Guest blogger: Kimberly Moynahan
Back in January, this article came through my Twitter stream: Blogging for Authors: Why You Need a Blog and How to Get Started, posted on the Nonfiction Authors Association website. In that article, e-book author Stephanie Chandler recommends that every author have a blog.
She advises you “contact your webmaster” to add a blog to your site; she talks about “keyword concentration”, how blogs are good for SEO and how content is king; she explains how to choose a blogging platform, why you shouldn’t host on a secondary domain and…well…are your eyes glazing over yet?
Here’s the thing: Starting a blog is like joining a gym. Eighty percent of people who begin will not last three months. Okay, I made that number up. But in fact, the realty for bloggers is probably worse. In 2008, a blog search engine company found that of 133 million blogs only 7.4 million had been updated in the last 120 days.
That translates to 95 percent of blogs being essentially abandoned, left to lie fallow on the Web, where they become public remnants of a dream — or at least an ambition — unfulfilled. — Douglas Quenqua, New York Times, June 5, 2009
So before you jump onto the “every author needs a blog” bandwagon, ask yourself if blogging is really for you. Because frankly, having a sad neglected blog is probably worse than not starting one at all.
Here is what you need to be a blogger—
A Bit of Technical Ability
Even if you have a webmaster, she’s only going to set up your site. You still have to put up your own post, format it, add graphics and tags, and publish the thing. It’s not difficult, but if you are the kind of person who gets faint at the idea of formatting an Excel column, you might want to think twice about blogging.
Time. Lots of it.
Stephanie, in her article, advises that you blog five times a week. It’s good writing practice she says.
First off, no, it’s not. You know as well as I do, if you are dashing off five quick posts a week, you are not practicing good writing. You’re just adding “content” which is great for attracting search engines bots and random strangers, but not so much for engaging readers and impressing publishers.
Blogging five times a week is a herculean task. Even filler posts – YouTube videos and “Wordless Wednesday” images – take effort to pull together. Recruiting guest bloggers helps, but there is work around that as well. And these stopgaps will only entertain your readers for so long. Your audience wants to hear from you.
How much time does blogging take?
My advice to potential bloggers is this: Write your first five posts before you commit. Time yourself from the moment you start thinking about what you’re going to write, to the moment all five are written, formatted for the web, proofed, have catchy titles, and have legal-to-use images with credits and captions.
Now add an hour a week for site maintenance and improvement, another hour for responding to commenters, and fifteen minutes a day (at the very least) for promoting your blog on social media. Now how’s your week shaping up?
Social Media Savvy
Blogs cannot live in a vacuum. It will be up to you to find your audience and make them aware of your blog. Sure search engines will find your blog so people will stumble upon it, but you will have to do the real work of alerting your followers and attracting new readers every time you post. This means mastering and diligently usingTwitter, Facebook, and other forms of social media.
Something Unique to Say
What are you going to blog about? Here’s a subject that could take up a whole post. But in short, if your blog is to rise above the babble of a million author bloggers all doing the exact same thing, you are going to have to deliver something unique.
Rule #1 is reward the faithful for showing up. Your readers are your most valuable promoters. Feed and nurture them accordingly. Talk to them. Give them something they can’t get anywhere else. What that is depends on your target audience – readers, writers, or both.
Rule #2 is that blogging is not all about you, The Author. If you want to connect with your readers, you must show a bit of you, The Person. No need to throw your entire personal life onto the screen (please), but talking about your passion for 1940s jazz, your daytime job as a dog trainer or the crazy thing that happened at the grocery store this morning goes a long way towards making your readers feel special and welcome.
You’re a writer. You’re used to editors pointing out flaws in your manuscripts. You’re used to rejection. You might even be used to negative book reviews (if one ever gets used to that). So already you are stronger than most.
But how are you when your ideas are attacked? How will you respond when your credibility is challenged? When a reader comments (shouts!) in UPPER CASE that you are not worthy of the pixels you are printed on?
If you blog well, your comment section is going to be more than just people heaping praise and thanks upon you. It can become the lifeblood of your blog, an exciting place where people debate and discuss ideas. It can also become a place where people criticize, even attack you.
For instance, these are actual comments from my blog:
Are you on drugs? You clearly lack journalistic skills on top of empathy for life…
This article is the biggest piece of SHIT I’ve read so far …
I leave them on my site for my own amusement and also so I have great examples for posts like this.
You have many choices in how to handle individual commenters and your comment sections as a whole – another topic that could fill a post. But the two choices you don’t have if you want to build a vibrant community on your blog, are turning off the comment sections and screaming back in UPPER CASE. (This never goes well.)
Stephanie Chandler is right. Blogging can help you connect with your readers. It can be a way to increase your following and possibly book sales. But so can meeting with book clubs, starting a newsletter, giving workshops, having a Facebook page, engaging on Twitter, posting on Instagram and doing the most important thing of all – finishing your book.
In the end, the answer to “Should I blog” is, it depends.
But the answer to “Must I blog?” is, no.
L.L. Barkett: It’s Time for (Many) Experienced Writers to Stop Blogging
Jane Friedman: Reasons to Keep Blogging
Kidlit.com: Do Unpublished Writers Have to Blog?
Huffington Post: 5 Reasons Authors Should Blog
Joe Bunting: What Fiction Authors Really Need to Know About Their Platform
All images CC0 Public Domain via Pixabay
Kimberly Moynahan is a freelance science, nature, and interpretive writer. She blogs on the natural sciences, animals, and the writing life on her site Endless Forms Most Beautiful. She has been published in Scientific American’s Best Science Writing Online and WOLVES Magazine. Kim serves on the Leadership Team for Science Borealis, the Canadian science blog network and is a regular blogger for the Canadian Science Writers Association. Find her on Twitter and LinkedIn.