Write First; Then Hawk

A few years ago, I went to a writing conference where we were encouraged to start building our “platform” before we were ready to publish our book.

(“Platform building” is basically marketing of you as a writer. It encompasses those things you do to engage potential readers and includes a website, blog, and social media.)

The reasons given us for starting early were that once the book was published, we’d be busy selling it, doing author readings, autographing copies, traveling from Point A to Point C to meet fans and share our stories.

And because agents — those mysterious folks who hold the power to get our words published — prefer representing work with a ready-made audience.

But it strikes me as awfully sad that so many authors are being reduced to snake-oil salesmen on social media sites.

“Buy my book — please!” they tweet.

“I’m over at XX today. Join the conversation,” they urge.

“First forty pages written,” they announce. “Smokin’ now!”

“Follow me and I’ll follow you back,” they beg.

Doesn’t that sound needy??

Desperate, even?

Surely there’s a better way of getting your name out there and reeling in potential readers.

Some writers do an outstanding job of engaging the public. Helping readers see them as real people, building relationships of trust, and being accessible and encouraging.

Isn’t that the ideal?

Writing is hard work. It can be a lonely, daunting task to stare at a blank screen and put words on it. To create an imaginary world peopled with fascinating characters doing meaningful things.

Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand. –George Orwell

But those of us so inclined should remember one thing — our main job is to write.

Not sell.

At least, not until we have something to sell.

Platform building, worthy though it is, is akin to putting the cart before the horse for unpublished novelists.

Literary agent Rachelle Gardner agrees. She advises unpublished fiction writers to spend 90 percent of their time perfecting their craft and 10 percent on building a platform.

For if you haven’t perfected your craft, how can you expect to pull in readers?

24 thoughts on “Write First; Then Hawk

  1. That is my biggest obstacle…selling myself; trying to promote my books made me feel like a literary hooker. I just want to write. It’s a shame the publishing world changed so drastically to where the author does most of the work and gets the least amount of monetary gain. Editors/publishers push for authors to have a platform…I’m resisting!

    • I’m with you, Suzi. It seems to me that writing and marketing are right brain-left brain kinds of activities, drawing people so inclined. I mean, if writers were the life of the party, they wouldn’t be writing, right?! I, too, wish the days of publishing houses doing the marketing would return — that, or perhaps we need to find a good patron, one of those rich folks who pays for our living expenses in return for an acknowledgement of some sort!!

  2. Selling yourself takes lots of forms. One is promoting other peoples stuff. Retweeting, sharing, reading and commenting. Planting seeds. Then when it’s your turn and you have work ready to publish or show off, you have people genuinely interested in promoting you and helping you succeed. It not only sounds desperate to promote yourself prematurely it wears people out. I wonder how many of the “Hawkers” actually end up publishing? The last line in your post pretty much sums it up.

    • Thanks for a realistic assessment, Katybeth. I much prefer interacting with others and helping them, rather than being that annoying person who’s constantly begging for something for themselves. Their desperation at self-promotion is wearisome and, I can’t help but think, futile.

  3. Debbie, I love this post and totally agree with you.

    I’ve never had the desire to publish a book, so I really can’t share anything on that, but I do treat my blog as a platform for sharing my love of writing, photography, product reviews, etc. Yet, I’m low-keyed about promoting my blog on various social media sites because to be perfectly honest, it takes WAY too much time and distracts me from what I really want to do, which is to WRITE and CREATE.

    So many people are out there pushing there blogs to become popular, by asking their readers to Like them, Tweet them, Facebook them, and Follow them. But I have to say, that really turns me off because those are things that a reader should do IF they want to; not asked to do by a blog publisher. I find it too pushy and overbearing. I’ve actually stopped reading certain blogs because that’s all they do…ask you to promote their blog or their books for them.

    What you shared here is exactly how I feel…

    “Some writers do an outstanding job of engaging the public. Helping readers see them as real people, building relationships of trust, and being accessible and encouraging.”


    The think the best way to have a successful blog is by forming a strong COMMUNITY and ENGAGING your readers, by allowing them to feel a part of your blog. It isn’t about me saying what I want and then not listening and responding to my readers in their comments. It’s about discussion and allowing my readers to feel VALUED.

