Blogging–Just Part of the New Job Description

To blog or not to blog…that is the question. Last week I read an interesting blog on KidLit.Com that asked a very controversial question, “Do Unpublished Writers Have to Blog?” Well, as my momma used to tell me, Darlin’, you don’t have to do a darn thing other than pay taxes and die.  At the ripe age of five, I had a hard time wrapping my mind around how I was paying taxes, beyond that 2₵ extra I hadn’t counted on for a 25₵ pack of gum. But, I got the point. See, with my mother, she never made us do anything. She would always tell us that there was the easy way and the hard way, but ultimately, it was our choice.

Kristen, no you don’t have to put away your toys. But then I will be compelled to whip your butt, and then you will cry and there likely will be a lot of drama leaving no time for the park. But you will still put away your Barbies…only now you will go to bed early.

Or, you could go the easy way and do as you’re told and then everyone wins. Easy way or the hard way. Your choice.

When it comes to blogging, I say we always have a choice. No one will take you to writer jail if you do not blog. But let’s pan back and get some perspective.

We are now entering into the Information Age.  People have more access to the written word than ever in the history of humanity. We as writers have advantages we have never had, but those come at a cost. We are facing more competition than ever. We are not only competing against books currently in print, but we will soon be competing against every book ever published. Yes, publishing companies are looking to get all those out of print books up on the e-format, only further widening the sea of choices for our potential readers (which is code for “customer”).

The days of Austen, Steinbeck, and Hemingway are gone to the pages of history. Lives of comfortable solitude and long disappearances between books are anachronistic. The modern writer has more challenges than ever before, and how well we adapt will affect our chances at survival and success. The job description is changing, and why shouldn’t it? Everyone else’s is. Fifteen years ago, it wasn’t particularly mandatory that we know a half a jillion software packages to get a job in regular Corporate America, but now we are competing against those who know Excel, Power Point, Access, Visio, etc. Our 4-year degree no longer looks near as snazzy when placed against others with master’s degrees and a long line of professional qualifications.

So let’s be clear. No we do not have to blog, but we will be competing against authors who do. Is it possible to become a success without a platform and a blog following? Sure. It is also possible to win a million dollars playing scratch-offs, but I wouldn’t say that purchasing tickets counts as wise financial planning.

The blog I mentioned earlier was quite excellent and raised some valid points. There are all kinds of writers out there (I was guilty) who write a blog once in a while and it really isn’t coherent or engaging or anything that could create a fan base…but aspiring writers are being told that they need to blog so they are blogging and it is just a big mess filling the Internet with more junk.

Ok…I concede that is true.

But here is the thing, writing is what we do. Words are our “product.” And blogs are the samples to taste. Just like at Costco, I have a choice of 20 different frozen pizzas. Totino’s doesn’t have to hire some lady with a hairnet to fill the air with the smell of pizza yumminess, but they are smart enough to know that it will make people buy pizza who had no plans of buying pizza that day in the first place. Better yet, free samples will encourage consumers not just to buy pizza, but to buy their pizza. And Totino’s has to sacrifice a heck of a lot of free pizzas, but it is an investment for bigger sales and to create lifetime lovers of Totino’s Frozen Pizza. Totino’s also knows that it is a huge step ahead of all those other brands of frozen pizza that do not have their own lady in a hairnet handing out samples.

Fifteen years ago, we writers really had no efficient way to get “samples” of our voice and style out to the general public in hopes of creating a fan base. Now we do. And the best time to get started? Before you publish.

Who cares if your blog is crap? Who are you going to alienate? Five people? Your mom and closest writer friends will not abandon you if your first blogs are rough. I know when I first started blogging three years ago, I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. But guess what? I had 15 visits to my blog per month. No big career ender, there.

Blogging helped me accomplish a number of things. First, it made me disciplined. That isn’t always easy for unpublished writers. We don’t feel legit, and so we end up in a vicious cycle. We want to become published writers, but since we are not published we put off our writing to last behind “real job,” family, friends, pets, and highly needy household plants. When we have the perfect span of “free” time, then we feel comfortable to open Word and type some on our opus magnus.

Here is the deal. It doesn’t work that way. When you are published the deadline comes first beyond everything. It is your job. Can you show up to a job only when you “feel inspired” or are “in the mood”? No. Blogging is great training-wheels for later in your career as an author. Post a blog once a week no matter what. You will learn the discipline you will need one day as a “best-selling author” in baby steps. And here if you fall on your nose, only you and four followers will be the wiser. Waiting until a week before you query or even until your book comes out is just a formula to make yourself crazy.

