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This is my story. I'm sure you've heard it all before. But I'm hoping that when you're having your coffee and cookies you'll reflect upon my experience – and keep an open mind.

It all started when print publishers got sideswiped by Amazon. I was finishing a book, and, having had several ruinous relationships with publishers (I'm working on those issues), I decided to break the pattern. Why repeat the bitterness, the frustration, when I could simply jump ship and take the easy way out? It all seemed so simple at the time. No more deadlines, no more subtexts in what I'd hoped would be casual encounters, no more editorial blows to my self-esteem. All I had to do was “upload.”

This is a mistake we all make when confronted by our personal demons. We take shortcuts.

Before I knew it, I had gotten my book epublished. Suddenly, reality hit. I had forgotten all about the perks of a long-term relationship – the in-house marketing department, the chain of distribution, legitimate reviews, free ISBN numbers. Worst of all, I had forgotten about book promotion. I'd have to do it all myself.

My first step was to launch a website, which I did after considerable, and unnecessary, expenditure. I was in the hole now, but it wasn't enough – it's never enough. I needed more. I needed a platform, exposure, a strong author presence. So ... I began to blog.

(Excuse me. Does anyone have a tissue?)

It was just one blog, at first. I thought it would be a simple reiteration of work I'd already done - an easy cut-and-paste, with no commitment to originality. I figured two, three blogs a week, and I'd develop my Internet presence. Before I knew it, I was blogging almost daily. My self-concept had expanded, and my author image was changing.

I needed another blog, and then another. Soon I was blogging about everything: my books, my recipes, my parakeet, Thomas Jefferson. I created alter egos, misleading avatars. I could no longer put my real name on anything I blogged for fear that it would affect my author brand. Just trying to remember all my sign-in names was exhausting.

All at once, it dawned on me. What if nobody was reading my blogs? I installed Google Analytics, and, sure enough, I was a solitary blogger. Nobody even knew that I existed.

That was the beginning of the end. I joined several writers' groups whose sole purpose was to promote one another through their blogs. We fed, constantly, on each other's habits, meeting on dim, smoke-filled forums, boards, chats. I began to guest blog.

(I heard that. Remember, live and let live.)

It still wasn't enough. According to the visitor flow chart on Google Analytics, very few people were being driven to my website. I had to drive them. I knew it was base, reprehensible, unforgivable - and I make no excuses for my behavior - but I began to adjust my taglines to suit my hypothetical audience. I even watched Supernatural, so I could blog about horrid, vapid television shows written by dyslexic ten-year-olds, but which were popular among the bloghopping set.

Finally, in a desperate attempt at blog exposure, I started to add my blogs to blog directories. It was getting expensive, but what was $39.95 here, $49.95 there, for a first-page listing? I pinged.

By this time, I had forgotten all about my eBook, which technically had now cost me several thousand dollars if you included the fees for Google Adwords, priority listings on blog directories, and upgrades. At this point, I was in deep denial. The book no longer mattered. My bills went unpaid. My house was a mess. My Amazon reviewer rank slid five hundred points. Nothing mattered. I blogged about that.

To make this long story even longer, I wound up passed out in a gutter in South Philly, lying in a pool of my own vomit, pieces of my laptop scattered across the wet pavement. Miraculously, I still had my cellphone. I autodialed my son's number, and when his sweet, innocent voice came on the line I began to sob, “I don't understand how to post on Tumblr...” 

I had hit bottom. I was a blogaholic.


(First published on ArticlesBase.)

 
 
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Years ago, when I was teaching English to Japanese English teachers (I know that sounds odd … you had to be there), one of my teacher/students informed me that, in her school, the students did all the clean-up. “All?” I asked. Oh, yes, she informed me. They wiped the blackboards, swept and mopped the floors, washed the windows. “It builds character,” she said.


Basically, things that build character are comprised of anything that is disagreeable. For some strange Calvinistic and/or Japanese reason, character cannot be built by winning a prize, taking a swim, or eating my delicious apple streusel cake. One must suffer to have character.

I doubt that this is true in general, but in specific, as it applies to writers, it is definitely true. It is not necessary for you to fulfill the Romantic ideal: a sensitive, unshaven (women too), starving creature agonizing in a garret. Yes, you will eventually get to do all that. But the real suffering, the real character building, comes not in the process of writing, which is sheer fun and therefore useless for building character, but in the process of sharing what you've written.

These are the writer's steps to building character:

Step 1: Don't publish too early. You have written a book. Don't get it out there. Instead, get it critiqued, as harshly as possible. You want to bleed.

Step 2: When you have bled enough, still don't try to publish. Write another book. Yes, that's what I said. Write ANOTHER BOOK. What kind of writer do you expect to be if you can only write one book? Then go back to your first book and revise it.

Step 3: Write short stories and articles. Get them critiqued. Bleed.

Step 4: Submit your short stories and articles to top-ranking magazines and ezines. You will be rejected. Bleed and revise. Submit again. Each time you get a rejection, re-read your work and revise.

Step 5: AGH! Somebody published your story! Your character is destroyed! Sadly, no. Read the published version. It's amazing how many mistakes you can catch after your story has been published. Ouch.

Step 6: At this point you have so much character you need a transfusion. Start submitting your book to agents. They will reject you. Each time you get a rejection, look at your query letter and revise it. Submit again.

Step 7: AGGHHH! An agent wants to represent you! Now, you're cooked. Don't get too comfy. She or he will want to take your manuscript and change everything in it. You have to decide what to change and what not to change. Your character is firming up nicely.

Step 8: You have followed your agent's suggestions - or not, as the case may be. And NOTHING happens! Not one single publisher is interested in your book. They say awful things about it. You have to decide if some of these awful things are true. They might be. Great character-building technique.

Step 9: AAAGGGGHHH!!! Someone wants to publish your book!! You are fried!! You thought the agent was harsh. Wait until you see what an EDITOR does to your manuscript!! It will be drawn and quartered before your very eyes. They will change your title. You will want to die.

Step 10: You now have character. Write another book. This time it had better be good.

(Repeat steps 1 through 10 as often as necessary.)

(Building Character was first published on Blogging Authors 11/1/12: http://www.bloggingauthors.com/)


 

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