Tuesday, April 03, 2018

New and improved ways to torment you!

A certain literary agent Tweeted a checklist of items querying authors should include in their website. This list notably didn't include *Blog* as one of the items. If you scroll through the thread and comments, he shared (paraphrased) that while having a blog on a website won't hurt an author, it's also very *last-decade* and useless.

Do you agree with this? Asking for a friend.
I've never thought a blog was essential for a querying writer. A website, or an electronic location with info on where to find or contact you, absolutely, but that's the least of what a blog is.

Back in the day when dinosaurs blogged the earth, blogging was a very easy way to establish a web presence. Blogspot.com was easy to learn to use and update; no website designer required. And for a while, it was about the only way to have conversations on the web.

Then the social networking sites (MySpace, Facebook et al) took over. Now there's Instagram and Pinterest and probably a lot more I haven't seen or used. Those made it a lot easier to connect with people and the entire platform is searchable for people whereas blogs are not.

Blogs were no longer the only way to establish and maintain a web presence, nor the only way to talk to readers.

And the disadvanges of a blog became increasingly clear when more and more people started blogging.

One big disadvantage is the need for fresh content, regular updates, and most important: reader interaction. A blog without readers who comment is like a cat without someone to pet it. Present, but a shocking waste of fine fur.

The demand for fresh content meant finding ongoing interesting topics; topics that drew readers and comments. Bloggers found this increasingly daunting.  A lot of blogs fell by the wayside. (The death of Google Reader didn't help either.) Blogs soon got a bad name for platform building. Thus an agent might advise writers that blogs are useless even though there are clear examples of blogs that are NOT useless (for example: this one.)

Putting your blog ON your website has always been a sore spot. Blogs require grooming, just like cats, and I'll be glad to tell you how fun it is to keep spam at bay, fix broken links, and otherwise maintain a spiffy blog. (And I get a lot of very valuable help on finding/fixing typos which other bloggers do not.) A website with a scruffy blog is a like a cat in a brown paper bag: you know there's fine fur in there somewhere but it's not really visible.

I actually posted about this before in a different context.

To answer the question you asked: blogs in and of themselves aren't useless, but they might not be the most effective deployment of your limited resources of time and creativity, or provide the most return on investment of those scarce resources.  And sure they're last decade, but hell Agatha Christie's books are last century, (The Secret of Chimneys is 93 years old!) but I still love and value them.

To answer the question you didn't ask: if you have a blog on your website, and it's nice and tidy, with regular updates, no spam, and has reader interaction (ie comments), a prospective agent will not think less of you: that you're surely out-of-step with the times; a supporter unto death of two spaces after a period; most likely some hooligan who writes bodice rippers, penny dreadfuls, and lesser forms of The Bard's Art; and quite probably a devotee of that pickpocket advocate Charles Dickens.

You seem to be blogging. Such a pity.


Carolynnwith2Ns said...

I am so behind the times. I have to look up ahead just to see my backside. I love my desert boots and mood ring. They're rad, groovy, cool, neat and the cat's meow. Pick a decade...I'm it.
Two spaces after periods just for Janet.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Hey, my spaces disappeared.

K. White said...

A very timely post considering I’m in the process of launching a website with a blog as the landing page. I’ll have to rethink that.

Another question: with all the ballyhoo about the #deletefacebook movement I read a different blog that suggested authors should abandon social media and focus on building their audience using their own website and e-news letters. What are your thoughts on those Janet?

Gigi said...

OP, marketing pro here: I'll echo everything Janet said. Can blogs be useful? Abso-friggin-lutely. Are they necessary for marketing yourself online? Nope. And, in fact, if you don't want to or don't think you can regularly post, I usually tell my clients to consider other platforms like Medium or guest posting on already-popular blogs.

The one place I will disagree (eek - don't chomp me) is with the comments thing. Even very popular bloggers have seen an enormous decline in comments in the last few years. People still comment, but they're more likely to do it *outside* the blog itself, now. On Twitter while sharing the blog link, for instance. Or on a Facebook thread with the blog post link. It's something I've seen bloggers talking about a lot lately. A few have turned commenting off altogether, kept the blog post on their blogs, but moved the conversation to Facebook.

