A few weeks ago my post on whether or not writers should blog sparked some heated discussion. Clearly, it struck a chord, and I realized a lot more could still be said. I decided to reignite the debate by interviewing U.S. author and expert Stephen Campbell, host of the popular weekly podcast The Author Biz – essential listening if you’re trying to make a career out of writing.
Most of my writers are beginners and I feel they spend far too much time on their blogs, when they could be writing their books. The added pressure of feeling as though they must get their weekly blog out/published takes away from their creative writing time too. When they don’t get their blog out they feel guilty. That said, a writer explained to me yesterday that her blog is like her baby, she loves it, nurtures it and also feels it’s the perfect avenue for her to express herself. There seem to be several types of writer-bloggers: the ones who are doing it because they feel they must, to promote the book they have not yet finished, and those who feel genuinely attached their blogs because it makes them feel as though they are being heard. Then of course there are the published writer-bloggers who write their blogs as a way of keeping in touch with their readers. What other types or categories of bloggers do you feel writers fall under?
There are dozens of viable categories (or reasons) for author blogging, and many of them are related to improving ourselves as writers.
There are those who blog to practice writing to completion and to meet deadlines. (I write crime fiction. Have you ever noticed how many successful crime fiction writers come from the newspaper business?)
Some authors blog because they love to write. Their feeling is the more you write, the better you get. If you subscribe to Malcolm Gladwell’s thesis that it takes 10,000 hours doing anything to become insanely great at it, then blogging can help you get there sooner, without the endless rewriting that our novels demand.
There are other authors who blog to build a community with which they can do things like test ideas. One author I know who writes thrillers wrote a post two years ago sketching out an idea for a mystery. Just character background and motivation. He asked his audience for their thoughts on the idea, and they loved it. At last count, that mystery series is at four books and counting.
You say: ‘There are too many ways for us authors to feel like we’re accomplishing things, which don’t move us towards actual objectives. Getting a certain number of blog comments, shares, retweets, or whatever, can feel like an enormous success but does it actually move us towards anything?’ What exactly does blogging move us toward? A publishing contract? Greater exposure? Is it really worth it?
This is a nuanced question that I’ll answer in three different ways. First, since I believe we should learn while we’re blogging, it moves us towards becoming better writers and better storytellers. If you can’t hook a reader with a headline and the first paragraph of a blog post, they’re gone, and you learn something when your post falls flat. The cost of not hooking a reader within the first few pages of your book are significantly higher.
My second answer is in response to your point about greater exposure. Yes, blogging can and often does provide increased exposure, not only to readers, but to other authors, potential reviewers, journalists and others. About a third of the guests I’ve had on my weekly podcast, The Author Biz, have come as a direct result of blog posts guests have written.
And finally, I’ll share the single most common theme from the nearly 100 interviews I’ve done with authors ranging from New York Times bestsellers to independent authors who are selling books at levels that make the NYT bestsellers jealous. The overwhelming majority says one of two things:
- Starting my e-mail list was the best thing I’ve ever done, or
- I wish I’d started my email list sooner.
Here’s where blogging can provide a quantifiable benefit. There is a direct relationship between the amount of content on your author website (blog posts are a form of content) and the number of visitors your website receives through search traffic. In other words, writing informative, interesting blog posts brings more people to your website. Once visitors arrive at your site, you can encourage them to sign up for your email list.
Is it worth it? If you’re enjoying it or learning and generating additional exposure for your work while adding people to your email list, then yes, I believe it is.
You’ve also mentioned: ‘Successful blogging is a unique art form. One that takes time to learn. Finding a blog audience, if you don’t already have an audience established through your books, is a time-consuming process.’ How much time does it normally take?
The science of blogging can be learned quickly. Techniques for writing headlines, using sub-headings, bulleted and numbered text are skills that you can learn by reading the most popular blogs. Learning the art or finding your blogging voice may take longer or may be completely natural to you already.
What takes significant time is building an audience. It’s exciting to see the discussion generated by new posts on the most highly trafficked sites, but we don’t see all of the work that went into generating that traffic.
Jane Friedman’s blog has an archive that goes back to December 2009. Joanna Penn’s blog, which helped to make her a New York Times bestseller as an independent author, The Creative Penn, shows a first post of December 2008. If you spoke with either of them, they’d tell you the first year was spent writing to an audience that was primarily relatives and friends.
The site that I use for my podcast, www.theauthorbiz.com was built on WordPress using a free theme. It launched on June 11th, 2014. Between June 11th and June 30th, there were a total of 88 visitors to the site. In July, there were 537 visitors. I didn’t reach 1,000 monthly unique visitors until August. I’ll grant you, The Author Biz is an unusual site. It’s the home of a weekly podcast, and most people listen to the podcast through iTunes or Stitcher, but one of the things I try and do with the podcast is to drive traffic to the site. It took about six months of consistent content creation, experimentation with images, headlines and post creation styles before I began seeing consistent traffic to the site.
The pressure for writers to blog, especially from publishers, is intense. Do all authors really need to blog? And when should they start? Before or after their book is accepted by publishers?
Do all authors really need to blog? No.
What authors do need is a way to let readers know who they are, to let them know they have a book for sale, and to encourage readers to purchase the book.
Publishers love blogging because it’s all on the author. The time involved in creating the content comes from the author. In most cases, the direct costs of running the blog are paid by the author.
But if it’s done well the benefit accrues to the author as well. A larger audience, greater exposure and a larger email list.
Finally, when should the author start blogging?
First – let me state the obvious. If you’re writing a book, then working on the book is your number one priority when it comes to your time spent writing. All the blogging, community building and exposure in the world won’t help you sell more copies of a book that’s never going to be finished.
With that out of the way, the answer to the “when should you start” question depends on why you want to blog. If your objectives include learning, becoming a better writer and building the relationships that can help you grow your visibility to potential readers then why not start as soon as you can?
If your reason for blogging is to satisfy your publisher or to promote your traditionally published book, I see no reason to start until after your book is in the publishing queue.
So all in all, is blogging really worth it for beginner writers?
For all, or even most beginning writers? No, definitely not. But, for those who have the time and desire to blog and commit themselves to learning to do it well, blogging should be a great long-term investment in their careers.