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Should Writers Blog, and Why?

I’ve gotten into several different conversations lately, at conventions and online, about blogging. Specifically, is this something writers should do, and why?

The answer I hear most often is OMG YOU HAVE TO BLOG AND DO THE TWITTER AND FACEBOOK AND GOOGLE+ OR ELSE YOU’LL NEVER SELL ANY BOOKS!

I think that blogging can sometimes be an effective way of getting your name out there and selling books, but I don’t think it’s a requirement, and I don’t think promotion is the only consideration, or even the primary one.

Promotion: Discussions about blogging commonly open with things like:

  • “Your publisher expects you to promote yourself online!”
  • “Look at Cory Doctorow and John Scalzi!”
  • “You can’t expect any help from publishers, so you’ve got to do it all yourself, so get blogging!”

I will mention my work from time to time, and yes, sometimes it is blatantly promotional: “My book just came out. Yay!” I try not to do that very often. Other times I’m just talking about the process: “I just started draft four of Libriomancer, and I’m freaking out!” The latter isn’t intended as promotion, but it does result in readers knowing about my next project, which is nice.

But if the only reason you’re blogging is for marketing/self-promotion, then you’re basically writing an infomercial. And I don’t know many people who deliberately tune in to infomercials…

Money: I’ve also heard that one way or another, it’s important to monetize your blogging. As a writer, I do think it’s important to get paid for our work. I have friends who do freelance, paid blogging, which is excellent. Others use ads to generate a little extra income from their blog. I don’t personally mind that as long as it’s not too intrusive.

I’ve chosen not to insert ads or look for paid blogging opportunities, but that’s me. The benefits I get from blogging aren’t financial (see below). As for the ads … well, I’ve got links to my books and such in the sidebar. I figure that’s enough.

Connecting with Writers: This is why I started blogging more than ten years ago. I wanted to connect with and learn from writers who knew what the heck they were doing. I found those people online. I read their journals, commented in their posts, and eventually got to know some of them. I joined a webring, for those of you who remember what a webring is. I participated in novel dares, trying to write an entire 80,000 word novel in a month, and joining my fellow participants in sharing progress and setbacks online.

In some ways, the blogosphere and a few message boards were my graduate program in writing. It’s where I learned the business. It’s where I found inspiration. It’s where I chatted with coworkers around the virtual water cooler.

Connecting with Fans: This was not one of my original reasons for starting a blog, in part because back then, I didn’t have any fans. But over time, it’s become a way for me to connect with some of the people who enjoy my books and stories, and that’s awesome.

It’s also a way to connect with fandom in general. A lot of the people who read my blog have never read one of my books. (So much for that Promotion thing…) But we have great conversations about Doctor Who or Star Trek or gaming or the latest book by Huff or Jemisin or  Grant or whoever, and I love that.

Politics: This is a tough one. I’ve been told that a writer should never blog about their politics, because they risk alienating readers. It’s a valid point. Heck, I lost some readers myself earlier this week. On the other hand, I’ve seen people post thoughtful, well-written political posts that attract new readers to their blog, and by extension, perhaps to their books as well.

I’m not writing a political blog, and I don’t really feel qualified to do so. However, I will write about things I feel strongly about, and sometimes those overlap with the political. I do this not to sell books, but because I think these things are important to talk about.

What I’d say is that if you choose to go there, know that you will upset some people, and be prepared for some backlash. These posts can be emotionally draining, and eat up more time and energy.

Entertainment: Sometimes I just want to make people smile and laugh, dammit!

Wrap-up: I could go on, but this is getting long. I don’t think writers have to blog. I think it can help you somewhat, but it’s not a magic bullet that will make or break your career. And if the only reason you do it is to sell books, I suspect you’re going to invest a lot of time and energy that probably would have been better spent writing more books.

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.

Comments

( 53 comments — Leave a comment )
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jaylake
Oct. 21st, 2011 01:42 pm (UTC)
Re politics on writer blogs, I used to be very carefully apolitical on my blog to avoid offending readers. Then I realized some of the author/publishing bloggers I admire most (Scalzi, Bear, Making Light, etc.) were unabashedly political, and seemed to be doing quite well. I decided it was my blog, and I'd talk about things that were important to me.

Of course, in the last few years, cancer has sort of taken over my life, including my blogging.
jimhines
Oct. 21st, 2011 02:26 pm (UTC)
You're one of the people I think about when the conversation turns to blogging about politics. You've talked about making that choice, and from what I can see, it doesn't appear to have hurt your readership.

