To blog or not to blog

I have a paranormal mystery novel at the submission stage - thoroughly critiqued, polished to the best I can get it, and quite original IMO. Of course, agents and publishers may see it differently, but that's another subject.

I am thinking about starting a blog on the subject matter of the story: the paranormal and the divide between those who believe and those who don't. (Not quite, but close enough. I'm trying to be a little cagey about the core issues, as I think the idea is original enough to consider it in my best interests to keep it close to my chest.)

On the issue of blogging writers you have said:

"Do I look for writers by reading their blogs? No I find writers the old fashioned way: they fall into my mailbox with nice letters. However, if someone queries me and says "Dearest Miss Snark, I have a blog that gets 1000 unique hits a day" and "my blog is about my writing" of course I'd pay attention."

Does this apply to subject matter not directly related to writing or publishing? I think, if done properly, the blog could attract some attention and get some good traffic. But is it really a useful tool when the writer is unpublished to try and sway the prospective agent/publisher that the subject matter generates a lot of interest?

There are many good writers blogs out there and I'm sure the world doesn't need another. But if you had one that dealt with intriguing core issues covered in your story, and it was interesting enough to attract a lot of, well, interest, is it a good marketijng tool?

Key phrase: interesting and done well

In case you're wondering, it's not all that easy to keep a good blog. I see a lot of crappy ones out there and a few that are downright damaging to an author's public face.

I also don't troll the blogosphere for writers but when I google hot prospects, you bet I look at their websites or blogs.

Here are the things I think make a blog work well for a writer building an online presence:

1. pictures
like here

2. hilarious
like here

3. informative
like here

4. slice of life outside the usual
like here

5. very very focused
like here

And really almost all of those blogs are all of those things and they're well written.

Starting a blog just cause you've heard it's a good idea is the wrong starting point. The right starting point is do you have anything to say, and do you have enough of it to say one new thing every day for a year.

And just cause you have a blog doesn't mean anyone will ever read it. I'm stunned by the number of people who read this blog now, but when I started there were about six of us and three of them were poodles. I was very fortunate to receive mentions by GalleyCat and Publisher's Lunch within several weeks of launching but that was almost two years ago when blogging was still relatively new. I think I was one of fewer than ten publishing professionals keeping a blog at that time. Now there are hundreds.

A dead blog isn't a plus.


froggy said...

OK, Miss Snark, I'll bite. Like most of the aspiring wannabe writers here, I have a few other time-sucking obligations in my life, like husband, children, day job, dog, etc. I'm darn proud when I can crank out a chapter in the wee hours and not end up face-first on my keyboard during my day job. I've avoided finding new blogs to read, and starting my own, because I know if I ever want to finish this novel I'd damn well better have my butt in the chair writing.

It just seems that starting a blog has "time suck" written all over it.

OK, I read your blog. But that's it... really. Honest.

I don't have a blog. I don't have a web site. I figure if I'm lucky enough to get published one day, creating a web site will be top of my list. But to worry about it now seems akin to obsessing about cover art for my unfinished book. Cart before horse and all that.

Please send reassurance that a web presence is OK to ignore for now and just get the damn book done.

Miss Snark said...

get the damn book done.
You're exactly right.

Killer Yapp said...

your dog is most important.

Dave said...

That's a nice bunch of links. thanks.

And as for a blog - lots of time and requires laser-like focus.

"Dear Diary, today I ate and brushed my teeth ane yelled at the dog for doodoo'ing in the house" is way, way, way, way, way, way, way too mundane. Nobody cares about mundane stuff.

The Anti-Wife said...

IMHO, if you’re just writing a blog to gain a big audience, you may be disappointed. There are many really good writers out there blogging with very little readership.

If you’re going to blog, do it for you. Do it because you have something to say. Do it because it helps you to be disciplined. Do it to promote your book and your ideas.

I try to write a little something in my blog everyday because it forces me to be creative and keep writing. I also try to read other blogs as often as possible because they give me good ideas and insights.

Blog for yourself. If your blog is really good, people will find it.

Bill said...

You know, you're not helping us write if you keep giving us great blogs to visit ...

