Monday, February 26, 2007

Writer as Blogger, Blogger as Writer

A quick heads up: I’ve been experiencing computer difficulties lately, and while this cannot be blamed for the fact that I’ve been short on content on long on the silences these past few weeks (no, for that you can turn to lingering anonymity problems and the inertia of joblessness), I may continue the trend this week as I try to get the problems fixed. Emo Guy has promised to wipe my hard drive, reload my programs and take a look at my cooling fan, but when this all goes down remains to be seen. Cross your fingers that this will be a quick and painless experience because I really can’t afford to buy a new laptop right now.

And now that the excuses are out of the way, let’s get to the main topic of this piece: what kind of content do you expect from your writers who blog? How about from the bloggers who aren’t (and never will be) “professional” writers? With the proliferation of writer blogs, group writer blogs, reader blogs and the personal blogs that blend all these things into one, I’ve really begun to question what I need from each source as well as how each affects my thoughts on the blogger. How much is too much? How much is not enough?

Now we may have talked about this subject before, but latest mental wrangling was triggered by something the Written Nerd said to me when she was in town: she didn’t start blogging because she wanted to be a writer, but blogging has improved her writing and her perception of her writing considerably. And it got me thinking about why we blog and what we get from it as readers and writers.

Often in my own writing I think that I share too much of my personal life with y’all. I wobble back and forth on what constitutes too much sharing or content too frivolous, which I’m sure has to do with the original intent of this blog warring with what it has involved into. This blog started as a personal thing to entertain a few friends and then grew into something else entirely. While I did start it so that I would get in the habit of writing something everyday (I’m a horrible journaler—is that even a word?—when it comes to setting pen to paper), it was never with the intent that the content of this blog should be used for anything other than amusement. I’m not going to lie, in the back of my mind there was always some vague little dream where this blog would rocket me into stardom or some nonsense, but I never thought anything would actually happen with it. To find a group of people greater than ten asking me questions and treating me as an authority is very odd. It leaves me feeling both powerful (in the “wow, look what I made” sense) and insecure (in the “wow, did absolutely nothing to earn this and this could all disappear tomorrow” kind of way) as well as a driving need to understand how this happened.

What makes a successful blog, and do we expect different things from different people? Voice, of course, has a lot to do with it, relevance, and content as well, but there is no magic equation that can be applied to all blogs to explain why some command a readership as others fade into Technorati obscurity. I know that I don’t expect the same things from every blog I visit. I know that there are some blogs I’ll check multiple times a day to see if the writer has updated while I’ll only surf past another once a week. The reasons for my fickleness aren’t static, but changing as the blogs—and bloggers—themselves. Some people can talk about face wash and make it sound like the most interesting thing in the world while others need to be hitting the topics that are hot in the writing sphere at any given time (in writing see: self-promotion, ARCs, readers reviews vs. professional reviews, etc).

It’s the difference of content that is driven by the blogger from content being driven by the readership. My blog is mostly driven by what I think (or know) that you want, which is why I’ll often post questions that will hopefully lead to more questions and possible a discussion. It’s how I think of this blog, actually: as a discussion between reader, writer and booksellers. I’m hoping to take the questions asked in the “Ask a Bookseller” post and turn them into a bit of a questionnaire to ask other booksellers and provide a wide variety of opinions and thoughts because while I know what I like, I also know that I’m not the only type of person out there. We’ve all got our own take on the industry and what matters.

When it comes to writer blogs, often I visit to see what they have to say about the process of writing and the industry, but mostly it is to see what’s up with the newest title or upcoming release. Is it going to be out on time? What’s it about? Did the author experience any problems while writing it? I’m not asking for treatise on the subject matter, just an update (even if it is slightly nonsensical: “ran into writer’s block. Am considering killing off all the characters and starting fresh. Wish I hadn’t been so stupid to make character X invincible. Will X win out against the paper shedder and the delete key? Will editor kill me if project is delayed a month? Let’s ask Mr. Owl.”). I’m perfectly cool with a six line entry on a blog if it will allow an author to update something more frequently than many do their websites (a personal pet peeve of mine). I’m not necessarily interested in forming a relationship with the author so much as gaining information to continue the relationship I have with their books.

With reader blogs—unlike with author blogs—personality and uniqueness drive my readership. I have to like and be drawn to the reader blog content because this is the only writing of theirs I will ever read. Sure, I might go there once to read a review on this book or that, but I’ll return if I like their style and content. Do they review the newest and best books? Are they good for discovering new authors and promoting titles that will blossom from word of mouth? Do they have a grading system and how does it work? All these questions are subconsciously something I ask when visiting a reader blog and determining whether I’ll return or add it to my bloglines and sidebar. It’s a relationship based both on content and personality as well as our mutual love for one genre or another.

