Writing on Wednesdays: the book is not the end game

March 14th, 2012

Should you write a book? Maybe. Maybe not.

Sowing the weeds of love: D-I-Y book promotion

It’s been almost a year since the hardcover edition of Planting Dandelions was released. Last spring was a giddy season. Warm advance reviews were rolling in, interviews and readings were being planned, buzz was in the air. Though I kept my expectations in check, I allowed my hopes to roam wild and high, as dreams must do. When I got word that People magazine was giving Planting Dandelions a four out of four star review, anything seemed possible. (Damn you, Royal Wedding mid-week special edition for interrupting my moment! And Steven Tyler’s.)

The book continues to bring me joy as it makes its way through the wild world, and I expect it will do so for the rest of my days. The experience of bringing a book to market has been frequently confusing, occasionally confounding and constantly educational. I’m not quite as “green” as I was a year ago. But I would–and plan to–do it all over again, with honor and pleasure.

I love writing online. I love the immediacy, the intimacy, the community. I love writing for print. I love the sense of authority and legacy, I love the professionalism, I love working with talented editors who push me to write better. (Also, I love the money. Blogging has occasionally bought me a cup of coffee or put me up in a swell hotel, but a significant portion of our household income comes from my work in print.)

As a dual citizen of new and traditional media, I enjoy the best of both worlds. I have a vantage point that transcends the biases and blind spots that come from being wholly vested in one or the other. And both have plenty.

The line between traditional and digital media is less sharply drawn than it was when I began blogging six years ago, and it’s fast on its way to dissolving altogether. Back then, blogs and bloggers were the illegitimate, mutant offspring of “real” writing. Traditional media feared losing its authority. New media people craved it. Both got expressed as contempt. There was a lot of posturing in the vein of “Who needs you, anyway?”

Of course, we needed each other.  And though there are still ongoing culture clashes, based on the old false dichotomy of THERE CAN ONLY BE ONE, the atmosphere of contempt and mistrust is steadily giving way to curiosity and respect.

Because there aren’t sides. There are only stories. And if you thought it was about the delivery vehicle– if you think it’s about books, or magazines, or video, or blogs, or bits of digital code–then I’m sorry, but you lost your way. Those things are objects. It’s fine to love them, admire them, collect them, sell them, create them, but they are only containers.

I spend a lot of time with stories, writing them, reading them, telling them, hearing them. I go to sleep with audiobooks every night. I keep up with over 100 personal blogs every morning. I owe the library millions of dollars in overdue fines for gorging on books. The immediacy of ebooks on my new Kindle Fire will probably drive us to bankruptcy. I sit in my driveway, held rapt by a radio narrative. I’m an omnivore of stories, and for me, there is no dilemma. It’s an endless feast.

As we move away from our attachment to the vehicle, I’m noticing recently a subtle shift in the blog culture’s attitude toward publishing books. As much as bloggers liked to claim they didn’t need anyone’s approval, the book deal was always the holy grail, the sign a blogger had “made” it. We were all Pinocchios waiting at the window sill for an agent or editor to come and make us into real boys. That’s more or less how it happened for me, and I’m so glad it did. I had a story in me that needed a book to contain it properly.

But that’s not the case for everyone. Some bloggers don’t need or want to write a book, even if they are good writers, with great stories. Like C. Jane, who explained yesterday why she was abandoning what had become a forced march to book publication:

I am a blogger. This is my genre…. Blogging allows me to have a living organism of words and photographs, hyperlinks and comments. Books, with their classic adventures, smells and something-in-the-hand-ness will always be something to esteem. But these months helped me realize (and I am so grateful) that I am not a book writer, I am a blog writer.

I thought that was a remarkable statement, and I take it as a sign that blogs, as a genre, are coming of age. On par with books (the best and the worst), but sufficient unto itself.

Here’s another example of the emerging self-sufficiency of the genre: my dear friend Asha Dornfest, explaining why she is writing a book now, with Christine Koh.

So why would I possibly write another book? Especially now, when social media is turning the conversation into the end goal? And book publishers and sellers are facing an uncertain market?

In fact, I think this is the best time to write a book. From a practical standpoint, books have entered a new era. E-book readers, wifi, mobile, search, social media, and the online marketplace have become such a part of everyday life that there has never been more potential for a good-quality book.

