It was just one of those things, Just one of those crazy flings, One of those bells that now and then rings— Just one of those things. (words and music by Cole Porter)
Let me explain.
Soon after launching my writing career in 2016, I learned one must start building a platform right away. An “author platform” is an identifiable following. Many things go into a platform, but most authors feel a need to be present in one or more forms of social media.
I was already on LinkedIn and Facebook. I added a “LarryFSommersWriter” page on Facebook, linked to my regular “Larry F. Sommers” page.
In April 2019 I started a weekly blog, “Reflections,” at https://LarryFSommers.com. “Reflections” was both a form of social media and something else altogether. I hoped the blog would publicize my novel-in-progress, but I also hoped it would form a body of writing that readers might value for its own sake. To that end, I posted original articles on past and present, story and narrative, writers and the writing life, and other topics.
Now, since I want my blog to offer lasting value, I spend at least one day creating each week’s blog post. To attract readers, I routinely announce each post with brief publicity snippets on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. These own-horn-blowings also take a bit of time to generate.
That’s the full extent of my social media. In each venue, I have a modest following.
But social media are only part of the platform. I know a lot of folks in person, not filtered by the Web. Now that my novel, Price of Passage, is published, I go to bookstores, public markets, and book fairs to tout my book face-to-face. I love these real-life interactions. I also give book talks or speeches about Price of Passage and the process of becoming a Great American Novelist. All these activities are planks in my platform.
Then my friend Dan Blank spoke favorably of Substack. It’s a website that allows authors to post their writings and attract readers. It also allows those readers to pay subscription fees or voluntary donations to support the authors they like.
Dan Blank is a wise guru. When Dan recommends something, I pay attention.
I decided to go for it. But I didn’t want to write something completely different for Substack. Nor did I want to abandon my WordPress site—at least not until I decided that Substack could rerplace it. So I just added “Reflections” to Substack, making it available in two places now instead of only one. I chose not to require a subscription fee, but to allow readers to donate if they so chose.
So you see, I did not plunge into Substack but dipped my toe in the water.
Substack has been sending me emailssuggesting authors whose writings I might want to follow. Naturally. One of the best ways for a writer to gain a following on Substack is to follow other writers’ posts and comment favorably on them. Of course! That makes sense.
The problem is, I didn’t want to spend my time reading a lot of posts from Hamish McKenzie, George Saunders, or myriad other fine authors who appear on Substack. I had been thinking of Substack as a place where I could publish mywork. But it is at bottom a social medium. Social media thrive on reciprocity: You read my blog, I’ll read yours.
Meanwhile, I struggle to set aside productive times for writing my World War II novel and a Vietnam-era personal memoir. Alot of reading and research goes with these challenges. And I’ve got a tall stack of books to read for my own general education. Do you know Your New Favorite Author has never read Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey? Well, I’m working on that.
I love to be generous with my time, but I do have a lot of irons in the fire.
Substack feels “fun and refreshing” to Dan Blank. To me it feels inauthentic and oppressive.
Thought experiments can be worthwhile. I abandoned Substack in my head. Boy, did that feel good. What a relief!
That got me thinking about all the artificial things I do to chase an expanding platform. Things like Twitter and LinkedIn.
Years ago, I worked in a semi-corporate setting, and LinkedIn’s professional networking opportunities were a boon. Now on LinkedIn, I’m just a troll hawking a product.
And I never had any desire to Tweet. I only did it to draw people to my WordPress blog.
After my book was published I started sending out a newsletter, using MailerLite. But lately I get the sense that few people eagerly await the next edition of The Haphazard Tiimes.
There’s nothing wrong with MailerLite. Nothing wrong with LinkedIn. Nothing wrong with Twitter.
For that matter, there’s nothing wrong with Substack.
But I’m a writer. I need to work on writing—both my weekly romance with the Great World-wide Blog Public, and also my novel, memoir, and short story projects.
The only social medium I have bonded with is Facebook. For all its faults—and they are legion—it is the place where I often interact with friends, 796 of them at the moment. Most of those are people I actually know. If I met them on the street, face-to-face, I’d recognize them, and they me. That’s not a huge number of possible readers, but it gives Facebook the one thing none of the other media has for me: Authenticity.
I don’t do Facebook primarily to promote my writing. I do it to keep in touch with my friends. Maybe for you that’s Instagram, and God bless you. But I’m sticking to Facebook.
Substack simply became the stack that broke the camel’s back.
Good-bye, Substack. One-too-many stack, Unlike Lot’s wife, I won’t look back. Good-bye, Substack.
Good-bye Twitter, LinkedIn, and MailerLite, too.
- I will keep writing.
- I will promote my writing on Facebook, a world populated by friends of mine. Only now my Facebook posts won’t have to meet the format needs of three social media outlets simultaneously. Maybe I can make the Facebook outreach more personal and unique.
- I will continue to sell my books in markets, bookstores, festivals, and elsewhere.
What is all this for, if not to leave some lasting literature behind me?
So the first thing, and the hardest thing, is to create some great stuff.
Even if that great stuff is not “discovered” in my lifetime, I’ll still be one up on van Gogh. At least I have both ears.
Larry F. Sommers
Your New Favorite Writer