Cancer is a greedy little f***er that devours your energy and time. But you're a writer. Writers cope with stuff by writing about it. It's what we do.
nick_kaufmann
Oct. 21st, 2011 02:00 pm (UTC)
Blogging can make for wonderful connections, both of a personal nature (I've made a number of friends through LJ) and a professional one (building an audience of readers). However, anyone who says you have to do it is mistaken, just as they are mistaken when they say you have to start in the small press, or with short stories, or on exposure-only webzines. There's no single, proper way to do this.
jimhines
Oct. 21st, 2011 02:30 pm (UTC)
Agreed.

I think part of it is about a sense of control. Writers feel so powerless over their careers, so if we think we can directly increase our sales numbers by blogging or Tweeting or doing a naked tightrope off the Sears Tower, there's a tendency to leap right in.
(no subject) - nick_kaufmann - Oct. 21st, 2011 02:32 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Oct. 21st, 2011 02:36 pm (UTC) - Expand
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cathshaffer
Oct. 21st, 2011 02:03 pm (UTC)
Good post. Since writing is the key skill for successful blogging, and blogging is a great way to find readers and build a following, it seems almost a bit foolish to me for writers not to blog. I've been digging into blogging more lately, and one thing that strikes me is that writers don't seem to make optimal use of the blogging form for networking and building readership. I recall the old web rings. Now they're called blog carnivals, but few writers I know go in for them. It's almost as if writers feel they are too good to chase traffic and build a following--like their readers should just show up. A good, high traffic blog takes time and energy to build and maintain. It's only a good promotional tool if you put that time and energy in.
adelheid_p
Oct. 21st, 2011 02:18 pm (UTC)
It's almost as if writers feel they are too good to chase traffic and build a following--like their readers should just show up.

I don't get that impression with all writers. It think some writers may not want to appear to be heavily self-promoting. It may not occur to some to actually promote their blog because it's not related in their minds to their fiction writing market. But then readers show up and ask questions and then they do end up blogging about it.
(no subject) - cathshaffer - Oct. 21st, 2011 02:21 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jaylake - Oct. 21st, 2011 03:02 pm (UTC) - Expand
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midnightblooms
Oct. 21st, 2011 02:15 pm (UTC)
Like you, I started reading blogs to learn about writing and publishing, but I'll keep reading a blog for various reasons. The ones I keep coming back too have something that speaks to me: their books, their voice, their lives, their humor, their content. That something is highly suggestive and it is different for every blog.

We can't predict what readers want to read. All we can do is blog about what we want to blog about.
jimhines
Oct. 21st, 2011 02:28 pm (UTC)
Heh. I'm thinking about a follow-up post wherein I reveal the ONE TRUE SECRET to writing a successful blog that people want to read.

(Spoiler: Be interesting.)
adelheid_p
Oct. 21st, 2011 02:15 pm (UTC)
I like reading writers blogs for their writing process but also for the other things. I guess I'm treating it sort of as a learning process for when I finally decide to sit down at the keyboard and write actual stories.

I think John Scalzi's Whatever is a bit of a community and so are many other blogs. "Making Light" is definitely a community.

jimhines
Oct. 21st, 2011 02:28 pm (UTC)
I really like the community aspect, and would love to build more of that. Part of my problem, I suspect, is that I've split some of my readership between LiveJournal and the Wordpress blog on my main site, whereas Whatever and Making Light are both single-site blogs. No idea how to fix that, but ah well. I think there's a decent, albeit smaller, community here, and I love that.
(no subject) - adelheid_p - Oct. 21st, 2011 02:43 pm (UTC) - Expand
adelheid_p
Oct. 21st, 2011 02:23 pm (UTC)
Also, it's my thought that a blog is your place to do with what you want. If you want to blog about politics, then that's your decision. If I don't agree with your stances, that's my problem. And, if you write about your political stance in an intelligent and respectful way with reasoned arguments, I might still disagree but you won't "lose" me.
It's disrespectful and mudslinging kind of arguments (and this can happen on both sides) that I don't appreciate.
tracy_d74
Oct. 21st, 2011 02:31 pm (UTC)
I think you have to do what feels good to you. If you blog because you feel you HAVE to, that will come through.

