Why writers should NOT blog

I’ve been doing it all wrong. Or to be more precise – I’ve been doing it. All wrong.

So says Livia Blackburne (on the left there). And she’s a brain scientist.

But hang on – Hope Clark says it’s essential for any wannabe or published writer to maintain a blog. Unfortunately, she also says it should be focussed – have one overriding theme. Oh well…

But what’s all this about blogs being inherently bad? The potential for distraction I can relate to. Very much so. But there are also benefits. At least, that’s been my experience – specifically support and encouragement from you, you lovely people. And constructive criticism. That’s helpful too.

Well, according to Livia, blogs are effective for non-fiction writers as a showcase or clearing house for their area of expertise. But when it comes to fiction, she has this to say:

At some point, unpublished fiction authors started feeling the pressure to build platforms. The problem is, they forgot all about target audience. Rather than being a means to reach the right readers, blogging became an end in itself – a box to tick off self promotional checklist. Fiction writers, being somewhat one-track minded, overwhelmingly decided to blog about writing. And thus, the writing blogosphere was born, with articles, contests, and promotions all aimed at fellow writers.

The thing is, we haven’t created effective platform. What we’ve created is a never-ending writing conference. …blogging for writers will not sell your book to the general reading population. This is even more apparent in the field of children’s literature. There are thousands of YA [young adult] and MG [middle grade] writers (me included), blogging their hearts out to adoring readerships, while ignoring the inconvenient detail that their number of actual teens they’re reaching can be counted on one hand.

And you also have to look at the opportunity cost. Think about the number of blog followers you have, and suppose that a fifth of them buy your book (that’s a high percentage, IMHO). Now think about the amount of time you spend blogging. Time spent on the blog is time spent away from something else: writing another book, contacting book clubs, taking a part-time job and investing that money in advertising or a publicist. Given these myriad other options, is blogging still an efficient way to reach readers?

Sometimes in online platform discussions, someone will mention the elephant in the room, that we’re only blogging for other writers. Usually, that comment is met with thoughtful nods. Comments of “Yeah, we should think about that”. More awkward silence, and then we go back to our blogging. We can’t help it. It’s too much fun, and it’s a path of least resistance. I ‘ve never heard anyone come up with a thoughtful, generalizable, plan for reaching targeted fiction audiences through blogging.

That’s an edited excerpt of what she has to say. You can find the full version here. She finishes on this question: Is blogging a waste of time? The answer, according to her, is Yes. What do you think?

Meanwhile in other exciting news:

  1. The Belgian artist DINDIN whom I mentioned in Lively Ladies has got in touch. A reminder that the real world is out there and can come back to bite you – or in this case feel inspired. But maybe I should think about removing that post about Frederick Forsyth. Just in case.
  2. The first guest post in the international prestigious “The Day I Met…” competition will be published here on Wednesday 7th September. All will be revealed on Wednesday about the identity of the author and the celebrity, but I’ll give you a slight clue now. There may be baldness. And there’s still time to enter. Please do. Entry details are here
  3. Getting back to the subject of blogging being a waste of time. Not only do I do it here, I also do it for another website. So feel free to click here to read about what Jessie (“It’s not about the money”) J and Rod (“Show me the money”) Tidwell have to teach us about social entrepreneurialism. The blog post is called Forget about the pricetag? And if anyone leaves a positive comment at the end of it, the website might let me do another one.
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28 Comments

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28 responses to “Why writers should NOT blog

  1. Well, my life (the global and the particular) is my material. I write for many reasons (may attach essay from book); but basically I write to connect; I live to connect; it’s the relationship which is so awesome; it gives illumination to ‘we are one,” and besides I’ve never known anyone entitled “Black Watertown” before, even though there was a town in Massachusetts named Watertown, so that’s the facts Jack.