Think what a stress relief it will be if, when your book hits the shelves, you have a social media and blog following in the thousands. The day you sign the contract with your agent is not the time to start blogging. Huge followings with thousands of hits per week or day are not born instantly. Start blogging when you are new and you get a chance to experiment, to improve, to modify content and to gain a following.

Blogging is becoming part of the career author’s job description whether we like it or not. If you stink, practice will make you better. Read blogs, read books about writing better blogs. Heck, Jody Hedlund has a great blog this week on just this subject.

And to be honest, part of why there are a lot of writers running around with no direction on blogging is that there hasn’t been a lot of guidance in this area. It is all so new. In my newly released book We Are Not Alone—The Writer’s Guide to Social Media I teach not only how to blog, but how to blog in a way designed to speak to readers and create fans for your books or even future books. Blogging about your cat or that your query letter was rejected is not the kind of content that will create a platform for your future novel.

So, after allllll of this, we again ask, “Do unpublished writers have to blog?”

No, but BEA statistics tell us that only 1 out of 10 first time novelists will ever see a second book in print. Blogging is a darn good way to beat these hellish odds. It can make the critical difference between one-hit-wonder and career author.

And in the end, there is always the easy way and the hard way ;) .

Happy writing! Until next time…

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  1. #1 by Terrell Mims on July 27, 2010 - 7:05 pm

    Very true. That is why I am gearing up my two blogs. One for the San Diego Comic-Con, Trekkie, Lord of the Rings freaks (I’m raising my hand.) The other on the craft.

    BTW, there was no choice. Clean up the room or get that butt blasted. (Well, I guess there was a choice.)

  2. #2 by Piper Bayard on July 27, 2010 - 9:19 pm

    Great blog, Kristen. Tyvm. I’m going to print it out and post it at my desk so that when I feel like I’d rather watch the dog catch flies than blog, I’ll have it there for a swift kick in the butt.

  3. #3 by Tawna Fenske on July 27, 2010 - 10:46 pm

    Terrific post all around!

    I especially love the part about the Costco samples, since that’s precisely how I see it. I’m lucky that I write romantic comedy, so I’m able to fill my daily blog with quirky things to make people laugh (and hopefully make them think about buying my book when it hits shelves August 2011). I understand that a lot of blogging authors don’t have the luxury of being silly and calling it a blog post, but there’s always something you can offer readers besides a laugh. Maybe it’s tidbits of information about your area of expertise, maybe it’s highlights from the lessons you’re learning along the way. Whatever it is, every author has something to share that will help him/her establish a brand.

    Because that’s what it comes down to, really. Your blog is a part of building your brand, and that’s a crucial part of being an author in this day & age.

    Tawna

  4. #4 by Krista D. Ball on July 28, 2010 - 3:31 am

    Outstanding post.

    I’ve had people find me because of Twitter. First, my friends and people who owe me money RT some of the oddball things I say on Twitter. Others would see it RTed by a dozen of their friends and wonder who this crazy Krista person is. They follow me. They realize that I’m slightly unstable, but in a harmless way. They continue to follow me. They see me tweet about my latest blog post. They go and check it out. They laugh so hard that they pee. They figure they might like my writing, too. I don’t just make a sale – I make a fan.

    No one knows who I am. So, I figure the more that I expose myself (without involving nudity, of course), the more people will be expose to my writing and, perhaps, even discover that I’m the type of author that they enjoy reading.

  5. #5 by Linda G. on July 28, 2010 - 12:25 pm

    Excellent post! I was one of those resistant to blogging at first. Heck, I’m a writer of fiction–who the heck cares what I have to say about the real world? But your Costco sample analogy says it all–the blog is a way to share a tidbit of my voice, and someday blog readers may be tempted to indulge in a whole book.

    The really up side? It’s way more fun interacting with the people who comment than I ever dreamed it would be. Writing can be a lonely occupation — if you’re not careful, it’s easy to become isolated. Connecting with people online, via a blog or Twitter, helps you stay grounded.

  6. #6 by Kait Nolan on July 28, 2010 - 2:06 pm

    The blogging isn’t the hard part for me. I can usually find something to say. Whether it’s scintillating or engaging is entirely another matter :D But I routinely have 80-100 visitors a day, with spikes on some days. More on my food blog, which has a broader appeal. It’s why I’ve picked up your book–to figure out how to broaden my appeal from the author side! And as soon as I knock out this class I’m prepping for next semester, I’m diving in!

