Monday, February 12, 2007

Another Shorter Chris Bowers


”Walking around like regular bloggers. They don't see each other. They only see what they want to see. They don't know they're dead.”

How often do you see them?

Bowers: All the time. They're everywhere.


This post is both about this fight currently going on in Left Blogylvania.

And this from a different section of the orchestra, wherein Steve Gilliard offers this advice to the Young Blogger out there:

Son, get off your knees.

Why the fuck do you care if Atrios or Kos has you on their blogroll. Does it feel like a pat on the head? A reward?

The ONLY blog you should worry about is YOURS. None of those people matter. It doesn't matter who links to you, only who reads you.

A good blog draws readers, a bad one doesn't. People begging for space are little better than the teens hopping around a Meat Packing district club hoping the bouncer likes them.

If you think a link on one of these sites will help your site grow, you're deluded. Only your work can help you. Cyberbuddying up to Atrios means nothing if you suck. I've never, ever exchanged a link or asked anyone to link to here. Why? Because I felt if people wanted to read this site, they would find their way here. You need to have the same confidence in your work.

It doesn't matter what other people do.


Which is certainly true. However Steve’s preference for the declarative sentence (which he does better than just about anyone) has allowed the other half of the debate to slip past.

The debate is not all about whether it is right or not – or relevant or not – for country mouse bloggers like me to go trufflehogging for blogroll fame and glory with the Wizards of the Emerald City.

I honestly I couldn’t give shit either way, but I’m also a pretty fortunate blogger. The guys over at Crooks & Liars are routinely very generous about swinging their terawatt spotlight around at little folks and have caught me in their beam several times (Especially Mike Finnigan of “Mike’s Blog Roundup” fame.) The incandescent Digby has also been munificent, as has watertiger in her FireDogLake incarnation.

But reality is reality. So here is a graph of my hitcount

during a slice of time covering a coupla weeks.

Note the singular resemblance to the caissons and towers of a suspension bridge. How it peaks and falls with a lovely symmetry.

Now since I don’t belong to any blogger support groups
(“Hi. My nom is driftglass.”
“Hello driftglass.”
“It’s been over 72 hours since my last post.”)

where the secret handshakes and blink-codes are exchanged, I don’t know if there’s some protocol-breach in dropping a little trou like this, but I thought it was instructive.

Specifically, that trying chase hitcount spikes and ski Mt. A-List is not especially productive.

It's fun and little vertiginous to show up above the timberline every now and then, but next month I’ll have been at this for two years, and the traffic numbers are as flat and smooth as Kansas. That’s not at all a bad thing – by my lights a lot of people come by here or write me, and they’re mostly smart and funny and experientially well turned-out – but it is a thing.

It begs the universal yet very personal and idiosyncratic question which I will now render into song.

Badly.
And it's one, two, three,
What are we blogging for?
Don't ask me, I don't give a damn.
Is the next stop is Billmon Land?
And it's five, six, seven,
What about your traffic rates?
Well there ain't no time to wonder why,
Whoopee! I’m 8,000,000th in Technorati.


No, the real debate -- the one that every writer since Euripides has had to wrestle with -- is not at all about blogrolling, but around the choices each artist makes when it comes to the gentle art of getting one’s work performed, or published, or recognized.

Take for example the "once upon a time” about a certain young & hungry writer who was also an LAPD motorcycle cop. And a component of that story (which I could not track down in detail) which asserts that he wasn’t exactly shy about using his size and cop status to get the attention of (and his script into the hand of) the people who eventually bought his work.

That perhaps on one occasion he rolled up to a buncha titans of teevee on his police hog, swung out of the saddle and creaking in his full, leather, policeman regalia, handed his script to a one of said titans, saying something like “I’d sure appreciate it if you gave this a look.”

The motorcycle cop who was script-whoring as shamelessly as any blogger trying to get attention was named Gene Roddenberry.

And it worked. Of course he had to have the chops to back it up, but faint heart never won fair maiden and so forth, and that, as Paul Harvey used to say, is the rest of the story.

Or, for another set or examples, writer friends of mine who crank out fiction. Good fiction. Stories they labor over meticulously, which tell tales they believe are worth telling and to which they devote great deal of time and attention.

Well for the most part they (like virtually all writers) have a huge pile of rejection notices sitting next to those stories. And while writing for the markets is not a perfect, one-for-one simile for blogging, there are striking similarities.

Like sex, people write for a lot of reasons. For pleasure. To reproduce, sorta. Power. Obligation. Love. (don’t say revenge don’t say revenge) Revenge. Status. Ego. Joy.

