”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.”
“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.
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 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”.