why you should blog to build your writing career even if you don’t think you need to

 

 

image: jurvetson

1

I had dinner last night with a very bright young guy who scored a six-figure advance from a major publishing house for his nonfiction work-in-progress.

We talked about blogging. He asked me how much time I spent on my own blogging. (A lot.) He asked me if it takes me away from my book writing. (It does.)

Now, this man has a plan, and he broke it down for me. With the proper contracts in place, and given his writing habits and routines, he figures he can earn about a dollar a word.

So why should he waste words on blogging, which pays nothing?

This exchange reminded me of an article in the current issue of The Writer that discussed the cons and pros of blogging. The woman who took the ‘against’ side was, like my friend, a working nonfiction writer who didn’t see how blogging could ever be cost-effective. And she, like my friend, pointed out that she writes about many different things and doesn’t have a specific “point of view” to passionately convey: so, again, why blog? What purpose could it serve?

2

One of the biggest reasons to blog, in my opinion, is because it’s a major step toward being not just a writer but a creative entrepreneur.

And anyone who has spent time in Silicon Valley knows the kind of work and energy and sacrifice that goes into a start-up. Your initial capital isn’t money; it’s your own creative and intellectual resources. You’re not giving the stuff away; you’re investing for the future. You’re preparing for the day – if it isn’t here already – when the books support the blog, and not vice versa.

You’re building something cool. You are, to use one of my favorite phrases, doing epic shit.

Because the fact that publishing is changing is neither a secret nor a surprise. Jonathan Fields spells it out in this very cool essay.

Publishers want writers with established platforms. The bigger your platform, the more direct access you have to your readers, the greater power you have to write your own ticket. Imagine a world where you no longer have to submit manuscripts to agents or editors. They come to you.

Imagine a world where, like Seth Godin, you decide you don’t need publishers at all.

As Fields points out, it’s unlikely that the majority of writers will eschew publishers entirely. What I (and others) believe will happen is that, for most of us, the traditional publishing model and its still-developing online counterpart will co-exist and leverage off each other.

Being traditionally published gives you credibility online, which you can use to build your following, which you can use to score another book contract, a greater advance, which gives you more credibility online, which you can use to build your following, which you can use to score another book contract, a greater advance. And so on.

3

Sure, you can throw up a website. But it’s not enough just to have some cool quotes and blurbs that promote your work. Those blurbs give you credibility. They give you authority. But they don’t give people a reason to come back.

And if there isn’t any reason to come back, your website or web page is like a billboard on the freeway. Cars zip past. The drivers register your ad, and then forget it. Why should they care?

4

People come back when the content on your website is frequently changing. When it offers them value, information, entertainment.

They get used to the sound of your voice. Maybe they discover that they really like your voice.

And when someone falls in love with your voice, they will follow you anywhere .

Your voice is the unifying thread that runs through all your work. Your voice encompasses your point(s) of view, but also your mind and personality and way with language.

Voice is what agents and editors look for. And your blog becomes a showcase for it.

Your blog is also a way to further develop and refine it.

The immediate feedback that blogging offers is a fascinating thing. You start to develop a sense for what resonates with your audience and what falls flat. You start to realize what you truly want to write about instead of what you thought you wanted to write about. Writing is a form of thinking, and when you’re forced to write your way through your own mind on a near-daily or weekly basis, you discover that much more of what and who you are.

This is why your blog tends to shift shape as it progresses. You start out thinking it’s going to be about one thing, and it ends up being about something else. That’s good. It’s called “growth”. But it’s also why you shouldn’t lock yourself down when you first start to blog, or invest in expensive design. Give yourself at least six months to a year to figure out your blogging identity. You’ll figure out how you use your blog, what it stands for, and what you properly need from the people you hire (if you choose to hire them).

5

When you have a blog, you can create many different points of entry through which people can discover you.

And I’m not just talking about the other forms of social media you use. (For example, people can stumble through to my Tribal Writer blog by discovering me on Twitter, Livejournal, Goodreads, Linkedin, or Friendfeed, and being intrigued enough to click a link.)

I’m talking about what happens when you make yourself shareable on a regular basis.

