Cowboying It Up and Community

I follow local and national politics. My interest there isn't a fascination with the political process and idolizing politicians; instead it's more in the vein of not being able to take your eyes off a car wreck or a bar fight. 

One of the things being toyed with indirectly within the U.S.'s political arena these days is – in the grander sense – individualism versus community. This has been a social conundrum at least as far back as the ancient Greek culture, and it isn't a zero sum issue. That is, we're never going to actually live out the U.S. myth of the rugged individual making his/her on way in the world without any help from any dang person (what I call"cowboying" – if I have the liberty to invent a new verb). By the same token, we're never going to be completely communitarian in the "it takes a village" mode; we cranky Yanks just won't stand for over-much of that.

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And this applies to writers in ways we've never had to face before. We writers are most at ease by ourselves, in front of the computer screen, inventing people and worlds. But nowadays we're being forced by changes in the publishing biz to step away from our invented worlds and into the "slime" of marketing, promotion, and meeting and greeting. 

My purpose in this post isn't to guide my fellow writers through this sloppy maze, but to present a couple of general things that may at first seem obstacles, but things you need to face in order to get your writing out there – things that involve both individual and collective decisions.

Publishing: I have a traditional, small press publisher for a book of short stories due out soon. While the writing has been all mine, I was originally asked (if possible, and in order to secure a publishing contract) to add more stories than my original intent in order to meet the publisher's criteria for book length. We negotiated that, and arrived at a mutually agreed upon length that didn't, from the writer's viewpoint, add fluff to the collection. More recently I've been asked by the publisher, since I'm more intimately connected to these stories than anyone else, to write a draft of the cover copy, a ten-word cover blurb, and to assist in the cover design as a whole. We accomplished that – together. 

Whether you go the same route, or self-pub, you're at least going to have to make similar choices, decide among similar considerations.

Promotion: Writers are being urged all the time to develop web sites, and many do, I among them. One question I often hear from writers, though, is : "I have a web site, but what's it supposed to do for me?" Again, the answers are unique, but it has to do with developing a "platform," as the pub biz calls it; i.e., developing an audience for yourself and your work. A web site – or a blog – can do that. And so can social media. And so, of course, can book readings and signings, discussions with book groups and the like. At this point, you have to decide how you can best promote yourself and your writing – and then reach out for the necessary help.

There's a lot of help in all these areas, but you have to look for it: search engine optimization (SEO) to promote your web site or blog. Understanding social media advertising. Hiring a publicist to line up book signings, to obtain reviews. And that's just for starters.

So you see? You can cowboy it up to a degree, but in today's business environment, you can't do justice to your writing by trying to negotiate the writing, publishing and marketing maze all by yourself. Reality means being of both minds.


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