Many of us do it, but what’s the point of an author blog? Is it to promote our writing, to pass on our accumulated wisdom or to indulge ourselves in a less pressurised mode of publication without worrying whether it gets read? Perhaps it’s all of these in different proportions varying according to who we are and who readers are and our priorities at different points in time. When the balance is right, blogging is highly rewarding; when it’s not it can be a frustrating chore.
Some authors feel bullied into starting a blog by their agent or publisher: a daunting task for a fledgling author when so much else is new. While selling is as much a part of the job as writing, there doesn’t appear to be any evidence that blogging creates more sales than anything else. If you have a full-time job and a family, plus a book to promote, blogging might not be worth your time and stress.
On the other hand, a blogging platform isn’t going to reduce your sales. Unless, that is, every post is some not-so-subtle version of BUY MY BOOK! So if you can blog, do it! Especially if you find your feet and connect with readers before you have a book to promote. Starting before you’re ready to publish, enables you to develop your voice and learn the mechanics in a more laid-back manner, but you must still present yourself professionally. You might not have more than your blog to promote right now, but you’re building your fan base and selling your future books.
If you’re too busy to run one of your own, you could find a slot in the blogosphere by guesting on other blogs. But do approach potential hosts with the respect you’d give to any other submission; few would welcome a guest who hasn’t read their blog. And if you haven’t the time, or the inclination, even for that amount of research and your agent or publisher is still on your back, why not turn the tables? Ask them to make a recommendation or, better still, invite you to guest on their blog. Haven’t got one? There’s your answer! Perhaps, deep down, they’ve decided it’s not worth the trouble.
Writers tend to be helpful people and, if you’ve learned something you think would be of use to others, it makes sense to write a how-to post for your blog. But, unless you’re willing and able to do this big time and become, like the wonderful Emma Darwin, the go-to blogger for writing advice, I’m not convinced it would have much impact in terms of sales. Prestige in one area doesn’t automatically transfer into another.
The best way – and perhaps the only way – for a fiction writer’s blog to translate into book sales is if you are, or can become, an expert in some specialist area you write about. It’s so obvious, I’m almost embarrassed to state it, but if you can hook readers seeking information about a particular historical period, setting or scientific fact, and prove yourself to be not only an authority in the area but able to write about it in an engrossing and entertaining way, then they might, just might, decide to take a chance on your novel on the same topic.
But is this what you want to do? I blog now and then about mental health matters and attachment, common themes in my fiction, but not often enough or upbeat enough to bring me many more readers. And while a couple of people have been kind enough to say that they appreciate my reviews for keeping abreast of contemporary fiction, there are a lot of other book bloggers they could go to. I’d have to work an awful lot harder than I’m willing to do to distinguish myself in any of these areas.
If you’re similarly a generalist, is it most realistic to conceive of your tiny section of the blogosphere as self-indulgence, albeit one that will do no harm in terms of sales? When, about a year into blogging, I shared a post about sharing a post that wasn’t good enough, the responses were interesting. Other bloggers seemed less uptight about the business than me. Over time, although I hope I’m still perceived to be professional, I’ve probably become more relaxed.
We can blog to clear our heads before moving on to the day’s “real” writing. We can blog on the days our minds are too sluggish for the serious stuff, but still obey that oft-repeated injunction to Write Every Day. We write about our own confusion; we can rant about the issues most dear to our hearts. We can ask for advice, ideas, support; we can share our achievements, large and small. We can blog with no idea why the hell we do it; we can blog to forge connections with friends we might never meet. We can blog to bypass the publishing bottleneck, to feel a sense, however illusory, of control.
So please don’t blog because you feel you have to! Yes, keep in mind your prospective readers, but don’t take on an author blog because someone said you must. Even when it’s fun, it’s still work.
But you may not agree with me. Do share your thoughts on how to balance promotion, helping others and self-indulgence in an author blog.
I drafted this post a few months ago after speaking to a writer who felt pressurised to blog. As this week marks my sixth anniversary of beginning Annecdotal, and Charli’s also written about knowing why you’re blogging, along with this week’s flash fiction prompt on the theme of enrichment. I don’t think my 99-word story is particularly enriching, but I must acknowledge it being partly influenced by a novel I’m reviewing tomorrow.
He could try kittens chasing coloured ribbons, but they’d have to buy a litter tray, and the baby was allergic to cats. He could film the baby learning to feed herself, chocolate sauce smeared across her cheeks, but, oh, the mess.
Or he could go the other way, pandering to prejudice, make himself the mouthpiece of those who feared foreigners and benefit scroungers had brought country to its knees.
His blog was at a crossroads, he had to feed his family. He tossed a coin: heads for vitriol, tails for cosy comfort. Did it matter if neither was him?