(Course, in this spirit of this site, one can also say that if you're spending time blogging when you should be writing, maybe you should reconsider this profession.)

Maya Reynolds said...

If you decide to start a blog, I'd suggest practicing on an anonymous site for a while until you get the hang of it.

Blogging was pure torture for me the first few months. It's almost second nature now and a nice break when I need it during the day.

Petrea Burchard said...

I agree with froggy. Time-suck.

This is the only blog I read with regularity. I often don't comment because by the time I read (west coast) others have already said what I'd have said anyway, so why be redundant? But I read every word.

The only reason I made a blog is so I can comment here. Still, it was fun to post a couple of things. I hope that doesn't count against me in the big, bad publishing world. The first thing I posted was a photo of my most fabulous dog, who is ten times the size of Killer Yap but would probably let KY run his show anyway.

Kanani said...

I started my blog for the LA Times Pressmen.
It's been a great experience. But from the start, I knew who was going to be reading it --which included newspaper editors & writers--so I couldn't exactly just moan about the state of my hair, or the fact that Miss Snark has stolen George right out from under my stilleto-clad feet.

So yes, I agree. Don't start one unless you have something to say. The best blogs have a 'voice,' even if it's a multi-topic one.

And no, blogging is not writing our books, which has to come first. Blogging comes way down on the list after paying my bills online and googling My Antonio.

Richard said...

In the informative blog, the guest blogger says this below, which is contrary to my own experience. Say it ain't so, Miss Snark!

In far too many cases these days, a ms that isn’t formatted properly according to the publisher’s own unique, esoteric style guide risks rejection for that sin alone. And most of the time they won’t tell you ahead of the game what they do want!

Doesn’t matter how great the story. Doesn’t matter how vivid the writing, how compelling the characters. Wrong line spacing—Phfttt! Wrong font or font size—Phfttt! One space between sentences when they want two, or two spaces when they want one—Phfttt!

Richard Lewis said...

PS. to my previous comment: I know weird fonts and colors scream for the clue gun, but if the blog post author was being tongue in cheek about the rest, I sure couldn't spot his styloglossus in his buccinator. I mean, come on now, a ms. can be rejected for having two periods after the spaces--er, too much gin and not enough tonic (it's sunset in the tropics here)--two spaces after the period?

(PS The gin was consumed out of dire frustration after an hour at not getting Internet Explorer 6 to work in opening my very rarely used Blogger account in order to change my user name --I had to download Firefox, which works like a charm)

snarkfodder said...

May I add one piece of advice for those considering starting a blog for promotional purposes?

Be nice.

Blogs are too often used as steam vents, and unless that is central to your theme (a la Miss Snark's), it's going to put some people off. I'm not talking about the occasional rant. If your online personality is incessantly abrasive or plaintive, you'd do better to let your books sell themselves.

I've bought books from Neil Gaiman and Adrienne Kress based solely on their blogs. I just can't support a curmudgeon.

Kimber An said...

Queen Snark speaks wisdom. I especially liked this paragraph:

'Starting a blog just cause you've heard it's a good idea is the wrong starting point. The right starting point is do you have anything to say, and do you have enough of it to say one new thing every day for a year.'

We all have our strengths and weaknesses. I suggest starting your blog. It's free and easy. Give it at least a month. If you use Blogger (this one here that Miss Snark uses,) there's a wonderful article in the Help section entitled 'Promoting Your Blog.' Do what it says. The most important thing is to blog every day. If you don't enjoy it, your writing will be less-than-stellar and your readership will show it. Delete the blog. No big deal. However, if you do enjoy it, keep blogging! Even if your readership doesn't show it at first, keep blogging because sometimes it takes a couple of months for people to find out about you. Best of luck.

Oh, here's an excellent example of a blog:

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

One thing I found interesting about those blogs you listed, Miss Snark, was that of the five, only ONE had its RSS feed turned on.

If your feed isn't on, folks, you're losing readers. I'd have probably added three of those blogs to my reader list -- but they won't let me. Their loss.

Jesse said...

A dead blog is not a plus.