We’re entering an era where we no longer have to go looking for the cool stuff. The cool stuff comes to us. It bubbles up through the networks and communities we create that are centered around our own damn selves. If I like you and find you interesting, I add you to my network. You become not just a friend but another source of information and entertainment: you share links and retweets and stories, things that resonated with you, and so you send them on to me. As Nick Bilton points out in his book I LIVE IN THE FUTURE, this is how we are learning to make sense of the Internet: through creating these personalized, customized communities that filter and curate the Internet for us. It’s our Twitter lists and Facebook news feeds that we rely on for the cool stuff. It comes filtered through people we trust enough to keep in our networks.

Each blog post you write is another chance for you — your voice, your brand – to enter someone else’s information stream, to bubble up in someone else’s news feed. Your blog posts find their way through the networks of people who are most likely to be your Ideal Readers, the same people who will take note of your name, perhaps, and follow the post back to its original source, your hub, your online home, where they can develop a relationship with you, add their email address to your list, and one day pay money for your work.

6

A blog can be looked at as a form of content marketing, and no matter the size of your advance, or the identity of your publisher, you’re going to have to market your work and yourself. Why not fold your marketing in to a larger vision…the vision of yourself as a creative entrepreneur, someone who writes her own ticket?

Sep 23, 2010
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33 comments · Add Yours

Great post! Which means I’m sharing it all over the place!

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Justine, this particular blog post has been a big help to me as a fledgling blogger! I’ll admit I started my blog, “Tales of the Easily Distracted,” on the advice of other writers and experts I like and trust (including you, if I may say so), but I’m finding the enjoyment of writing it is rising high above my initial goal to build a platform and fan base for when my novel THE PARANOIA CLUB (being ghost-edited as we speak) is ready to be submitted to editors/publishers. :-) Thanks, to you and TRIBAL WRITER, for your helpful and enjoyable posts!

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I think you nailed it right on the head. People don’t understand the value of blogging because they think of it in terms of dollars and cents off the bat, but not the future business and earnings that it will provide you in the future by establishing your online presence (because isn’t everyone online now?) and your brand. A writer is an entrepreneur. A writer is most definitely a brand. Stephen King is a brand. Dean Koontz is a brand. Patricia Cornwell is a brand. You can get your horror anywhere, but you go back to King because you know what you’re going to get. And blogging is an extremely powerful way to establish that brand — that voice, like you say — for free (minus the hours and hours of your free time, of course), which will pay dividends down the road.

At least. That’s what I tell myself.

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Fantastic post, and totally agree that writing a blog creates your voice and helps you to find it. I’m currently in the process of discovering what I really want to write about and am looking to my blog as my vehicle in this process. Also, really interesting points about how we find information as the internet is far too big for anyone to find their way through all of it, so it makes sense that we let others do the searching and filtering for us, unless of course we are those that stumble and find.

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Hi Justine,
Like Ryan quipped, you nailed this on the head. I’m a big fan of following the links of those in my community (Twitter, blogs, etc.) — I like that you touched on that element of curation. And, because I want to those in my network to discover you, I linked you in my recent post, too. I want them to find you. They will.

I like your writing voice, you speak to me on a level beyond words. And, because of this experience, I plan to read your novels, too. This speaks volumes — I’m not a big fan of fiction or dark urban fantasy. I want to read them because I know they’ll be great based on what I’ve learned from you here and elsewhere. Keep up the great work.

Like you mentioned, I follow you because you’re doing epic shit.
;)

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Thank you for this encouraging post. This is one bubble that got me subscribing to your rss. I like that you said give yourself 6 months to a year to find your blogging voice and identity. It is difficult as a new blogger to know what to blog about, and why people would subscribe to me. Reading your post I’m encouraged to keep at it, and put more and more of my own personality into my blog.
Thank you.

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great post! i totally get the importance in the new media age of having a blog. in fact, as i think about business cards, i am loving ‘creative entrepreneur’ as a self-given job title.

but i have a question: i am weighing whether to house all my abundant interests rotating on one personal blog vs. housing several niched blogs. what was your decision to keep your livejournal separate (esp since i’ve been spying cross posts there!). no judgments – just genuine curiosity as i try to organize my own brand online.

