Friday, September 07, 2007

Blogging and You: Why Do It

Thank you all for your response to Kevin’s question. I’m going to break things down into a few different categories and we can take the discussion from there. In what will probably be a several post piece, let’s start with the basics:

Why Blog in the First Place?

“I think the primary benefit of my blog is for keeping the existing readers fired up to go spread word of mouth.” Shanna Swendson

You’ve written the book, made a contract with the publisher, and survived the editing process, but your job still isn’t done. To counteract the ever decreasing marketing budgets at the publishing houses, you’ve got a find a way to grow your readership and keep them coming back—whether it is for the next book in a series, or a new book all together. Blogs can create that direct sense of connection between writer and reader, and they cost nothing to create. Well, nothing except time, effort and creativity…but we’ll get to those in a minute.

First let’s focus on what a blog lets an author do:

  • Connect with readers by sharing their thoughts on the book process, the characters and proving they’re just like everyone else (Authors! They’re just like us! A new feature to found in the writer’s version of US Weekly).**
  • Create an up-to-date presence on the internet that with tagging can increase your presence to the Google algorithm (given that 60% of the population uses Google as their first choice search engine, this is a good thing).
  • Offer up advance excerpts, answer reader questions, and let readers know when the next book is coming out without waiting for your webmaster to update a website. Just write and hit post.
  • Talk about other books that are similar that the author like, or direct the readership to other authors of note.
  • Connect with other authors, direct readers to advance reviews, and network, network, network!

A successful author blog creates a community led by the author that allows readers to connect and builds on the loyalty of the readers. As Kalika said, “it makes authors seem less like strangers and more like people I know, so I'm more likely to want to buy their books instead of borrowing them from a friend or the library.” This loyalty and excitement from the blog transfers to readers going out to the bookstore to find the book or jumping on one of the online sites to make their purchase. Then on their own blogs, or in conversations with store patrons or friends, this reader will spread the word about this author’s work. The sales might not be able to be traced directly back to the author’s blog, but it acts as a strong link in the chain that gets people to read your books.

Author as Essayist?

One of Kevin’s points with this question (which I didn’t include, but he thankfully reiterated in the comments section) is that not everyone has what it takes to be a successful blogger—one who “can take the mundane or the complicated and make it interesting, funny, and readable. But that in itself is a particular writing talent, and not every writer will be good at doing that as opposed to their normal mode of writing.”

Back in February, I asked why people read any blogs at all in “Writer as Blogger, Blogger as Writer.” The answers I received cited Voice and Content as the two biggest reasons for following a blog. These two things working alone and together accounted for the loyalty most readers felt towards the blogs they followed. In many cases people cited finding a blog looking for some sort of content, and sticking with it for the voice.

But how does this affect an author’s blog when taking into account Kevin’s definition of a successful blogger?

Voice

Just as the acquisitions editor must consider the voice of your manuscript when deciding whether or not to purchase it, so does the passing reader when they decide whether or not to make a commitment to your blog. This voice is especially important for the fiction (as opposed to nonfiction writers) writer as you can’t always rely on content to bring new readers to your blog. Links from other authors might drive people there, but it is the voice you bring to the blog that keeps new readers there and old readers coming back regularly.

Blogging, with all its informality and immediacy, creates a sense of closeness between author and reader that you can foster with the tone or voice that you use for each post. By assuming an approachable style, you invite the reader to put aside their shyness and interact. Narrative prose, however, often differs from how a writer might sound in a conversation. I write this blog in the same way I would converse with a friend in real life (to the point that back when I was anonymous a friend warned me that anyone who knew me and read Bookseller Chick would know the identity of the writer immediately). This blog voice shares little to no resemblance to any fiction writing I’ve done, which is fine as I’m not attempting to use this as a forum to promote myself as a writer of fiction.*

If the voice of your blog sounds nothing like your narrative writing, that’s fine. It’s you, the author, conversing with your readers, not your characters. There’s a hidden danger that comes from sounding too much like your prose. I’ve come across many a reader complaining that they can’t think of the character as their own entity because the voice they know from the author’s blog intrudes too much in the narrative. These people may represent a small portion of your readership, but it is something you should be aware of in your blogging and writing.

Although the reverse is also true, as Random Ranter states, “Blogs give me a chance to get to know a person's writing style before I plunk down my bucks.” Finding out that the author who writes humorous little essays about his/her cats, actually writes gore filled books with dark plots may throw a new reader off.

Given this “damned if you do, damned if you don’t,” how do you walk the fine line in between?

Well, that’s where content comes in.