    WHY I Write-from You Carry the Heavy Stuff, Esther Bradley-DeTally

    Like now, when the dishes sit orphaned in the kitchen sink because I, their washer, am out clicking away at my key-board, typing, sharing, breathing, living, putting off the inevitable. Because once a long time ago, I was so hurt I couldn’t breathe. I carried an intake of hurt with me forever, until I found out that sensitivity is the price and the prize in order to become a hollow reed for others.
    I write for myself. I write for others. I write to others. I write to a woman in Chowchilla, falsely imprisoned for defending herself against her rapist and abusive stepfather. She tells me she liked the phrase in an essay of mine: “The language of God is a tear running down someone’s cheek.”
    I write because I read insatiably, gobbling, inhaling, filling myself with the human condition. Some days, I am splat on the floor like a big old squished bug, its body swept up by old straws on a broom. Other days, I write to show my younger view of the magic of St. Theresa’s Snow Queen Altar when I was seven, when everything looked like a wedding cake.
    When I was younger, I was terrifically needy. I could have impaled myself on a stake wide and big, sort of like a meta-letter holder, and I could have run this huge pole right through my insatiable heart, with a note on my back: “Loves too much.” I write because I have gone beyond Medieval Posts puncturing despair and loneliness and have decided maybe men love too much or we all love too much or too little.
    We are told by images in advertising that we should be thin, jaded, look like models for glossy fashion magazines, whose eyes suggest an ability to shoot up on a lunch hour. Despair is trendy. Nihilism and materialism and not giving a damn might be the language of the hour.
    But out in the world of readers and would-be writers and writers, some lonely, little, big, young, old, trembling, brassy, you catch-my-drift writer, writes because he or she must. Words have a visceral effect upon her, him, the dog, the surrounding room, hopes for the world, and maybe a good ham sandwich (or description thereof) on a sour dough roll, with slabs of mayo, and a bed of lettuce.
    You know, what this nation needs is a good ham sandwich and a Pepsi without the Aspartame and some honest-to-goodness dealing with truth. Hey, maybe it’s okay to love and not love, to fear and not fear. Let’s be real, be afraid of bugs in knotty pine walls when the walls come alive at night.
    At this moment, I watch an elderly blind woman clutch the corners of her walker, take a breath, and remain a sweet, sweet spirit. She thinks her tests are of the divinely calibrated kind, even though metaphoric trucks have run over her.
    I write to honor her, to speak of the anonymous amongst us. I love to watch bravery in action and small acts of courage, and what about kindness in our nation while the world is narcissistically checking its derriere in the mirror?
    Does anyone listen to the intake of breath at midnight as the poor contemplate a way out? I write to speak and suggest we must have immense courage and speak up. We gotta talk, yeah, walk the talk, and we must share our hopes for a future where humankind will live in harmony and prosperity.
    I suggest someday we will all be sensitive, spiritually inclined, and aware of our oneness. The sense of “the other” will go on a back shelf, like Twinkies, no longer approved of by the American Heart Association. Maybe writing will be celebrated by hoots and hollers and a piping or two from a medieval horn or Siberian throat.
    I hope the arts will have a way of grabbing our souls’ innards and carrying us through the day. These are some of the reasons I write, but there are others. Today is Wednesday, and these are my Wednesday writing reasons.

  2. I started my pre blogging by staying with two bloggers that are just terrific at sarcasm,making fun of other people’s idiocy, the idiocy or the world in general and with just plain funny stuff based on observations around then. They allowed me to playoff their topic with my humor and then encouraged me to start my own because they felt I would gain an audience in the genre described. I two weeks an editor picked up on my stuff and now published my cartoons in his quarterly. The audience of their blog became an audience of mine and vice versa.
    I am working on an 80 page cartoon book to put up on kindle and have material for several more volumes. I would never have put it all together for such a project if it weren’t from advice and encouragement from my particular wordpress family. The blog has opened up possibilities and averaging 125 hits a day is a success I suppose. Most of all I have met a dozen or so people(out of 75 subscribers) with whom I am friends, on the net at least, and we have shared on email so the friendship has become deeply personal and we are part of each others lives. Someday, perhaps I will meet with some for some on the back porch conversation. 75 subscribes is not small feat. Networks are built and your blog becomes part of your resume as well. I learned there is a lot of quality talent out there that goes unrecognized in the publishing world but our chances at being recognized are expanded. I have regular exchanges with half a dozen published novelists and a lot of advice exchange has bred.