But is it a minus? Also, what if your blog is not about writing, and hardly ever mentions your writing? I ask because I have a non-writing blog that has been sadly neglected for the last few months, and I'd hate to think that its existence is a drag on my prospects.

Crabby McSlacker said...

I agree with many of the above posters that blogging is a big fat time-suck.

So is writing a novel.

In both cases, the odds against finding readership are long, and the chance of any celebrity or financial remuneration is infintesimal.

The advantage of a blog is that you can gain readers on your own, one by one, avoiding gatekeepers like agents and editors.

The disadvantage is that you must find readers on your own, one by one, and it's an incredibly time consuming process.

I think they're both ridiculous pursuits, and a waste of time if you're not dedicated and passionate. But if you are, then I'd say go for it. Just don't delude yourself too much about the odds for success.

kanani said...

Recently my friends and I sat down and talked about this whole issue of blogging. None of them had ever blogged before, and I know a bit about the beast. They wanted to know how much time it took up.

There's a fair amount of technical detail, such as learning about RSS feeds, widgets, links, embedding video etc. But it's not rocket science and just perusing the really good blogs, you can find out a lot. Log into Technorati, and pull up a few.

And that's on top of figuring out what you have to say, and who your readers are going to be.

So it's like anything else. Consistency is the key. Once you've got it all figured out, have a routine, it'll take less time.

ORION said...

(Much Aloha kimber an for the props!)
I really had to think about this before I commented. Feeling a bit isolated here in Hawaii, I started reading blogs to get to know other writers, authors and for publishing information (especially Miss Snark's blog). When I became educated about the community and wanted to start making comments AND felt I had something substantive to contribute I started blogging.
I thought long and hard about why.
Yes, it sucks time IF you are not disciplined. It is NOT a replacement for adding to your current WIP.
Yes, it can provide writing prompts and increase networking opportunities if used rationally.
I think blogging authors are able to make a great connection to their readers.
My personality is quite outgoing I enjoy meeting people both in person and in cyberspace.
I was a teacher for years and enjoy being a resource.
Blogging provides an outlet for me to help other writers -- to provide support -- give them a glimpse into the world of a soon-to-be debut author.
It is also satisfying and keeps me grounded.
As long as I have readers and commenters I will blog.
Thank you for this question -- it's a good one.

Anonymous said...

I've been blogging since before the word "blog" was coined. No kidding. I started in mid-1997. Back in the day, "personal" blogs / journals were all that existed -- the worst were of the "what my cat and I did today" variety, and the best were full of wonderful slice-of-life essays.

But honestly? I think the best thing to happen to blogging was the compartmentalization of it. I am petering out on my personal / "general interest" blog -- the idea to "write about whatever" worked for a while, but these days when I sit down to blog and realize I could write about my family, politics, my job, a NYT article I read yesterday, a movie I saw, the novel I'm writing, etc. ... I get a little agoraphobic. I read mostly topical blogs these days, and I have an idea for one of my own. I'm really excited about it, and while it'll take some time to get off the ground, I can already tell that the posts will be easier to write, and, since it'll be a local-interest blog, I'll have much clearer publicity targets than my current "all about me" website does.

Lately I've realized that much of Miss Snark's query / hook advice can apply to blogs:

FOCUS your blog. Try to compose a one-sentence hook for it. Look for fresh angles. "An accountant turned ex-pat turned porn store clerk shares his experiences and memories" would warrant a read. But so would "Bus Buddies: an admin assistant's reflections and speculations on the people who sit next to her on the crosstown bus." "Just the ramblings of a bored 20something meandering through life" is not fresh. You can write that for your friends, but don't expect many strangers to find it and stick around as loyal readers. Then again, with blogs as with novels, good writing trumps all! So if you're a bored 20something who can write circles around all the other bored 20somethings, by all means do it.

Worn-Out Blogger S.

LouthMouth said...

I have only been reading Miss Snark for about a week, but its' quickly becoming my favorite.

My blog is mostly cut and pastes of things I find funny. Doesn't showcase my writing that way, but not much of a timesuck either

Petrea Burchard said...

Hmm. "Passion." Crabby, you might just have something there.

Sherri Cornelius said...

I started my blog for the same reason Orion stated: to feel less isolated. Rural Oklahoma might as well be on an island.