  7. #7 by Kendall Kasey on July 29, 2010 - 12:09 am

    Kristen, thank you for this post! You always have such wise little nuggets of wisdom that are so helpful. I get discouraged as I blog because I feel it’s raw and unpolished, but it helps knowing that right now for the stage I’m at, the most important thing is making sure I post consistently. You have a wonderful knack for motivating people – I’m off to write my next blog!

  8. #8 by Amanda Haines on July 29, 2010 - 12:39 am

    One of my biggest questions about having/starting a blog is: How is your writing protected???

    • #9 by Kristen Lamb on July 29, 2010 - 12:42 pm

      The second you put an idea down you have the intellectual copyright. Plagiarism in this day and age is actually extremely difficult and really not worth the payoff in the end. It is too easy to prove the writing is yours. Google a key phrase and you will see what I mean. Every time you enter data in your computer, a Word document, say, there is a time stamp as to when that was created. Same with blogs.

      You cannot copyright an idea, but you can copyright the execution of that idea if that makes any sense. This is why I tell students not to try and get original with plot. There are no original plots. Depending on who you ask, there are 5 to 40 plots total. Period. Any great story can be found in the Bible, Odysseus, or Shakespeare. Nothing new. Now how you PRESENT that plot is all yours. That part you own.

      But, if you blog the way I teach you, you will not be putting up sections of your book anyway. Those rank lousy on search engines and are the hardest way to gan a following. I recommend reading my eariler blog “Are Posting Chapters of Your Novel A Good Idea?” and it explains why. I hope I answered your question, :D. Basically, blog away and don’t worry about thieves. Too easy to oust them and cause pain and humiliation.

      • #10 by Amanda Haines on July 29, 2010 - 9:03 pm

        Thanks Kristen so much for your response. I feel much less leary about the whole thing. I mostly write non-fiction and poetry so I’m assuming the advice would be the same. Thanks again!! :)

  9. #11 by Linda Yezak on July 30, 2010 - 12:40 pm

    Can’t agree with you more. Blogging is necessary and beneficial. I share a writers blog with three others, and I have a personal blog where folks can get to know me beyond my chosen career. I think it helps in building a following.

    Great post!

  10. #12 by Kelly Langner Sauer on July 30, 2010 - 12:49 pm

    Really, a fabulous post…

  11. #13 by Amanda Haines on July 31, 2010 - 4:05 pm

    thanks guys! i appreciate all the feedback…look out for the link to my blog…working away on it :)

  12. #14 by Micah on August 1, 2010 - 4:36 pm

    Blogging seems to be a way to just get the fingers moving without the pressure of the larger novel or short story. You can keep up momentum in writing with a fresh slate every day.
    Plus it forces you to brainstorm constantly… who knows what blog entry might be your next winning idea.
    Nice post. It makes you see a purpose to something that may seem paramount to keeping a journal under the bed.

  13. #15 by vanessapnoble on August 2, 2010 - 3:08 pm

    Thank you for posting this today. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how I always put me last, be it my health or healthy living or my writing. I’m going to start getting up an hour early and writing.

    I’ve blogged before but mostly just for me but this blog is for my writing and I’m really ready to get serious with it so I thought having a blog with my name would be wise. I know in the beginning I won’t have many readers but hopefully some day :)

  14. #16 by Jamie Harrington on August 6, 2010 - 6:37 pm

    Girl, you so smart.

  15. #17 by Everett on August 24, 2010 - 12:28 am

    I’m with you, and I agree, blogging is critical. But there are also no clear guidelines on how many visits and followers and fans are the tipping point, nor how to make mention of these social media. In my query letter? Scrawled on the back of my partial manuscript? I’m on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, and I write on three, sometimes four blogs, but I still don’t have confidence that I have enough of a following. So for those of us who like quality time with our neuroses, blogging doesn’t steer us very far away from that. And still, I do it.

  16. #18 by John Austin on August 27, 2010 - 7:23 pm

    Kristen,

    Blogs are necessary for the writers portfolio today…But, they can also be fun and a learning experience as well…For instance, since I started researching and blogging on the publishing industry, I have learned tons!

    I publish two writers blogs; The link provided here is my Writers Welcome Blog and my other blog, Writers Thought for Today, is at http://alturl.com/tnap Both available on Kindle also.

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