So, while agents may be judging a blog by its direct comments (oof, I hope not), they are not actually always a good measure of how engaged someone's audience is.

Also, depends on your content. Q&A style blogs still seem to get more comment love than informational blogs, even if the informational blogs get great social sharing, Google ranking, and other success metrics. I've personally bought many a book without commenting on the blog that mentioned it.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

My blog has gone dark because I must finish a book that can be queried and sold and my time and resources are scarce. When I get to the query phase, I will revive the damn thing. Even if it is last decade.

Ugh! The torment is tearing me apart.

Sam Mills said...

I'm glad this came up! Many of the blogs I love have gone no-comment for sanity-saving moderation purposes BUT all the conversation happens on social media instead, so there is still back-and-forth with the author. I'm fine with that.

In that same Tweet thread, the suggestion came up to utilize the blog as content for a newsletter, as the agent in question felt content delivered by email was better than asking people to check RSS feeds anymore (I'm a dying breed apparently).

I love blogging. It stretches my writing brain, and it's a place to share good books, good news, anecdotes about my haunted house or childhood mishaps. So now I'm looking at newsletters and thinking...maybe this is a way to use my loved ones as mailing list guinea pigs before I start begging strangers...I mean, enticing strangers with my excellent content.

Anonymous said...

Whew! The question worried me, that I might be wasting my time/effort on this whole blogging thing. Luckily, Janet was here to reassure me (double-checks that my site looks tidy)

K White I'm scared if the abandon-FB movement succeeds, that means a lot more compartmentalization of social media. And honestly? That sounds like a LOT more effort to try and get any sort of traction or visibility outside of a particular niche.

LynnRodz said...

Oh boy, this post came a month too late, but better late...

Anyhoo, I've been so bad at keeping my blog up to date that I really should consider shutting it down completely. I have to agree with Gigi though, the comments happen more on Facebook now when I do post.

As for two spaces after a period, it took a little while to break that habit, but thanks to you, Janet, I did several years ago.

Julie Weathers said...

Don Maass says often he doesn't like blogs and here's the reason. If an author is blogging regularly, they are not writing. They think they are because they're thinking about interesting things to write, then they write something and fiddle with it and fiddle some more and then post it and phew, they've written something. But, they haven't really because they're not working on their book.

He's right. If I do a good blog post, I feel like I've accomplished something because I do research it and try to make it interesting and I don't write some little blurb, I write articles.

The reason I decided to start blogging again was because of a discussion we had on TheLitForum. We have a section there were you can post excerpts you're working on and then the exercises section. Someone remarked they loved this line, but they didn't think it would actually happen this way. I said, "No, it's straight from a diary. That's exactly what happened and what was said and backed up with other accounts."

"In that case, you should add an endnote in the book about it."

If I endnoted every phrase, line, event in the book, it would be nearly as long as the book. As it is I wonder if I should add a dictionary, but I'm trying very hard to give people the meanings of unfamiliar words through context. In lieu of that, I'm putting in a list of historical resources I used, I'm blogging a lot, and putting in references there so the curious can go look them up to their heart's content. Plus, I hope eventually people interested in the Civil War may find their way to me. That may be part of my audience.

I would delete Facebook entirely if it weren't for family posting pictures occasionally. I should delete twitter. I don't snapchat or pinterest though I should I pinterest I guess so people can peruse my collection of Civil War photos.

Anyway, speaking of blogging. I need to write today's post.

Eileen said...

Delurking to ask a question. What exactly do you put on your website if you are an unpublished author? After two drawer novels, I am nearing the end of my long personal nightmare revision. I’m about to wade into submission waters for the first time in many years, but I don’t have a personal website nor the time to keep up a blog. (I write a blog for my own business, but a brewery/distillery blog doesn’t cross-over to YA mystery.) At this stage of my career, a website would be nothing more than a digital business card.

Lisa Bodenheim said...

Snowbound today. In April!

OP: Thank you for asking the question.

Eileen: yes, I've seen websites that were just that, a digital business card. You may wish to use a theme that will later allow you to add tabs for when you do have published books.

Hm...RSS Feeds don't count anymore? Bother. But I've enjoyed the very few searchers who've found my websites as the analytics allow me to see what country most are from.

Adele said...