Content

As an author, you have to decide what your blog is going to be to you. The best author blogs cover topics that both the author and the reader care about. As Lectitans states in her response to the “Writer as Blogger, Blogger as Writer” column, “The best blogs are conversations. I don't want to read a blog where the blogger writes only what she thinks her readers want without putting any of herself into it. That kind of writing is dishonest and uninteresting. Still, I don't care to read a lot of navel-gazing. A blogger should be aware of her audience and keep them in mind without giving herself over to them completely.”

When blogging, ask yourself: what are you blogging about? And why are you blogging about it? If the majority of your blogging is just to have a place for a personal diary with no relation to your writing, perhaps blogging isn’t the way to go. Same goes if you are just blogging by rote, and don’t really have any interest in the topics you’re covering. The content of your blog is strongest when it is a balance of what appeals to you and what appeals to your readers.

I draw a lot of people to this blog due to content. People searching for different authors, bookseller opinions, books, etc, stop by thanks to this search engine or that. Sometimes they like what they read and stay (or search more), and sometimes they move on, which fits with the nature of this blog and what it has become. The ongoing “mission” of this blog has changed multiple times over its lifetime, but one thing remains consistent: I write about topics that interest me and they are ones that I hope interest you as well.

As an author, you’ve got a built in hook with your blog readership as they want to find out about your books. Don’t be afraid to post excerpts and answer questions readers pose about this character or that. It may lead you to other areas of interest to write on and will also help you create content to reuse on your website (for example: questions from readers about certain characters can be collected and turned into a Q&A for their books).

Content Meets Voice and Produces Comment Babies

In my mind, the ideal mixing of content and voice happen when an author takes a general topic of interest and finds a way to approach it through an example from their own experience. Everyone may have outlined the publishing process, done a signing, gone to a con, worked with a writer’s group, or been called by their agent about a deal, but how an author tells their own story on this subject is what makes it unique. The factual content may remain the same, but the little details, the emotional journey, etc are what makes the author’s telling unique. It’s what makes your blog different from so-in-sos blog.

It’s what makes your book different from the others on the shelf.

Connecting content with voice makes a blog approachable and will bring people back. Balance those topics that seem more authorial navel-gazing with those directed straight at the reader, and your readers will let you get away with a little “me-time” introspection.

(Oh, and try to keep all of that shorter than this blog post has turned out.)

Your Thoughts

Agree? Disagree? Never made it to the end because the length made you fast forward to the end?

Bring on the discussion, and while you do so, keep these questions in mind as well:

How do you avoid only writing about the mundane? And can you get away with using your prose/character voice on your blog?

*Although the two people who visit this place who’ve actually read anything I’ve written can feel free to argue this point.

**In proving approachable via a blog, you are offering up validation to your readers. According to eight million websites I have found (who give no straight answer to where this information comes from), a 2005 survey found that 82% of Americans feel they should/could write a book. By appearing like a normal person you validate the idea that they too can write a book as well. I do believe that this correlates into more book sales.

3 comments:

Kevin Radthorne said...

I must get some sort of award for causing you to create what may be the longest posting of your illustrious blog career... :o) You are spot-on, of course, with regard to Voice and Content; they are the two legs on which the successful / popular blog will stand. (There, I've distilled your entire posting down to one sentence... My editor would be proud...) That, of course, can also be the problem. As you've noted, you "blog the way you talk," which probably means you're a gregarious, fun person to be around. But some of us are about as interesting as old dish rags, and if we blogged the way we talk people would shut off their PC's and go read a book (say now... hmmm...). So for those whose natural inclination does not fall along the "Hey! How y'all doin' out there?" persuasion, it will be a bit of work to pull all this together and land happily in blog-land.

But the aspect of blogging that extends one's networking reach cannot be denied, and that's what is most important from a results standpoint. Just from your having posted this day's entry and mentioning my name, I've already been included, along with a cover image of my first book, on The Publishing Spot blog, where Jason Boog refers to today's topic (Thanks, Jason!) And that was without me actually having a blog (yet), although I do have a website and a message board forum. So there's some more anecdotal evidence of effectiveness.

Now, if I can just figure out how to tell good blog stories, like clothing malfunctions while driving to work in the car...

Ann Aguirre said...

I blog because I like the interactive quality of it.

gail said...

I agree that voice and content are the two necessities for a blog. I think authors have to be very careful about both. A voice that sounds forced or an act can be a turnoff for readers. So is content that is too personal (where you've been shopping that day or what you cooked for dinner--and I have seen that). Occasionally I've seen author blogs that were just an excuse to post infrequent press releases.

I think a good author's blog is like a literary salon where readers can go to be exposed to, and perhaps take part in, talk about books, writing, publishing, etc.