And every serious writer I know is, on some level, also an entrepreneur. They have to be. And being purposeful, passionate entrepreneurs, each wants some return for their time and trouble. Of course only a great fool writes on spec and into a vacuum, but…

Some see their “return” as changing the world for the better.

Some just feel the need to be heard.

Some want Dad/Mom to be proud.

Some want to show those bastards that laughed at them way back when.

Some are possessed by a Muse that demands expression.

Some want laurels.

Some want to get laid.

Some want to get paid.

Some want to out-write those they perceive as their competitors. (Shit, Hemingway kept track of every fucking word he published and noted the moment when he passed other Great Men of Letters.)

So as a purposeful and passionate entrepreneur, what does one do?

Now that is the real debate. A debate well worth having.

Because being purposeful men and women, and being entrepreneurs, each want some return on their time and trouble, and the idea that lathing out one well-turned piece of prose after another in dignified silence is the only correct and acceptable way to win an audience is ridiculous.

Watching your work roll down your blog into oblivion like chocolates cranking down Lucille Ball’s assembly line may be fine if you happen to be packing an infinite supply of time, energy and superb writing.

And if you are content with the prospect of writing gratis indefinitely.

Which, as noble as that may sound, is not exactly a dazzling business plan, especially as the once wide-open, frontier landscape fills up with talent vying for attention.

As a reader, it’s a great thing. An embarrassment of riches. But as a writer you come to know there are no investments more precious and more unsecured than your time.

Your valuable time.

Admittedly in some cases – many cases – a writer’s expectations on the return on that investment are laughably out of proportion to the marketplace.

Demanding attention as if it were your due is absurd; on a par with asserting that if I buy Nike sneakers, the Nike corporation somehow owes me something. If you are of that mind you had best go and look up the word “investment” before you start slinging that kind of silly-ass, entitlement lingo ‘round here.

However, while part of being an entrepreneur is being a creator, the other part is being your own lobbyist. A marketer. Whether for cash or applause or just because you think it is important that the world hear what you have to say, the writing of the story is only half the story.

More than a few of those writers of my acquaintance, for example, go to conventions. They go to fan meetings. They take awards seriously, and some of them buttonhole like motherfuckers to win those statuettes, because the effect of that recognition is not trivial. It means sales and readership and rent money.

They work the circuit, and they do it because whether they enjoy it or not, they know the hard facts are that it’ll improve their odds at greater opportunities and a shot at a wider audience.

And a few friends I have in the music or art biz will tell you exactly the same anecdotes.

They hit the open mike nights.

They have business cards.

They have representation, or wish they did.

They schmooze.

They hustle for work. Angle for lucrative deals. They rebrand their old pieces for new markets. They spend a great deal of time on the phone working through royalty arrangements.

Think about it.

The bulk of Atrios’ blog these days is Pez-ing out ten-word “heh indeedy” posts with links to other people’s work every several hours.

Kos has built a small city.

But love ‘em or not, one cannot fail to notice -- for all the highfalutin talk of Blog Propriety -- that their prose is framed on three sides with a very prominent Proscenium Arch of Blog Prosperity.

Of paid advertising.

And while I begrudge no man or woman a single pfennig of their daily bread, let’s be honest about what the A-Listers have demonstrated.
1. There is cold, hard cash in them thar blogs. Enough, perhaps, for a writer to live on. Comfortably. And,
2. That cash is generated because of traffic.


Which brings us full-circle back to a genuine question masquerading as a silly blogroll kerfuffle: If you actually take your own work seriously -- if you believe in what you write, are confident in its quality, and value it for the time you’ve invested in it -- why the fuck wouldn’t you assertively try to bring it to a wider audience?

Jeez, the entire concept of the cocktail party was cooked for two and only two reasons: to get business done and get into other people’s pants.

And the simple truth of the matter is there a lot of good writers out there. And – because Sturgeon's Law is immutable -- an awful lot of bad ones. And a very limited amount of minutes in the day for any person to devote to the subversive act of reading, which creates a form of creativity inflation: too much talent chasing too few hours of collective reading time.

And of the good writers I know, the ones that do better than average actively work the gatekeepers, the providers of capital, the fans, their peers, and the arbiters of cool.

And the ones that do worse than average are the ones who do nothing more than passively send out their work, get rejected, and then send it back out again until there are no outlets left.

There is a fundamental flaw in the reasoning here, which is surprising because in this corner of the blogosphere most every grownup seems to understand the very pragmatic realities of politics, and yet more than a few of them grow suspiciously deaf when it comes to their own garden.

So let’s say instead of blogging you are running for office, and you’re smart and passionate and articulate and believe in what you are saying.