Considering how popular Asha’s website is, and how many opportunities she’s had to publish a book, it speaks volumes that she felt she could afford to wait for the right time, the right project, and the right publisher. And I share her excitement and optimism.

This is a thrilling time to publish a book– confusion, uncertainty, and all. It’s an incredible time to be a blogger. It’s an amazing time to be a reader.

And it’s the best time there ever was to tell your stories.


Syndicated on BlogHer.com

24 Responses to “Writing on Wednesdays: the book is not the end game”

  1. Lindsey says:

    This is a salient discussion for me personally right now. I loved C Jane’s post because I myself very recently came to the same conclusion. I wrote a book, a whole 350 page book, and I just never felt the connection to it, the warmth emanating from it, the truth in it, the way I do with my blog. Though I believe intellectually there are many ways to be “a writer,” it’s true that emotionally I crave the official mantle of writerdom that publishing a book seems to bestow. I’m slowly, surely coming to terms that it may never settle on my shoulders, though, and that process is full of both sorrow and excitement. xxo

    • Lindsey, “never say never” comes to mind. It might happen with a revision of that book, or a different book, or it might not. Either way, it’s such an empowering thing to be able to let go of the attachment to the outcome and just surrender to the process.

  2. I love reading your thoughts, Kyran.
    Thank you for sharing both sides. I loved Asha’s post about their upcoming book – now I’m off to read C Jane’s post.

    Happy Wednesday, lovely lady.

    • Happy backatcha! I love that post, too. Just reading it again fills me with excitement and possibility. Which is what being around Asha does for me too 🙂

  3. Wow, I clicked over to read this as soon as you tweeted a link thinking “I can’t wait to hear Kyran’s take on this.” What a lovely surprise to find C & I are part of your story.

    I have so much to say about this (some of which I think I’ve already told you). I’ve never been more hopeful about the prospects for quality writing, good storytelling, and the ability to craft a meaningful message, at least in the realms of nonfiction and memoir. (I have no clue about the fiction market, either in print or online.) I agree about the fading of “us vs. them” between print and online. It almost seems quaint that there was ever a hard line. Now that the legitimacy spats are ending, technology is sufficiently advanced, and readers are comfortable with a number of different “delivery vehicles,” there’s a field of opportunity for a good writer. Not only can one reach more readers when the book is ready for market, one can talk to readers *throughout the writing process.* Nothing could be more exciting, at least for me.

    • I couldn’t agree more. I think — I hope — that traditional media is done with the “sky is falling” mentality, and is opening itself up to all the amazing new possibilities.

  4. What a great post. I’m on the precipice of this myself, feeling there would be more validation and “success” in a printed copy of my work, even though I’ll get more eyeballs on my writing online.

    Thanks for this.

    • A book is a wonderful, beautiful thing. If you feel like there is one in you, you should go for it with all your being. But this, blogging, is also a wonderful, beautiful thing. And if a writer never publishes anywhere else but her blog, I don’t believe that means she settled for second place.

      Lovely to see your face here…yours is one of my regular blog reads!

  5. I said yesterday that you really were my compass on this vast inter web space. And I mean it. Beautifully written. Thank you for the nuggets of thought to chew on. Again. You are keeping my brain quite busy these days lady. My husband is likely very grateful! Wink.

  6. This is so relevant for me right now, as I was just approached by a literary agent. I’m now facing this dilemma between a long-term dream of writing a book, and the reality that similarly to Courtney, I may only have the margin for writing in short bursts at this stage of the game. Or ever. It’s an interesting time to be a writer, that’s for sure . . . it’s amazing to have the ability to self-publish and self-edit in our own online spaces, but for me there is still that tug that a book would be a big achievement, even in the knowledge that it would probably not reach as many people as I can online.

    • Kristen, I’ve read enough of your online writing to know you are more than up to the task. Timing-wise? That’s a tough one. My blog (and household) definitely suffered during the 14 months I labored on the manuscript. Something had to give. And it was a huge adjustment, going from 1,000 word posts to 5,000 word chapters strung together in some kind of cohesive arc. Not to mention the utter loneliness of constant monologue. I think one of the things that gave blogging such traction was that it gave extroverted, short-form writers a place to shine.

      One thing that helped me at the outset was doing a word count of everything I’d ever written on the blog. And realizing I could generate the words if I took it 1,000 words at a time. “Bird by bird,” as Anne Lamott wrote.

      Having an outline and working with an editor were also key. I would never have been able to keep my eyes on the big picture without her.

