The online writing community is vast and generous. Plenty of folks on ‘the inside’ are ready, willing and able to share their secrets on how to ‘get inside’ to aspiring, as yet unpublished writers. The problem? You could spend weeks trolling through social media and never catch up. And even if, by some miracle of time and application, you were to view all the relevant articles, posts, blogs, photos, and video clips on writing and publishing, well, guess what? When you wake up tomorrow, you will find a fresh batch has been dumped on your digital doorstep, demanding to be consumed.
Every agent, every editor, lots of writers (oops, guilty as charged), all of us keep a finger or two in the digital potage, regardless of how busy we are.
Why do we do this? Because to fail to participate is to be conspicuous by your absence. Once you’ve cracked the publishing nut, you are told that maintaining an online presence is now part of your job. If by some miracle a potential new reader or client should stumble across your name, what’s the very first thing they do? They search for you online. And they’d better find some content. You’ve got to have a website at the minimum, and if you’re not a total loser, that site should connect to at least three other social media platforms. And naturally, you must then find the time—and the material—to keep each and every one of your digital toeholds living, breathing, and relevant with frequent postings. It’s a little like that famous Vaudeville act where the guy keeps a dozen plates spinning on top of slender dowel rods. Talk about someone whose work is never done.
I bring this up, not to dissuade you from pursuing publication and being yoked with the burden of personal promotion. And it can be burdensome. Certainly it takes time away from the real work of writing, editing and publishing. I created my website and started posting across social media before my first book even had cover art, much less had been published. Oh, the joyous celebration when my Facebook page reached 100 ‘Likes.’ You’d have thought we were burning the mortgage.
My point here, and I do have one, is that, within this sea of opinions, how to’s, pictures from publishing conferences and book tours, interviews with authors/editors/agents/media coordinators and more, all lapping at the shore of your precious, limited time, the amount of content that you NEED to consume is approximately . . . ZERO. Remember, we have to produce content. Odds are good that a lot of it is redundant, and most of the rest is irrelevant to your personal situation.
This is not to say that there aren’t some smart folks out there dishing excellent and useful advice. I learned how to write a query letter from an agent’s blog. She’d become fed up with receiving crappy queries and set out to make the world a better place. Thank you, Janet Reid.
But what you must guard against, as vigilantly as you avoid dark alleys, lead based paint, or Game of Thrones spoilers, is the temptation to simply read everything. You’ve got to be selective. Read titles. If the topic under discussion doesn’t apply to your personal situation RIGHT THIS MINUTE, then skip it.
“But someday I will need advice on what to do after I get an agent!” you protest. True enough. When that blessed day comes, there will be another, even fresher and more relevant article on that exact topic at your digital fingertips. Type it into any search engine, and dozens of blogs and articles will present themselves, including the one calling to you right now.
So what, if anything, should you be reading online? If you are an aspiring writer, my personal opinion is “not much.” Enjoy your own Facebook fun with family and friends (just so long as the fun doesn’t occur during your carefully carved out writing time.) If you have a manuscript partially or mostly completed, I’d troll for stuff on polishing my writing, engaging readers, what agents look for in Chapter 1, stuff like that.
If your book is finished and you’re ready to begin the search for an agent, check out ONE or TWO blogs on querying. There are dozens, and please don’t waste time reading all of them. As stated above, most of them repeat the same basic advice. Pick one from an agent whose website indicates she/he has plenty of successfully placed clients, and you are reading advice from an expert.
You must be strong. Remain extremely selective with what you choose to consume. Because all that trolling, searching and reading will burn through your free time like a forest fire. Worse, it can be confusing and distracting, leading you to worry about things you don’t need to be worrying about right now. Focusing on the task at hand right now is the most time-efficient thing you can do.
I totally understand the allure. Unpublished, aspiring writers are like children with our noses pressed against the glass. Glimpses inside the magical world of ‘real’ writers give us hope that we, too, will someday gain admittance. But trust me when I tell you that, as fascinating as all that stuff is, it will not get you where you want to go. It takes iron discipline to stay on track. And just as with the habit of tuning out distractions during scheduled writing time, the ability to avoid the white noise of the endless social media stream is a critical skill worth cultivating.
Be strong. Your challenge is to stand firm as a determined and faithful steward of that most valuable resource—your time. It is scarce, and it is precious. How you use it is totally up to you. But once it’s gone, it’s gone.
I am a writer and teacher of writing. After a lifetime of attempting to squeeze writing into my busy life as wife, mother, Scout leader, teacher, and far too many additional hats to list here, I have achieved my dream of being published and becoming a 'real writer'. How did I find the time? In this blog I'll share some of my strategies for having it all--and still getting dinner on the table by six.