Would you A) Tape learned policy statement after learned policy statement on your front door and hope people eventually notice through the din of everyday life, or B) Stand up at every public forum. Work every bus stop. Go door-to-door if necessary to get your message out?

The devil is, of course, always the boll weevil nestled inside the detail of how you promotion. There are people who robotically go from blog to blog to blog at predictable intervals and, apropos of absolutely nothing else that is going on there, drop in a copy/pasted message of “Hello ____ . Wow what you said about _____ is certainly interesting. Come over and read my stuff. Now.”

Yes, this I would treat as spam, indistinguishable from bot-generated pleas from the “widow of the former Finance Minister of Burundi” and promises about Majyk Penis Unguents.

But having said what I don’t mean, let me be crystal-clear about what I do mean:
The fruits of your labors will always stand or fall on their own merit, but as long as you are prepared for the fact that 9 out of 10 times you'll probably fall flat on your ass, there is absolutely nothing dishonorable or unseemly or unreasonable about speaking up and marketing oneself and one’s work.


If there were, Jesus would have torn up his tool shed instead of the Temple.

And they’d have called it “The Sermon From Under The Covers In A Quiet Voice So As Not To Disturb Anyone” instead of the “Sermon On The Mount”.

29 comments:

Anonymous said...

May readers and accolades be laid at your feet

Will Divide said...

You make a point not heard nearly enough. Bloggers are writers and, while there's no bigger fan of Prof. M. McLuhan than I, one confuses the medium here with the messages at one's peril.

One may write to try to change minds, or at least the focus of certain public assumptions. Low-cost, or free, self-publishing enables that, and I, for one, would be sorry to see the possibilities of such a thing waylayed so completely by the prospect of E-Z cash.

Another reason to write is to get better at writing, an improving practice which, honest, can enhance the quality of one's life along with firming-up the tone of one's thinking.

I have to agree with Gilliard. The craven and second-rate will always cloud the sno-globe of public discourse, and quality will find its way to be heard. One must decide why one writes (though such things are never b&w) and then hammer accordingly.

Sam Johnson famously observed that no one but a blockhead writes for any reason other than to make money. The good Dr. was being arch. One needs to write a lot before reaching a point where one can earn money by doing so. Some are uncomfortable with how long a process like that can, and should, take.

Anonymous said...

Brilliant. The very form and content of this post is a shining testament of what is really important in the conversation at hand.

Oilfieldguy said...

Write for filthy lucre? How absurd! I do not consider myself a lobbyist, but more of a hobbyist. Writing for me is a mere pleasure, a masturbatory exercise where the emissions are subjects and predicates.

I tippytoed around the other blogs when I first started, and asked about "blogwhoring" and such, not wanting to piss off the powers that be. People work hard to attract readers, and one needs to be careful how one invites their readers to your site.

I limit my requests by commenting on the post of the author, hoping my witty retorts will generate some traffic. However, my time is severly limited as I am a supplier to an addicted nation, and also, I feel I am not quite ready for prime time.

The blog owners at firedoglake have graciously allowed me to do a few guest posts, which does give me a wider audience from time to time. But for the most part, I blog without the benefit of advertising and for the enjoyment of myself and my readers. Both of them.

Ivory Bill Woodpecker said...

Off topic--if you use CounterSpy, beware. It has started giving false positive readings for the Gromozon trojan. The CS folks are working to fix it.

Tom Hilton said...

This is a great point. Atrios and Kos and so on are where they are (in part) because they weren't afraid to promote themselves. I still feel a little dirty trying to get attention for my blog...and I don't do it as aggressively as I could...but at least I do it.

But there's another side of the equation, IMO, which is the duty of the biggest bloggers--and that's the point Jon Swift et al (including, late to the party, myself) are making.

Liberals believe that the richest people have a duty to expand opportunity to others. I think it's reasonable to apply that principle to liberal bloggers. It's what Shakespeare's Sister does (among others). So yeah, anyone who wants to be read has to work at promoting him/herself...but I do think the bigger bloggers also have a responsibility to seek out the good.

Geoffrey Kruse-Safford said...

I agree wholeheartedly with pretty much everything you said. I blog because I enjoy it, it is a good intellectual and emotional release for me, and I enjoy the camraderie with other 29th tier bloggers like myself, while still feeling part of a larger conversation. I really, honestly couldn't care about traffic, except that, as serious issues heat up, it would be nice, not so much for ME to be heard, but for all of us to speak as clearly in one voice as possible. I guess that's another part of it for me. It isn't about ME ME ME, it's about what we're writing about out here. Thanks for your thoughts, as always.

