Monday, August 16, 2010

Whether to blog

By Steve Weddle

So the HuffPo did this thing the other day about whether Twitter helps authors sell books.

The author of the piece and some of her partners took a close look at the connection. "After tracking over 20 books during a 6 month period, we realized that the correlations are there but they are unpredictable."

Well, that's interesting. So it might help, but understanding how is confusing. Oh, by the way, the author of the piece is "Founder and President of FSB Associates, a web publicity and social media firm specializing in creating awareness for books and authors."

Ain't that helpful?

I'm not interested in whether the post was meant to send business the author's way. They were clear about the fact that this was a post by someone who makes a living at this sort of thing, so I don't think it was in bad faith at all. Though, you know, that was my initial reaction, which kinda gets to the point of Twitter and blogging that I want to look at. Do folks blog just to be self-serving?

So Twitter maybe helps an author get the word out. OK. And maybe bookstore readings help. (Certainly they help the people who work at the bookstores get to know the people who write the books.) Maybe having a MyFace page helps. And maybe blogging helps. But, you know, what's an author to do?

I've seen many authors who have blogs that lie dormant until the next book comes out. Then, lo and behold, the author is a blogging tsunami. "Hey, look at me. I'm a real person with a daily life. Buy my book." My first thought on this was a cynical one, thinking that author was just trying to pitch a sale and get you to his or her reading. You know, the tabs at the top of the page: "Bio. Books. Blog. Dates. Contact." Yes, buy the books and come to the readings. And contact the writer through a form on the Web site. But, you know, I understand a little more about how this works than I first did.

We have a difference between a blogger and a novelist. Some folks write a blog post every day and do a nice job. Some write a blog post every day and suck. Sometimes, it's hit and miss. Still, this is the medium that person writes in. The give-and-take with the audience. The immediacy of it all. Instant gratification. For a novelist, the gratification is years in the making. And it comes in bursts, doesn't it? A novelist writes by the word, not the post. "Hit 1,000 words already. Going for a walk." That's a novelist's Twitter update, isn't it? A blogger would update "Today's post is live. Swing by and comment."

The blog ain't the novel. Ain't supposed to be. Not that a novelist can't blog or a blogger can't write a novel. Heck, I'm not even sure you have to be in one camp or the other.

But if a novelist is supposed to Twitter and blog, what the heck is he or she supposed to tweet or blog about?

Is a novelist supposed to blog as a reader? Saying how she just read this great book or discovered a new author? Only glowing reviews? Most novelists wouldn't want to insult other writers for fear of being stabbed at Bouchercon. "Hey, Stringer? You're the one who said I write like I'm rubbing a turd on a wet sidewalk? How's about we step outside?"

Is a novelist supposed to blog as a "regular joe"? Saying how he just took the kid's to the dentist and now is heading out to mow the yard? Is that how Samuel Beckett did it? "Just put up with more of Joyce's babbling bullshit about his eye and how he can't get his own drink. What am I? His secretary? Oh, yeah."

Is a novelist supposed to blog as a working writer? "Working on more revisions because the editors like my writing, just not the book I've written." Great idea. Then someone sees a writer complaining about the business and the writer ain't got so much business any more.

Is the novelist supposed to blog as an enthusiast? Used cars? Gun collection? Old movies? BBQ? Scary pictures and freaky collectibles?

Is the novelist supposed to blog at all? Why? To connect? To time away from writing the novel?

The question of whether what you've blogged and what you've twatted helps sell books is certainly worth considering. Another question: "why?" (Another is why Weddle is allowed to write such clumsy sentences. Sheesh.)

I'm all for connecting with readers -- I've been known to tweet a bit in my day. I don't question why, usually. I just kinda chat with folks because I like to chat with those folks.

Maybe those FBS folks can help do the publicity for me. Maybe they can blog for me and get me something viral going along the Internet. Or, if I really need a good virus spreading around, I can call this HOPA/HPOA. Nothing like a good fake-out for the fiction writing.

Are you a novelist who blogs? Do you have a "thing" you do? Why do you blog?

Are you a reader who goes to an author's blog with regularity? Is it good stuff? What do you look for?