I blog because I wanted to meet other writers and learn more about writing. I also thought it would be a good way for me to get used to keeping up with some form of social networking for when I do get published. I won't have the time or energy to do: blog, facebook, twitter, google, etc. Not if I plan to write, work, and spend time with friends.
jongibbs
Oct. 21st, 2011 02:32 pm (UTC)
Great post, Jim.

Personally, I don't have a problem with political posts unless they're written in an obnoxious way.

I also agree about writers not having to blog.

However, there's one hugely important reason for blogging which I feel is missing from your list ie: Because it's fun! :)
snapes_angel
Oct. 21st, 2011 02:38 pm (UTC)
Because it's fun!

That's precisely what I was going to say, so... lol.
(no subject) - jimhines - Oct. 21st, 2011 02:38 pm (UTC) - Expand
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tracy_d74
Oct. 21st, 2011 02:34 pm (UTC)
Oh! I always like to point out that Suzanne Collins of Hunger Games does not have blog (or she didn't when HUG first came out). She has limited on line presence. HG sales have NOT suffered. Word of mouth is WAY more far reaching and powerful than my little blog can ever be.
jimhines
Oct. 21st, 2011 02:39 pm (UTC)
Yup. There are definitely authors out there with little to no online presence who somehow manage to do quite well for themselves as writers.

As I understand it, Stephenie Meyer never did that much online either, and she seems to have done all right for herself. J. K. Rowling too, for that matter...
sylvanstargazer
Oct. 21st, 2011 02:38 pm (UTC)
Discovery!
In "anecdote is not data" I know I have bought your books and started reading your work only because I was pointed to this blog by some other blog for one of your political posts. I admired your writing, insight and self-awareness enough to add you to my feed, and stuck around long enough to decide I'd probably like your books, and then I was right :)

I think blogs now play a similar role to what science fiction conventions played when I started going to them: it is a place to meet people, discover you kind of like them and then seek out their books, while at the same time getting feedback and learning how to do this myself. I actually read fewer blogs of people I already know I like reading; I'm not actually a "fan" in the sense of becoming devoted to authors. Mostly, I find that these social filtering mechanisms work better for me than recommendations, reviews or browsing the shelves, so I look for them.

So I'd say that my favorite blogs are those by interesting, well-written people who engage with anything and everything in the world. The other key is engaging with a community of some kind, any kind. If you just write infomercial-style posts that are all about you, why would anyone link to you? If instead you are a part of a broader community, whatever that community is, people naturally link to your parts of the conversations, giving new people a chance to discover you. I've made two amazing real-world friends because I was bothered by something, googled and discovered one other person in the world who was *also* bothered by this same thing and blogged about it. On the positive side, there are only so many people in the world who are drawing Malzen Deck of the Dragons, and I will eventually find them *all* ;-)

Blogging just to blog isn't any more useful than attending conferences to attend conferences, or writing letters to fanzines saying "buy my book!". People can tell when you don't really care about anything but promoting yourself, and aren't going to be nearly as interested as if you are willing to engage, listen and demonstrate why you are the sort of person who writes books they will probably like (and that isn't the same for everyone: I knew after meeting George RR Martin why I didn't enjoy his books, but obviously many, many other people do enjoy them, and the social subset of those might discover it from seeing him speak.) My theory is that it is sort of Show, Don't Tell for the real world.

If your goal is to have everyone who will enjoy reading your book find you and your book, an authentic blog can be an excellent tool. An announcement list or twitter stream for new book releases can serve a different and valuable purpose, but that's not why most people are going to read a blog.
la_marquise_de_
Oct. 21st, 2011 02:41 pm (UTC)
I had my lj account before I was published, mainly as a way of staying in touch with friends. I tended not to talk about writing on it because, well, it's not something I like to talk about all that much in general. I'm a messy writer and that's not interesting to write about. Since being published, I have tried to up the writing content -- not sure I've done that very well, though, given I am too minor a pro to -- imho -- have much to say about process. And I'm on FB and twitter, which I use for short stuff, mostly political or silly things my cats do.
Self-promotion does not come easily: I would far rather talk about friends' books. The upside of making the transition to pro has been how wonderfully friendly and supportive other writers are. I feel honoured and privileged by that.
I find, though, that I cannot *not* be political. I grew up in a political household. I've had a few people de-friend me because of it. But this is who I am: socialist, feminist. That informs my fiction, as well as my blog. I find writers like you and jaylake hugely reassuring, because you do this too -- and far better. And that makes it feel more okay, somehow. So thank you.
ursulav
Oct. 21st, 2011 02:53 pm (UTC)
I blog about the books very very rarely, and frequently it's along the lines of "Oh dear god, this is the death march stage of the illustrations, drawing dragons is all I do, I am so very tired, why didn't I become a medical test subject like Mom wanted?"

