Friday, November 10, 2006

To Blog or Not to Blog

What role do you think blogs should play for freelance writers. Are they of use in advancing a writer's career? Can they help them get published? Are they a help or a hindrance to publicizing their works? I would be very interested to find out what you think.

There isn't a black or white answer to this question, so I'll break it down into a few (obvious) categories - when it can help (not that often), when it can hurt (probably ditto) and when it has no effect at all (most of the time).

When it will give your career a boost: If you're able to develop a blog with a huge following, in the way that Stephanie Klein or Jen Lancaster have, you could set yourself up for landing a great book deal. (Both of these gals, not for nothing, have written hilarious, insightful memoirs that I suggest you check out if you like that sort of book. They're also supercool people whom I've been fortunate enough to correspond with.) BUT, the days of bloggers getting picked off by agents or editors are more or less over, and toiling over a blog takes a lot of time and effort...I'd say there are far better ways to hope to catch the eye of potential publisher. Not to mention that when I say you have to generate a huge following, I mean it. An agent isn't going to be impressed with a few hundred hits a day or whatever.

Of course, having a blog can also help you if you have a book coming out. Cindy at Conversations with Famous Writers has a built-in audience (including moi), folks who are ready and willing to snap up her book as soon as she says go. And my pal, Laura Dave, author of the smart and poignant, London is the Best City In America, just started a blog on MySpace as a way to chat with her readers.

When it will sink you: I've heard a few writers complain about various blogs that were poorly written, riddled with errors or just plain bad. (And yep, I know that I have occasional typos...I'll admit that sometimes I'm so busy that I can't proof the posts, and for that, I really do apologize.) If an editor or agent checks out your work and sees writing that she finds less than professional or maybe learns something about you (like, I dunno, your ridiculous partying habits) that she doesn't like, she's not going to hire you. When I first started this blog, I wondered what on earth I'd write about, and I think that blogging lends itself to personal venting, to airing information that you might normally keep to yourself...and with good reason. True, if you're blogging anonymously, there's no harm in spilling sordid life details, but if you're trying to use it as a career tool, you should keep it to that. But there's often the temptation to share more intimate details, and I'm not always sure that - for professional purposes - that this is a good thing.

When it won't matter: Nearly all of the time. Magazine editors and book agents are looking for good writers, and true, maybe they can distinguish your voice from your blog, but that doesn't give them any idea if you can research and craft a strong story or pull off an 80,000 word novel. Not to mention that these pros don't have time to skulk around the web looking for great bloggers. They'd much prefer that you have strong clips or a completed, polished manuscript than a daily log of your random thoughts. And remember: blogging isn't considered being published, so really, having a blog -which is the easiest thing in the world to set up - isn't a feather in your cap. It's simply a non-entity.

Bottom line: blogging takes A LOT of time, especially if you're committed to daily upkeep. If you're trying to use it to break into the industry, I really do think that there are better ways and places to pour your energy. If you're using it for a marketing tool, well, then that's something different, and even then, I still don't know if there's a quantifiable effect on sales due to your blog. Blog only if you have the time, energy, and commitment and have something to say. And have no expectation of getting anything out of it. If you do, that's just gravy.

So...I know that a lot of you guys have your own blogs. Have you seen any professional gain from them?


Jenny said...

I started blogging last spring as a way to open my writing time for the day. As a new freelancer, it was great "practice" for me because it taught me self-editing, generated ideas, etc. Now that I'm on more of a roll in my career I just blog for fun. But I do recommend it for people new to a writing career.

Anonymous said...

Though I wouldn’t call it direct professional gain, I do feel I've benefited from interviewing terrific authors and industry pros for my blog. I don’t do it to make connections, but rather to learn from the masters and share knowledge with our readers. Still, one of the authors I interviewed--the fabulous Marsha Moyer--came over to the site as a weekly contributor recently. Another person I interviewed offered to help me out if ever I decided to write a screenplay. (I may take him up on it someday!) The blog is a LOT of work -- far, far more work than I bargained for -- but the personal gratification I feel is also more than I expected. (Typos - arg - I'm sure we all have them. I just realized I spelled "forty" "fourty" in the interview I posted today with Cornelia Funke. How embarrassing!)

