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 Last week I read an interesting blog on KidLit.Com that asked a very controversial question, “Do Unpublished Writers Have to Blog?”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…