Monday Hangovers

18 thoughts on “Monday Hangovers”

  1. Re: Ryman, I’ve noticed that some writers find the notion of blogging so fundamentally unappealing that they can’t conceive of any reason anyone would do it *except* for cynical publicity-seeking; and cynical publicity-seeking blogs are, admittedly, pretty dire and soul-destroying stuff. But most blogs worth reading are born from a different impulse, either the gift economy you cite, or a desire to keep in touch with absent friends that mutates into a way to keep in touch with interested strangers too, or something else. (Me, I just found it easier to keep a journal online than to write in a paper journal every night. And I sometimes get chastised for forgetting to promote my work in my blog!)

  2. What Tim said. I have a tendency to do the Ryman thing too. I was down on blogs until I started blogging. Currently I am down on twitter and facebook having never engaged with either. Much easier to condemn that which I does not know. 🙂

  3. Couldn’t agree with you guys more. And, Justine, I pretty much ignore my Twitter account, and held out on Facebook for a long time… but I actually really like Facebook, especially once I started ignoring applications and stuff.

  4. I imagine Geoff is talking about the fact that some editors encourage their authors to maintain a blog. I expect that those editors aren’t motivated by a desire for their authors to keep in touch with distant friends; they want publicity that the publisher doesn’t have to pay for.
    As many have observed before, blogs blur the lines between public and private in a way that was inconceivable as little as ten years ago. Similarly, blogs are blurring the line between the professional and the personal, in a way that many people are uncomfortable with. Like it or not, this trend will presumably continue to grow. In another ten years, writers will find it normal to do things that sound crazy right now.

  5. I get what you’re saying, Ted, but I still say that if the sole–or even primary–purpose of the blog itself remains promotional, then nine times out of ten, it’ll go largely untrafficked. Most big publishers haven’t really been that effective working with blogs or any other new media stuff yet, and that kind of “start a blog” blanket advice indicates part of the reason why.
    On the other hand, you know authors can write in complete sentences, and presumably some of them even notice interesting things, so I expect a not insignificant number of even _those_ blogs evolve into something more personal or worthwhile, even if started with a more mercenary purpose. Call me naive.

  6. My point is that the distinction between promotional and personal is becoming harder to nail down. Many readers like knowing what authors are thinking about, so maintaining a personal blog can _become_ an effective promotional tool.
    This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, or a good thing, but more and more it’s becoming the _expected_ thing for an author to do. In the past, an author’s public persona was limited to readings and interviews when a new book came out. Now it’s a constant background task. The performance component of being an author is growing in the same way that blogging has made what used to be a person’s private life into a matter of public record.

  7. I wonder… it seems like a lot fewer of the literary authors have traditional blogs, as in regularly updated things. It may have more to do with genre and community (and that’s genre in the larger sense), maybe. And I also wonder if at some point it becomes so ubiquitous that it really can’t/doesn’t make any difference and so the pressure subsides? I do think every author will be forced to Twitter or have their license revoked, in the near future.
    Kidding, kidding.
    To me, there’s a big difference between direct promotion and side-effect promotion–in terms of both interest level to me as a reader, and in effectiveness. And in approach I think the two are very separate, so, absolutely, yes, good blogs can promote an author’s work, without being overtly directed at that cause.
    Of course, I see blogs as a sort of semi-personal miscellany. Or, rather, those are the ones I like best, although I realize there are far more kinds out there.
    As to your other point, it’s undeniably true. But, of course, there has always been curiosity about authors. (See J.D. Salinger yelling “Get off my lawn!”) And some authors have always developed public personas. I wonder if it’s that the audience has a desire for it more now, or that authors now have a more ready venue in which to craft such a thing… or, less cynically, to directly connect with readers.

  8. And honestly, Authors’ Blogs have a tendency to turn me off, rather than interest me, in a body of work. The fact is, coming face to face with most people’s unedited ranting is voyeuristic and off-putting. Add to that the realities behind the old “don’t ever meet your heroes” saw, and suddenly that widening orbit of tenuous celebrity contact is working to the disadvantage.
    But publishers and editors certainly have some mind-boggling schemes.
    Blogging is like public readings: it requires a whole different talent than writing fiction. I never understood why any person competent to impress me with narrative prose should also be expected to perform that narration in front of an audience. Some people are squeaky, or wooden, or just uncharismatic. Fine. I don’t care. I especially don’t care if they are fantastic writers. I do care, however, when I am forced to be a member of their awkward and embarrassed audience. After that, I probably do not by a book unless it is out of pity.
    Any editors listening? Blogging is off the cuff, it is informal, conversational, and solipsistic. There are certainly many people on Earth talented at making all of these things seem attractive. But there are a whole lot more people without that talent. Being a member of their audience embarrasses me while never making me feel pity. Frequently, I begin to discover things I do not like about the blogger, discover that beloved celebrities are actually strangers with alien personalities. The illusion is broken. That makes me feel bad. I associate this feeling with the celebrity, not the technology. I spend my money elsewhere.

  9. Exactly, Jeremy. Well put. To me, it SO shows when someone is blogging out of some ulterior motive or sense of responsibility, as opposed to actually, y’know, finding it enjoyable or fun or useful. The day I don’t find this site any of those things: It will die.
    And, you’re right, it’s nothing like writing fiction. Nada.

  10. I do think every author will be forced to Twitter or have their license revoked, in the near future.
    You’re kidding, but I expect there will come a day when people will make similar statements in all seriousness.
    Without a doubt, not all authors are good at promotional tasks, whether it be giving public readings or maintaining an entertaining blog. But it’s also true that authors’ ability to promote themselves is becoming more and more important, and those who aren’t good at it will find themselves increasingly marginalized. You and I may not like it, but we’re not enough to stop it.

