Blowing the dust off, part 1: Ah yes, there’s that platform

What’s news for horror writer Paul D. Dail?

A good question, as it has been just over three years since I put up something on the ol’ blog. This post will touch on my experiences in the freelance world over the past years, including a notable accomplishment that prompted me to finally blow the proverbial dust off this time around.

But in reality, unless I’m getting that type of big news on a regular basis, I may drop this lead-in section.

Or maybe I’ll use it as a motivator for myself. Or—heaven forbid—any other writers who might happen by. Maybe I can just keep track of my endeavors: pieces I’m working on, pieces I’ve submitted, rejections I’ve received.

Whew, posting rejections may get depressing, but this is, after all, the writer’s life. And I just saw a great quote from Stephen King about rejection:

“By the time I was fourteen, the nail in my wall would no longer support the weight of the rejection slips. I replaced it with a spike and went on writing.”

I can easily imagine pounding that spike into the wall, sending bits of plaster everywhere… well, no one uses plaster anymore, but it sounds better than bits of drywall.

But the good news is that I won’t have to do that with one electronic “slip.” I have been notified that Writer’s Digest has accepted a piece of nonfiction I wrote. Even though it is their Jan. 2018 issue, my submission to their 5-minute memoir section has been officially published and can be found here.

This was huge news for me, as Writer’s Digest is one of the oldest, more reputable magazines for writers, and they still put out a print version.

This recent success also segues nice into my next section.

Without further ado…

Besides boasting a little about this acceptance, I’m also posting something here after three years because writer’s need a platform, and this one has grown particularly dusty.

For the nonwriters who might be reading this, Jane Friedman defines a platform as “an ability to sell books because of who you are and who you can reach.”

Snake-oil_salesman_Professor_Thaddeus_Schmidlap_at_Enchanted_Springs_Ranch,_Boerne,_Texas,_USA_28650a
How I feel sometimes. (Photo by Carol M. Highsmith via Wikimedia Commons)

Friedman goes on to say that fiction writers don’t really need a platform, but this is a point in contention, and I’ve heard more editors and publishers say the opposite.

And if you are a self-published author—which I was for my first novel—you’re definitely on your own for selling your books. It’s largely why I started this blog to begin with, although blogs are just one aspect of a platform (others include speaking engagements and getting published in outlets such as Writer’s Digest… essentially building your body of work).

So I started this blog when I self-published “The Imaginings” in 2011. At the time, I was also teaching language arts part-time and being a stay-at-home dad for our new daughter the rest of the time.

At first I plugged away diligently, trying to publish a post a week, hosting guest authors, interviews and book reviews. But then I discovered a few things which ultimately made me pull away from this aspect of my “platform” (and maybe re-reading what else I was doing at the time will give you a clue).

First off, I liked the blog, but the reality is, it was a task. Writing 300-1,000 words (and then uploading them with images and such) didn’t always just roll off the cuff.

The biggest “AHA!” moment was when I realized I was spending all my time writing blog posts and networking with other writers—and occasionally even readers, which illustrates yet another problem with blogging about writing; most of my regular visitors were other writers trying to do the same thing.

I was doing all this in an attempt to get people to read my first novel. The problem was, if I got all these people to read my novel, I had absolutely nothing for them to read next.

So while I pretended I was going to find the time to get to that next novel, I started self-publishing my short stories just to have something out there. Some fared much better than others—my collection of flash fiction, “Free Five,” actually spent over three years in the top 50 horror short stories on Amazon; others have yet to be read at all, I’m pretty sure.

But even then, I knew what I really needed to be doing was writing the next novel.

Enter the next problem, something I discovered largely as a result of self-publishing my short stories: many publishers will not take something that has been previously published, even if only on your blog that has minimal traffic.

five free flash fiction
Click here to get “Free Five” from Amazon.com

The dominoes kind of started falling from there.

After seeing the success of “Free Five,” I stopped publishing my short stories and flash fiction on this blog so I could send them out to publishers. And I decided to quit screwing around and finish my second novel (which meant less time for blog writing).

In 2014, I quit my teaching job and went full-time freelance, writing web content and then editing and reporting for a local newspaper. Suddenly my path looked different.

And that almost brings us up to speed, but as I implied by the title of this post, there is more. I had originally intended to write about my journey since going freelance, but this post turned into more of my gripes with being told (both as a fiction writer and as a freelancer—there’s the tie back) that I need a platform and the difficulties with said platform.

So until next time (which won’t be three years, I promise)…

What do I want from you, fellow readers and writers?