Personal blogs are more voyeuristic pleasure for me. I return time and again simply because I enjoy the personality, musings, and life stories these blogs relate, while knowing that they’ll do nothing to further my interests in the publishing industry. As a person who hates reality TV, I find my fascination with certain personal blogs (those of people I’ve never met and probably never will) odd, even knowing that they can be as filtered as reality TV. The writer of the personal blog chooses what they share, what they don’t, and what spin they put on it. They can always be the victim or the hero, but never the villain, and I’ll never know if they’re telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. I’ll never hear other sides of the story (for the most part) and I’ll never know if they’ll follow up with the consequences that their actions wrought. And while this can be applied to reader and writer blogs as well, there remains an indefinable (for me, at least) difference.

My incomplete—but long, soooo long—rambles aside, I’m interested in hearing what you get out of blogging as a reader or a writer of one and specifically what you get (if anything) out of reader vs. writer vs. personal blogs. What gets you to a blog? What brings you back? And, if you have one, what do you expect from your own blogging?


Robin Brande said...

First, I keep coming back to your blog because I like your voice, I like the mix of business and personal (remember that story about trying to put on your bra in traffic? Priceless), and I like the topics you throw out there.

Second, I agree that it's fun to read about people's personal lives, in that reality TV sort of way. That's why I especially enjoy the blogs of Meg Cabot, Jennifer Weiner, and Jennifer Crusie--plenty of laughs at their own expense (actually, laughing with them, not at them).

Third, the thing that keeps me coming back to any blog is frequent updates (daily is nice), humor, and honesty. I don't like feeling like someone is trying to sell me something. I just want us all to get out there and chat with each other.

Gail Gauthier said...

This was an extremely interesting post.

I'm looking for a combination of voice and content. For a while now I've been noticing that a lot of blogs are relying way too much on voice. You really need content--either news or thought provoking questions about the blog's subject matter, etc.--to make it worthwhile for readers to come back.

Beth said...

All I was ever looking for when I started to blog was a place to whine, in the hopes that I'd whine less in my real life. Not just whine, even - chat. I knew my coworkers didn't want to hear me nattering on about my face wash all damn day, so I created a designated place to report all my life mundanities. Weirdly enough, there are people out there who DO want to hear my nattering. And that's a fact that never ceases to amaze me.

In other peoples's's's blogs, I'm looking for one of two things:
1. Subject matters that interest me. These blogs I just mostly skim.
2. Anyone who can express him/herself well. I can disagree like crazy, or not be remotely interested in the content, but I'm always sucked in if someone expresses themself in a way that is captivating to me. Needless to say, these are few and far between.

Radthorne said...

I'm not a big blogger reader - in fact there's only two I look at, yours and Booksquare's. In both cases the primary draw is content - general publishing info from Booksquare and bookstore / retail info from you. I also find your particular mix of humor and personal anecdotes to be very engaging, and very 'real.'

I don't have a blog of my own, and am probably guilty (as an author) of not updating my website often enough. However, there are a couple of reasons for this. One is that for the writer with a full time bill-paying job other than writing, the necessarily limited time available to do the actual writing is more profitably spent on the books, stories, etc. themselves than on blogging about it. Secondly is that for the writer there isn't always anything particularly germane to say, at least on a daily basis. "Well, wrapped up Chapter 12 today. Will start 13 tomorrow..." is not nearly as interesting as, say, many of the diverse things that happened to you in the store, since your realm was much more interactive with people than sitting in front of the screen having no one else to speak with other than your characters (who are very rude and talk back in snotty tones). (Oh, wait, that is like some customers, eh?) :o)

If I manage to get a large enough readership that I have "more than ten" interested in any profundities that I might utter about how I write or the process of creating books (or computer art, which is my other thing), I might change my tune on all this, of course. But for now I'll stick with reading my two fav blogs rather than creating my own. (Now, once you get this author consulting biz off the ground, you may change my mind for me about it too...) ;)

K said...

Fantastic thought on a subject I can't figure out how to address myself...

ebbye said...

I aim to use my blog as an experience of running a business for the first time; I plan to print it out on paper one day and read all I have written to look back and have a laugh or a gasp. So it started as a memory thing, but now it helps get me in into 'work' mode, become a voice of my shop and it helps keep me sane, writing and connected to others like friends who are travelling or people who like to visit the blog now & then.
And I am the same with other people's blogs, some are similar voices to me, some make me think, laods review/plug books and some are so refreshingly personal and I think it does connect people. According to blogging is a good business tool.
It certainly helped give my business a voice!

Anonymous said...

Great discussion.

Here's what I want from a blog:

1> Voice, or what Beth referred to as how the writer expresses him or herself. Essentially, are they good writers? Those are the blogs I check first daily. Roger, Fuse, Robin Brande, The Brookeshelf -- I'm leaving many out -- but they all have distinctive voices. They write well. They're funny. They're honest. I don't have enough time to scan all the blogs I want to on a daily basis, so bring me some good writing. I don't want someone so dead-set on being professional that they don't sneak in something that would make me laugh if I were having coffee with them/hanging out with them as a friend.