Anonymous said...

I'm not really sure what your point is.

Since you are one of the best voices on the web, I'd probably read you even if you went the way of the Atrios (I hope last Tuesday/Wednesday isn't an indication of where you might be going, though). And I don't read Atrios or Kos.

Hell, it even might be worthwhile subscribing to Salon if that's what it took to get what we take for granted here. I'd like to think that your fans wouldn't give you the same kind of guff that Glenn Greenwald got.

I hope you don't follow Billmon, but you have no obligation to us. If worse comes to worse, I hope I'll catch you on the circuit when your book comes out. (But if $20 would obligate you, let me know how I can get it to you.)

Anonymous said...

As the young blogger in question, thanks for writing this. I've added your site, which I have been reading and enjoying for quite some time, to the not-so-modest blogroll of my modest blog.

Anonymous said...

Driftglass,
As usual, you are spot-on. I read many blogs, and yours is consistently superior. Atrios is also on my list, and I think you nailed it in your description of the blog. I know you don't look at it like a competition, but I want to say you are the best! Sometimes funny, sometimes angry, sometimes both simultaneously. But your insight! Breathtaking! I found your blog sometime ago through a link from digby (also one of the great writers) and what a happy day that was. Thanks for every smile, coffee spew and OMG you have given me.

Anonymous said...

I agree. There's been a definite lack of 'good blogs bring traffic' reality in this brouhaha that leaves me simply stumped. Honestly, if you think people will only visit your site because it's on an A- or B-list blogroll, why are you bothering?

Give the people some zazz - give them their own reason to visit, beyond a second hand reference on a random blogroll. Networking is a fine idea but you have to have a product to back up the billboard, so to speak.

drifty, e-mail me, will ya? I have a question for you. ripley>zencabin.com

Chris Clarke said...

Hey Drifty.

Another Big Lesson From All This: look at the really important data in that traffic chart you posted. Not the spikes in people who clicked over from C&L because they click when they see a link. I'm talking about the little orange bars. See how consistent they are, even allowing for the holiday slump? Repeat customers.

Of course, Bowers et al wouldn't even consider what I do blogging: I can go for days without typing the word "Beltway."

Anonymous said...

Eh. I just can't do the self-promotion thing. Can't do it. I find it obnoxious when other people plug their blogs relentlessly (and I don't just mean driveby spamming), and it makes me want to avoid them. So I don't want to end up as one of those people who inspires people to *boycott* their blog.

So I'll link if I have something relevant to the discussion at hand, maybe (or I might just paraphrase or link to my source and not even mention that I blogged about it). *Maybe* I'll blogwhore if I think I've written something particularly good, but that doesn't happen real often.

Would I like more traffic? Sure. Would I like people to link to me on the rare occasions that I write something witty or insightful? Sure. But it's not such an intense enough need for me to start jumping up and down yelling, "Look at me! Look at me! Look at me! Please blogroll me!" I don't even really have much motivation for Oilfieldguy's just-being-visible-on-the-big-blog strategy these days.

Anonymous said...

Hi DG,

What about a web feed syndication?

cieran said...

Drifty:

Just fwiw, I read your stuff every chance I get because it's a breath of sweet fresh air in a world full of the awful stink of the newspeak corporate media.

We learn how to write by first learning how to read, and of late, we're all learning how to write the news of the real world by reading the perceptions of those who see that world most clearly.

You are certainly one who sees clearly, and who writes magnificently.

And thanks so much for that...

driftglass said...

Leigh,
Thanks for saying, but nah. It’s make quite a mess :-)

Will Divide,
I agree with this “One needs to write a lot before reaching a point where one can earn money by doing so. Some are uncomfortable with how long a process like that can, and should, take.”


US Blues,
You are too kind sir.


Oilfieldguy said...
Different people write for different reasons. David Mamet was just on Charley Rose. I greatly admire his writing (Mamet’s, not Rose’s). However were one to suggest to Mamet that writing for $$$ is a bad or dishonorable thing (or that listening to the wisdom of your audience is somehow compromising one’s art) one would find oneself laughed off the planet.


Ivory Bill Woodpecker,
I use a stick and a patch of muddy ground, so I should be OK.


Tom Hilton,
I believe in the idea of social obligation. I do not believe in the idea of unfettered obligations imposed on others from the outside. Atrios doesn’t “owe” me anything. However like prosperous companies, there are things I believe the big blogger can/should do for the benefit of the community from which they spring.
It is a delicate balance.

Geoffrey Kruse-Safford
You’re welcome.


arghous
My point is just that the narrow debate about blogrolling is just that – a narrow debate. But the larger debate – when does an artists’ necessary self-promotion become self-defeating – is very much worth having.

