We live in an age where promotional hype outshines almost everything else. It has trickled down from national television programs to just about every creative outlet in the country. And, with the explosion - and undeniable power - of social media, it’s now easier than ever to hype a message to thousands - sometimes even millions - with a click or two.
But an important ingredient is often left out of the cake that eager artists are trying to bake: Good content.
This was briefly touched on in a post that I read on Bob Mayer’s blog, Write It Forward. On March 6, 2012, Bob was sharing some thoughts on the proliferation of ebooks, and he counseled enthusiastic authors to remember the most important element of a successful book, regardless of its format...and it’s not the promo video on YouTube.
It’s the actual content of the book.
I receive at least a dozen or more requests each month to share my thoughts on writing and publishing with people who are anxious to write a hit book. But I’ve found that at least half of those requests focus almost exclusively on how often I Tweet, or how I set up my Facebook page, or how many times I send out a newsletter blast.
In other words, a personal fascination with social media - coupled with enough news stories about yet another ‘viral’ success - has too many writers not only putting the cart before the horse, but leaving the poor horse in the barn while trying to magically roll the cart into town with gimmicks.
When I respond to these requests with information about the writing process itself, or by asking how many hours a day they dedicate to the craft of composing meaningful and melodious paragraphs, you can hear crickets. Few writers, it seems, are interested enough in the nuts and bolts; now it’s all about “how can I blast enough eyeballs with my snazzy promo video?”
Please don’t misunderstand: You need to be very good at spreading the word about your work. In fact, if you’re not willing to work that aspect of the business, you might as well consign yourself to writing as a hobby. But, on the flip side, peddling garbage is more than a little dangerous. If you’re able to convince a million people to check out your flash and pizzazz, they’ll ultimately still judge you by your writing (with some famous exceptions that we won’t name). When you finally secure those eyeballs, the payoff better be worth it, because you’ll never fool them again. They’ll remember your name, and for the wrong reason.
My advice is to dedicate just as much time and energy - if not more - to perfecting your writing skills as you do to your social media marketing. While I might dispute Anders Ericsson’s 10,000-hour rule (made famous in Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers), I can’t deny his basic premise regarding practice. Work each day to become better and better, and always aim to make your next manuscript better than the last one.
No one remembers a thing about Harper Lee’s marketing for Mockingbird. Did she even have any?