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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

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.
cathshaffer
Oct. 21st, 2011 02:21 pm (UTC)
"too good" is probably unfair and I shouldn't have said that. A lot of writers blog because they like to write, so it is more likely that unlike many promotional-minded bloggers, they are not thinking about traffic and readership.
jaylake
Oct. 21st, 2011 03:02 pm (UTC)
I link out to people when and where I can, but it's never occurred to me to organize a mutual auctorial linkfest, as it were. But then I don't think of my blog as a promotional tool for my writing. It's just me thinking out loud to an audience, really.
cathshaffer
Oct. 21st, 2011 03:31 pm (UTC)
Carnivals and linkfests are just one tool, and arguably a cheesy one. But I guess that's what I was getting at. Writers like to write, and think out loud, and probably would do so even for no audience. Also, becoming a high profile blogger is actual work, and not everyone has time to invest. So, ironically, a lot of writer blogs are not as well read as, say, Suzy Homemaker's recipe and homeschooling blog. This would make an excellent convention panel topic. You can tell I've been thinking about this a lot. I've historically been anti-blogging for time reasons and also because I'd rather fool around and socialize online than work hard providing quality content. I've turned around on that because I feel like having a highly trafficked blog is going to be an important differentiator for writers with the coming changes in the publishing industry. If I have a following of people who find me interesting, witty, or entertaining independently of my published writings, that can become a way for new readers to find my work even if I'm not getting published or promoted the way I need.
green_knight
Oct. 21st, 2011 07:11 pm (UTC)
The moment you start blogging for an audience and build a readership and advertise is, however informally and plan your content, and self-censor it because you don't want drive away your core audience, and visit other blogs in an effort to connect with more readers...

... you're taking blogging to a different, professional level, even if it pays peanuts. And it's ok if writers want to do that, but it's also ok if they don't - because it's a new skillset and it takes time and effort to get it right, for a limited (and quite possibly negligible) return.

jimhines
Oct. 21st, 2011 02:31 pm (UTC)
Hm ... I don't know. Sometimes I think I'm more foolish for spending so much time and energy on the blog when I could be working on fiction. The latter pays better (i.e., it pays at all), and no matter how much of a readership I build here, nothing has ever improved my sales as much as the release of another book.
kristenbritain
Oct. 21st, 2011 02:53 pm (UTC)
I am not an active, public blogger because I don't have the right disposition for it. To begin with, I'm introverted and shy and dealing with comments would freak me out. Then, I'd probably bore people to death, and when I did respond to comments, I'd probably piss people off that I'd lose readers (I am a cranky person sometimes). So far Facebook is more at my comfort level (and it took a lot, including hand holding by a friend, for me to get on FB). Have I lost readers by not blogging? Maybe, but I still do well enough to write full time. If one's personality is not suited for blogging, as mine is not, I can only believe that forcing oneself to blog does more damage than good.
cathshaffer
Oct. 21st, 2011 03:26 pm (UTC)
I suspect your blog readership is already saturated with people who read your books or are at least aware of them. For a writer/blogger like, say, Cory Doctorow, who gets read widely by people outside the genre, blogging is more likely to provide exposure and introduce new readers who might never have sought him out in the bookstore or through the usual channels. Cory works *very* hard at blogging, though, in order to have that advantage.
kellymccullough
Oct. 22nd, 2011 08:48 pm (UTC)
The problem with that is that the skills to write entertaining fiction and the skills to write entertaining blog posts are not necessarily the same set. I devoted about 100,000 words over a year and a half to blogging, without significantly increasing my readership. Since blogging actually takes me longer on a per word basis, that's about a book and a half worth of production time gone to very little effect. Since I tend to pick up a lot more new readers with each book that comes out, blogging's not at all a good use of my time.
cathshaffer
Oct. 22nd, 2011 08:59 pm (UTC)
It is entirely possible that blogging is not your thing. The skills of writing fiction and blogging are related, but are not the same (I haven't read your blog--it might be great). Alternatively, it's possible that you could increase your readership by focusing on traffic-building, if that's what you wanted. I think focusing your energy on your area of strength (writing books) rather than on something that isn't fun and easy and doesn't directly pay is very sensible. For me and many writers, composing blog posts is pretty effortless. If it was more work than composing an equivalent number of fiction words, I wouldn't do it, either!

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