Do Writers Need a Blog?

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orange man blogA friend is wrestling with this question right now, which is made more challenging by the fact that his interests (like those of most writers) are eclectic and wide-ranging.  I’ve been around that same mulberry bush and have some thoughts to share about it.

First, before even thinking about all the possible topics one can write on (because if you’re like most writers, that will be a long and varied list)–instead of that, the first, most important, thing to do is to get very clear on the strategic purpose of your blog.

What a Blog Does

A blog communicates ideas and connects people. You may not see the connection at first, but over time, like-minded readers will tend to gravitate to your material. The character of that reader varies depending on the nature of your content, but essentially you are magnetizing people to you who resonate with what you write. Once they are there are reading, a blog can help, inspire, entertain, inform–anything that the written word can do.

It is worthwhile to think first in general terms about your blog: what is it you want it to do for you? Is it a platform from which you will share expert advice? Do you want to pass on your comments on entertaining or troubling things that are current in the world today?  Is it a way to build audience so you can sell a product or service to them? Do you just want to talk about any old thing, and have a place where you can be heard?

That last is a legitimate purpose, too, but is unlikely, in the end, to effectively build audience, because blogs of that nature tend to be rambling and unfocused. It is difficult to build readership when the content is like that.

What an Author’s Blog Does

Here’s the first and most important difference about a writer’s blog:  you, the author, are the product. You are the “thing” that underlies your opinions, your voice, your informative or entertaining content. Because you write books or stories, and (I assume) will attempt to sell them at some point in time, you yourself are the commodity that is being showcased and illustrated in the vehicle of your blog.   Even if you don’t think you’re “ready for prime time” with sales of your writing, you still have put yourself in a literary camp by virtue of identifying yourself as a writer (I use “literary” in the most general sense; I’m including fiction and non-fiction writers here).

Just as with a regular blog, the author’s blog will magnetize like-minded others to you. The difference is that in the process you are also cultivating a fan and readership base. You are also establishing your expertise and authority if you are writing authoritatively in a particular subject area. Not all blog readers will buy your work, of course, but they become the front line of social buzz and purchasing interest when you have a new release.

If they are already familiar with your work, or are curious about your blog because you are a writer, they will build their impression of you from what they read on your blog. So here it is important to give some consideration to the face you will show the public in an authorial blog.  By “face” I mean both content (what you say) and demeanor (how you say it).  This doesn’t mean you need to be inauthentic or contrived, but it does recognize the fact that blogging creates a public persona. As an author you are not “just another blogger”, but are in fact a literary figure, even if you are “undiscovered” right now.  If your writing is more in the non-fiction camp,  you too are a Producer of Things People Read (or are striving to be). You are someone whose books your blog readers are likely to buy in the future.  The blog becomes the first and possibly most intimate place where your readership (or future readership) can connect with you.

So, to simplify, I’d say a blog promotes the author subtly by virtue of exploring the writer’s world of thoughts, emotions, and opinion through the vehicle of the blog posts.   A really good blog (and the audience growth and buzz it creates) can make tons of people aware of you who otherwise would never have heard your name.  This all pays off when you have works in print to promote.

book signing poster

The question then becomes, “what makes a really good blog?”

I’ll get into that in a moment, but first let me comment on the “I have 100 interests and don’t really want to limit myself” phenomenon I’ve seen in some writers’ blogs.

To this I simply say:  if you are too diversified, you tease people with 100 topics in passing, but don’t concentrate anywhere long enough to really satisfy anyone.  There is not enough there, consistently, for a fan base to latch on to and coalesce around. Instead of being so avidly diversified, pick a main subject area (or 2, or 3), and a handful of related peripheral topics.  Ideally, you should be able to state the theme or unifying concept of your blog in a sentence or two.  The subjects you write on reflect this theme.  For everything else on your “many interests” list, there are two good ways to deal with them.