I once got a writer’s groups I was a part of all up in arms by suggesting that we devote a session or two to understanding what is actually takes to get published.

I was driven into the wilderness with brambles for attempting impurifying their precious artistic fluids with base moneygrubbery :-)

And thank you for your kind words.

Jon Swift
You’re welcome. Blog on!

Anonymous,
You are welcome.

ripley,
Everybody writes for their own reasons. It surprises me that other writers – who, to succeed, must have some understanding of the realities of human nature – don’t get that.


Chris Clarke said...
Sorry you violated your “Beltway” diet by typing it here :-)

Eli,
I hear you and empathize, but let me put this another way.
Because I spend time reading and thinking about the works of others, this started out as a comment elsewhere (as several posts do.)
Then it ran long (as several posts do.)
Then I remembered ”Hey, I’ve got a blog.”
Then I wrote it.
Now comes what can be taken as the whory bit. Because this is my contribution to the larger conversation. Sometimes it’s something in the air that a lot of people are debating. Sometimes its something I wrote awhile ago that simply puts my own thoughts about a current event exactly as a mean them.

So rather than copy/paste 3,000 words, I drop in a link because that is the easiest way to convey my thoughts

kamarkamarka,
What about it?

Cieran,
Thank you very much for your kind words.

Anonymous said...

Now comes what can be taken as the whory bit. Because this is my contribution to the larger conversation. Sometimes it’s something in the air that a lot of people are debating. Sometimes its something I wrote awhile ago that simply puts my own thoughts about a current event exactly as a mean them.

So rather than copy/paste 3,000 words, I drop in a link because that is the easiest way to convey my thoughts


I have no problem with that, or even with doing that - it's still a contribution to the conversation. It's the people who mindlessly and obsessively whore their own blogs that turn me off. I can think of several bloggers I now refuse to read for that reason. (Your name would have never occurred to me, BTW)

Ivory Bill Woodpecker said...

Drifty--"a stick and a patch of muddy ground"? That went completely over my head.

driftglass said...

Ivory Bill Woodpecker,
I thought you were referencing a stat counter, and I have decided to switched to counting hits the old fashioned way: cuneiform tablets

Anonymous said...

The ladies love a man in cuneiform.

darkblack said...

Cogent as always, D. 'If you got it, flaunt it'...This blogging frippery will remain a buyer's market ad infinitum within the greater exchange of ideas, and one must do what one does irrespective of whether it is supported heavily or not at all.

It's the only freedom left

Blader said...

I should probably trim my blogroll, too, sometime.

I'll get to it just as soon as I figure out which part of the blog is the blogroll and how it got so damn big.

Tom Hilton said...

I believe in the idea of social obligation. I do not believe in the idea of unfettered obligations imposed on others from the outside. Atrios doesn’t “owe” me anything. However like prosperous companies, there are things I believe the big blogger can/should do for the benefit of the community from which they spring.
It is a delicate balance.


I think that's a reasonable way to put it, and I don't think we really disagree.

Ivory Bill Woodpecker said...

Drifty--CounterSpy is an anti-spyware program. Now I must return to my duties at the Ministry of Silly Walks. Ciao.

Ivory Bill Woodpecker said...

Y'know, "The Majyk Penis Unguents" would be a GREAT name for a rock band. :)

MinQld said...

I live in new zealand, the boondocks of the world, and I absolutely depend on your posts for a proper re-arrangement of my own stupid thoughts about the stupid shit that happens in the world. So posting a bit more frequently than 72 hours would go a long way. Waddyasay, mate?

driftglass said...

Eli,

The ladies love a man in cuneiform.
Now that's just damned funny :-)


darkblack,
We are free to fail. Free to dream.


Tom Hilton ,
I guess we'll have to agree...to agree.


Ivory Bill Woodpecker,
Colonel Jimmy Pecksniff and The Majyk Penis Unguent Experience

Mike said...
So posting a bit more frequently than 72 hours would go a long way.

When George Soros takes up my cross and pays my rent I will have much more time to post.
Until then, I work absolutely ridiculous hours. And when I finally get home most days long, long after dark I am often just plain brain dead.

Anonymous said...

...I am often just plain brain dead.

Some of us post anyway.

*withering stare*

Fran / Blue Gal said...

You know, Drifty, your blog was one of my inspirations for this post.

Just saying.

My "I Promise Not To Give Your Money To Rupert Murdoch" Fundraiser.

I am given to understand that the Lincoln Lads are trying to raise one million dollars to create content that would "mess wit...