Overcoming Blogger’s Block

My first published mystery: Chosen for Death So it’s Kate Flora here, late with my post, because I’m suffering from a case of blogging block. Yes, you heard it first here—this is the newest ailment to strike writers, and something else we have to worry about.

A bit of background: When I sold my first book, back in the early 1990’s, shortly after the Mayflower landed, my far more businesslike husband Ken smiled and said, “Congratulations, dear. Now you have a new job.” That new job, of course, was moving from the long, silent, thoughtful time spent writing my books (and my ten years in the unpublished writer’s corner) to the arena of publicity and promotion.

Had I but known! That was the pre-social media era. The pre-webpage era. It was a time when a writer wasn’t expected to be always on. On tour. On Facebook. On twitter. On message. Taking cute photos for her Pinterest page and generally studying with a bunch of experts about how to perfect the “Buy My Book” dance. Back then, talking about the book was much more about writing and storytelling and not the cult of personality.

Flash forward a couple of decades. I still can’t dance. I still hate having my picture taken. I still cling to the Flaubertian idea that the work should speak for itself and the author should disappear into the woodwork. But now I clash with everything that pundits, experts, friends, neighbors, strangers, and the checkout clerk at the grocery store would say: Authors must have a platform. They must be branded. They must find ways to use publicity, in particular social media, to connect with readers because this where readers, especially younger ones, are finding and buying their books.

It will no longer suffice to say: But I have a book due on July 1st and I’m way behind. Blogs must be written. Promotion must go on. But when I sat down to write my overdue post, I found myself staring at a blank page.

The author doing research in more innocent timesHow to overcome blogging block? There are the obvious things to do. Take a walk. Take another walk. Take a shower. Great ideas always arrive in the shower, don’t they? Perhaps there is that never fail solution—take a drink. But it not yet eight in the morning and we are not Hemingway. Eat chocolate? Drift over to ebay and buy a pair of shoes? Ah, but some of you are guys, and perhaps this won’t work for you.Take a course, class, citizens’ police academy? Then there is surfing the net.

Yup. This is the solution. Lacking clever ideas of my own, and hating self-promotion more than having a root canal, I look to others to see what they’re saying about social media. Today’s fishing expedition yields up some great food for thought.

First, from my friends over at Jungle Red Writers, a fascinating guest post on Branding. I don’t want to do it.

TPAC Authors Logo
TPAC Authors Logo

Maybe you don’t want to do it, but check out Chris Tieri’s great advice here:

http://www.jungleredwriters.com/2015/03/are-you-branded.htmlThen, because controversy is good for all of us first thing in the morning (remember that 8:00 a.m. philosophy class in college?) yesterday my friend Barbara Ross posted a deliciously controversial piece at Maine Crime Writers, about publicists and fiction.

Four Lies that Publicists Will Tell You http://wp.me/p1GTyX-45A

So read these. Ponder on the points they make. Maybe you will be inspired to brand yourself, challenge commonly held beliefs, or just crawl under a chair and moan. And then, get back to writing. Because if you haven’t written anything, you won’t have stuff to brag about, promote, and agonize over. And you won’t have to wonder what is the best way to brand you.

When Modesty is NOT a Virtue . . .

  There is a strong belief in New England   that you don’t “put yourself forward.” Especially, in a small town, the way I grew up, especially if you are a woman. Being proud is a sin. Being modest is a virtue. Talking about your accomplishments is simply not done.

This idea that praise goes to one’s head, that tooting your own horn is unseemly, makes it extremely difficult to perform those tasks that every writer these days must perform. Our publishers, our publicists, our colleagues, and everything in the blogosphere, the twittersphere, and the Facebook universe tells us that we must amass friends, followers, and fans, and constantly work those people so they’re primed to buy our books when those books appear.

Modestly, though. Subtly. While speaking softly. Join the conversation, we’re told. Comment on other people’s blogs. Twitter with the other birds gathered on an interesting branch, and many will flock to your branch as well. Because of my upbringing, because the strictures about not calling attention to myself are so deeply imbedded, I feel sometimes as though I am trying to make the leap into the current world of book promotion with a 500 pound weight attached. I try to jump and the weight snaps me back down.

I used to joke that I created my fan base one reader at a time, through conversations, through library talks and bookstore talks, through the students that I teach, the aspiring writers I try to encourage. Through good works and being a good citizen of the writing community. How old New England is that? The rest of the joke, of course, was that at this pace, I’d have to live for about 500 years to build a big enough base, and so would they.

Now, writers know, that isn’t enough. Those of us lucky enough to have traditional publishers, so that we can see our row of hardcover books growing on the shelf, so we can see people on the plane, subway or train actually holding our books, so that we know they are in libraries and will be available for years to come, no longer a short shelf-life commodity like a loaf of bread, also know that there are tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of talented writers snapping at our heels, wanting our places in the publisher’s “list” and willing to do anything to get that spot. It’s no longer enough to write a good book. Now I have to work very hard to get YOU to want to read it. No. To get you, or your library, to BUY it.

So I wrestle my qualms to the mat. I silence those critical voices in my head. And I keep trying new things. Last summer, believing that there is power in sharing the podium with other talented writers I respect, I founded a blog group, MaineCrimeWriters.com, to talk about living and writing in Maine. The conversation has been fascinating. I’m sending e-mails to libraries. I’m setting up book events. Because I also write true crime, I’m arranging to speak in schools. Yesterday, I announced the “on sale” day of my newest Joe Burgess mystery to all my Facebook friends. I will learn twitter.

Last fall, I joined this group and I find myself in awe of the quality of the posts that my fellow Thalians are writing. I’m also grateful for all the sharing of ideas, opportunities, new things to try, new ways to learn. It’s awfully nice to know that Lise McClendon and Katy Munger have got my back. After I posted on Facebook, Lise sent me a quick note: include a link so they can buy the book. Marketing 101. I don’t know if I got a D or an F. But we’re all students of this brave new world. And if I look at it as an adventure, and not a chore, I may still have two left feet, but my “Buy My Book” dance will get better.

Just so you won’t feel left out, here’s the cover of Redemption, and a lovely review from Booklist. Follow this link, or ask your Indie to order it. Ask for it at your local library. Become my Facebook friend.

Redemption.  Flora, Kate (Author)   Mar 2012. 366 p.  Five Star, hardcover, $25.95. (9781594153792).

When Detective Sergeant Joe Burgess of the Portland (Maine) Police Department finds his friend Reggie Libby drowned in the harbor, he is determined to bring the killer to justice. Reggie, a Vietnam vet who was mentally ill and had fallen on hard times, had apparently started a new job recently. Joe and his colleagues work to determine his place of employment and his movements before his death by interviewing Reggie’s fellow streetpeople and his relatives, including his vindictive former wife and indifferent son. On the home front, Joe’s live-in girlfriend wants to adopt two foster children, and Joe doesn’t feel ready to be a parent. As always, Joe immerses himself in his case, causing problems in his personal life. Framed by the challenges streetpeople face in large cities, this compelling, fast-paced police procedural offers a complex plot, rich with details of conducting a murder investigation and insight into the rigors of the cop’s life. — Sue O’Brien