I started a blog when I was fascinated with a craft and nobody I met who knew the craft wanted to talk about it. I felt there was much to say that hadn't been said. The blog let me spew, and I still think those posts are useful information. Even though I haven't touched the thing for 7 years now it's still kicking around in blogspace and every once in a while somebody emails me to ask if there'll ever be another post.

Then there's Twitter. I see from the news that a careless tweet, misunderstood, is a wonderful way to get rid of your career, but other than that I don't understand why people need to Tweet.

Now I'm told Instagram is the thing. It's a picture. I suppose if I wanted to spend hours on it I could create the picture that replaces 1,000 words but I truly don't understand why that is so desirable or why a non-verbal social media site will engender an audience for my words.

I persevered by signing up with Medium, but haven't posted anything yet. I'm exhausted. Can't I just go dark?

JEN Garrett said...

New and improved ways of torture indeed!
Now I'm wondering: am I in trouble because I blog just for the fun of it, whenever I have something to say?
My blog has few followers, fewer comments, and I've never worried about it because that's not how I plan on selling my books. In addition to the hobby of keeping a blog, I also have built real networking connections with professionals in schools, libraries, and parents - audiences that I hope will translate into readers.
But does the fact I have a blog just for the fun of it HURT my author platform?

CynthiaMc said...

I started my blog because people I loved (artist friends who had them and my family) thought I should have one. As it turned out, it was a great thing. It got me writing again and I rediscovered my love for photography.

I used to be off on Fridays so I regularly did Coffee in My Garden posts. My daughter was also off on Fridays so I did Girls' Day Out posts about our hikes/lighthouse climbs, etc. I also did Sunday Morning Singalong. When I was fed up with government shenanigans I vented in my Patriot's Corner posts.

I haven't done much with it in a while because I've been working on my trilogy (and my full time job and my new show) but when I'm stressed, I still visit Escape from Chaos (my blog) and it de-stresses me.

I miss it. Maybe I'll pick it up again.

Unknown said...

Such interesting comments from everyone. I got off Twitter after it became 'weaponized' by Left and Right and writers were throwing word bombs and trying to destroy some person's career for saying something they didn't take time to understand. That is, I loved the writing community until it grabbed the pitchforks. Now, this is about it for me, as I still am recovering from brain surgery. Pretty slow going; I don't recommend it. :)

Anyway--Julie Weathers; I went for a visit to your blog. Very engaging reading.

What I love about this place is the individuality of everyone. And, civility. If you can create that in a blog or a WHATEVER, then you've succeeded.

Unknown said...

P.S. Never could get into Facebook. Certainly wouldn't now.

John Davis Frain said...

Great discussion. I had this very discussion in my mind leading up to the A to Z challenge this month and ultimately decided to use my scarce time writing my WIP instead of posting to my blog. No idea if that was the right decision.

For me, it came down to a choice: Work on my blog, and I'm definitely giving away my art. Work on my manuscript, and there's a chance that I make a career out of it.

I had more fun with the blog because there was instant gratification. But I'm playing the long game, so I've traded my blog for my WIP. Time will tell if I regret it. But time is what forced the decision.

Unknown said...

John D Frain - That's the rub, isn't it: time.

Colin Smith said...

This topic and the comments are chomping around my Number One Writing Issue. If I can put it into a sentence: So what if I can write. Will anybody want to read what I write? And before y'all say, "Who cares! Write anyway!!" I get the sentiment, but... TIME. My days on this earth are growing shorter (as they are for all of us--you're welcome!), and I don't want to invest that time in something that will scratch an itch for me, but will not be appreciated by, or do anything for anyone else.

John's approach to the A-to-Z Challenge this year was exactly my approach last year. I spent a lot of time entering contests and, essentially, giving away work. I wanted to focus time on seeing if anyone would actually buy my work. With real money.

This year, I am doing the A-to-Z, largely because some kindly people (including my wife) said they missed me last year. So here I am, posting 100-word flash stories. And it's fun. And I've got some nice feedback, and audience engagement. But will that translate to people who will want to continue reading my stuff? People who will show enough interest in my work that I'm convinced this is a worthwhile use of my time? That's part of the reason for my Patreon. Yes, it's to raise funds so I can go to conferences and buy pencils, but it's also to see if people with money to spare (i.e., not my writer friends!) would actually put a few dollars a month where their "love your writing" is.

