Don’t be a ‘dunce’ when it comes to blogging

Imagine that you’ve written what might well be the next great American novel. You submit it to Simon & Schuster, and they seem interested. They ask you for some rewrites, but ultimately they drop it. Your novel languishes.

That is, until your mother takes an interest in it.

Thelma Toole

Thelma Toole, the mom who made it happen. Image from Associated Press.

Two years after your death (did I mention you committed suicide?), your mom finds a copy of the original manuscript on top of an armoire. Over the next five years, she sends it to seven publishers, all of whom reject it. Then she gets it into her head to ask the great Southern writer Walker Percy to read it, convinced that he will see the genius of your work.

She starts writing and calling Percy, but he doesn’t answer her letters or take her calls. One day, she bursts into his office at Loyola University of New Orleans and demands that he read it. Percy does, mainly to get her out of his office.

Percy loves it and agrees that it should be published. But he can’t get any of the big publishing houses interested in it either. Three years go by, but finally he convinces Louisiana State University Press to publish it.

You might think that’s the end of the story. Maybe a few LSU professors like it and order it for their classes. Maybe it develops a small following. But it never becomes much more than a curiosity, a testament to your mother’s persistence and a famous writer’s clout.

You’d be wrong because the year after its publication (and 12 years after your death), “A Confederacy of Dunces” wins the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. It sells over 1.5 million copies and is translated into 22 languages. Your critically acclaimed novel becomes required reading in English classes around the globe, a modern masterpiece.

A Confederacy of Dunces

I sometimes wonder what might have happened if John Kennedy Toole had lived. Would someone else have discovered him? Would we be reading his novel today?

The title of Toole’s novel refers to a line in a Jonathan Swift essay: “When a true genius appears in the world, you may know him by this sign, that the dunces are all in confederacy against him.”

It does seem that a confederacy of dunces conspired against the book’s publication, but in reality a lot of good writing goes unnoticed. It doesn’t have champions like Thelma Toole and Walker Percy.

Every time I push the “publish” button on one of my blog posts, I realize that there’s no guarantee that anyone will read it. It’s not enough to just publish your blog, you need someone to champion it.

You hear a lot about search engine optimization, but it all boils down to getting people interested enough in your work that they truly want to share it with others. The best blogs, like the best brands, are the ones that are championed by their readers and customers.

So the next time someone in your organization complains that no one’s reading the company blog, ask yourself three questions:

  1. Is it good enough that I would want to read it?
  2. Is it good enough that I would want to share it?
  3. And if it is, what have I done to spread the word through my own social media networks and friends?

Don’t be a “dunce” when it comes to blogging.

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