In a guest post on Jane Friedman’s blog on March 15th, L.L. Barkat said “blogging is a waste of time” for experienced authors. She feels blogging is only helpful for beginning authors who need “to find expression, discipline, and experience.”
Her piece suggests blogging is for farm-leaguers only. Once writers make the pros, she says, “they might want to give it up and begin writing for larger platforms that don’t require reciprocity (an exhausting aspect to blogging and a big drain on the writer’s energy and time).”
She’s not wrong about the exhaustion. And I gotta admit, if a larger, non-interactive platform like the New Yorker or the Daily Beast came calling, I might bail on you guys for a bit.
But as a long-term career move? It doesn’t strike me as a great idea.
We live in an interactive age. Sealing yourself up in an ivory tower (assuming the tower wants you) is likely to annoy readers these days.
And the truth is, most authors who aren’t named J.D. Salinger have always had to engage in some pretty exhausting, time-draining "reciprocity" to sell their books.
In the days before blogs, there were book tours.
Back in those dear dead days, most authors interacted with their readership through exhausting, time-sucking (and expensive) traveling. Ask a career author who has been in this business for a few decades whether they’d like to give up blogging and go back to the book tour, and you’d better cover your ears before the high-decibel “H*** NO!” erupts.
Nowdays only the superstar class goes on real-life book tours; the midlist blogs.
I think marketers at the Big 5/6 have probably been too heavy-handed in their fiat that every author must have a blog, and Barkat represents a backlash to that. She said: “the director of Marketing and Promotion from Simon & Schuster…told me flatly, ‘We ask all our authors to start blogs’.”
Anybody that dictatorial would get my hackles up, too.
But most Big 5/6-ers have softened that requirement. As I reported in January, agent Rachelle Gardner has changed her hard-line stance on blogs. She said “A few years ago, the standard wisdom was that authors, both fiction and non-fiction, should have blogs in order to gather an audience and build relationships with readers. Now, not so much. As social media and online marketing have evolved, my thoughts on blogging have changed. I think each author needs to carefully consider whether blogging is an appropriate vehicle for them.”
But later in the piece, Gardner makes it clear an author still has to be on social media. She’s not saying it’s OK to do the J.D. Salinger thing.
Jane Friedman herself doesn't tell us to drop our blogs. But in a post at Writer Unboxed this week, she does tell beginning writers who don't have blogs to let go of the pressure to start one. "If you’re a totally new, unpublished writer who is focused on fiction, memoir, poetry, or any type of narrative-driven work, forget you ever heard the word platform."
Friedman says it's best for beginners to concentrate on learning their craft and getting credits by publishing the fiction they want to be known for. (For opportunities to get your fiction better known, check our "Opportunity Alerts" below.)
But she adds a caveat: "Exception to the rule: Nonfiction/non-narrative authors and entrepreneurial authors who are self-publishing. Sorry, but you should probably focus on platform as much as the writing."
I agree. I don't think every beginning writer should be starting a blog. (On the other hand, reading blogs is something that can help from the beginning—and commenting on blogs is a great way to get your name out there.) I've been telling my workshop students that the time to think about a blog is after you've finished at least one polished novel, have another in the works and you're getting ready to query—or you've got a good backlog of short fiction you're sending to contests and journals.
In other words, give yourself time to build some inventory and learn your craft before you start thinking about marketing.
I also don't recommend blogging frantically simply for the sake of piling up blogposts to get the attention of search engines. I'm a big advocate of SLOW BLOGGING—once a week or less, preferably on a regular schedule. You can check out my post on the Slow Blog Manifesto here.
But I do think a blog is helpful, even for fiction authors. This blog doesn't sell books directly, but without my presence here, I'm not sure anybody would even know about them. And blogs are useful for so many other things—networking with other authors and people in the business, polishing your nonfiction writing skills (which are necessary, no matter how "experienced" you are at fiction.) Plus you can learn to write faster and...for fun. Yes. Blogging is fun for a lot of us.
Recently social media Jedi master Kristen Lamb devoted a whole week of blogposts to explaining the reasons why “blogs are probably THE BEST use of an author’s time when it comes to building an author platform using social media.” I wrote more on the subject in my own post that week.
And then there’s Hugh Howey, current media darling and author of the literary phenomenon Wool (and generally phenomenal guy.)
In an interview on Reddit, Mr. Howey said his primary promotion tools were, “After FB, I would say: having my own blog.”
Yup. Not expensive ads at BookBub. Not give-aways on Goodreads. Not Kindleboard ads (although he does mention interacting at the Writer’s Café forum on the Kindleboards, which is where I first met him.) Not vlogs or podcasts or book trailers or webinars.
Just his plain old blog and Facebook rocketed him to fame and fortune. (Well, that and a clever serial-format sales plan and a stupendous book.)