    • blackwatertown

      Fantastic about getting the cartoons published in the quarterly.
      I agree with the encouragement side of things, but I had forgotten about meeting other bloggers in the flesh, which has been another pleasure – Padmini I met up with when she was over from India – Crime Scene NI in Belfast (ages ago now – I haven’t been back for about a year – terrible).

  3. It started as a favour, then it turned into fun, and now I blog as a way of talking to the friends I have made and met through this medium.

  4. It’s not just writing blogs that’s a problem it’s reading them! There’re so many great blogs out there to read and follow, it’s hard to find time to post a blog of ya own let alone get on with the important business of “writing” sometimes! Worse when ya trying to dream up different material for several sites 🙂 Blogging is definately a distraction from writing…or an excuse maybe when self discipline’s gone out the window and ya REALLY can’t be bothered to make the effort that day lol…yes…ok…very bad to admit to such laziness but I’m sure I’m not alone even if no-one else admits to it 😉 It’s all a matter of balance…and I think blogging world can also enhance writing because it introduces you to whole new worlds you knew nothing of, and cool people with fascinating personalities, both of which can enhance and even redirect the writing experience in new and exciting directions. 🙂

    • blackwatertown

      But it’s a happy problem to face – the opposite of boredom.
      Actually writing for blogs isn’t a problem at all for me – it’s keeping the ideas in mind long enough before they’re overtaken by new ones. So the more blogs the better. (Easy for me to say though – I only do two.)
      Yes – reading is more of a challenge as the list of interesting sites grows.
      In fact the worst thing is commenting – not thinking of something to say – but navigating the various security systems and seeing your considered comments wiped out without being saved. That can be frustrating. Ah well.

  5. Blogging is, for the most part, writing. So why does it need to be *about* writing as well? Simply by writing – about anything, the riots, wallpaper, North Korea, the price of cheese – a writer is showing off his or her craft.

    [Looks back at his own blog to see how much of it is about writing. Feels a bit sheepish.]

    • blackwatertown

      It doesn’t. Mine isn’t anyway.
      I think Livia, quoted in the post, is looking for a more hard-nosed sell sell sell approach.

  6. I blog, so I am not a writer. I am a writer so my pieces are not blogs…I have a very strong feeling this is like the proverbial chicken and egg question though Grannymar and you may say that blogging is a new chick in the hen house!! I think blogging helps me put a face to my reader…general writing does not.

    • blackwatertown

      ” I think blogging helps me put a face to my reader…” Maybe it’s time I reconsidered my gravatar image and was not so shy. On the other hand, an 11-year-old said it was cool, which was a pleasant surprise.

  7. I am not what you could call a writer. I am however a blogger and very happy to be writing as a blogger.

    Creativity is an overrated concept. All of us are creative to some degree or the other. Being professionally creative is of course a very desirable state to be, but if one does not have to worry about the bread on the table, blogging serves a great platform to let the creative juices flow!

    • blackwatertown

      Maybe you could say that creativity is an unrecognised quality in many, by many.
      Though I have found it a joy to work with really creative people myself – as well as others who wouldn’t scratch their nose without checking first for permission in triplicate, sadly.

  8. Why shouldn’t a writer have a blog? Isn’t it like a footballer going to the park for a kick around with his mates?
    Oh, apart from the money of course……

  9. Hi Blackwatertown,

    Thanks for the mention! I didn’t respond right away cuz I didn’t want to kill the discussion thread.It’s great that you’ve got people talking here, with lots of great thoughts. I think you’re right that there are many reasons for blogging, and that selling books is only one reason.