  7. Kelly says:

    So interesting. And, it comes to my mind that this is a generational thing, too. For me personally, the book, the published tangible thing, will always remain the holy grail. But for younger writers and bloggers growing up with New Media, I’m sure the lines of digital vs. print, and “important” vs. “navel-gaving” will be even blurrier. (I don’t think bloggers get accused of navel gazing as often these days, but that assumption is still out there.)

    • No question that a well-loved bound and printed book is a sacred object in a way that an ebook could never be. But so were record albums for most of the last century, and now they are artifacts. Yet, music goes on, and so will good (and bad) writing.

      As to navel-gazing, the digital age hardly has the monopoly on that, though I think it’s an accusation that gets disproportionately leveled at women who have found their way around the gatekeepers. 🙂

      • Kelly says:

        Yes! Absolutely. Funny, I never even had male bloggers in mind when mentioning “navel-gazing.” And now CD’s are going the way of albums & cassettes, too. I have a real problem with that, but then, I still miss liner notes. Guess I’m a true dinosaur.

  8. Thank you for this. It’s like you’re in my brain right now.

    I want to write a book. I want to do it, very much so, but I keep finding excuses. I love that you shared both sides–it makes me feel less alone. I still don’t know if the excuses are fear or that I just don’t want to, but this post makes me feel less alone. Which is one of the many reasons I love blogging. If I wrote a book, would I be alone? Do I want that?

    • It was lonesome. Honestly. I really missed the instant feedback. But the delayed gratification is worth it. The emails I get from readers are wonderful. It actually astounds me that they would go to the trouble of looking up my address and writing me a note. I’ve never done that for an author in my life.

  9. Wow, Two alones! Sorry, I’m on my phone … GRR…but the sentiment stands.

  10. A note to those who are comparing the numbers of readers for a first book vs an established and popular blog: book reading and blog reading are not weighted the same. It isn’t a 1:1 conversion. A book requires a greater buy-in from the reader, in terms of effort, attention and even money (or a trip to the library) which is why I reserved the most personal parts of my story for the book.

  11. Sometimes I wonder if blogging is my genre. Although I started blogging because I wanted a place to practice my craft while I prepped for my book. Now my book has taken a backseat but I can’t decide if it’s because I’m a blogging or I’m afraid.

  12. I feel good about my writing and I get a lot of respect from my peers and yet I never get that fairy tale approach from an agent/publisher. In spite of that, I blog with the belief that it only takes the right person to read the right post at the right time. I endured the rigor of writing a novel. I have ideas for others. I scribble notes for potential short stories. Poems appear. And I love to blog. So, for the sake of my ego, I’ve needed to check my desire to publish and just be cool with living a writing life. I really love to write. So I do.

    • J, at the risk of invoking “that’s what she said,” hear this: you are an artist in command of his instrument, if ever there was. Play on, brother. Play on. 🙂

  13. Marie says:

    I think a book will always be my idea of success as a writer, but now I have to think about whether that’s still true.

    I’m an enthusiast of both blogs and any other printed reading matter both as a reader and as a writer, but I much prefer to curl up with a book, turning pages, than to read off a screen at length. I find it interesting that, as you said, you reserved the most personal parts of your story for your book. Reading a book still feels more intimate, somehow, and the weight of the book in hand seems to reflect the solidity, the weight of the story. And even more, having the parts of the story selected and crafted into a whole really appeals to me. I think your book resonated with me even more strongly because of that aspect.

    I’m a little aghast that books might not be considered “it,” partly because of my love of reading them (like you, I have racked up innumerable library fines over the years, not to mention a considerable collection at home), and partly because book’s primacy holds out a hope for me that someday I will get my stories published (once I find my voice and do the work, etc), and digital doesn’t feel the same. Funny that it also feels scary to lose books as a primary goal. I think it’s because I don’t feel particularly successful as a blogger. But I do continue to tell stories, so there is that. And there is lots more here you’ve given me to think about. Short form versus long form, writing for different publishing outlets… Digital publishing is just expanding our options.

  14. Paula says:

    Just wanted to stop in and say I read your book last week and truly loved it. Your honesty and complexity moved and resonated with me, as does your blog. I’m glad for the both of them.

  15. […] I’m pleased to tell you that Blogher picked up my recent post,  The Book is Not the End Game  for syndication over the weekend. The commentary on the original piece has been so smart and […]

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