1. Subject area focus with sparse miscellanea.

Every now and then, toss in a “miscellaneous” topic from your “list of 100 interests”. Keep it in the minority of posts, though. 1 out of 10 (1 miscellaneous, 10 under the central subject area umbrella) is a good ratio to start with. Tinker with proportions (and look at blog reading stats) to see what the sweet spot is for what people read and pay attention to.

I do this with my own blog. After looking at analytics for the topics most read, I saw my readers most like my posts in these categories: Thinkishness ( intellectual/analytical posts, usually in the geek, science fiction or  fantasy subjects areas), Writing, Gaming, Media, “Life”-related ruminations.  When I got clear on that I dropped all kinds of miscellaneous ramblings from my categories and concentrated writing and posting in these areas.  I still write other stuff, too; it is just a minority of posts compared to the “bread and butter” of my blog. (And honestly, even the number of topic areas I have is probably too many and has slowed my blog growth in consequence.)

2. Start another blog and post “all that other stuff” there.  

If you really must go all over the board with your subject interest, put it somewhere else. A “soapbox”, just-for-fun blog is perfect for that purpose. Ideally, you want to post the theme-related “focus” topics frequently on your author blog, but if you still must natter on–put it where it won’t dilute the content message on the author blog.

I have a political and social commentary and analysis blog, for instance, and it is an entirely different platform because “that stuff” would be way off topic (and of a completely different tone) than what I want to appear in my author blog. And I post in still other places (like LiveJournal) for the spontaneous off-the-wall stuff.  Point is, having these other outlets lets me say what I want to, but keeps the author blog on target and on message.

So let’s say you’ve got an idea about the tone and content you want your authorial blog to purvey. You see that strategically it performs a unique purpose in showcasing you as author, and you have other venues for when you must ramble far afield. Now it’s time to look at the basics of  writing a successful blog.

Hallmarks of Successful Blogging

Focus

The blogger specializes in some area or closely-related group of subjects. Her stuff is not all over the board. People who focus their interests have significantly larger followings than those who do not. And by “larger,” I mean by an order of magnitude or more. If you’re a writer, then down the road this translates into readers and buyers, so it behooves you to frame your blogging with this in mind. This is explained in more detail above, but leads to

Finding Your Tribe

A successful blogger becomes the centerpiece of a reader base that resonates. They are attracted to the blogger for what she has to say, and share similar interests, attitudes, and/or passions. This develops over time, of course; initially it’s a crap-shoot who comes and reads, but as your work becomes search-engine indexed and people talk about it, you’ll get this magnetization effect going on. “Like attracts like.”  This is called “finding your tribe,” and it is a powerful factor in building a community around your blog, and more importantly, your work (more about that in a moment). Or, they are already a fan of that writer-blogger’s work, and reading the blog is a way to get more of their favorite author.  In this last case there is more tolerance for wide-ranging topics, but still, the blogger must stay focused. Too much variety makes a blog feel unfocused, and people who come for a certain kind of thing don’t get enough of it. If this goes on long enough, they end up going away.

Consistent Posting

A successful blogger posts consistently. Frequency varies depending on audience and content, but about 2 to 3 times a week is a target that will probably foster continuous audience growth. Yes you can post less than that, but your writers-blockgrowth will probably be slower. On the other hand, don’t post for the sake of posting. Daily (or more frequent) posts can work, but it depends what you have to say: posting frequent drivel hurts you worse than posting a once-a-week long thoughtful piece.  At the end of the day, though, run analytics and see what frequency keeps the most readers coming back for more. There is an objective data answer behind this question, one that you can see if you look at usage stats over time.

When deciding how often to post, don’t set yourself an unrealistic goal, either. It has to be something you can actually do. If you create an onus about having to blog daily, you are building in a chore that guarantees you’ll burn out and lose interest in your brainchild. Better to start less frequently and then see how often is really practical and what your audience responds to.