  11. I can’t agree, I don’t think, not from where we’re sitting at the moment.
    The reason is this: Thus far, there really isn’t any proof out there that I’ve seen that good author blogs–even well-known ones–reliably result in large or sustained sales increases. (Not without something in tandem from the publishers’ side or crazy word of mouth that is wider than the blog’s readership.) There are a lot of qualifiers in that sentence, but what I’m getting at is that so far it’s a certain segment of readers being affected by these things online. Of the people who are online tuning into to something like Facebook or Myspace, or BoingBoing for that matter, a lot of them are not going to tap into more than one or two author blogs. They’re doing other things online instead. And the big promotional efforts for the books that are supercommercial? Aren’t primarily aimed at the Internet. I don’t think it’s the ability to self-promote that’s becoming troublingly more important, I think it’s the need for the work/the author to be more easily marketable quantities in and of themselves. To spell that out: easier for the publishers to promote to the machinery and people who can help create good sales. And it’s still more like a science project than a science.
    Anyway, I tend to think that there might be some requirements written into contracts in the future–but I suspect as much of that will be to try and force publishers to develop content in support of books as vice versa. And who knows? If the Kindle really takes off, it may become even more of a crapshoot in terms of promotion.
    I guess I also don’t see how any type of contractual obligation of that type would be different than, say, forcing a misanthrope who hates book tours to go on a book tour to get a book on the NYT bestseller list. And, on the flip side, blogs and many tools on the Web have finally given a free (save the cost of time) venue for authors to connect with readers and try to boost the profiles of them/their books–something many could only do with scattershot bookmarks and postcards in the past.

  12. I agree that there’s no proof, but as you say, publishing isn’t a science; most of what’s practiced is unproven. You and I both know an author who was encouraged by a reputable publisher to spend $7500 of her own money on a website.
    Whether there will be a contractual obligation to promote online, I don’t know. Right now it costs the publisher nothing to have the author maintain a blog; if it becomes a contractual issue, maybe that will change, maybe not. As for whether it’s different from having an author go on a reading tour: no, it’s not, which sort of proves the point. Sending an author on tour means having the author engage in self-promotion and advertising, which (in the original quote) Geoff said were distinct from art.
    As we are often told, being an author means being a businessperson just as much as being an artist. Blogging didn’t start that balancing act, but it does continue it.

  13. I agree with what you’re saying here, largely, but I don’t really see the same slippery slope, I guess, that’s implied in your responses. I think it’s been this way ever since people started making money for their writing, to a greater or lesser degree. I don’t see many people out bemoaning or questioning what the existence of the book tour will do to authors (sometimes sell books, sometimes not — ha); most authors just hope they’re lucky enough to get one. And at least a blog/Web presence is something the author controls, unlike most of the other efforts.
    This conversation has sort of meandered from where it started, but while I agree there are A LOT of problems with publishing in terms of marketing and publicity right now, A LOT A LOT A LOT, I can’t see this as one of the bigger ones.
    (I know you’re right on the website thing for our friend, although I can’t remember if the publisher ended up footing it. Anyway, I think that’s a prime example of publishers fundamentally not getting how to successfully use new media.) (The author in question did need a new website!)

  14. Oh, and one last little thing to bring this back around to books. Karen’s Wit’s End and Jincy Willett’s The Writing Class are an excellent pair to read together for explorations of how authors interface with the Web — probably closer to your view, Ted, than mine. I’m sure you’ve read Karen’s book, but Willett’s is definitely worth a look too.

  15. ‘Blogging is off the cuff, it is informal, conversational, and solipsistic.’
    That’s the way it often plays out, but not necessarily. Most of my own favourite blogs are more a selection of mini-essays, whether personal, literary, or cookery-oriented. But people go online either for info or for gossip, I suspect.

  16. I think the answer is different for every writer. I find my blog useful to tell other people about books I love and to, ironically enough, tell my readers about current projects *because* it takes a lot less time out of my creative writing schedule to do a blog post than other kinds of “promotion”.
    I suspect that some writers will always look down on writers who blog. All I know is, I write seriously strange stuff. In order to continue writing seriously strange stuff, I need to have a fairly aggressive online profile. So there’s another irony: write weird stuff and be successful through the internet and elsewhere in getting attention for it…and suddenly voila! you’re commercial.
    The best thing to do is ignore naysayers and focus on being creative–which, for me, also includes blogging.
    At the same time, I totally respect Ted or Geoff’s views on the subject and certainly would not try to convert them to mine. It’s a very good gut-check, too, to consider another point of view. Besides, writers are *supposed* to be able to hold opposing points of view in their heads without their brains exploding.

  17. Oh, I agree with that completely, Jeff, and hope it didn’t come across as if I was trying to convince Ted. I’m not really much of a convincer, but I like talking these things out.
    But, having observed the blog world for a number years now, as both a participant and a reader (like most of us), I would say that my core observation is that the blogs of authors are only ever successful in the promotional sense if they also offer something else. That’s one of the reasons why I believe, at heart, that the ‘sphere as it currently stands is a gift economy. If you don’t offer people something, something valuable on some level, they simply tune out.
    Geoff’s postings on the Cambodia book are a perfect example (or yours about your process and projects, for that matter). They may begin as self-promotion, but the content is fascinating and rich. And it offers something to those who read it in and of itself, whether they pick up his book or not (though hopefully a lot of people will!). That’s all I’m saying, really, to get back to the original point — the mercenary and the Web may meet at times, but rarely very successfully for very long in the literary quarters of the online world.

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