Books get the announcement when they come out, and I'll mention that they picked a couple more in the series or whatever, but I don't advertise them just for the sake of advertising very often--I get annoyed reading that on blogs, so I assume everybody else does too. Otherwise, yeah, it sounds like an infomercial.

What I strongly question is the "You can't expect your publisher to promote you" argument some people make. I've run into it before, and all I can say is...the marketing department at Dial has gone to the mat for me. They do STUFF. Lots of stuff. The good, the bad, the stuff that could maybe do something with an interesting hat. Stuff that I would never do, would never think to do, did not know you actually could do. For my first book, they made tins of breath mints and handed them out at trade shows. (The title is "Dragonbreath" so...err...not as left field as it sounds...) This is not an effort I can duplicate at home.

I am sure it's not an egalitarian system, of course, I am sure many fine books are left to howl in the dark--my first book with another publisher got about as much promotion as foot fungus--but everybody rags on the traditional publishers on-line today, and I just wanna say that they can kick ass and take names when they get going.

Ahem. Sorry. Been feelin' that one a lot lately...
jimhines
Oct. 21st, 2011 03:05 pm (UTC)
What I strongly question is the "You can't expect your publisher to promote you" argument some people make.

Yes! It's true that I've never been sent on a worldwide book tour or anything like that. On the other hand, my publisher has run ads in Locus and elsewhere. They've got a sales force meeting with bookstore chains and distributors to sell my books and others. They did a sampler with a chapter from Snow Queen and a few other books a year or so back. And there's a lot more that I'm sure I just don't know about.

Like you, there's no way I could come close to matching their efforts here.

Maybe not everyone gets a lot of promotion, and maybe publishers aren't doing as much as they used to, but that's a far cry from saying they won't do anything at all.

(This changes as you get closer to the vanity press side of things, though.)
otterb
Oct. 21st, 2011 02:56 pm (UTC)
The list of authors whose blogs I enjoy overlaps the list of authors whose books I enjoy, but they aren't synonomous. I tend to come back to blogs that have a mix of the professional and the personal and have a "voice" I enjoy. Opinions or attitudes expressed on the blog would have to be way,way out there to make me stop buying an author's books if I like the books.

I do find blogs a source of information about books, occasionally for the blog author, but more often for someone else who is mentioned in a post or in comments. That only works when it feels like a natural part of the conversation, not when it sounds like advertising. A discreet sig line is often helpful there - if I find someone is saying thoughtful, interesting things in comments, and their sig indicates they are an author I haven't heard of, I'll often go check out the book.
thesfreader
Oct. 21st, 2011 02:57 pm (UTC)
Don't remember how I came to your blog, but like sylvanstargazer, I know that your blogs are some of the things that make ME buy your books.
Heck, with such low ebook prices (and with self-published books high royalty rates) and direct communication with writers, my books spending somehow feel to me like "patronage".

When I pay for such a book, I feel I'm helping writers who I like (and write books that I find interesting) keep on writing other books !
jimhines
Oct. 21st, 2011 03:06 pm (UTC)
And who knows, with the way publishing is going, the patronage system could become more and more important. We're already seeing more if it with Kickstarter projects and such...

(Also, thank you!)
nyxalinth
Oct. 21st, 2011 02:58 pm (UTC)
I remember webrings :) I used to be on one for Eder scrolls games fanfiction. As for writing dares, while it's not a dare, I'm doing NaNoWriMo this year. 50k novel in 30 days? You bet! I did it in 2007 and I have no doubt that I can do it again (I plan to let my pre-paid WoW subscription slide just for the occasion :D).

This year, it's Dwarf Fortress related fanfiction. Who knows? Maybe I can turn it into a proper novel about dwarves ;)
jimhines
Oct. 21st, 2011 05:19 pm (UTC)
Be careful. I hear that dwarfs are very upsetting...



(Which only makes sense if you've seen Into the Woods.)
(no subject) - nyxalinth - Oct. 21st, 2011 08:12 pm (UTC) - Expand
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