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