Maybe I'm being too hard on people, or myself. And maybe I come off sounding a terrible person. But I'm being honest with you, my friends, and hoping y'all can tell me what I'm doing wrong, or how to better assess if I'm spinning my wheels, when I could be going somewhere.

Thanks! :D

Lennon Faris said...

Yep, I'm sort of in the same boat as a lot of other folks here it seems. Time is so scarce and if I use it writing a blog, I will never get anything else done.

Julie Weathers - I think yours is a good example of when a blog would be handy to have. Historically-based stories (or any story with lots of background) would provide good material for curious readers.

Colin Smith said...

To Lennon's comment about Julie's blog... I wonder, though, if her Civil War stories that demonstrate the depth of her research would be better served as static pages on a web page. Unless she puts up a page with links, all that information could get lost in the archive. Our Treasure Chest is an attempt to gather some of Janet's useful articles that have got lost in over 11 years worth of blogging, and would otherwise take time to find.

Just a thought...

The Noise In Space said...

This is OT, but something definitely worth reading--if you haven't seen it yet, Writers Digest published a fantastic (though a bit "painful," to use their wording) article about why Ready Player One was such a smash even though a lot of writers/readers thought it wasn't particularly well crafted. It talks a lot about "low barriers to entry," i.e., that books need to appeal to people who aren't usually readers. Give it a read if you have the time.

Jerry said...

K White, regarding the blog as your landing page, your landing page should be the most useful page for people to find out about you. If that’s your blog, it should be your landing page (or heavily represented there). If the best way for people to find out about you is to see your calendar, put that on your landing page. Most likely, it’s going to be whatever you update most often.

And if the best way for people to find out about you is to see your collection of dinosaur porn, make sure you have very good legal representation.

Adele said...

Julie, I'm thinking about your problems with the agents, and others, who read your work and say "No, that never happened - I don't believe it". Maybe, rather than endnotes in the MS, you could put what would be your endnotes on a website page, and provide a link in your cover letter. Might work. I don't think it could hurt.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

COLIN, "...my days on this earth are getting shorter," Bet your sweet cheeks they are. Use them wisely. I will repeat what Janet once told me and I have shared here a few times.
"Do what brings you joy."
Short run, long run, (no regrets sweetheart), if it brings you joy, DO IT BABY.
To everyone, take it from one who has been around the proverbial bend a few times, love what you do, and do it while you can. If what you have to do sucks, but it gets you where you want to go, enjoy the heep you are In because someday you will be on top of it and not buried by it.
All I DO know is that we aren't born with sell-by dates but they sure come on fast.

Kate Larkindale said...

Interesting reading this morning. I have a blog and post regularly 3 times a week. All the information that would be on a website is on my blog, so although I experimented with building a bespoke website, I decided to stick with the blog instead. I have a sign-up form for my newsletter on my blog, but so far not many people have signed up. How do you get people to subscribe to your newsletter when you are a relatively unknown author? That's the big questions here....

Brittany said...

I tried the blog thing for a while and didn't seem to get much traction. Now I've started a Tumblr side blog which... still doesn't get much traction. I feel like the posts are more discoverable this way, though. And the lack of date stamps makes it less obvious if posts are older.

Now I just have to redesign things a bit on my website, to move the moldy blog off the home page and figure out how I want to feature the Tumblr. Not a priority at the moment, but perhaps once I'm ready to query again.

Colin Smith said...

2Ns: There are a number of things in my life that bring me joy, which is why I have this dilemma. Writing fiction itself brings me joy, but I get MORE joy out of it when I know it's read, and it's bringing joy to more people than just me. Seriously, if I wrote fiction just for me, I'd probably quit. Because there are other things in my life that I could do that not only bring me joy, but also benefit others. If I'm writing fiction just for me, then I'm spinning my wheels and I should probably do something else.

Wow. That was brutal. But there it is! 8-O

Unknown said...

Colin - I'm in your camp, so to speak, or mindset. I hope you find the answer that's right for you and your family.

John Davis Frain said...

If the question was, "A brings me joy and B doesn't, which should I choose?" we'd all have an easy answer.

But that's not the question. We want to do all the things.

"A brings me great joy and so does B, but I only have time to dedicated to one of them. Pick one." That's the dilemma.

