11/07/2011 04:51 pm ET | Updated Jan 07, 2012

Why Apprentice Writers Shouldn't Be Marketers

"I'm doing my first Authorchat," I announced to my writing students in class the other day. They sat up straighter, leaned into their computers and typed. A hand shot up. "Is this something I should be doing?" Worried faces.

We had been talking about the role of the author as personal PR department. All apprentice writers in the class were adults, well past college days, some more befuddled by the morass of social media options they were expected to deploy than others were, but all visibly deflated by this new possibility, yet another form of marketing they had to master.

Earlier they'd peppered me with questions: How many tweets is enough? Is LinkedIn better than Facebook? Will anyone read my blog? Do I need a gimmick? What did you think?


What I think is not what they want to hear. Nor is it realistic in a book publishing world gone rogue -- headed where, when, at what speed? What I think about the plight of apprentice writers, no matter how driven and gifted they may be is that it takes so much determination and energy to learn how to use effectively the craft of writing that focusing on marketing in the early stages of study and practice is a cruel, misguided demand on creative energy.

It's unrealistic to think young artists, no matter how old they may be in years, can be whizzes at marketing, too. No wonder so many writing careers flounder and ill-published projects languish in POD (print on demand) purgatory. Great marketing is a gift itself, but often at odds with the process of writing. It's twice as hard now to be a successful author, and it's never been easy to realize those dreams, because most authors aren't marketers.

But that was not what these apprentice writers wanted to hear, so instead we parsed the details of Authorchat: "How does it work?"

"You click on the URL supplied by the author." I made some notes on the board. "It takes you to a portal, another screen, where you'll see two things -- separate live camera feeds of the author, her guest if she has one, the host of the chat, and another box where viewers type in questions." I drew a square on the board. Inside it I drew four smaller squares, stick figures in three. I wrote some words in the last interior box. "See?" I stood back and pointed at the board. They snickered.

I ignored them and tapped the interior box with the printing in it. "Here's where the viewers are typing in questions for the author. That's the stuff she chats about."

"Oh." They bent over their screens typing notes.

"It's all live, and recorded for playback, later, on the author's website. Make sense?"

They nodded as one unit.

Of course I was just as clueless when first confronted with yet another form of marketing to learn in my role as Director for Lisa Dale Norton, Inc... and just when I thought I'd struck a rhythm with Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, blogging, workshops, and, oh yeah, writing. I guess I've accepted it, but I already have an established career.

Should apprentice writers who are just learning the craft really be expected to manage their own PR campaigns? When do they have time to find their voice and learn the nuances of point of view, let alone figure out something to say?

As for me, Marketer, Writer, Teacher, Blogger, Website manager, Friend, Professional Networker/Tweeter: I'll be tiptoeing into new territory as Authorchatter on Thursday of this week. I have no idea what it will be like, or how it will play into the larger picture of Lisa as Author, but I'll be sure to report back.

In the meantime, I'll be urging my apprentice writers back to the page, back to the place where their inspiration truly belongs.

Lisa Dale Norton will answer questions about her book Shimmering Images, and writing memoir in her first live Authorchat on Thursday, Nov. 10, 8 p.m. EST/5 p.m. PST: