Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Blogging with a Purpose

[This was prepared as a presentation/article for the Mid-Wilshire Writers group regarding blogging as a promotional tool. This is, of course, just my opinion which makes it as valid as anything else you'd find online.]

Why have a blog?

Many writers have difficulty finding encouragement and emotional support, but online allows access to countless others. Writers can form friendships, network for future business, and have access to publishing authors, agents and editors who can provide accurate and current information about the process and the industry.

A blog can have many purposes, but we are going to discuss the concept of an "author blog" or using the blog as a promotional tool for you and your writing.

An author blog differs from a personal blog in a number of ways. Author blogs can be an introduction of you and your writing to not just readers but possible employers. The process that led to the contract for my novel-for-hire project was initiated when an editor found my writing blog, Dreaming in Red, and emailed me.

Why have an Author Blog?

It familiarizes your readers and possible new readers with your "author self." Remember your blog-persona is not necessarily you. It is the you that you are willing to share with readers.

The reason that we make this distinction is, once you become a public figure, people will want information about you. Your readers will want to interact and learn about you, your process, your next book, etc. It's up to you to take control of what information they are permitted to have.

A general rule of thumb I've seen repeated by both agents and editors is to remember to never post on your blog something you wouldn't say to a complete stranger—because that's what a blog is. It's a glimpse into your life that you are offering to the millions of strangers surfing the internet.

So let's talk about what a professional author blog isn't, because that's easier to define:

1) It is not your personal diary.
2) It is not where you insult or tear down other authors, agents who rejected your query, or editors that you disagree with.

I cannot stress enough how small the publishing industry is. Especially within a genre. Agents talk to one another. Editors talk to one another. Authors talk to one another. So play nice. If you want to vent or rant, please do it in a space that isn't accessible to the public or is an anonymous place that isn't connected to you.

Remember, your future employers and customers are looking at your blog as representation of you. If you wish to be treated as a professional, you have to present yourself as one. That doesn't mean you need to be "detached" or "unfriendly," just that you behave in a manner that is respectful of yourself, your profession, and your peers.

Some things to keep in mind

Consistency: If you want to be found, you have to keep your online identity consistent. You shouldn't be J. Smith on livejournal and Jane S. on Blogspot and Jane Smith on Facebook and HotKinkyBabe34 on myspace if you want that livejournal, blogger, facebook and myspace account to be recognizable to your fans who are googling "Jane Smith."

Writing samples: It's a good idea to provide short pieces of your writing as samples of your skill—but be aware anything you put on your blog should be considered off-limits for selling. Many print publications see a blog as enacting your North American First Printing Rights.

While you want to offer extras and fun things to your readers, you don't want to damage your ability to sell. You also don’t want to post anything that is in violation of the possible non-disclosure clause of your publishing contract. Most authors can only post excerpts of their novels, share cover images, and talk about upcoming books after they obtain permission from their publisher.

The easiest way around this is to create blog-only content—and to remember that every entry is a writing sample. If you're going to talk about mundane day-to-day life, you're best to do it in an engaging, interesting-to-read way that will keep a reader coming back for more.

You want to try to blog every day—or at least every day Monday through Friday. If you can’t do that, try to get at least 3–4 entries a week. The exception to this is if you establish to your readers that you aren't able to blog every day. Vicki Pettersson and Marjorie M Liu, for example, often "disappear" because they've gone into seclusion to finish a project. Other authors like Rachel Vincent and Neil Gaiman blog nearly every day.

That's why developing an idea of what your blog content is going to be will help you. You could do book reviews, or discuss aspects of craft, grammar, plotting, querying—anything you think will be a benefit to your readers. Keep them interested, and they'll keep coming back. Marie Brennan offers reading recommendations and shares book reviews on research material she's using. Melissa Marr has "Sentence Sunday," which allows interaction and encouragement between her blog readers.

Look for help, too. Many authors interview fellow authors, or guestblog, or belong to multiple-author blogs like The Debutante Ball and The Midnight Hour or communities like Fangs Fey Fang.

Another really effective way to get and keep blog visitors is to hold contests. People like to win stuff. The key is getting that giveaway to promote your book. Now, you won't always have a book to giveaway, but if you played nice and made those writer friends, you can always give away one of their books. That gets double the promotion—your name on their blog, their name on yours. Rachel Vincent, for example, has a contest a month and she's averaged between 100–130 entries on her more recent ones.

For some of you this is all information that will have more relevance in the future, but something every writer should consider is the most important about a blog—like working to become published—is that it is secondary to your need to write. Always make your writing the most important thing.

After all, writing is like breathing, if you stop doing it for too long, you'll pass out.


Rachel said...

Ack! Quick! Start writing again!

C. Leigh Purtill said...

This is EXCELLENT advice in a nice concise format. I was just debating the frequency of posts on my own blog, wondering if every day is too much. Thanks for putting this together! :)

kazdreamer said...

Blimey. I'm just catching up on your posts - this is excellent! :)

You know, I might make an LJ feed for DiR so I can read it on my f-list. I am lazy.