Track Usage

Successful bloggers run analytics to track usage on their sites. This shows you what topics people engage with, and which ones they do not. I wrote a blog for a year before I started to use analytics and when I did it was very eye opening, to see what got read and what got ignored. It caused me to change the strategic focus of my blog–or more properly said, caused me to focus my blog more narrowly. This had immediate payoffs and doubled my readership in about half a year.

Write For Your Tribe

With or without the aid of analytics (comments and social media conversations can also fill in the blanks, here), write more of what people like. Sure, you can still write that other stuff to make yourself happy, but keep it to a minority of posts. If you want your audience to return and grow, you need to write what they enjoy reading.   While it may seem a blog is about you (and you may in fact be “the draw” for your blog, especially if your authorial work is known), the content is really all about your reader.  If it does not satisfy them, they won’t return. So ask yourself what your ideal reader (your ideal fellow tribe member) is interested in–and write about that.  This shouldn’t feel like a sacrifice or loss, because your ideal tribe members also probably share many if not all of your interests. Surely there is something you are passionate about, that your tribe will also resonate with. This is the sweet spot, subject-wise, and where you should concentrate your posts.

Make It Easy to Share

twitter followMake sure that there are social sharing buttons on every post and page. Make it easy for people to share with others. This is how social buzz grows around you and your work. Also enable the RSS feed so people can get to your content through their feed readers, or subscribe to the feed via email. Anything you do to make sharing and access to your blog and your content easier, will help to grow your readership.

Invite Participation

Especially for authors, it’s good to foster two-way dialog with readers. End posts with an open question or an invitation to leave a comment below. Post the link to your new posts in social media and on other sites where people will be interested in your posts (if you’re posting in focused subject areas, people will be more likely to click through and read your post, too).  Add a widget that lets people follow you on Twitter, FB and G+, or wherever else you’re hanging out online.  When you have written materials you can share with the public (short stories, sample chapters), invite people’s feedback, or create a giveaway, contest, or other event that will create buzz and get people to share your material and visit your blog.

Write Guest Posts at Other Blogs

This is a great way to get your name out there, and you piggyback on another blogger’s already existing readership, so new people get acquainted with you. It helps raise your visibility and that of your blog.

 

OK. I’ll stop there, because there’s a lot of this basic blogging info out there on the web. I just find the items I’ve gone over here to be most helpful when fine-tuning an authorial blog so that it builds readership and also fosters a fanbase for an author’s work.

In answer to my opening question in the subject line here:  I think yes, writers need a blog, but it needs to be tailored to serve the needs of the writer in question.  “Just writing posts” is not a strategic plan for success, for a writer’s blog or any other.

Questions, thoughts, comments? Let me hear from you in the Comments below.

 

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Comments

Because my passion is science fiction, fantasy and horror (among "100 other things") I rebooted my blog last year to emphasize this zeal. But under that very broad umbrella I've discovered some deeper passions (time travel, romance, horror) that resonate with me, and so my blog has gravitated toward reviews of Doctor Who (time travel), general feelings about love and nostalgia, and the occasional horror flash fiction piece.

What I had been hesitant to do was to write for the tribe, and that's because I felt like I should be true to myself here. But as I reflect on your advice I see where you're coming from, and I agree.

What I have not done (yet) is make it easy to share, and invite participation. But I can tackle those aspects of it as I go along.

I really appreciate your post. This is excellent advice.

Glad it was helpful.
Re writing for the tribe: when you do it right, I don't think there's a disconnect between that and being true to yourself. You look for that aspect of yourself that is passionate and enthusiastic about X (for whatever X may be, singular thing or a cluster of related things), and that's what you write about. This is sending up a flair, and your tribe will gravitate to that content and to you.
It sounds to me like you are simply refining and more narrowly targeting/focusing your vision of what it is that you are passionate about. That's a good thing! That's the best magnet you can employ, and it's what people really respond to. Why write about "science fiction" if it's "time travel," specifically, that really grabs you? It sounds like you're on the right track. 🙂
BTW I also have an ongoing fascination with time experiences and time-travelish things. I look forward to reading your stuff in that regard! And the Whovian stuff as well.

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