A few weeks back, just before pub day for “142 Ostriches,” I wrote a post about all of the things I felt I had done well on the long road to publication. I’ve been really lucky, and worked really hard, to build up a community of readers and writers with whom to celebrate my debut. But I also wasted time on things that helped me not at all.
It occurs to me that sharing what didn’t work is probably just as helpful (if not more so) as talking about what didn’t work. So here it goes:
When I was starting out, I had this notion that you had to publish a few short stories before anyone would take you seriously as a writer. This is ABSOLUTELY TRUE – if you want to be a short story writer. But if, like me, you want to write novels, don’t even stress about short stories.
For one thing, they are totally different beasts and being good at one does not make you good at the other. For another thing, the couple of short stories I’ve published did not attract agents, nor did they help when it came time to query agents.
Write short stories if you feel compelled to do so, but don’t psych yourself out thinking that you have to as part of the path to being a novelist.
Guest Blog Posts
I did a lot of these when I was trying to boost traffic to my blog. I knew the blog was a good way to connect with readers, and for a while I got super obsessed with numbers (hit counts, bounce rates, blah, blah, blah). One of the things I heard all the time was: write guest posts for other blogs.
Well, I did. I spent a lot of time and effort finding blogs I thought would have similar readers, reaching out with personalized letters, pitching a little cross-promotion. A few said yes, and I took time away from my novel to craft the best possible posts I could for those sites, but for all the effort I saw no significant increase in traffic to my own website.
What has seemed to build readership for me is to just share, in the most authentic way possible, on my own blog, the journey I’m going through.
My frustration with Facebook began when I was encouraged to start a separate page to promote my writing. The message was that business should be kept separate from personal, and that made sense to me, but I quickly realized that nobody saw the posts I put up on my professional page – unless I paid.
Okay, fine, so I paid, but I didn’t like the idea of advertising. I just wanted to share. My blog is free to read and I don’t post advertising on it, so having to pay advertising fees to promote it created a significant imbalance. And then to have no body see my posts, even when they had opted in to see them… well, it was frustrating.
I tried SO hard to make it work for me. I read all the geek blogs and behind the scenes trade secrets. But after years of wasted time, I had collected all of 300 followers. That same amount of time and effort on Twitter got me almost 20,000 followers (for free). So… Eff Facebook.
Those are the three biggies, the things I wouldn’t waste time on if I had the last ten years to do again. All in all, it’s a short list compared to all of the things I’m glad I did.
How about you? What things have you tried to build your writing career that didn’t work out as you’d hoped?