    Terrific post topic, dear lady!


    • “It’s about discussion and allowing my readers to feel VALUED.”

      Well said, Ron! I, too, have quit reading blogs where all the writer seems to want is what’s in it for THEM.

      And you’re so right about social media taking lots of time. I don’t do Facebook at all, and while I enjoy Twitter, sometimes it wearies me when all I read are unknown writers BEGGING to be noticed. All those interactions must be carefully thought out, as well as used judiciously. It’s most rewarding to me when I feel I’ve given people something to think about, educated them, made them laugh, or whatever; in short, brightened THEIR day!

      Thanks so much, as always, for stopping by — it’s Friday, you know, so ENJOY!!

    • You’re back — whee!! And that link is too funny. You knew that my web designer side would get a real kick out of it, didn’t you? That’s just one of the many things I love about you, Kb — you’re so thoughtful! Thanks for a day-brightener!

  4. Well said, Debbie. Platform building feels so phoney, but apparently is so much a part of the biz these days. Thanks for the reminder, WRITE first! The writing fills our soul. I don’t think when we are dead and gone any of us will be remembered for the number of likes we had on Facebook.

    • I got a good chuckle from your last sentence, Pat — so very true! I think we get so wrapped up in the here and now, the immediacy, that we forget what’s really important — for writers, to write. And, sometimes, interacting on Facebook or whatever is merely an “excuse” to not write — we’ve ALL been there, ha!

  5. Great points, Debbie. But I have actually seen, in a few cases, where some bloggers or social media enthusiasts get so popular that they’re efforts turn into a book deal. But I imagine you have to have thousands and thousands of followers, as well as write well, for that to happen. But it does happen, nonetheless.

  6. I’m not good at selling anything. Good thing I can’t seem to finish anything or I’d have to figure out how to sell it 🙂 (Only half kidding there…I actually am on a writing schedule to finish Darlene’s full story next year.) I do agree that it makes sense to write first and build a platform afterwards. The irony is that publishers pay more attention if you have a following.

    • We’re told that if you’re writing nonfiction, you definitely have to have a following. With fiction, it’s a bit more iffy. Publishers would *like* to see gazillions of potential readers, but just because a person has followers doesn’t necessarily mean all those followers will buy a book (right?)
      Good for you, getting Darlene’s story finished next year! It’s an interesting read, and I can hardly wait to see how it turns out. Just remember, once you finish it, you’ve got to sell it! Perhaps hubby can help??

  7. That’s an interesting tactic. I almost always choose a book by reading the first few paragraphs before I buy. I can usually tell if it’s one I’ll enjoy. Then only AFTER reading a book I enjoy, do I make it a point to seek out other books by the same author. I can’t imagine that just because I might follow an author and get a sense for who they are that I will automatically love their work. The bottom line, I think, no matter how an author promotes themselves, is that the work will sell itself if it’s good enough. Of course, I’ve never tried to write a book, so what do I know?

    • You obviously know (perhaps instinctively) the key, Terri. Regardless of the promotion, it’s an author’s words that bring a book to life. Agents tell us this on a regular basis, but it’s probably human nature to question if there’s isn’t a better way, a faster way, an easier way. And I’ll bet you have a book in you!!

  8. “`You must believe in your words, your story, your voice))))
    You must tell your truth…without bullshit or caring about your readership.
    If not, STOP writing. NOW.
    I, for one, do not want to read what you have to say.

    Great post, dear. Xx

    • What wise and wonderful words you’ve added here, Kim! And you, dear, obviously believe in *your* words, for you have a powerful story to tell and are telling it with passion! Yes, if we as writers don’t believe in what we’re saying, how can we expect others to be moved by our story? Well said, my friend!

  9. Debbie, you have really told it like it is. It’s a cruel world out there for most writers now, though this made me smile: “But it strikes me as awfully sad that so many authors are being reduced to snake-oil salesmen on social media sites.” Agree 100%.

  10. Pingback: Debbie by Another Name. . . | Musings by an ND Domer's Mom

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