Fiona Johnson said...

Since I started twittering I've certainly bought and read a lot of authors that I ididn't know of previously; Charlie Huston, Sean Chercover, Dave White, Russell McLean to name a few. These guys were mostly recommended (often by Mr. Weddle) but others I've just picked up on because I've seen them mentioned and thought I'd give them a go.

I also like to make recomendations myself (Stuart Macbryde) and sometimes find like-minded folk who've read something I've also read. That's fun.

I do like to read the trials and tribulations of writing and I've learned a lot about the writing process, which I find fascinating.

I read about the struggle to get an agent, the revisions, the amount of words written per day, the half finished novels put on ice, the rejections, the book tours, the book launch and I find it all incredibly interesting.

I also see how much writers who blog and tweet support each other; there's a real community out there that stretches around the globe.

The writing process has been demystified for me. I now see that it is hard slog, not some magical process. So I hope writers keep blogging and tweeting, because I'm reading and now writing a little ... and throwing in the odd comment along the way.

Chuck said...

I tend to look for two things in any good authorial twat-swatter, or, frankly, anyone who uses Twitter:

a) Entertain me.

b) Inform me.

Done and done.

It does help sell books. I bought books of authors I found on Twitter but were unaware of before that. It can also hurt the sale of books -- I found one author to be very annoying, constantly tweeting annoying inane bullshit between really clumsy self-promotion, and then I sort of got a bad taste for that author.

-- c.

Kent said...

As I reader, I enjoy a fair number of author blogs. Some are little more than self-promotion, others are of a more personal flavor, and others offer candid insight into how a particalr author works, what makes them tick, stuff like that (the best one around for my money, by far, is Norm Partridge's American Frankenstein).

Twitter can be fun. Sometimes the deluge of self-promotion and re-tweeting gets to be a bit too much (and I'm certain I'm guilty of going with the RT a few times too many), and I log off.

I can't honestly say that I've ever bought an unknown to me author's book because of a blog or tweet. It's usually the other way around, you know, 'Oh, X has a blog. Cool.'

Gerald So said...

I've been blogging six years for the mostly selfish reason of forcing myself to write on a regular basis, to work through my thought process, which results in more creative material.

My brother talked me into tweeting two years ago so he'd have one more follower on Twitter. I tweet random thoughts that don't make it into blog posts and occasional work updates.

I understand that authors, entertainers, and anyone who has wares to sell may feel forced to have an online presence, but as you say, Steve, unless used properly a blog or Twitter account can fall flat.

I would think if one has enough personality to write a book that others like, one has enough personality to blog or tweet. Many authors say they enjoy touring for the opportunity to connect with fans after sitting for months at their desks. A blog can be like a tour stop where you get to talk about stuff that interests you more than "Where do you get your ideas?"

That said, I usually don't get to know people or start reading their works from their blogs. I prefer to meet them in person and then read their blogs.

Steve Weddle said...

McDroll - Recommendations are great. Opening up the Stuart MacBride tonight. COLD GRANITE. Don't know what it's about yet, but I'm told there's a good deal of rain in it.

C - Either works for me.

Kent - I find the RTing interesting on Twitter. I get the feeling that some folks use the service as a sort of curated RSS reader.

Gerald - Yeah, and I want that personality to go into the novels I read.

Ron Earl Phillips said...

I've been to a few author blogs and it has been a mishmash with writers who focus on the craft, on their lives or their favorite hobbies. And then there are some who don't put much effort into the task and posting inconsistently.

Twitter has helped keep up with the blogs, like you say like a feed reader, whether the author is consistent or not. I see the tweet or the RT and I can jump over without having to remember and likewise get disappointed when there is nothing new to read.

I like blogs that kind of mix it up, between trade and life. Hobbies aren't all that much of a draw unless I'm an enthusiast too. You may love model trains, and while I think they're fun to look at, I don't really care about the minutiae.

That's where I've failed in my own blogs past. I'm just not sure what's interesting to others. I do think having a blog and a following is important to a new writer.

Dana King said...

The only thing on Twitter that has ever interested me is "Shit My Dad Says." He's a riot, though the TV show is sure to stink.

