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?