Tuesday, May 8, 2007

The Big Blog Question

by Jami Attenberg

As I mentioned yesterday, I've had a blog for almost 10 years, which is about 70 years in internet time, and 125 years in loser time. I started it because I was bored at a job where I ran the videoconferencing center at an advertising agency. Basically the job was: wait for people to show up, type in a phone number, sit through their conference call, wonder what I was doing with my life for two hours (answer: not much), and then shut the door when they left. So there was a lot of downtime and there was this computer and then I started this (then) anonymous blog and I never stopped.

Mostly I spent time complaining about how much I hated my job. (This, by the way, is a good way to get fired. Not recommended!) At some point I switched jobs and started freelance writing a little bit on the side. People started reading my site - not a lot, mind you, I never have really had a ton of traffic, at least not compared to some - but my name still wasn't attached to it. It was a lot easier to talk about things (like, say, my sex life) when I knew no one knew who I was.

But then as I got more credit for my freelance work I realized I wanted to have a place where people could know more about me, and that's when I added my name to it. At no point in all of this did I get any attention beyond meeting some new people, and getting complimentary emails about my writing. No book agent or editor calling me up and saying, "You're brilliant! Get this woman a half-million dollar deal pronto." It was just this space that was another piece of my writing puzzle, an online extension of myself. I never thought of myself as a blogger. Just a writer.

So when I did finally write and sell a book (I did it by finding an agent who, by the way, now reads my blog, but had never heard of it before he met me) it was interesting to see that some people were saying I was a Blogger with a Book Deal. I think most people who happen to have blogs and who sell their books don't love that term. I mean it's technically true but I think there is this implication that you got noticed because blogs are hot and trendy and not because you can write. (Most agents I know say they find their clients through recommendations from other clients, not through the slush pile, and definitely not through blogs.) Listen, it might help you get a little attention (especially if you sleep with politicians, for example), but for the most part, if you don't have a solid idea and the writing chops to back it up, no decent publisher is going to take you on. (I will admit there are a couple of not-so-great publishers out there who are looking for the next big blogger, but I'm going to assume people have literary aspirations.)

This is not to say that having one isn't helpful. I know that the publisher of my first book was really excited that I had a blog, because it is a built-in marketing tool. And my friend Wendy McClure wrote a whole book about her blog Poundy called I'm Not the New Me, which was just wonderful. And Laila Lailami writes with such grace, eloquence, and intelligence on her site Moorish Girl, that you cannot help but want to buy her book, Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits. Both of these women have turned their online voices into something much bigger as well: Wendy is a columnist for Bust and also writes for The New York Times Magazine. Laila is a well-respected critic who writes for The Nation, The New York Times, and many other publications, and recently spoke at the Pen World Voices Festival. In fact, they have transformed their websites into the kind of careers that many writers dream of having, but they had to have the talent and the brains to move beyond an online space. They were special before they started, is what I'm trying to say here, and if they stopped their blogs tomorrow they would still have great careers.

As for me, I wish I could stop my blog, but I don't know how to! I have been doing it so long it would feel strange not to have it as part of my creative identity. It also keeps my mom happy, so she knows how I'm doing when I'm traveling to promote my book. And that leads me to tomorrow's topic - life on the road, where I will discuss such topics as: why I love reading in front of strangers, crazy old men, and how to get humbled in five minutes flat.

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