producing novels that an agent believes he or she can sell. Yes, I hear the voices of the nay-sayers shouting that the industry is only interested in making money, in novels that have commercial value; they’re not interested in real art, so anyone who fits into that mold is selling out, etc. I respond: First, it’s quite possible to produce something worthwhile that is also sellable by industry standards (witness Chuck Palahniuk, Cormac McCarthy, and Philip Roth); Second, Shakespeare, Dostoyevsky, and Joyce were artists (that word gets way overused these days); I’m a craftsman. I want to tell good stories that people will enjoy reading. It’s not selling out to craft those stories such that they’re marketable.

I’m pleased to say that four different agents at four different literary agencies in New York are currently reading one of my manuscripts. That doesn’t mean of course that any of them will end up representing me, but it is encouraging. (I had an offer from two independent presses to publish that same novel, but neither deal was quite what I wanted.) I’m also pleased to say that the new novel I’m working on kicks ass. I always think, when I finish a novel, “this one’s going to sell for sure!” But I have new and better reasons for thinking that’s really true of this particular story.

So, who knows, maybe soon I’ll be back blogging and promoting—because I’ll really  have something to say.

14 thoughts on “I Tweet, Therefore I Am

  1. I agree with much of what you say. I have written about 20 novels during the last 22 years but, like you, saw my first ones as my unpublishable apprenticeship; I didn’t even submit the first few to agents. These efforts were better than some of the stuff that’s now published on Amazon and being paraded around Twitter. Although I don’t write many blog posts about writing, because I am not qualified to give advice about it, I do write a post once a fortnight or so for a website on which I have a blog, about self-publishing. I have made the point a few times, recently, that talent actually MATTERS – too many people think that the desire to write, the reading of the ghastly #writetips on Twitter and calling oneself ‘an author’ is all it takes. Mine is not a popular view. The currently held belief seems to be that savvy marketing is the most important element.

    I’ve had interest from agents in the past but will not pretend any were clamouring to take on anything I’ve written; although I’ve had a few manuscripts read in their entirety, each time the agent suggested so many changes that I decided to stop submitting and write the book I want to write for the audience I already have.

    I think building up an audience does work for popular fiction, but only if you genuinely enjoy using social networking sites, and don’t just use them as a marketing tool

    1. Terry, thanks so much for your thoughtful comments. It sounds like we’re much in agreement (with our unpopular views). I’m glad to hear that you’ve found your own niche, your own path and method. Seems like it works for you. I’m still looking for mine. Hopefully, I’ll nail it down soon. Thanks for reading.

  2. I am ashamed to admit I fell into this trap. It was my main reason for joining Twitter. I heard you had to build an audience, a platform etc… but I’m a baby at this. I realised not long ago that I need to just concentrate on my writing. I was too busy blogging. Also I’m writing a children’s book. Not going to find my target audience to pester on Twitter am I?
    As for writing tips…well I’ve steered clear of those because who am I to say but it is amazing the number of people out there giving their ‘advice’ when actually they haven’t done that much. Gall I think they call it!
    I wholeheartedly agree with everything you say here, Mark and only wish I was brave enough to have said it. God knows I think it all often enough!
    Twitter has become more of a social place for me now than the place I thought it should be originally.
    In the meantime I’m working on my novels and looking to submit the first to agents. Maybe even now it’s too early for that after 3 and a half years writing it…there’s still much for this apprentice to learn.

  3. Congratulations, first, Mark. Glad to hear that you are having your work read by agents. I wish you the best.

    “…The claim, now largely taken as Gospel, that an author must build an audience and promote him or herself, even before, and whether or not, he or she has published anything.”

    I’d also like to say that I feel/ felt very much caught up in self-promotion of future works. But what never made sense to me was the fact that so few authors I admire have blogs. At least, blogs that don’t simply dictate the status of any given novel, the film rights, locations of book signings, etc. I think you’re saying what needs to be said. And, most likely, good books will sell despite or maybe in spite of blogs.

    I’ve decided that blogging is a whole other endeavor. I’ve considered writing a blog that has nothing to do with my fiction simply because I believe they are different beasts.

    Again, good luck to you!

    1. Justin, can I just butt in here and say that that’s what I do with my blog? I write about all sorts of different things on mine, but only about my books when I have a new one coming out, ie a couple of times a year. It’s for my ARTICLES – and hey, guess what, some people like them and then read my books… I’ve been saying “oh God, not another ‘My self-publishing journey’ blog” for about three years – and still they come. One thing that so many people haven’t sussed out is that if you just write a blog about writing, you will only attract other writers, and if it’s only about your books you will only attract the people who already read them….

    2. Justin, thanks very much for reading the piece and for the good wishes. I think you’re right about blogging being another animal altogether. It’s an important new-ish medium, and one needs to devote oneself to it (as with anything) to be good at it. Doing both fiction writing and blogging is likely splitting your precious time and doing neither to the best of your abilities.

  4. I’ve been blogging religiously for the last three years, at the expense of my long form writing. It seems like most of my peers (including myself) are coming to the same conclusion: social media self promotion puts the cart before the horse. I’m probably one of the guiltiest offenders of this. I’ve had some luck and found some paying work as a result of my blog, but it hasn’t raised interest in my long form writing. Now that I’m 20 thousand words into something new, I thinking of taking a social media sabbatical too.

    1. Thanks very much, Drew. Sounds like a lot of us are coming to the same conclusion. You’ve done very well at blogging, but I’m sure that’s taken a real toll on your script and novel writing.

      1. It has. When I was doing 2-3 blogs a week, it took three months to write 5 chapters. Since I cut back to 1 a week, I’ve written 15 chapters in two months.

  5. Hi Mr. Mark. I’m coming at this from a different place, it seems.

    Since I’m writing in a very niche area (gay romance/sex stories), I just assumed no publisher/agent would want to see my stuff. Couple that with getting started in this area by writing fanfiction and it’s obvious no one’s going to take me seriously. I almost put my stories up on a fanfiction site but decided to start my website because I wanted to see what I could do on my own. When I finish my fanfiction trilogy, I’ll start posting my original stories. I’m hoping to eventually self-publish them with extras if there’s any interest.

    I came onto social media for the reasons you said, to build a platform…but none of my readers are on Twitter. A few are on Tumblr but most people find my website via google search (I’m currently ranked at #4).

    I agree 100% with what you said about the 10 years. In addition to blogging for eight years before I started in this genre, I’d been writing fiction for two years before that. I’ve written seven novels and many short stories but it’s only been in the last couple of years that I feel like my fiction writing has been good enough to share with people. My biggest goal now is to learn to write faster but keep getting better, and to be able to manage complex plots without losing control of the story.

    The irony is I’m about to launch a second website where I’ll blog about stuff I like that doesn’t fall under the gay romance genre. I’m not looking to aggressively find readers, it will be just for fun. I’ll reuse and update some of the posts from my old blog, and write new ones.

    I’ve blogged a little on my current site but I haven’t gotten into a good rhythm with it so I’m hoping the second site helps. I’m a little over a year into this journey but I’m excited to see where I’ll be next year. Will I succeed? Doesn’t really matter. I’ve already done so well with what I’ve learned and the people I’ve met, and I’m having a lot fun so in a way I’ve already succeeded.

    1. GG, thanks for thoughtful comments! Sounds like you’ve found your own groove, which is great. Good luck with the new site. It’s always exciting to try something new. I hope you find it rewarding.

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