Nine days ago I wrote the introductory installment in a critique of a paper by James Sennett. My hope was to follow it up with part 2 a couple days later. Alas, that didn’t happen (but rest assured it will shortly). In fact, I haven’t done much blogging at all in August. There are two reasons for this.
My first reason is that I got swept up in a book project. It is on a topic I’ve been thinking about for the past couple years and I finally decided at the end of July that it was time to pull together a proposal. So I began reading and writing and I finally finished a proposal that I sent off to my agent this afternoon. The proposal consisted of the first three chapters plus introduction (63 double-spaced pages, about 20,000 words) along with a synopsis of each of the 9 proposed chapters, competition, target audience, yada yada yada. Anyway, once I started writing it was hard to stop. I really wanted to get the project done. That meant writing at all hours of the day and setting aside other commitments including blogging.
Now I’ve got to play the waiting game.
My agent will look at the proposal. That could take a few weeks depending on her schedule (I’m not exactly J.K. Rowling). If it passes muster in present form she’ll send it off to a smattering of editors from key publishers. They’ll look at it, probably within two or three weeks of receiving it, and then if they’re interested they’ll pitch it to an editorial board and a marketing board. Since the editing and marketing teams meet on separate schedules, that could add a month or two to the timeline. If things go well a couple contract offers might roll in. Then my agent sends on the contract offers to me and the process of mediated negotiation starts. All told, it could easily take 6-9 months from now before I receive a contract (on the best case scenario). And from there it will be another year before the book is on sale.
On the worst case scenario my agent emails back in a month and says “This stinks. Never speak of it again.”
Such is the world of publishing.
But see, here’s the thing. Every once in awhile things go well. And a couple years after an idea first popped into your mind a book with your name on it is available for sale at Amazon.com and finer book stores everywhere. (Okay, maybe not finer bookstores everywhere. But at least okay bookshops here and there.)
Blogging is very different. And this brings me to the second reason why I haven’t been blogging much lately. You see, I’ve been doing some reflecting on my life as a blogger and thinking that I need to re-prioritize my time.
Over the last four years I’ve invested an enormous amount of time to blogging. Since I started blogging at “The Christian Post” in March 2009 I’ve written about 2000 articles. This has prompted some folks to call me “prolific”. The thing about being prolific is that it isn’t necessarily a compliment. It’s just an observation, kind of like saying “Wow, you’re tall” or “Gee, your hair is red.”
To put the observation in perspective, cows are nothing if not prolific grass-eaters. An average cow can easily eat fifty pounds of grass a day. That’s prolific in my book. And what does fifty pounds of grass translate into at the other end? I’m not sure, but I think it is fair to say that cows are prolific at that end as well. But so what? Who’s going to brag about that? Producing a lot of something isn’t necessarily worth putting on your resume.
Now you might be thinking, “Randal, your articles may not be that great, but they’re better than fifty pounds of grass or, er, the other stuff.” Thanks, that’s encouraging. But what I’m more interested in is translating this prolific output into concrete terms. Just what does it add up to?
How about money? Nope. To begin with, I decided long ago not to monetize my website. I’ve never had an interest in banner ads for language programs and snorg tee shirts and evangelical Christian colleges and whatever else cluttering up my thought space. Not that I would have made much if I had, though it might have helped with the nine hundred bucks I pay a year to run this website.
Fame and glory? I don’t think so. Over the last four years I’ve developed a faithful cast of commenters who specialize in pointing out how, from their point of view, I have no idea what I’m talking about.
How about a large and loyal readership? I do have some loyal readers, that’s for sure (or, if you prefer, “fer sure”). But I am equally impressed by the extraordinarily transient nature of the blogosphere. Let me tell you about a common pattern I’ve observed time and again. If I blog “prolifically” for a period of time, eventually the numbers of daily visitors swell to 600-800 people. Then, if I take 3, 4 or 5 days off for some R&R and return I find my numbers stalled at 300-350 daily visitors. From there it takes another month or two of “prolific” blogging to build up those numbers again.
I think I understand the hard life of a street performer. You pull out your three balls (or flaming swords) and start juggling, blindfolded, while you’re balanced on a rubber ball … over a pit of snapping crocodiles. Slowly the numbers on the corner sidewalk swell. People applaud. They cheer. Then you say “Hey, I’ll be right back. I just have to pee.” Two minutes later you return … and your faithful audience has melted away like an ice cream cone in the Arizona desert.
Better pull out those flaming swords and get back to work.
So there it is, a relatively bleak but realistic comparison of writing books and writing blog posts. While publishing has its downsides (blogs are wonderful for instant feedback), it nonetheless provides three things a blog doesn’t provide. First, some sort of (admittedly modest) financial payback. Second, recognition within the professional community (“I wrote five books” is more likely to get you a job than “I wrote two thousand blog posts.”). And finally, some sort of enduring legacy and impact. Wait five minutes and your blog audience drops by half. Pull the plug on the website and it will be like your blog never existed. But publish a book and in twenty years somebody in a Goodwill shop might run across The Swedish Atheist, the Scuba Diver and Other Apologetic Rabbit Trails and say, “I guess that’s worth a couple bucks.” That might sound pathetic, but having your book sell for two bucks at the Goodwill is better than never having existed.
So where does this leave me? Well, more than once I’ve heard a reader tell me I post too much. It’s now time to agree with them. In the future I’ll continue to blog and podcast, but I’ve given up trying to build an audience. I plan to blog a couple times a week and leave it at that. I’ll be focusing that extra time into increased writing and publishing so that in twenty years people can buy my books for two bucks at the Goodwill.
As for being prolific, I’ll leave that to the cows.