2> Eisha and I set out to review books on our blog. No commitment to bringing anyone any daily children's lit news, for instance. We now have added interviews and Poetry Fridays to that, but we pretty much want to bring book reviews to readers. So, it probably goes without saying that I want to see good book reviews from other blogs (those that set out to do that, that is). I'll read the news, too, but I want some book tips.

3>I love a site with a well-designed look. There are so many blogs out there with no thought given to the site's look. Some that stand out this way, in my humble opinion: Robin, Shen's Blog (lovely header); Just One More Book!!; and others I'm sure I'm forgetting. It doesn't take long to make one's site aesthetically-pleasing. Maybe others don't care as much, but I enjoy those sites more.

4>I actually don't want TOO much personal rambling from a blogger -- now, if they set out to do that, it's one thing. Or if they're a writer, that's another. But we, for instance, set out to do book reviews, so I really try to keep my personal life out of it. I feel guilty for even mentioning if my daughter liked a book. I know that's stupid, but it's true.

I will also add that what I primarily get from blogging is that I love how it makes me really think through books. When I sit down to review one, I might even surprise myself; I might have thought a book was so-so, but then I sit down to articulate why, and I might even realize that the author constructed the book quite well after all and/or there were things I missed. I love that.

The downer for me is that blogging takes time away from whatever you're blogging about. I'm reading less, since now I sit down to review a book after I've read it (if I liked it). I suspect that one day I'll tire of this. Life is too short for all the books I want to read.

Robin Brande said...

Thanks, Jules! Yours is one of my favorite sites, too, for the same reason I like Bookseller Chick and other blogs: voice. I like your and Eisha's take on the world and the books within it.

And again, it's that feeling that the person blogging at you is being honest--about their opinions, their personality, whatever. I like to believe that if I met any of you in person, you'd be exactly what I expect after reading your blogs all this time.

John B said...

As someone who has just started blogging in the last seven days, I can say that I'm not at all sure what I'm hoping to get out of it. I started mine because I'm a new writer and I'm thinking about writing a lot, so I might as well put some of those thoughts down so I can make some room for new thoughts. Plus, I want to be gloriously famous. Of course, I've already screwed that up since I'm blogging anonymously (for now.)

Writing, as a rule, is a sad, pathetic, lonely, desperate life, so in general, when I'm reading blogs (and now writing mine) I think what I'm looking for is some sense of community, even if I'm only interacting with it peripherally and voyeuristically. Plus, I like to learn more about people’s pets. But that’s just me.

Anonymous said...

Ah hell, you know the community that John mentions is THE number one reason I do this, and I failed to say that. I am taking a temporary break from children's librarianship to be a stay-at-home mom to my two young daughters (cringe. I still hate that phrase "stay-at-home mom"). Actually, I have a part-time job I do from home, but anyway, this is what keeps me involved and in touch with developing trends in children's lit, etc. That is the sole reason I do it. Being a stay-at-home mom can be isolating and monotonous, as well as the fact that I don't wanna lose touch in the field. I learn so very much from my favorite blogs.

P.S. (Thanks, Robin!)

Julia Phillips Smith said...

Writer as Blogger, Blogger as Writer - exactly! I'm a writer who lurked on many people's blogs until recently. On a whim earlier this month I launched my own blog and was surprised at the pulse-pounding thrill it gave me.

I'm as attracted to blogs as I am repelled by reality tv. And I wonder if that's true for other bloggers. I love knowing what makes people tick and am fascinated with sharing thoughts as long as it's in print. I completely avoid talk radio phone-in shows or watching debates on tv - I can't bear overlapping voices. But blogging and comment sharing - I love those the way I love reading newspaper and magazine columns, and letters to the editor. I'll never get tired of those.

Andromeda Jazmon said...

I started blogging just to remember what I read, so my "book reviews" didn't start out at all professional. I think I've gotten better as I read other book blogs. I am getting more thorough and less personal, but I can't let go of talking off the top of my head so it's still not "professional"; that's one thing I love about blogging.

I am learning a ton about technology and librarianship and writing as well as books, so that is what keeps me hooked on blogging. That and reading other people's points of view. I read book blogs but also a lot of mommy blogs and adoption blogs. I believe they are even more engaging to me than the book/writing blogs. It's all fascinating.

I am thrilled and delighted to see my stats go up, of course. All together I am afraid it is looking like an addiction...

MotherReader said...

What do I want from a blog? Content. (When do I want it? Now.)

I look for a variety of topics within kids lit - a little news, a little author info, a little discussion - but I probably tend to look at the book reviews the most. Voice is very important to me. Humor is a nice bonus.

I probably blog mostly for the sense of community and discussing things with like-minded people, but also for the chance to sharpen my writing skills and record my own reading experiences.

Anonymous said...

I'm writing in my own blog a two-part response to this post. The first part is here:

Reading Blogs

Anonymous said...

Second part is here: Writing Blogs.