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The problem I find with a lot of blogs by writers is that they really have nothing to say but, “Buy my book,” and that can get a bit boring. We all know there needs to be a bit of self-promotion but no one likes the hard sell.

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I’ve aborted several attempts at blogging but only recently committed to it regularly and I can clearly see the difference. I am enjoying writing the posts, interacting, and even developing the voice as you say. Only now I appreciate the value of blogging so your post has really hit home for me.

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Fantastic, really Inspiring!!

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“…because it’s a major step toward being not just a writer but a creative entrepreneur.”

That is the best reason I’ve read for why it’s important to blog as a writer. Bravo!

I also agree with Jim though, that if you’re going to blog, it can’t just be “All About Me.” You have to offer something to the reader which, quite coincidentally, is not any different from what you need to do when you write a book.

I also agree with Gargi that blogging helps develop your voice as a writer. It gives you more confidence and authority.

Thanks for this creative and comprehensive take on the importance of what we do as blogger/writers.

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Justine, I found your blog through a tweet you made that someone else retweeted. I’m so glad I did. What a great post you’ve written here. Point #4 resonated with me so much, and I love how you put it: “when someone falls in love with your voice, they will follow you anywhere.” What an awesome line.

I’m in the process of migrating my blog to WordPress, and I’ll keep putting my voice out there. My blog has shape shifted before, and it’s in the process of shape shifting again. Thanks for such a beautifully written and helpful post.

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True true true.

Anyone who thinks that a website is enough doesn’t realise that interactive internet is what people want now, and if they aren’t into it yet, they soon will be. I search out authors blogs rather than their websites because I can talk to them and get to know them. If I like you, I figure I’ll like your books, so even if the genre is a little out of my usual, I’m more likely to take the plung and buy it.

I started out to get an online presence to help me hook a publisher for Lethal Inheritance, but I’m found the benefits of blogging to be so much more than that.

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True that. At the Kentucky Women Writers conference I met Erin Cox, a rather savvy NY Publicist, who said point-blank that the best marketing is grassroots. Chicken Soup For The Soul proved it. Barak Obama proved it.

To me, that’s what blogging is. Anyone can do it. It’s free. It’s just about what people respond to. And voila! The playing field is leveled. For the time being anyway.

And now, back to the writing I do when I’m not blogging about writing. ~sigh~
http://www.dufflyn.blogspot.com

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Nice post, Justine. I agree with everything you said. :-)

I’d also point out to your nonfiction author friend that he’s probably missing out on opportunities to be paid to blog in his area(s) of expertise. All kinds of paid blogging gigs are available writing for sites like AOL, MSN, and Huffington, as well as magazine sites and websites of nonprofit organizations. Anyone who has a six-figure nonfiction book deal would likely be in high demand as a paid blogger, and landing a blogging deal that pays the equivalent of a dollar a word (or even more) is definitely not unrealistic for a writer at that level.

Plus, blogging is significantly easier money than writing books – little if any editing by the publisher, a regular paycheck, and no promotional responsibilities on the part of the author. And that last point is significant: if you’re a paid blogger (as opposed to having your own, stand-alone blog), the publisher of the site is responsible for onerous task of generating readers. That often includes syndicating your blog to other sites, something that independent bloggers usually have a difficult time doing.

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Thanks, Justine, your post made me question why I blog. Am I branding myself when I’ve always felt uneasy about the role of marketing in our world? I’m not critical of ‘creative entrepreneurs’ – if writers like doing promotion, they should go for it, and they’ll certainly sell more books. But I do worry about what self-promotion does to us. When we engage with others (eg by commenting on their posts, like I’m doing now), is there another motive?

I’ll keep blogging because I enjoy it, and because it’s a way, as you say, to develop and refine my voice, and accustom myself to writing for an audience. I also hope to become more involved in the “new type of conversation” that James Bradley talks about. At least, that’s why I think I’m blogging.

