Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A Platform Isn't just a Place to Stand

I finished the read through of my second draft last Friday. Yesterday, I officially started on the third (and hopefully final) major revision by copying the novel into a new document, now named “Altar – Revision 3.” Before I start the actual writing, though, I’m going through all my working notes for the project, selecting the ones that are relevant, and adding them to my revision notes. It’s actually a pretty major task. I have 23 pages of notes that are typed, plus about half a spiral-bound notebook with handwritten notes.

Today, I grandly outlined my to do list for the next several years. Okay, I wrote the titles for my next three novels on a Post-it note and stuck it to my desk where I can see it. But still…it reminds me that after I’m done with Altar, there are other books waiting to be written. My list reads Choice (which has been Altar’s working title since 1999 and what I call it around the house), Ithaka, and Grandmother’s House. There’s also a title in parenthesis, (2nd Son), because it’s a fantasy novel and I’m not sure where it’s going to fit into the mix. At the moment, it won’t leave me alone even though I tell it there’s no way it’s going to be the next thing I write because, if Altar sells, I can’t genre hop. Not if I want to have a career in this industry.

I’ve been thinking a lot about marketing lately. The days of writers simply writing their books, turning them over to a publisher, and having the publisher do all the work for promoting the author and his or her work are over. Gone, buried, probably never to return again, and now just a fairy tale that older authors tell to younger ones to make them despair about the likelihood of ever getting a book published in this economy. Which means writers have to do more and more work to promote themselves and their books. I’m not talking about arranging book tours (although Jacqueline Susann did that very successfully for Valley of the Dolls, famously writing letters to bookstore owners on purple stationary). I’m talking about “platform,” which is a word that’s come into wide-spread usage, though it basically means, “how big an audience are you bringing to the table?” Blogs, Facebook fan pages, Twitter feeds, publication credits, teaching credentials, awards, etc. Anything that a writer has done that can increase your name recognition and, potentially, your sales, becomes part of marketing him/herself.

As Altar nears completion, my thoughts are turning increasingly to this question. As a novelist, I’m at a slight disadvantage in the publication area. While I have a few short stories that have been published, that happened ages ago. I don’t write short stories anymore and was never very good at them to begin with. So I’m looking in the direction of nonfiction. The right article in the right publication can do wonders for a reputation (that, folks, is how Jonathan Franzen became the towering literary figure that he is – a well-placed article in, I believe, the New York Review of Books several years before The Corrections came out that cemented Franzen’s reputation among the literati as a SERIOUS WRITER and paved the way for that book’s critical acclaim). I’m not in a position to write for the NYRB, but I have my eye on a couple of places and am formulating my plan of attack.

Though, for the time being, my real attention is on finishing the book and getting it into the hands of an agent. Which is where it should be.


Queen of Cuisine said...

I remember one of your first manuscripts in high school It was a science fiction/fantasy piece- and you were so disappointed when your "planet," Odessa, actually turned out to be a location in the Soviet Union! Of course, I'm wondering how much of that I've recalled accurately.


Diane said...

You remember that right. Except it was a Star Wars novel. Though I may not have told anyone that because I think I was embarrassed by that fact. Now, I proudly tell all my students that I wrote a Star Wars novel when I was 13. I'm also proud of how I made the central character a female Jedi knight - something even George Lucas still seems to have trouble doing. I see it as my way of putting myself into the story since I was not then and never will be a princess to be rescued, and that was the only option George (and most fantasy writers) was offering. These days, what I did is called fan fiction, and is an entirely legitimate form of writing. If I'd only known, I could have been published long ago. I still have that novel, by the way. It's in a drawer in my desk, right next to me, as a matter of fact. I've never been brave enough to read through it, though both of my boys have asked to do so.