Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Value of Having a Blog

I have a friend who refuses to make a blog for various reasons, but who does get worried sometimes about the constant message that writers need to be participating in new media at every possible opportunity. I don't really feel like I can say definitively one way or the other, but I can share my observations and my own experiences.

Why I like having a blog:
  • The way I blog at least makes me feel sort of accountable. I keep track of my sales, I publicly announce goals. I have a thing I need to feed and care for at least once a week, and if I'm keeping up the blog but not writing I feel kind of like a loser and a fake, so it's good for shame-induced productivity.
  • My blogroll. I know there are other tools I could use for that, but it's very convenient to have a lot of blogs I want to read scrolled down across the bottom of my screen.
  • Statistics and hit tracking. I love the idea that someone in Argentina has been reading my blog. I have no idea why they would be, but it's nice that they're there. Whenever I have more hits than the month before, it makes me smile.
  • If I want to find a link to one of those little tidbit articles I post, all I have to do is look back through the blog.
There are things I don't like as much. There are certainly weeks I don't feel like I have anything all that productive to say. There's also the constant weighing of "is this too personal? Is this too political? Is this interesting enough? Will someone think this is unprofessional?" I suspect it's going to surprise at least one of the people who reads this blog, but I try hard to be relatively a-political in this space, which is sometimes frustrating, because I have divisive things I believe and want to talk about. I just don't think this is the correct space. And then of course there's "am I just talking into the void?"

I know my blog has a few regular readers from among my friends, which I do really like. It's sparked some fun conversations, and it's always nice when they write me back with a little chuckle or correction. Do I feel like it's been instrumental in getting my name out? Not really in any way I can see, but then again I'm a pretty small potatoes writer. I have occasionally attracted the attention of an author I really adore, and that's always been a blushy, stammery affair. I'm not sure they remember me any more than they do anybody who's come up and asked to have someone signed, but it's definitely been nice to have them visit. For networking, I would really say conventions eclipse the blog by leaps and bounds.

But I enjoy the blog, and there does seem to be a tipping point of success after which it's very handy and having a big back-archive will be a useful thing.

So, observations.

There are certainly authors out there whose blogs and new media presence have seemed to contribute mightily to their success. Nick Mamatas , Scott Sigler, and Mary Robinette Kowal spring to mind. It's not just blogs, though, these are people who write articles, do interviews, host podcasts help organize cons, participate in professional organizations, and maintain an active presence in the blogsophere. They're also very charismatic people. Not everybody has the time, energy, or personality to pull this off, but it works well for the people who can. I know I follow Nick Mamatas especially because he's always posting something or other that makes me giggle wickedly.

There are people who seem to do new media first and writing somewhat second; which is not to say they're not excellent writers, but I bet if you ask 10 of their fans how they came to their work, at least 7 will cite things like podcasting or digital advocacy- basically their new media presence. Corey Doctorow and Mur Lafferty would be some key examples here. Their success seems unrepeatable, and I would not advise anyone to try.

Most of the authors I follow blog less than I do, but the posts are significant, well crafted things, and a treat to read when they do come up. They're little bits of prose, or essays that I forward to friends I think would enjoy reading them. Benjamin Rosenbaum and Catherynne Valente have blogs like this. Generally they seem to focus most on their work, but what they do put out in a blog will get passed around to people who might not have heard of them otherwise, so that's something cool for them.

There are other authors who post more than I do, and post a good deal about their personal lives. Mary Anne Mohannraj and Amal El-Mohtar spring to mind here, of the people I've read. I admit, I tend to skip most of the personal stuff. It's not that they don't seem to have lovely lives, and I'm happy when they meet health goals, in an academic sort of way. It's just not something that holds my interest terribly, but I know there are other blog readers out there who get a real sense of personal connection from this sort of blogging, and people become more than just a name on the cover of a paperback, they become real people. It's not something that clicks with me.

I also have some people that I follow who have a very strong and open political stance. K Tempest Bradford, who also blogs for Angry Black Woman, or Rachel Swirsky would be examples here. Will Shetterly would apparently also be an example, but he's not one of the ones I follow particularly. No matter what else you might think of them, these are people who are willing to stand up for their principles, even if it means making enemies. Which is a point if you're thinking about blogging. For every post, well intentioned or not, you have the potential to put your foot in your mouth or unintentionally offend someone. The more out there you put yourself, the more there's a chance. Elizabeth Moon had a bad run with this, and I know things Dave Sim has said online mean I'm not ever going to purchase anything of his again (though the offense given there is I think the definition of intentional).

So, yeah. It's a path that wins you some loyal and enthusiastic supporters, and convinces some people not to touch your work with a ten foot pole.

There's also some authors- and I follow precisely none of them- who only ever blog about their sales, where they're appearing, when their book is coming out, and so on. Occasionally when I read something of theirs I like, I will look up their blog and see what else they've done and where I can get it, but it's a directory, not a relationship, and being on their mailing list feels a lot like getting advertising spam. Please don't be that author.

There are also authors that either never update their blogs or don't blog at all. They'll have maybe a webpage with a few links or a splash graphic. Maybe. Again, these are useful as directories, and I have to say if you have work out there, I think it at least behooves you to have a search-findable site where people can get information about how to contact you.

All told, I really do think that there's not much good reason to put more content out than you're comfortable with. If you enjoy your blog, it will show. If you don't enjoy your blog, it will also show. And people will follow you, or not, according to their own inclination, the same as it is with any other work you do.

So, yeah, like writing. Do it for yourself, because you probably won't make money and it's possible only your mom will ever read it.

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