And this post is even a subset of that. I've already decided I'm going to use a good portion of my scarce time writing fiction. Now then:

Take a master class?
Short story?

That's not an exaggeration. That's a typical 10 pm quandary, including last night. Note that Twitter wasn't one of the options, but somehow wins out on occasion.

Melanie Sue Bowles said...

Colin, You could never come off sounding like a terrible person. Perhaps, for creative purposes, remove the specter of being read and getting published from the equation. It may open some delicious neural pathways as yet untapped. I wrote the stories of the horses who found their way to our sanctuary simply for me. It was cathartic and I never intended on pursuing publication. But life has a way of sending us down different roads.

Colin Smith said...

Thanks, Melanie! :) It really is the use of my time that's the issue, and whether devoting all this time and energy to writing fiction is worth it in light of other things I could be doing that would be just as cathartic, but also beneficial to others. I want to be a good steward of the hours I have... but how do I gauge whether my fiction has an audience? My attempts at determining that so far have not been encouraging. But I'm open to the idea that I'm doing it wrong--"it" being social media, blogging (or not blogging), or whatever I'm doing to be read.

Colin Smith said...

Sorry, guys... I'm over my comment limit, and stealing Opie's limelight. Thanks for hearing me out. Cheaper than therapy, that's for sure! ;)

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

COLINNNNN, I love you.
You are right on track my friend. Janet's therapy recliner is pretty comfortable don't-cha-know.

Anonymous said...

I enjoy blogging. I don't really care whether it's something an agent wants to see or not. I don't make as much time for it as I used to, and I occasionally wonder whether it's "worth it" and consider quitting. But I like knowing that space is there and that I have the freedom and flexibility to express myself in a way that isn't strictly fiction. And I LOVE it when I know I've written something particularly amusing or engaging and can see people clicking over to read it even years later.

Gigi, thanks for pointing out that the decline in blog comments in favour of commenting elsewhere has become a widespread thing. Glad it isn't just *my* experience. My readers tend to comment on a different [private group] blog entirely, on FB or twitter, or even email me a response. Got to admit, blogging was a lot more fun (for me) when comments showed up in droves on my actual blog. But communities shift at will and like the wind; pointless to try to change it.

Karen McCoy said...

Gigi, thank you! I don't get any comments usually, but my blog posts often get retweeted, and I usually get about 60-100 eyeballs per post (I've gotten up to 400 eyeballs on some rare occasions). Most of these are author interviews, featuring their books.

MA Hudson said...

This is the best post! At last I can shed the heavy layers of guilt I’ve haled around because I don’t have a proper blog. I never ever wanted to have a blog, I just wanna make stuff up. I wanna wallow and loll in the sloshy mud pit of my imagination. Now I don’t have to feel like I’m being a bad writer. Yay!!

Colin - my opinion, since you’re asking, is to write and complete a novel. Revise, polish, query, and then get on with the next one. It’s novels that people will pay for and spend their precious time reading. It’s a long game, a REALLY long game, so you need to love the journey and aspire for recognition but not be dependent on it. Everyone here knows you can write well, so just get on and write a damn novel we can all go out and buy!

AJ Blythe said...

I started blogging back when blogging was "the thing". Since then I've created a website and shifted the blog there (although it isn't the landing page). I've found when I'm in a writing slump or having an off day, writing blog posts keeps me writing but using my brain differently. The result is, I schedule my blog posts in chunks and it doesn't take time away from my wip. Afterwards I'm ready to shift gears back to my ms. My posts aren't long (my A-Z ones are an exception - I got carried away with my serial killer research) and I'm not hunting for readers yet.

Once I am published I will probably retire my blog because I will have to focus more on social media, which I am still ad hoc with as nothing has grabbed me like my blog has (although I think I could find my place on instagram...if it's still around then).

I must also be one of the odd ones out, as I often go looking for an authors' website and a blog and not their social media.

Probably over the word limit now...sorry, Janet!

Julie Weathers said...


Yes, I will probably arrange the Civil War posts into pages on the site someday.

Delaney said...

"...if you have a blog on your website, and it's nice and tidy, with regular updates...." Define "regular," please. I post oftener than I mop my kitchen floor but not as often as I shovel snow in winter.