Dueling Agent Advice on Blogging. Who the $!%# Do You Believe?

You’ve probably been reading a lot of conflicting advice recently on the subject of writers and blogs.

Some experts are telling us blogging is dead.

Agent Wendy Lawton wrote a post on September 15th called “What’s Not Working” and asserted that blogging—and most social networking—is a waste of time for debut authors, because the market is already saturated.

“I wouldn’t recommend a writer start blogging in order to publicize his book in today’s climate. It would be tough to picture a scenario where the outcome would justify the means.”

Indie author Scott Nicholson also de-emphasized the importance of blogging last week with his post on the Writer's Guide to E-Publishing. He presented the following surprising facts:

Yeah, I know. All that surprised me too.

On the same day, Konrath himself announced he’s taking abreak from blogging 

Also this week—Nathan Bransford’s forums had a discussion about how blogging is sucky idea for writers. 

However, the blogosphere is mostly filled with the opposite information

Not only do most experts agree that blogging is thriving, but some agents say prospective authors need to be überbloggers with stats like Nathan Bransford’s in order to be publishable.

Agent Rachelle Gardner wrote a post on platform on October 3, saying the minimum we must do is: 

“…shoot for 500 fans on your Facebook profile page and 15,000 monthly page views to your blog.”

Agent Andy Ross went even further in a comment on Meghan Ward's blog He seems to think you need the readership of the HuffPo and the Klout rating of Justin Beiber if you don’t want spend your life in the slushpile:

“It is going to take quite a bit to impress a publisher on how many hits you get on a blog. Probably 100,000 unique views a month is the ball park. But even that isn’t good enough.”

This is mind-boggling. Getting even 15,000 hits a month would be miraculous for a new blogger. I don’t always get that many, and I have an Alexa rating of 363,000 (most writer’s blogs are in the millions.) Roni Loren says she sometimes doesn’t hit that number either, and she’s one of the most popular author-bloggers in the business, with thousands of followers on several blogs.

Then, just to heap a little more pressure on us, agent Janet Reid told us last week:

“if you blog…don’t blog about writing.”

Meghan Ward and Kristen Lamb  posted similar advice.

So here we are, a bunch of blogging writers, mostly—oh, the shame—blogging about writing, and none of us have anywhere near the hits corporate marketers say we should.

So what should we do—give our blogs last rites and lumber back to the writing cave? Maybe plan to sell our books from our cars in the WalMart parking lot or make paper airplanes of our cover art and shoot them through the subway at rush hour?

Or should we forget about the WIP, the day job, the family, and those embarrassing self-indulgences like eating and sleeping, and blog, FB and Tweet 24/7 until we become Kings of all Social Media?

I don’t think we should do either. I think we should shut out all the noise and figure out what works for us, individually. Life is not one size fits all. Neither is social media.

If you’re blogging because you think you’re going to make money from the blog itself—by “monetizing”—like the guy who sparked the forumdiscussion on Nathan’s blog, you’re wasting your time. If you’re a published author who’s never blogged before and you’re doing it because your publisher told you to get out there and hawk your wares, resist the pressure. Blogging is not about direct sales. You’ll fail miserably.

But if you’re blogging because you like it and you enjoy connecting with other writers and potential readers, then by all means keep it up. And don’t listen to marketing experts or worry about your stats.

There are two major things wrong with listening to professional marketers when they talk about selling books.

1) Marketers don’t know you can’t sell books as if they’re meatloaf pans.

Bookselling isn't about broadcasting a message to hundreds of thousands. It's about hand-selling to people who like and trust you. Bookstore clerks used to do that, but we don’t have many of them any more. Writers who come across as smart and trustworthy and approachable are going to sell more books than some guy walking around wearing sandwich boards that say “buy my book”—even if he’s walking in the middle of Times Square.

2) Marketers don’t understand the writing blogosphere.

Aspiring writers who blog are part of a community. We make friends with each other. We get support. We network. A lot of us talk about writing and publishing. Because, um, that’s what we have in common.

Friends are very important in this business.

Without my writing/publishing blog, the following things would never have happened:

In fact, without this blog—and the support of all my wonderful readers and fellow bloggers—I’m pretty sure I would have given up fiction writing by now. I might have given up writing altogether. Not only would I not have five books coming out this fall—I’d probably have been an out-of-print has-been forever.

“You’ve got to reach readers, not writers,” the gurus keep telling us. But newsflash: Writers read! Probably more than most people.