My blog's year anniversary is May 8 (mostlyfluff.wordpress.com). It has been the catalyst for many exciting changes in my life, the result being that this blog reflects more who I was than who I am.

I met people, and gained confidence and knowledge, I never would have without it.

I vote for starting your blog.

Anonymous said...

"If your online personality is incessantly abrasive or plaintive, you'd do better to let your books sell themselves."

This can't be repeated often enough, and it applies not only to blogs, but to book-related forums, email lists, etc. I am constantly amazed at the things published authors write under their real names, and how tone-deaf some of are - apparently being able to write a well-received novel doesn't mean you have any idea how snotty and curt you sound in conversational posts.

If you post somewhere regularly, your true personality will come through. Make sure it's not one that makes 95% of the people who interact with you say, "I swear I will never read her books because she is such a raving bitch to everyone."

Bernita said...

RSS feed?
If I see a blog I like I just add them to my favourites list.
But then I'm primitive.

Manic Mom said...

My mother has told me my writing has gone to "shit" on my blog and that I should just focus on my second novel instead of keeping the blog. But I love blogging, and love the connection I have with the readers, some who have become friends in cyber and real life.

Some editors and agents have found my blog, and I think it has helped me get some notice, but if you're a good writer, I don't think you necessarily need a blog. It's just a fun way to communicate with others, and also to get the word out about your work.

And I've been doing it for 2-1/2 years so I guess I'd say it's kind of a habit now.

Chumplet said...

Every day!? Every DAY??? I guess I have more work to do. At least I get one or two comments on each post, and it's only two months old, but there's hope.

Uh, and yes... I'm writing, too.

Holy jeez, these word verifications are sucking the life outta me: jdqwggpw (ick)

Tony said...

Many thanks for so many stellar opinions. I will give the idea of the blog some serious consideration. I have plenty of time on my hands so the 'time-suck' aspect is not a big deal. I am currently stalled on the second book in the series so maintaining the blog may actually be the right spur to continue. And 'doing it right' may help instill some discipline. At the very least it may be a worthwhile experiment, as the very least I will produce is some writing on the subject matter of the stories.

kitty said...

Not to change the subject or anything, but today is Mr. Spongeworthy's birthday. George Clooney is 46 :~)


Heidi the Hick said...

I didn't start blogging to plug a novel; I started because I had a head full of stuff that didn't fit into a novel or my bedside journal.

In the year and a half since then, amazing things have happened! I've become part of several networks of interesting people and yes, many of them are writers. Some are published, or soon to be, and some are right where I am. This is encouragement to me.

It's also a huge ego stroke when I feel like the worst writer in the world, but ten people comment just because my words and photos affected them in some way.

Of course, ego stroking does not get novels written. But it does help offset the rejections.

Two pieces of advice if anybody cares:
-discipline. Blogging really is a time suck. I have to really rein myself in and not get stuck here.

-remember the duration of your words. Anything we write here can be thrown back at us years later. Don't believe me? Google your own blogger name. I've found mine in bizarre places. And it sticks around. Soooo....be accountable for all that you type. Ask yourself if this will embarrass you later.

(Having said that I make self-embarrassment an art form...)

#1 Dinosaur said...

I've been blogging since last August and I've come up with some (very) basic rules for blogging:

1. Write well.
2. Say something.
3. Mix it up.

(Elaborated upon in the link above.)

Anonymous said...

You may want to try blogging with a few friends.

I read two or three blogs a day that are each written by a group of authors. There are 4 or 5 in a group, and they take turns blogging, and comment on each other's blogs. There are also guest bloggers on these sites.

Try: The Goddess Blogs, Riding With The Top Down, or Squawk Radio for an idea of what I mean. They are all by Romance Writers, but the blog entries are full of variety.

Kit Whitfield said...

One advantage of blogging if you end up writing full-time is that it can, assuming people read it, be a way of keeping yourself from getting too lonely. People comment, you get regulars, it's the cyber equivalent of an office water cooler. (And like an office water cooler, you should definitely not spend all day hanging around there when you should be working.) But in the time between your partner coming home and your friends leaving work so you can phone them, the odd virtual tea-break to see what people have commented can be nice.