If you have a blog, what have been your experiences? Did it provide relief and something else to occupy a little time? Or did you find that it replaced time when you should’ve been working on other projects?

If you are a writer, have you found most of your blog readers are other writers? Or have you found it an effective tool for attracting more readers? Have you had an agent or publisher tell you it (or any platform) was necessary?

I would give my standard spiel about subscribing to my blog. On one hand, given my track record, you won’t be flooded with emails 🙂 But if you aren’t already subscribed, maybe you want to wait around to see if it’s worth it.

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7 thoughts on “Blowing the dust off, part 1: Ah yes, there’s that platform

  1. Paul!
    You rock.
    Congrats on your article AND knowing where you’re going and what you need to do.
    Writing is not for the weak.
    Keep in truckin’.
    xo

    1. Dea, thanks for the awesome response. Not for the weak indeed. I love it.

      As to knowing much of anything, I still feel like I’m relatively stumbling blindly in too many directions at once, but that’s a post for another day. Hopefully sooner than another three years 🙂

      Thanks again.

  2. Hey, love the update, Paul. Good to hear what you’re up to. Yes, my experience was similar. My blog served a duel purpose, as a platform for my writing but also as a place to promote children’s lit in general, all the great stuff I was reading. (Elementary teacher-turned-homeschool mom here, as you recall.) But I, too, realized I was spending too much time reading and blogging. So I cut way back and focused on writing, bumping up from children’s to a trilogy of women’s/YA historical fiction. That series has earned me far more sales than my MG titles, but I could still only get one novel out per year while homeschooling, and historical fiction still isn’t a hot genre.

    This fall my youngest entered junior high at the local public school, and my game plan changed dramatically. I’ve committed to getting five-book dystopian series out by May, and so far, I’m right on track. The first will publish in January, then one a month. This is it. My do or die. I’m giving myself two years to earn the equivalent of a part-time job.

    Good luck to you and good luck to me! 🙂

    1. Michelle! So nice to hear from you. Your comment reminded me of the side of the blogging that was always good for me: a sense of community. I’ve been doing a lot of work with reporters and journalists the past few years but I miss my fiction amigos 🙂

      And so glad to hear you are still plugging along. A five-book dystopian series by May? That’s awesome. And I can relate to the change of pace and direction. Well, at least the change of direction (kiddos are 5 and 7, so pace is still pretty hectic). While I am still shopping my second novel and working on the third, I’ve been surprised by how much more I’ve been leaning toward creative nonfiction (like this WD piece) recently. I’ve always been fascinated by people who write nonfiction or literary fiction. As I told another writing friend once, I just never figured anyone really cared what I might write about besides my fictional creations. It’s been interesting having some success on the other side of the horror fence (it’s much prettier… sometimes 🙂 ).

      Anyway, thanks for the comment. Great to hear from you. And yes, good luck to the both of us!

  3. Nonfiction is a direction I’ve never been pulled. Kudos to your success! And ditto on the sense of community!

  4. It’s good to hear from you again, Paul. My experiences are similar to yours: I started my blog because I was told again and again that “having a platform” was absolutely necessary. However, I suspect that very few actual or potential readers ever find their way there, and yes, most of my visitors are other writers. I find those connections interesting and useful, but I’m not convinced that blogging is the key to finding readers. (I could be wrong; perhaps somebody out there has done it successfully!)

    I keep on blogging because I enjoy it – to an extent. Writing and publishing posts, though, can be a time suck, and I’d rather be working on my fiction. During the past year in particular, I’ve sometimes allowed months to elapse between posts. However, I’ve gradually redefined my idea of what my blog/website is and will (hopefully) become: I now think of it as being a bit like my digital HQ. Not many people go there, but it’s the one place on the web that is absolutely mine and where all the relevant stuff is. Or will be, at least, once I’ve updated it and made some cosmetic improvements…

    1. Hey Mari, so nice to hear from you as well and to hear similar sentiments. You kind of nailed it. Time and again, “you must have a platform,” but at what cost to productivity? And if a platform equates to one’s “reach,” ideally that reach would be more readers. Off to Goodreads I go! 🙂

      Seriously, though, I think you have the right idea. I am reading “Essential Guide to Freelance Writing” by Zachary Petit (EIC of Print magazine) and he says almost exactly what you said: “Take control of the digital conversation. Get a website, and post the work you want to be known for.” Which makes me rethink my blog (and probably, as you’ve said, updated and made some cosmetic improvements. Stuff changes in three years 🙂

      Anyway, thanks again for stopping by. Hope all is well.

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