Do we want to reach readers who don’t write? You betcha. But there’s time for that after we get published.

And that’s what I want to tell all these “gurus.” Things take time. There’s a continuum. First start blogging for community—and after you’re published, your blog can evolve to include fans.

Nobody jumps into the blogosphere and becomes Neil Gaiman with a first post—especially somebody who isn’t even published yet. Anybody who expects you to do that doesn’t understand blogging.

The problem is that marketers are thinking of a blog as a storefront—a writer/merchant sitting alone in a little shop waiting for customers to show up.

But that’s not how it works. A blog is more like a place at a writers’ conference.

If you’re an unpublished author and you go to a writers’ conference expecting to make a six figure deal the minute you walk in the door you’ll be majorly disappointed. But if you go to learn and connect with potential readers and make friends who will be supportive of your career, you can have a fantastic experience.

If you’re a published author and you walk into a writers’ conference hauling a cart full of books and push them on everybody you meet, you’re going to have a pretty bad time, too. But if you go to share information, connect with people and have fun, you’re going to sell some books. (The booksellers at our local Central Coast Writers conference said they had fantastic sales during the two days of the conference—much better sales than at the reader-oriented book festival the next day.)

So don’t let people dis you for “preaching to the choir.” Or steer you into establishing a niche blog where you can only talk about one subject. If you’re interested in jelly doughnuts or Byzantine history or extreme cage fighting—certainly, blog about them. But if you’re interested in writing and want to meet other writers, blog about that, too.

Later, when you’re a published author, you can decide if you want to keep blogging about writing, or if you want to change focus. Most writing blogs alter a little after the author is published.

But if you start out with a blog entirely devoted to jelly doughnuts, what happens if you write a book about extreme cage fighting? I see no point in painting yourself into a corner at the beginning of your career. Or in starting a whole bunch of separate blogs for each subject you end up writing books about.

Blog about what makes you unique—all the stuff you have to offer. Blogging isn’t about screaming “buy my book.” It’s about presenting yourself to the world as an interesting person whose stuff might be worth reading.

Should all writers blog? No. Some very fine authors don’t have the knack for it, or just don’t like it—and it shows.

Should you let somebody pressure you into giving up valuable writing time in order to pump up your blog stats? No way.

As author/social media guru Meghan Ward says:

“When I feel like I’m spending more time on social media than I am on my book…[that’s] counterproductive. Because without a great book, what’s there to market?”

Some other great bloggers weighed in on this subject in the last couple of weeks:

Romance author Roni Loren wrote an insightful post on September 21 titled “Is Blogging Dead” and said that even if blogging is dead, she’s going to blog because she likes it—plus it’s a great way to connect with readers.

Lawyer/author Passive Guy continued the discussion on Sept 24. He agreed with Roni that a blog is a good way for published authors to connect with fans, but repeated that it’s not the answer for everybody.

Social media maven Kristen Lamb said: 

 Blogging isn’t dead, but blogging is an art and a skill that needs to be learned”

And I especially liked author Lydia Sharp’s response:

“We will always need blogs for writers as long as there are new writers looking for a place to start, and as long as there are veteran writers looking for a fresh take on something, and as long as there is a venue for blogging. 

I think in the end it’s up to you and your own gut feelings. Is blogging rewarding for you personally? Do you enjoy the process of writing posts and interacting with commenters? Great. Keep blogging. Are you feeling pressured to start a blog, but don’t feel sure about making the commitment? Get your feet wet first as a commenter and guest blogger. Have you been blogging a while, but feel burned out? Take a break and turn it over to guest posters the way Konrath is doing, or just shut it down and make room for new bloggers.

And if anybody tells you it’s impossible to get published unless you’ve got the stats of Snooki or Justin Beiber, give them your pity and move on. Corporate publishing marketers have a 90% failure rate. That’s right: 90% of Big Six books lose money. So shut out their noise and do what works for you.

As the great man the world is mourning this week said in the speech that has now gone viral:

“Your time is limited. Don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice.”


What about you, scriveners? Do you think blogging is dead? Or that every aspiring author should have the blogging stats of the Daily Beast? Do you feel pressured to have a blog even though you just don’t wanna?

Next week we’re going to have an insightful guest post from Rick Daley, Mr. Public Query Slushpile his ownself. If you want more from me, I'm interviewing with Jennifer at Books, Personally on October 10.

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