I read several author blogs. I like those that deal with writing issues. I'm not so fussy about which writing issues--a variety of topics is nice--but, at the risk of seeming unsympathetic, I don't really care if Billy got a haircut and the dog at a turd today. Or vice versa, for that matter.)

I blog myself because it helps me to work things out, and the (few) comments I receive help with that even more. As for what topics to cover, I have multiple blogs. One deals exclusively with writing topics. Another is sports. The third (and original) is for whatever is on my mind. Usually it's something political that's pissing me off, but i can be anything.

Rob Kitchin said...

I've opened up this comment box, so I better leave something. I was all poised to write something insightful, but then it occurred to me that I'm not really sure why I write a personal blog! (and I don't twitter) I need a bit of self-reflection on that one. At the time I started I just thought I'd give it a go and see what it was like and what would happened. I guess I continue because I enjoy it and if a few people are prepared to read it then it seems worth it (that said, I'm not sure I'd bother if my readers dropped below five - I can chat on the phone to my folks).

pattinase (abbott) said...

In terms of whether things like Facebook work to sell books, nothing turns me off more than writers that are on facebook only to sell books, and point out their good reviews. Some do a better job than others in hiding it. The people who I really admire talk about other people's work, not their own. And because of that, you become interested in them.
I blog because I always wanted to have a talk show where I got to ask people questions. I love conversation and try to use my blog to generate it. Although after some not very nice episodes, I stay away from political ones.

Steve Weddle said...

REP - Yup. And I think the idea that you blog about what you love whether it's trains or cooking is interesting, but I don't see how it has much impact on your novel. Unless you're a Spenser fan.

Dana - You're a busy fella. Sheesh.

Rob - FIVE? I'm jealous. I had that many hits one day on my site, but three were bots. Nice bots, but still.

Patti - Yeah. The self-promotion thing is a killer. There's gotta be a ratio, right? 20 non-promo things for every 1?

Stephen Blackmoore said...

Though I do push my writing there occasionally I don't see my blog as an author blog. I don't see me as the focus except peripherally. It's 99% about crime in L.A.

I try to update a couple of times a week, though I used to do it more frequently.

I don't see it, or the stuff I'm doing on Twitter as promotional. Anything I get out of it in terms of awareness of me and my writing is secondary.

That's my basic philosophy on marketing in general. I'm aware of it, and I want to make sure people know about me, but I'll be damned if I jump up and down and scream BUY MY BOOK / READ MY STORIES / GIVE ME MONEY over and over again.

That's not interesting to write and it sure as hell isn't interesting to read. I want to make sure what I'm writing is either entertaining, interesting or both.

I do L.A. Noir because, well, it's complicated, actually.

But the basic gist of it is that I want to entertain, think I have something to say, and hopefully can actually make some positive changes with it. Maybe. Somehow.

At some point I'm going to have to have a site that's just about my writing and I'll do some blog that's more personal and authorial, but what I've got going now isn't it.

chad rohrbacher said...

I tried to blog once. Used a fake name and focused mainly on politics. I built up a decent readership, but then I had this thought "What the hell am I doing?"

It was a serious thought. I found myself researching material so I would know what I was talking about and reading a lot of political wonks and news updates so I could keep up to date for my next post. yes, you can say "ugh".

Did I really want to spend that much time doing that? The answer I finally came up with was no. 3 kids, job, blah blah blah started taking a backseat.

This is a long-winded approach to saying I blog and tweet very sporadically. It's a messy mix between other people's lives and mine -- generally centered around writing.

My tweeting is awful. I know it. So I now only tweet if I want to share someone's work, a site, or something interesting. I read a fraction of the tweets that come over the tubes and mostly am looking for the same things (though those who are entertaining get first dibs).

Ultimately I find the blogging and tweeting very similar to the previous blog experience. If I can squeeze in a thousand words of writing between life responsibilities, it's going to be on a story or something. I don't know how the other people do it. Seriously. And I especially admire those those who do it consistently and do it well. Many of whom I have found through other blogs (go figure).

Of course,

Dave White said...