There’s plenty of debate about whether authors and hopeful authors should blog. “Spend your time writing your BOOKS instead,” say many.
And there’s certainly some truth in that. No point having an excellent blog if none of the books get finished! (Unless of course you discover along the way that you want to become a blogger instead of an author, which is also a valid choice.)
So do authors really need to blog?
I know you’re busy, so I wish I could say something different, but the answer I keep getting from all sorts of directions is, “Well, yes.” Dang.
If you are already a bestselling author with a huge readership, make your own choice. If you have a large offline platform from which to promote your books, a static website may be enough.
But if you are still creating your writing career, blogging is something to put on the Really Must Consider list.
Why does it matter?
If you plan to self-publish globally, your blog or website will become the hub of your book marketing. (A blog is just a type of website that gets updated often and therefore is more popular with Google.)
And if you are pursuing traditional publishing, most agents and publishers now want you to have an author platform/reader community BEFORE they sign you (literary fiction is sometimes an exception to this). Your blog or website is the online centre of that platform/community.
Just recently I heard a panel of publishers from three of the Big 5 and one university press tell a roomful of eager writers about the truths of modern publishing. They talked about lots of different things, but agreed that when confronted with an interesting query for commercial fiction or non-fiction, the first thing they do is google the author’s name.
Try this exercise: go to http://google.com/ncr and search your name. (The ncr on the end of the web address means google disregards your location, so you’re getting a better idea of what other people around the world see when they search for you.)
Are you on the first page of google search for your name? (Harder if your name is John Smith, unfortunately — in that case you might want to think about a pen name 😉 )
And are the pages that come up for you the types of things you’d want a publisher or agent or potential reader to see? Or are they silly pictures of you posted by your Facebook friends with a bucket on your head?
Now, getting onto various social media platforms as a writer can help with this vexing issue of being search-worthy. If you have a great profile and following on Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ or Facebook, that can help credible and writing-related pages to show up in searches for your name.
But it’s not the full answer, and this is the biggest reason why:
You don’t actually own any of those social media profiles, the social network itself owns it, and you can lose it tomorrow.
Yep, Twitter could fall into the sea, and then where would we be?
And that’s even without considering the possibility that we can get blocked from those sites for making an honest mistake, or even through the malice of someone else. Check out this article by Anne R. Allen where she mentions how she gets “put in Facebook jail all the time, because some troll loves to mark links to [her] blog as spam.”
A blog/website is different because…
You own your blog or website, and have a significant amount of control over it.
You can present professionally to the online world via your blog, rather than having other people determine it for you. It’s your PR team, and it’s also your way of making meaningful connections with your community of readers.
The benefits of blogging
Yes, it can be a lot of work, but it can also be a very useful thing to do.
You’ll get better as a writer, the more you practice. You’ll be able to write faster, and you’ll have a more confident writer’s “voice”.
It really can work in building or rebuilding an author’s career. Check out that article I mentioned earlier from Anne R. Allen — it’s inspiring to see how blogging revolutionised her writing career.
You can even turn those blog posts into another book. LOTS of people do, and do so successfully. By publishing a book of your blog articles — edited and revised of course — you can reach a whole new set of people via Amazon and other online bookstores. You can even plan your blog schedule with the end book in mind. Check out these articles for some suggestions as to how to go about it.
- 7 tips for turning your blog into a book — quite a savvy post from Writer’s Digest.
- 5 Ways to Go from Blogger to Published Book Author — this one is based on fairly intensive blogging, but you can set your own schedule (see below).
Quick tips for how to get started
Some people try to blog daily, and many of them are eventually carried off in white vans with padded interiors. Never fear, even the most successful bloggers in the world are now telling us that the days of daily blogging are over, so feel free not to fall into that trap yourself.
Blog weekly if that’s what’s sustainable for you. Or even monthly if that’s what you can manage.
Sure, you will get a bigger readership faster if you blog more often, but you probably have a job and/or family, plus other writing commitments, and I believe being realistic is the best way to get started.
Some people say you don’t need to start blogging till the book is finished. I disagree, and that’s because of that comment from those publishers. You need to have an online profile as a writer BEFORE you start querying publishers or trying to do something with your book. And it takes a long time to get going. It took me many months to get to the front page of google for my name, and I don’t have a very common name.
Sure, don’t let your blog or website devour all your writing time, but do get started early, as it will pay off later when you need it.
Aim to start blogging about a year before you plan to a. query agents/publishers or b. self-publish. Even if you start slow, just start.
Don’t expect a million hits tomorrow
Blogging isn’t cute or new any more, and there are a bazillion other blogs out there competing for the click. It will take a while for your community of readers to find you. That’s OK. (Tip: get active on Twitter — that’s where my first blog readers came from.)
WordPress is free blogging software, and if you can use Microsoft Word OK, chances are you can get blogging fairly quickly using the WordPress interface. It’s user-friendly.
If you’ve already got a blog established on a different blogging platform like Blogger etc, you may not want to move, and that’s OK for now. But if you are just starting, all the geeks say to use WordPress. Apparently it just does better on the google searches. Apparently the “spiders” like it. (I told you the internet was weird.)
Use your writing name
If you can possibly get www.YourName.com, that’s the way to go. (It can be your pen name if you’re using a pen name.) It just gives you more flexibility later.
If you register the name of a book as your web address, that’s just one book. Hopefully, you’re going to write others. Much better to have your platform built around something that will stay constant no matter what you write, and no matter how the topics may change over your writing career.
Be as professional as you can from the beginning…
- If you can possibly afford it, choose a self-hosted blog over one of the free ones. “Self-hosting” sounds oddly like a dinner party for one, but in fact just means that you arrange the internet hosting yourself. 😉 (I use Hostgator myself, and they have plans starting at about $50-70 a year, plus lots of how-to videos for non-geeks like me, and fast’n’friendly 24/7 Live Chat support, even though I’m on the other side of the world from their offices.) Check out this post by Molly Greene about why she wishes she’d started with a paid rather than free blog.
- Write good. An chick yor spellng. Into every blog a few typos and grammar glitches will fall (and this blog is no exception!). That’s OK, we’re not expecting perfection. But the effort to make your blog posts as well-constructed and “clean” as you possibly can will pay off long-term, in credibility and platform building. (They will also need less editing when you turn them into that book… 😉 )
- Always remember that blogging is publishing. This is the public face of your writing, so it’s worth making it as sleek as you can.
…but give yourself permission to be ordinary, especially while you’re finding your feet
Nothing ties a blog in knots so quickly as thinking you must be brilliant in every post, right from the start. It’s OK to learn as you go. It’s OK to be a bit average until you figure out exactly what it is you want to say.
You’ll find your rhythm and your voice. Just get started and be kind to yourself.
It’s OK. 🙂
What do you think? Are you already blogging? Teetering on the brink? Hoping I was going to say you don’t need to do it??? Talk to me, I Iove to read your comments. 🙂