The Reddit interviewer followed up by asking him to name “a single most valuable tool for an author to promote himself” aside from “Amazon's inscrutable algos.”
Howey replied, “I'm guessing 90% of my sales are from reader recommendations and Amazon algorithms.”
Well, we all know the “inscrutable algos” are out of our control. (More on algorithms in a future post) but “reader recommendations”—where do they come from?
Howey said, “I don't concentrate my self-promotion on people who haven't read my work; I interact with those who have.”
And in a post on his own blog, he said very much the same thing: “The best promotion, I’ve found, is to interact with existing readers (which is enjoyable) rather than browbeat new people into reading (which nobody likes).”
Interacting with readers. Reciprocity. His number one self-promotion tool.
And where’s the best place to interact with readers?
So if you’re thinking of taking up L.L. Barkat’s suggestion to drop your blog to concentrate on pure art, do keep in mind that a lot of successful authors like Mr. Howey find their blogs have been a huge help.
Even experienced authors who aren’t blogging simply to practice the art of keeping their butts in their typing chairs.
I should be fair and mention that L.L Barkat and Hugh Howey’s genres couldn’t be more different. Barkat writes literary memoir and Howey writes blockbuster science fiction. Different genre readers expect different things from their authors. Literary readers tend to be conservative about technology, so they may not be on social media much themselves, whereas scifi-ers are in their native habitat on the Interwebz.
And it's important to consider that literary writers often make their livings teaching, and they may have to arrange for time away from anything "social" in order to stay sane. Most writers are introverts, so being around people too much—whether online or off—can drain your energies to the point where you can’t create.
If blogging does that to you, you might indeed feel you have to drop your blog as Barkat suggests. Maybe you can reach people via RedRoom or Google+ hangouts, or by occasionally interacting on Goodreads. Or write a monthly newsletter.
But I don’t think refusing to interact with your readers entirely is a smart move. No matter how experienced you are.
Not if you hope to follow in the footsteps of Hugh Howey, who still blogs regularly, even on his superstar book tour. He even took time to give this blog a shout-out in January. He is certainly a poster boy for the new era of publishing. It would appear that his accessibility via his blog and his reciprocity with readers has contributed to his phenomenal success.
So think long and hard before you give up that blog.
What about you, scriveners? Have you given up your blog? Will you give it up when you're more experienced? As a reader, do you like to interact with your favorite authors on a blog?
1) Inspirational anthology accepting submissions: A "Chicken Soup for the Soul" author is looking for heartwarming inspirational nonfiction pieces. Do You Have a Story on Staying Sane in the Chaotic 24/7 World? If you have a great story and would like to be considered for the anthology, 30 Days to Sanity, Send submissions to: 30 Days to Sanity at Box 31453, Santa Fe, NM 87594-1453. Or e-mail stories to firstname.lastname@example.org The maximum word count is 1200 words. For each story selected for the program a permission fee of $100 will be offered for one-time rights. There are no limits on the number of submissions. Deadline is May 1, 2013.
2) POISONED PEN DISCOVER MYSTERY CONTEST Enter your mystery manuscript of 60,000-90,000 words in an effort to win a $1,000 prize, the Discover Mystery title, and a publishing contract from Poisoned Pen Press. Open to all authors writing original works in English for adult readers who reside in the United States and Canada. $20 entry fee. Well worth it. Poisoned Pen is a widely respected small press. Deadline March 30, 2013.
3) Cash prizes for flash fiction. The San Luis Obispo NIGHTWRITERS are holding their annual 500-word story contest. Anybody from anywhere in the world is welcome to enter. Prizes are $200, $150 and $75. This is a fantastic organization that boasts a number of bestselling authors among their members, including Jay Asher, Jeff Carlson, and moi. (Well, some sell better than others :-) ) Deadline is March 31st.
4) Ploughshares Emerging Writers Contest. The prestigious literary journal Ploughshares runs a number of contests during the year. Winning or placing looks really good in a query. Plus there's a cash prize of $1000 in each category. This one is limited to writers who have not yet published. They're looking for poems and literary stories of up to 6000 words. Deadline is April 2.
5) The Saturday Evening Post’s Second Annual Great American Fiction Contest—yes, THAT Saturday Evening Post is holding a short fiction contest. Could you join the likes of F. Scott Fitzgerald; William Faulkner; Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.; Ray Bradbury; Louis L’Amour; Sinclair Lewis; Jack London; and Edgar Allan Poe? $10 entry fee Deadline July 1, 2013
6) New Literary Journal, The Puffin Review
is looking for submissions of short fiction, (up to 3000 words) poetry and essays. They welcome new writers.
Labels: blogging for authors, Hugh Howey, Jane Friedman, Kristen Lamb, L.L Barkat, Rachelle Gardner, Reddit, slow blogging, The Slow Blog Manifesto, Wool