Thursday, January 27, 2011

Vision and Visibility

Last night I had an epiphany moment while I was re-reading Journaling Without Borders, an article Carrie Todd wrote in the Summer 2010 issue of Art Journaling. I'd gone back to the magazine to study a technique, and then read the rest just for fun. See, I don't save all these magazines for nothing, I do re-read them. It only takes a couple years to work my way through the collection.

Anyway, on one of her journal pages in the issue Carrie had glued a surrealistic circus figure, the word "bizarre" in all caps, and had written a short passage about her own reaction to another article in Rolling Stone about U2's frontman Bono, and the motto he lives by: "Vision over Visibility" (a bit more on that here.) Magazines, especially creative-theme ones, often have that quasi-droste effect: one good article always makes me want to read another.

The motto poses an interesting dilemma for a writer: Which comes first, your vision, or your visibility?

Vision has been a cornerstone of professional writing, or at least it was before visibility became so important. The first time I read an agent talking about the vital importance of a writer's "platform" over the work itself, I knew vision had taken a backseat to visibility. If things keep going in that direction, craft, quality and personal commitment will be joining it. Or at least the old lady storyteller inside me is muttering that under her breath.

Publishing wants visibility over vision. It's the foundation of the business attitude, and it makes a lot of money. We might not like it, but no one can deny that visibility is important to us as well. As professionals we want to sell what we write, and if no one notices what we've published, we don't sell. Every year the market becomes more crowded, and now that no-cost digital self-publishing has successfully eliminated the submission process, I expect the number of titles available will soar right out of the stratosphere.

I think you can have the best of both worlds -- vision and visibility -- if you don't compromise on one for the sake of the other. If you are so exhausted from spending all your time networking and socializing and getting your name out there, you're not going to write well, if at all. Same goes for walling yourself away in your ivory writing tower and spending all your time with the work -- you lose touch with the market, what the competition and the publishers are doing; you fall behind the times.

I'm not in either camp. I believe one can combine vision and visibility and make them work together. You're looking at what I do almost every day to have a professional presence online. It's simply one thing, and I know every other author does a lot more, but sometimes just one thing is enough. PBW has become an integral part of my writing life, one that allows me to be visible and yet do exactly what I want at the same time. Over the years doing just this one thing has not only brought new readers for my books, it's provided me with a global circle of friends and colleagues who share their visions, too.

Just last week I got an e-mail from a writer who is being published for the first time. The story will appear in an anthology that had an open call I listed in one of my sub ops posts last fall. That's visibility. The writer discovered the opportunity here, wrote a story for it, and now is turning pro. That's vision.

It goes both ways, too. A comment one of you left here about a year ago led me to a piece written by an editor I didn't know. It was a terrific piece, and impressed me so much that I printed it out and put it in my editor info file. I keep that file because I never know who I might be working with, and having a little info in advance helps. A few weeks ago when I lost my editor, I pulled my file, re-read that article, did a bit more research and decided to request that editor. Now we're working together. It definitely wouldn't have happened if I hadn't read that article.

Now it's your turn: which do you think is more important, vision or visibility? How are you juggling them, if at all? Let us know in comments.


  1. I'm very uncomfortable with the self-promotion machine. For me, the visibility part of this job is difficult. I comfortably hide behind a pen name and let my vision do its work.

    By starting a writing blog instead of a promotional blog, I feel far more comfortable... and I'm having a lot more fun.

  2. I believe they can be combined too. That said, I would always go with vision even to the exclusion of visibility. Holing up in the ivory tower is just fine if the work requires the isolation - think 1984 and Jura - and may well provide a certain timelessness. The work exists without the audience and is no less for it.

  3. This is fantastic...and so true. I have to be careful about not devoting too much time to networking and blogging. I try to do my own blog posts, blog reading, and Twittering early in the morning and then once again in the afternoon so that I have most of the day to write. I am not published...yet...but the support I've found through networking has been irreplaceable. I believe vision and visibility can be balanced, too. Again...great post. And now I go to share this on Twitter... ;)

  4. I'd say both... if the vision isn't there, sometimes all the visibility in the world doesn't matter. How many 'expected' bestsellers kind of tanked?

  5. If you do only one kind of "visibility," but you do it extremely well, then one is all you need. Your blog is a must-read for me every day. If you were only writing the blog half the time (or half as well) because you were spreading out your visibility, I wonder if it would still be my first virtual stop every morning?

    I look up to you a lot and someday I hope to follow a similar path in regards to promotion.

  6. Thank you, as ever, for being a clear light in the darkness and insanity of the publishing world. :) I really like the concept of balancing vision and visibility. Now I need to get back to work.

  7. Vision and visibility are an ongoing juggling act. I prefer my blog and website for visibility; Twitter is fun to use but I can't keep up with other people on it the way I can with blogs. Likewise, I have a Facebook account and some people like to connect with me there but I can't keep up beyond checking for messages and responding on a mostly daily basis. I think that's fine as long as nobody expects that I can respond instantly on all fronts. Where the connection really becomes problematic is when the expectation becomes that you are ALWAYS connected and because a message can be sent instantly, you somehow owe an instant reply. I do my best to keep up, and beyond that, I have a family who needs me and books to write and a life to live that doesn't involve pixels. You know, all the stuff that leads to vision.

  8. I think the vision is a bit more important than the visibility, only because as someone else said, no matter how much visibility you make for yourself, if the vision isn't there or isn't ready or well done or what have you, it won't matter. Visibility only really works well if you have a vision to deliver.