    Actually, the whole deal w/ this post has been an interesting experience. Your own response was very well thought out and balanced, but I’ve gotten quite the spectrum of replies. It’s an interesting case study in internet telephone. I’d written the article with a focus toward my core readership, many of whom are aspiring writers told that they must blog in order impress agents and show they have a platform for selling books — and for the reasons mentioned in my post, I thought that many of those efforts were not effective. Then the article got picked up by Galleycat, rephrased as “3 Reasons Authors shouldn’t blog” — not inaccurate, but just slightly more opinionated and quoting the inflammatory line “I think blogging is a waste of time” without any of the attached qualifiers. And from there, it was passed on “Livia Blackburne thinks all bloggers are dumb and wasting their time!” And the conversation kind of went downhill from there.

    But a good thing that came out of it was that people are talking about blogging, and why they’re doing it, which I think is really important because it all too often becomes something that writers “should do”. I’d like to see the conversation move on from “whether or not to blog”, on to what you hope to accomplish by blogging, and how to go about it.

    • blackwatertown

      Thanks for joining in Livia. This really has prompted some long and considered comments. It’s always interesting to see how your work and opinions are represented by others.
      I think you’re right that not all knee jerk blog efforts are properly thought out – if they’re primarily aimed at generating sales, that is.
      But, as you acknowledged yourself in your original post, there are other potential benefits.
      I suppose the danger is that they take on a life of their own. Or is that actually a postive, if unintended, consequence.
      I haven’t quite worked it out myself.

  10. I think there are two issues here. The actual writing of a blog which people do for all sorts of reasons and writing blogs about writing. There’s also the painful plethora of blogs featuring the work of would-be writers and poets (ahem I’m one of them) where frankly, the work’s total crap. I don’t blog much any more mainly due to time constraints and a focus on writing but I don’t have an issue with the support network. I wouldn’t have found Sydney Writer’s Centre, Glimmertrain and a plethora of other sites if I hadn’t been connected. Nor enough people on whose couches I intend to surf eventually. The friendship network is pretty amazing. However I would never put a published or publishable piece on the blog. That’s ‘work’ and needs to be sent via the right channels. The only problem with putting creative writing on blogs is the lack of honest criticism. Lot’s of sycophantic comments but would they buy your book? I doubt it.

    • blackwatertown

      You attract constructive criticism at your Creative Infanticide site – though you do work hard to demand it. It’s refreshing to read people pulling you up on research, foreign language terms and pace in your very good stories. So you have managed to break through that sycophancy, as you put it.
      The friendship – yes. Potential couch surfing – good idea, I must work on that one.
      Have you had anything in Glimmertrain? I receive their newsletters.

  11. Blogging’s too fun, though. I will continue my useless habit forever. I used to write about a more narrow topic, but ran out of ideas, so now I just make people endure whatever weird ideas that come into my head. There’s only so much I can write about writing, or draw about drawing…

  12. I posted a long reply on Livia’s blog, but I’ll try to be more succinct here.
    Reasons for me to blog:
    1. All writers I know are readers.
    2. I’m intending to put up content that is less about writing and more fiction/review.
    3. I don’t always have creativity, but I always have an opinion.
    and what I left out on Livia’s blog:
    4. I have readers who are really just interested in my collegiate journey and will be happy with whatever I share on that.
    I suppose for the last one I should open a different blog, but it seems related. And I don’t REALLY want to share my LiveJournal like that…

    • blackwatertown

      Who can be bothered running multiple blogs about their life? Okay – I know some of you do – but it’s too much for me.
      Good arguments.
      I’m going to check out more of your writing now.

  13. Hello BWT! Well, what a topic! Blogging got me writing, I suppose.

    I’ve realized lately that the pool of writers and ideas in Jordan is so small that some pull ideas from my blog and run with them as originals. Hm. The writer may have covered that, of course I am drive-by-commenting after a speed-snacking run through your latest post-buffet.

    I’ve never been to a writers conference, so I suppose I should thank you for being a continually available and engaged conference speaker. Bless!

    • blackwatertown

      Very naughty idea stealers you have in your neck of the woods. Bit pathetic of them to think they wouldn’t be noticed.
      As for the writer conferences – I am indeed available – but I couldn’t claim to be continually engaged in them. I haven’t ever been to one. Yet (said he optimistically.)

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