“Why do you blog?”
It’s a question I get asked a lot, usually by other writers who are wondering how in the world to manage a blog amongst all their other writing commitments.
My answer has varied over the years.
As most regular readers know, I started this blog on a dare. Then I became consumed by it. Then I realised that it was cutting into my writing time in a big way. So I cut back. But I’m still here, for a variety of reasons – love, community, habit, sheer bloody-mindedness.
But it got me thinking.
These days, most writers know that they need to build a ‘platform’ – that elusive beast from the back of which they will launch their books and other projects to the waiting world. They must, they are told by experts, ‘get into social media’. But social media can be a bewildering and unwieldy premise, and they are left trying to tweet and Facebook and Pin and Instagram and YouTube and blog and … basically run around like headless chickens.
So I thought I’d start a new series and get a few experts in to answer some questions and… well, clear a few things up.
The first person in the hot seat is Jane Friedman, talking about blogging. Jane is the web editor of the Virginia Quarterly Review, an award-winning national journal, where she leads online and digital content strategy. She also teaches digital publishing at the University of Virginia. Before joining VQR, Jane was the publisher of Writer’s Digest (F+W Media) and an assistant professor of e-media at the University of Cincinnati.
She’s also very good at answering questions.
Jane Friedman: When done correctly, blogging directly reaches your target readership and helps develop a community around your work. When done authentically, with good content, you’ll will develop loyal fans who keep returning for more, plus generate word of mouth and reach new readers. Your blog content is rarely about directly selling books (with the exception of big launch campaigns), but about building an audience who is interested in your work for the long-term (and of course do buy your books when available).
JF: Blog about what obsesses you. Blog about what makes you weird. Blog about what’s fun, or what’s unique about you. Most importantly, blog about something that you’re passionate about and won’t become boring within a few months’ time. The only way to make the most of blogging is by being persistent and consistent over a very long period of time, and that requires writing about something you truly care about. If you’re unsure what that is, practice literary citizenship, as outlined here by Cathy Day.
JF: No. A small, targeted, loyal following is best (the 1,000 True Fans concept).
JF: 1. Make sure people can subscribe via e-mail and RSS. This functionality is built in to most platforms, but not everyone uses it or makes it available to their readers. Don’t expect people to keep visiting your site to see if there’s new content.
2. Wherever else you’re active online, be sure to point people to new blog posts.
3. Writing for online is not the same as writing for print. Your headlines have to be clear, literal and descriptive; your copy needs to be broken up for easy reading. If you’re new to online writing, spend 1-2 hours reading the most popular posts at CopyBlogger to start learning best practices.
JF: 1. Lack of focus. You blog about anything and everything. Your audience doesn’t know what to expect, and you don’t become known for any particular type of content. If your blog title is not self-explanatory, make sure you have a tagline that explains what your blog is all about and who it’s for. If you can’t express that in roughly 10-20 words, you probably need to rethink your blog.
2. Lack of consistency. You don’t have a regular schedule, regular series/categories, or regular themes.
3. Lack of patience. It takes time to build a following. It also takes time to get good at blogging and understand what people respond to. Many authors abandon their blogs too soon or too early, before they’ve reached the point where blogging offers benefits and opens up opportunities.
Three authors you think are using their blogs well – and why
1. Joanna Penn. Strong focus and consistency, with multimedia elements. (AT: Read Joanna’s Fibro Q&A about self-publishing here.)
2. Chuck Wendig. Strong, unmistakable voice, not afraid to offend people who aren’t part of his audience to begin with.
3. Chris Guillebeau. He was able to develop a strong following in under a year by being super-focused on his mission and audience.
So, tell me, what do you blog about? Why do you blog?