In response to my recent post, Overcoming The Harsh Realities of Book Publishing, a reader (hello, "Jim from far away Berlin"!) wrote to ask, "Do you think it is worthwhile to self-publish or write e-books for a new writer who doesn’t have a platform and wants to build a base? And do you have any tips about how to build a blog following?"
Jim, those are questions about three pretty distinct realms of endeavor. But the answer to all three of your questions is no.
Thanks for writing!
Ha! I still got it!
And no, it didn't come with a receipt, so I can't return it. Stop asking.
No, but seriously, lemme run down my quick answers to Jim's query---and if anyone later wants me to expand upon any of these answers, of course I'd be happy to do so
for cash .
First, as to whether or not I think an unpublished or new writer can effectively use an e- or self-published book to build for him or herself a platform significant enough to then attract the attention of a mainstream or large publisher. My quick answer is, in fact, no. It's hard to get attention for doing what virtually anyone can---and anyone can self-publish or mount a book of theirs online. So the fact that you've done that can't mean anything more to a publisher (or a potential reader who doesn't know you, for that matter) than would the fact that you love lasagna or did some laundry. Who cares? Everyone loves lasagna and does laundry (often in that order).
Now, if you sold 2,000 copies of a book you produced yourself, you would, ipso facto, become of interest to publishers. In that sense, e- and self-published books can do you a world of good. The problem, of course, is how do you sell 2,000 copies of your book? That's a lot of people forkin over however many bucks for something you wrote. But if you can get 2,000 people to trade their money for your self-produced and self-marketed book, you just got invited to the party. You just made the party.
But if you're capable of writing a book good enough to get 2,000 strangers to buy it, then you probably could have gotten a regular publisher to publish that book in the first place. So there's ... that quick loop back to square one.
As to how to build a significant blog following: I have no idea. Again, how do you get people to care about the fact that you're doing what virtually anyone can---and is? I believe the only two people left in the world who aren't blogging are my father and John McCain. There are well over 100 million English-language blogs in the world right now. How do you deal with odds like that? How do you even begin to rise above a crowd of that size?
There's all kinds of advice everywhere about how to build a blog following. And they all say the same things: Write exclusively about one thing people care about---run a niche blog, in other words, so that your appeal is deep rather than broad, if you see what I mean--post at least once a day; make your blog search-engine friendly by being sure to include Often Searched words and phrases in its post titles and texts; and be sure to visit and leave comments on lots of other people's blogs.
Okay, I don't do any of those things. So I'm the wrong guy to ask about how to build a blog following. I'm a total Blog Bum. I hardly ever visit anyone else's blog, and rarely comment when I do. I write about literally anything that snags my attention: I post poems, photos, polls, play dialogue, humor, serious essays. I have no idea if search engines point to my blog, and have done nothing I know of to improve the chances of them doing so. The only thing I do on my blog that I know I'm supposed to is post fairly often. And I only do that because I like to write---and because I flatter myself that I actually have a relationship with my many tens of readers, and like to keep those relationships going.
Beyond the four standard Chunks o' Advice above that you could have gotten anywhere, I'm afraid I don't have much to say about how to buff up your blog. Of course I know the most obvious thing of all, which is that by far the most important asset any blogger can have is the ability to write well. But duh.