A few weeks ago, a friend of mine asked me if writers should have a blog. Apparently, a lot of writing advice was telling them that keeping a blog is something modern writers should do. Network, network, network! But my friend was ambivalent about the whole idea.
In some ways, so am I. At least one day every other week is devoted to that week’s entry. They sneak into my word quota that should be reserved for fictional prose. I often put it off until the last minute (like tonight), which adds some stress to my life, usually when I least need it. But I’ve kept up with The Cat’s Cradle for three years. Why? And, more importantly, is it worth it?
The answer is, I don’t know yet. I don’t know if having a blog will help unpublished writers gain a following and break out or if it’s a huge waste of time. I don’t know how much it may contribute to my success (if in fact I do succeed in the traditional sense of publication with a proper company followed by modest monetary reward and readership.) I don’t know if it’s “necessary.”
Most authors have websites. Many also have blogs, although, from what I’ve seen, few of those are updated regularly. Lots of successful, published authors don’t keep up with a blog because they are too busy writing prose. Which makes sense. However, if you are self-publishing your work, or if you just haven’t found a home for your manuscript yet, having a blog could be a critical tool to help promote it.
The Cat’s Cradle started out as my beta website. Eventually I’d like to have something more sophisticated than a few static pages with author info and a list of project summaries. (And I don’t have the IT skills to jazz it up.) But for now, since I don’t have anything published, it’s good enough for me. I wanted a place where I could start, a place to show that, yes, I am a writer and I’m serious about my craft. I blog primarily because I enjoy it and I’ve got lots of opinions, ideas, and observations about writing, fantasy, and geekdom that wouldn’t find an outlet anywhere else. If you don’t enjoy the process of blogging, then I don’t recommend it. If you do blog, here are a few things to keep in mind:
1) UPDATE REGULARLY.
This keeps your blog active, visible, and shows readers that you are invested in what you are doing. Find a day that works for you (Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays tend to be high-traffic days) and update on that day. I don’t recommend posting more often than once a week but not less often than once a month. Too much and you risk spamming your readers. Too little and they may forget about you. If you find you can’t do a more in-depth article, put in a placeholder with a few bullet-point updates, a picture of your cat, a summary of the convention you’re going to that weekend, anything to show that you haven’t forgotten about your blog and your readers. At the very least, post an update on Twitter or Facebook or other micro-blogging platforms you use to advertise your posts saying that you can’t update this week but you’ll be back and give an ETA for the next post. This shows consideration for your readers and proves you are serious about deadlines, but also helps keep your blog at the forefront of their minds. In this busy, often over-saturated digital world, it’s easy to be forgotten. (Unless you post something stupid or nasty. Then the Internet will never let you forget.)
2) BE PROFESSIONAL.
While this blog does showcase my own opinions and observations, I try to be as polite and friendly as possible. I keep my blog layout as simple and professional as I can. I try to organize content professionally and keep it typo-free. “But, this is your personal blog, Kat! Why be so careful? Let it all hang out!” Well… The Cat’s Cradle is personal in the sense that I created it, but remember, I’m using this as my beta website to promote my books. This site may be one of the first things that a potential agent or publisher might see. I don’t want to alienate them with poor presentation. I don’t want to give them any reason to doubt my reliability, work ethic, or professionalism. Take a look at the average Tumblr blog and then look at professional artists who have a Tumblr. There is (usually) a huge difference in the presentation and language of blogs belonging to professionals trying to make a living and the blogs of those who are not. And, by the way, being professional doesn’t mean you should shy away from controversial or uncomfortable topics. But it does mean that you should handle them with a level of respect and competency so readers aren’t distracted from your point by poor writing. If you absolutely have to have a “personal” website (and I don’t recommend it), for the love of god, make another site, use a pseudonym, and don’t have any links between the two. (Even then, it might catch up to you. Think twice and then think again before posting anything online.)
3) NETWORK WITH CARE.
The biggest reason that seems to be given for blogging (besides just wanting to) is networking. Build up a network, make connections, and you’re on the fast track to success! …except that EVERYONE ON THE INTERNET is trying to do the same thing. And I’ll be honest: I hate networking. At least in the traditional sucking-up-to-those-in-power kind of networking. It feels disingenuous and sleazy and I can’t do it very well. I prefer to “network by accident.” Basically, what I do is have a link to my website on almost every online account that I have. Facebook, Twitter, DeviantART, Pinterest, wherever I think it appropriate. Then, whenever I post a new entry, I make sure that my social networking platforms send out the update so people following me can see it and click the link if they want. And, since I only post every other week, I don’t spam their feeds with updates (because that, to me, is the fastest way to lose followers.) If I run across a blog or a piece of work that I enjoy, I like it, fav it, leave a nice comment, whatever, and move on. Sometimes the author or artist will reply or comment on something of mine, and that’s great! Just being nice to people, being friendly and courteous… that can open so many doors you didn’t even know existed. And in the wake of misogynistic vitriol like #GamerGate, being nice to people on the ‘net just became that much more important. Be genuine, and it works out. And if you’re like me and either don’t enjoy or aren’t that good at networking, then don’t force it, because it will show.
4) HAVE SOMETHING WORTH SAYING.
This isn’t meant to make you second-guess yourself or try to focus solely on what you think will get you more readers. Rather, you should write about things you know, advice that helped you, skills you learned, stories you care about. It’s often good to have some kind of “theme” tying the posts on your blog together, but it isn’t necessary. For example, The Cat’s Cradle‘s blog is about themes, characters, plot devices, writing techniques, and causes related to fantasy and (to a lesser extent) science fiction stories. You’ll notice that not every post conforms to these parameters, especially when I start talking about nerdy or geeky topics, but I try to always tie it in to story. Catering to fellow fantasy writers is my niche, but I try to keep it accessible to a wider audience. So find something you want to say and do so with gusto!
5) DON’T LET IT RULE YOU.
If you find yourself spending more and more of your time worrying about your blog, checking your blog stats, wringing your hands over followers, or dealing with trolls… step back. Breathe. Walk away if you have to. Turn off the comments, lock the internet, whatever it takes. A blog and a website are supposed to help you. They are tools. They should not control you. Remember that, as fun as blogging is, if you are a writer with a book begging to be finished, that book is your first priority. If you think blogging will take you too far away from your book, then don’t do it. Or stop if you find it getting out of control. No one will think less of you, it isn’t a sign of weakness or failure or anything else like that. It just means you’ve got your priorities straight. So go and get writing.
If anyone has any blogging or website stories, please share them in the comments. I’d love to hear about other people’s experiences and recommendations for navigating the blogsphere!