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Great post which has attracted some thought provoking comments.
I started blogging in January as an experiment. I’m a novelist and teach creative writing in a number of different venues – university, community centres, adult education – and students often asked me if blogging was a worthwhile writing activity. The short answer was I just didn’t know. I had a vague idea about what was out there but I didn’t know what it felt like..so I thought I would experiment, calling my blog TWENTY TEN to force myself into giving it a fair go for a year. The very fact that I recently did a bit of a relaunch and changed the title to CONNECTING THE POETRY AND THE PROSE shows that the blogging bug bit. I’m still a novice. There is much I don’t know (for instance I’ve just noticed that here under the button for submit – there is a notice saying 3 trackbacks. What’s that all about it? And is it worth a technophobe like me finding out….)
But it is a way of connecting, sharing and being part of a community and it keeps writing muscles flexed when the tyranny of the white page seems to overwhelm. Of course, it also gives the illusion of working when you are not. Better go, I can hear the call of a dozen lesson plans and the plaintive cry of a draft novel that needs editing…

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I agree with it all! I blog: http://suemoorcroft.wordpress.com – I even have a subject to blog this morning, as I attended the launch of National Short Story week on Saturday and had a great time.

But … yup, time. I do make some – do I make enough? Difficult.

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Thanks for an inspiring and provocative post! I was a bit of a Luddite about blogging at first, but I quickly discovered its addictive quality – to connect with readers so immediately is gratifying (especially when we spend so much time in our heads, with only a laptop for company). I also find that blogging can sometimes clear a creative block in the novel I’m working on….

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Superb and very inspiring post. I believe wholeheartedly in finding your voice. And, yes giving it at least six months to be found. This post has reinforced to me why I blog. As you say sometimes you just wonder if you are wasting time, no money, etc. Thank you for this post and inspiration.

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Great post, I struggle sometimes with blog, but I continue as I know it will get easier. I am feeling quite euphoric this am as just published 1st ebook, so creative juices are flowing so much faster. need to harness this every day!

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I just want to say, thanks for writing this. I think I’m in love.

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Thank you for this article. I am an “aspiring” writer and post daily as a writing exercise. There are days when I wonder why I am doing it, but everyday I find a topic of interest and I keep going. Reading your thoughts on the subject has inspired me to continue. Thanks for that.
K

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I’m inspired. I would say more but I’m off to start my blog!

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great points
it always puzzles me why writers tend to believe that their jobs ends with the completion of the manuscript and refuse to participate in some form of self-promotion. If you don;t do it for yourself then no one else will do it.

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I’ve been blogging for almost a year now and wasn’t quite sure of my audience: was it other writers, other mothers, or those interested in avid couponing? It turns out I have all three, and am now starting to get e-mails and comments about my writing. There are some who look at my blog daily and miss me if I don’t blog for a few days. I believe blogging helped me find my writing voice.

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Thanks for the good insights. I appreciate how you give good and clear advice on how to be a writer in the digital age. I learn a lot about my own blog by reading yours. Thanks so much!

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Thank you for this essay. My beliefs in blogging have been reinforced.

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I started a poetry blog during Napowrimo last April, as it made life so much easier to contribute. I’ve dipped into other areas – fiction, life-writing, quilting – but the poetry has blossomed thanks to other poetry bloggers and prompt sites. Having had a few bits and pieces published, I get far more satisfaction from the interaction with other writers. Thank you for spreading the blogging message!

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Oh my. I’m SO glad I found you!

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@Ryan Mason Oh. my God. A writer is an entrepreneur. I could just scream and jump for joy- which I DON’T usually do, the dignified woman that I am;)- because I have been questioning whether I am either a writer or an entrepreneur. It’s such a scary question to ask myself, but it’s been necessary. A writer is an entrepreneur…my new mantra. Thank you. I needed to hear that.

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Love this and hoping you’re right because I absolutely love blogging and it seems to fit me and my voice. Not sure what I’ll do with it or where it will take me, but it’s been a great ride so far.

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What a wonderful post and it comes at a very appropriate time for me! Thank you for confirming what I was hoping would be true. And you’re right. In the 4 years I’ve been blogging, the purpose and the voice have changed dramatically, and continue to change as we speak!

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