Anonymous said...

Much of the work I do is solitary. I enjoy writing for my blog because it connects me to other writers and parents. I've met some generous professionals eager to share what they know about writing and publishing through my blog and blogs like yours, Allison. I think well-written ones contribute a lot to learning the ins and outs of the business--any business.

Larramie said...

Aha, my very first post was: "To Blog or Not to Blog: What Was the Purpose?" From the beginning, I had no expections of being discovered as a writer; instead, the blog was a means of sharing fun and interesting information that always seeed to pass my way. Imagine my surprise when, after two weeks of posting, a reporter from the WSJ -- who had read my post about online shopping -- wanted to interview me for one of her articles. Yes, that's fun! ;o)

However blogging does requires a lot and I'm forever thinking, "What's next?" Btw, Allison is the subject for Monday's post! *G*

Trish Ryan said...

I've been amazed at the people I've met through blogging. My book doesn't come out until Spring 2008 so it's way too early to see if my daily blurts will inspire readers. But so far I've received great recommendations for everything from hair dryers to how best to treat a sore back. Also, it's a great reminder to spend a little time each day focused on the funny stuff that happens :)

Anonymous said...

Hi allison, thanks for answering my question on writers and blogs. Your answers and your readers comments pretty much sum up what I had thought about blogging. As for my writing blog, I created it as a way of announcing to friends and family (and also to myself) that I was a writer and was planning on turning it into my career. I also thought that it might be a way of connecting with other writers. Living in New Zealand, I am finding freelance writing quite isolating. Cheers, Liz

Anonymous said...

I read Neil Gaiman's blog all the time. Although I had read one or two of his books before, I wasn't interested in his work until I'd been reading his blog for about two years. I probably would not have bought his two most recent releases otherwise. The quality of writing in his blog is unnoticeable; he's just such a nice guy and treats his fans so well, it made me want to buy his books.

Blogging well is not easy. Most unpublished writers who blog about writing come across as whiners and amateurs--and what's worse is when they finally get published and beg every random passerby to buy their book. It gives off a desperate, pushy salesman vibe. I never return to those blogs. (A picture of the book and a link in the sidebar is ideal.)

I would say: Don't start a blog until you have an established (or growing) fanbase. It's an effective marketing tool but unwieldly in inexperienced hands.

Sara Hantz said...

I've made some great 'mates' from blogging - who otherwise I wouldn't have known. And when we do eventually meet, we'll already have made a connection.

I love that I can be in such close contact with people all over the world.

It does take up time, but I find it helps me get into my writing.

Allison Winn Scotch said...

Great points, you guys. I completely left out the fact that you really do befriend or at least get to know a lot of other great writers/bloggers out there, and that's certainly worth considering when you're deciding whether or not to blog!
Once again, you guys prove to be brilliant!

Deb said...

I'd be lying if I said blogging didn't do a thing for me. While I have been able to make a successful career out of freelancing, it's my blogs that put my name out there. I even landed several lucrative gigs as a result of my writing blogs. The only problem is the time.

Kristen King, Inkthinker said...

My experience is similar to Deb's. My blog is all about giving people a reason to know my name, to trust me, and to talk about me. I've had one client specifically tell me that my blog was what made him want to hire me, and another say the same thing about my website, but mostly it's simply increased my name recognition and credibility in the industry. I recently hosted a seminar where people kept coming up to me in the bathroom and telling me how much they loved my blog, or how reading my blog inspired them to start their own, or asking about my puppy, or wondering how the Great Office Clean-Up was going. It was awesome. That's why I blog.