The long days of summer are here, and the family is busy as usual. Swimming lessons, pony camp, Safety Town camp, fun at the park, running through sprinklers, birthday parties, backyard barbecues, bicycling with our tandem bike and our bike trailer, riding the motorcycle to work, camping in our new tent trailer — between working and everything else, there’s hardly time to take a breath. The writing productivity is still not quite what I’d like, certainly not what I’d like for where I want to go, but it’s getting there. Another book coming along soon. Meanwhile, head over to The First Book and check out some of the new interviews. In the last few weeks. we’ve profiled Shana Burg’s A Thousand Never Evers, Stephanie Kuehnert’s I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone, Julie Kramer’s Stalking Susan, and Caitlin Kittredge’s Night Life. The blog continues to be fun, fairly low maintenance, and hopefully proving to be worthwhile for the authors. (Each interview gets 600-1000 readers the week it comes out, and then more over time. It’s not in the 600,000 readers a day range that a place like DailyKos gets, but hopefully it’s worth the twenty minutes investment of time the authors put into the interview questions.)
Speaking of blogging, a discussion’s popped up a few times online, and then again in a private listserv I’m on, about the value of doing a blog to a fiction writer with professional aspirations (and by that, I mean a fiction writer who wants to sell their work for money and reach a large audience while doing it).
Here’s my take: if you enjoy doing a blog, would do it anyway, and you’re not an idiot lambasting editors who rejected your work, it probably won’t hurt. In fact, there are a few people (here’s one, here’s another, and here’s one more) who’ve shown it can help your career at least a bit. If you can do it in a way that is very focused and very limited with your time, as I did with The First Book blog, it can be a good thing, too. But as a rule, no. In fact, the vast majority of fiction writers with professional aspirations would be much better off spending that time writing fiction rather than spending it on their blogs.
However, all blogs are not equal. The term blog has come to encompass a huge variety of styles and types, everything from the teenager blogging about his problems getting a date to the prom to the freelance journalist writing about Kosovo. It applies to someone like me, who posts, at most, a couple times a month, to a the hugely popular Gizmodo, where you’ll find at least three or four posts an hour. It applies to my friend, who blogs beautifully but irregularly about her life and her son’s battle with Autism. A blog is a tool; how it’s used varies greatly.
Me, I’m never going to be much of a blogger. It’s just too easy for me to waste time doing it, and I know for a fact that it takes time away from my fiction. There’s little to no evidence that it will lead to greater sales; most writers with popular blogs work them very hard, and most of them have a platform or presence in their chosen field that gives them as much exposure as their blog, so it’s nearly impossible to qualify exactly how much impact their blog might have on their sales. So for me, it’s always going to be a very tiny part of my writing output. And if it wasn’t a least a little fun, I wouldn’t do it at all.
Yes, you’ll hear the token writers who say “I wouldn’t have a career without my blog because such-and-such editor read my work on my blog and asked for it.” Yes, it does happen; and yes, it’s as rare as lightning striking someone on the head on a sunny day. If you hear that comment and think you, too, should be blogging so you can be “discovered,” then you’re not taking the right lesson from it. What you should be thinking is that these writers weren’t getting their work out in front of enough editors, otherwise they would have had editors knocking down their doors for their work. Usually, when I press such writers, they admit that they weren’t actively submitting their work, or that they gave up after a handful of rejections.
Remember, however, that this is all regarding professional fiction writers. If you write for fun, just want to build a little audience for your work and see what happens, there’s nothing wrong with doing a blog. In fact, there’s lots of reasons to do it — making new friends who share a common interest, networking, etc. I’m not anti-blog at all. I’ve read some beautiful writing on blogs. But if you’re a fiction writer who hopes to someday make a living from your work, and you’ve got this idea put into your head that you really should be doing a blog, that it might be hurting your career if you’re not, that’s pure bunk. You’re going to develop readers by writing great fiction, not by writing great blog posts. Believe me, nobody perusing the book stand at your local grocery store is going to care at all whether you blog or not. Blogging can also be the ultimate time waster and the ultimate writing avoidance tool. It’s why I don’t have a comments section on my own site. It would be one more thing I’d obsess about, and I’ve already got too many things to obsess about it as it is. So you’ve got to know yourself, too, and if you do blog, do it in a way that works for you.
One last point, and one you may think is counter to everything I’ve just said (but really isn’t): I do think that every fiction writer with professional aspirations should have a regularly updated Web page, just so your readers can find your work. It’s cheap and easy, so there’s no reason not to do it. Heck, for $8/month, you’ll get more than you’ll ever need. I don’t think you’re going to pick up a lot of new readers this way, but it can help the readers you do have find even more of your work, and that’s a good thing.