Also want to agree with everyone who says 'be nice'. What you say on your blog will follow you round forever. You never know when the movie director you've slagged off might be interested in buying the rights to your novel, or the critic you've had a go at gets to review you - or, indeed, the critic you didn't realise was married to the best friend of the author you've just called a talentless idiot. (No, I'm not speaking from experience, because I don't slag people off.) Nobody likes a sourpuss unless they're incredibly witty - and bile isn't particularly funny - and it's best not to make gratuitous enemies.

Anonymous said...

My blog sucks. I only ever use it to go on about stuff that I think will bore the people on the forums I post to. This makes me want to delete it.

Beth said...

I started a blog to see if I was any good at it. The jury's still out on that, and since I'm not published yet (except for a story in an anthology), it doesn't matter much if I don't follow the "rules" (such as posting every day). I figure it's my semi-private playground at this point; folks can wander by and watch me dig in the sandbox if they want, but mostly I'm doing this for me.

The main thing is not to let it interfere with my main job--writing a novel--which is why I don't sweat it when I don't post for a week or a month.

When I get a contract, that may change, but for now, I'm not trying to do anything other than have fun with it.

Smith said...

Initially it would have taken a great deal of luck for someone to find out I even had a blog. Now, the thing is connected to too many things. I paused after reading this post and, thanks to this awareness driven by Miss Snark, decided I should at least fill in my profile to deflect at least some presumptions. I change nothing of course.

Southern Writer said...

Blogging is a major time suck. Try not to get caught up in the high school popularity contest, or hung up on your stats. If you want a lot of readers, expect to visit a lot of writers. Set aside five to eight hours a day to read Miss Snark, all the other pro's blogs worth reading, plus those of all the people you'll be adding to your blog roll. The more readers you have, the more time you'll need to devote to it. You'll go read their posts and comment, then they'll come read yours and comment, at which time you must acknowledge each one individually by commenting to their comment. Lord forbid a real conversation gets going, you may never have time to see your family again, and your dog will forget who you are. (This schedule does not include private e-mails to which you will also need to reply (Set aside a few more hours).

Sell your X-Box, lay sod over your garden, put your knitting needles in the attic. Blogging will be your new hobby. Say goodbye to your real time friends. You won't be seeing them any more.

Try to come up with a truly clever and unique name for yourself and your blog. I can tell you from experience there are about fifteen other "Southern Writers" out there. I often see them on Absolute Write and other forums, and wonder if people confuse us for each other.

Be prepared for people you never dreamed would find your blog to find it: the nosy neighbor who knows everyone's business, the estranged relative you haven't spoken to for years, the old high school friend with whom you parted ways because you realized how different your values were. Forget that you've been writing for the public, and expect to feel as if your privacy has been violated. Second guess everything you've ever posted. And remember not to feed the trolls.

Blogging is a relationship with a long term commitment and lots of ups and downs. A handful of people will stay on the road and travel with you. Most won't. Be grateful for those who do, and say thank you. Be surprised when you learn you have friends you didn't know you had. Friends will get you through times of no posts better than posts will get you through times of no friends.

Blog for a couple years until you absolutely must stop to put your life back in order. Start all over again when you have a book to promote.

btw, I write paranormal, too, so I'd definitely check out your blog. Good luck with it!

Anonymous said...

And still, almost no one "heard" crabby's message.

John Elder Robison said...

No one has mentioned another benefit writers can get from their blogs . . . feedback and stories for subsequent books.

My own blog has led me to several ideas that will appear in my next work.

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

I started my blog a year and a half ago. I used to find the whole idea kind of crazy.

It has been one of the best decisions I've made. I have "met" people from all over the world. Blogging helps with discipline. I write 5 days a week on the blog and 7 days a week on my ms.

I have found some great writer, food, and Italy blogs. I do agree it can be a time suck if you don't put a limit on reading/writing blogs.

Dave said...

The people at FIREDOGLAKE, a political blog, have posted criteria for a starting and maintaining a blog.

Forget their politics. This is good advice for everyone who wants to have a big, successful blog: