When I joined the writing community as a teenager, my peers insisted that I launch a blog to build a following (or else I’d doom myself to obscurity). Running with this misguided notion, I opened a WordPress account and fired off the world’s most random introduction post. To be clear, I’m not here to ram a sales pitch for blogging. Blogs aren’t as necessary to marketing as I originally believed, especially since social media and email newsletters offer more versatility. But in the six years I’ve spent maintaining a personal blog, I’ve developed a broader view of why I write fiction and who I’m trying to reach, as well as habits and skills that aid me in my pursuit of authorship.
A NYT-bestselling author I heard once argued that readers tend to “read fiction to escape. Authors are entertainers,” and whether we like it or not, we need to give people what they want. But is this really accurate? Or is there a deeper reason for why people read fiction and what we need to thus provide them as storytellers?
Conference season has arrived! And that means a fair amount of nail biting for new and returning attendees alike. Meeting authors you admire, pitching your work to agents, and trying to absorb as much knowledge as possible can be stressful.
A few years ago, an inquisitive stranger cornered me with a seemingly innocuous question: “What’s your book about?” Instead of rattling off a zinger, my brain blanked, my tongue tangled, and I stuttered something about “a monster who eats people” before hastily retreating.
I have a confession to make that may shock anyone who beta read my first novel, which sported a gruff, pipe-smoking wizard, a quest involving a mythical object of doom, and the line “All we have to decide is what to do with the time we’re given.” Despite these uncanny resemblances, no, I’m not Tolkien. I do, however, harbor deep respect and admiration for him, and I hope my own stories will evoke the same emotions as The Hobbit and The Children of Hurin.
When I was nine years old, I became the dictator of a sprawling, shape-shifting land called Fiction, and my political party consisted of myself, a few other students in our homeschool co-op writing class, and a table where we gathered during lunch breaks to scribble in our notebooks. We even passed a law banning nonfiction, and whenever our teacher gave us an assignment that didn’t involve mythical beings like unicorns and flying hippos, we’d threaten to revolt (and then, of course, we’d obey, because she was the adult).
I recently signed a contract for a young adult novel, and my publisher set up a meeting with a literary agency to strategize the promotion of my book. The savvy ladies I spoke with offered a smorgasbord of suggestions, many of which I was familiar with. After all, if you hang around the writing community snack bar long enough, you’re bound to pick up a morsel or two about marketing.
You probably think that fiction and nonfiction are on opposite sides of the equator—and I would say that you are absolutely correct. Each have different sets of rules, audiences, and goals. One is entertaining and the other is informative. One keeps us on the edge of our seats and the other keeps us on the edge of our brains. One lifts us into another dimension and the other pushes us down to reality.
Have you ever been tempted to tear pages from your notebooks, toss the crumpled wads into the trash, and vow to never write again because it isn’t worth your time? Some days, the words refuse to come. On other days, people insist that playing around with imaginary characters and places isn’t a real job. And every day in between, you stare at the gaping whiteness in front of you and wonder, “Why do I bother?”
At conferences, in critique groups, and during meetups, I’ve talked to writers in all stages of their careers who struggle with social media paralysis. “Why can’t I just write?” they ask. “Won’t good books attract readers?” Although people will buy books without social media exposure, your chances of making sales and reaching a broad audience will be higher if you use it. But, if this digital platform is so beneficial, why does it put writers on edge? My guess is that you’ve wrestled with at least one (if not all!) of the three worries I’m going to describe, so roll up your sleeves and prepare to tackle each one with confidence.