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Rabu, 30 April 2014

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The Public Professor » State of the Blog Address: My 500th Post

Posted: 30 Apr 2014 08:10 AM PDT

WWII celebrationThis past Monday I hoisted my 500th post to this blog.

Wow, that went fast.

My first post was only three and a half years ago.

But while 500 in 45 months is a testament to what at times has been a dizzying pace, there are also signs that I'm slowing down, at least for now.  And so I thought this benchmark might be a good opportunity to take stock of the website.

Back in 2010 I was looking for a way to market a book manuscript about the decline of American communities.  My friend/agent at the time (he's still a dear friend, though no longer my agent) alerted me to the harsh realities of modern publishing.  The industry had been ravaged by the internet and that creepy monopolist Jeff Bezos.  It was harder than ever for a first time author to get a book deal.

Yes, yes, I had already written an award-winning book, but it was an academic book, based on my doctoral dissertation and geared towards a scholarly audience.  That kinda stuff didn't count.  In the commercial world I was still a first time author.  And first time authors needed to build their own audience ahead of time, my agent/friend told me.  You had to prove to publishers that you had a loyal following that could be counted on to buy your book.

"Get on the internet and make some noise," my friend/agent suggested.

For the record, my dear friend is arguably even less technologically inclined than I am.

How would I get on the internet?  How would I "make some noise?"  Neither of us actually had a clue.

Around this time, I'd been talking to another dear friend out in California.  Rae had been generous enough to not only read the book manuscript in question, but she had also offered very insightful feedback.  And it also just so happened that Rae knew a little bit about making noise.

I hired Rae's brother Chris to build the site, and her to direct it.  During the first year she proofread every word, suggested changes, found images, handled layout, and did a dozen other things that made sure the site looked good, read well, and developed a social media presence.

While this site was a job for Rae, it quickly became a second job for me.  During the first year, I produced at least three original articles every week, averaging about 1,000 words each (she wanted shorter, I tended to run over).  About halfway through we added Art for No Reason, and the site was putting up four posts per week.

In some respects it was pure joy.  Writing without footnotes?  For a professional historian who loves to write for the sake of writing, this is like getting to hop on every ride at the amusement park without ever waiting in line.  Just go, baby, go!

But it was also a lot of work.  Rae was a serious editor, and aside from my propensity for typos, she worked hard to break down my academic voice so I could rebuild it into something more suitable for an educated but popular audience.

Jeff Bezos

Developing that new voice was a lot harder than I thought it would be.  Once upon a time I'd written for my college newspaper and then gone on to do some freelance journalism, mostly about music.  Those memories gave me a false sense of confidence, allowing me to believe I had the right chops.

But truthfully, that newspaper writing had been a long time ago.  In the meantime I'd spent nearly two decades in graduate school and as a professor, learning to string $5 words into multi-clause sentences, and starting to think that kinda thing is normal.

Yeah, I was a really good writer.  For a professor.

It took about a year, but I gradually found a voice that speaks to people in everyday language.  I think.

Writing a lot helped a lot.  But churning out three original articles per week meant I was soon riffing about stuff that had nothing to do with the book manuscript or communities.

I was soon opining (there's another one of those $5 words) on a wide range of topics.  They're broken down into 15 categories on the right side of this page.  Pontificating about everything from politics to sports, I was soon able to plant articles elsewhere.

I had a couple of pieces in the Huffington Post.  I started writing a monthly column for 3 Quarks Daily, which continues to this day.  I wrote numerous editorials for local newspaper website Patch.com.  For a couple of years my Saturday pieces on The Sporting Life showed up at Meet the Matts.com.  There were other, random assorted gigs, some of them even paying a little money.

In May of 2011, Rae tossed me from the nest, and I've been running the website by my lonesome ever since.  At first I maintained the 4 posts/week pace, but eventually production dipped a bit.  During the second year, two original articles plus a Monday art piece every week became common.  During this last year, 1 new written piece per week became the norm.

If you add it all up, I've written 330 articles for the website during the last three and a half years.  Averaging about 1,000 words per article, that's roughly 300,000 words.

One man bandBy comparison, my first book was 87,000 words.  That includes the footnotes and bibliography.  It took eight years to write and publish.

This past April, however, has been a different story.  Today's the 30th, and this overview is the first article I've posted since the 9th.  And that April 9 piece was originally penned for 3QD.  The last time I wrote something specifically for this site was April 2nd.

Part of the reason for the slow down is that work has simply been a bear.  But part of it is that after 500 posts, 330 articles, and over 300,000 words, I don't have quite as much to say.  At least for now.  Those readers who know me personally realize it's hard to shut me up sometimes.

But for the foreseeable future, the days of 3 original posts/week are in the past.  My 3QD writing continues, so 1/month is the bare minimum.  I certainaly hope to do more and suspect I will, but we'll see how it goes.

Oh, and what about that book?  You know.  The one about communities that started this whole thing?

I'm taking a year long sabbatical beginning in June [insert envious comments below].  The community book, the one still discussed in page at the top of this website, is one of the things I'll be tending to for sure.  But in the meantime, I actually have two other book manuscripts I need to complete.

The first is an academic book for work.  It's a collection of documents in American Indian political history that is scheduled to come out in the Fall of 2015, though my next round of manuscript revisions is due this coming July 1.

The other one is a coffee table book I'm co-authoring with my friend Heather Rounds.  a novelist and art curator.  A picture book on the 20th century, it's tentatively titled America in 100 Moments.  Heather's handling most of the pictures (about 350 of them) while I'm handling most of the words (about 50,000 of them).  We need to deliver that manuscript by September 1.

And then of course there's my next academic project, which I won't bother you with.  But I'll be taking an extended research trip for it this coming autumn.

But along the way I'll continue to write for this website, work on the book manuscript that inspired, and to be sincerely grateful that there are readers like yourself who stop by once in a while and check it out.

So thank you for reading and enjoying the art.  Here's to the next 500.

Thank You

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