The point of blogging

Blogging for Fiction Writers

I’m curious what fiction writers have found works or doesn’t work in using blogs as part of their platform. It seems far easier for nonfiction writers, especially those who focus on particular subject areas, since they can provide a lot of added value for readers of their books by blogging on their subjects. But what about fiction writers? Thanks in advance for your input!

A question posted on LinkedIn ‘Books & Readers’

 

Kindle

In the best traditions of stealing ideas from other people, the above question got me thinking. And what I was thinking was that the questioner has missed the point.

A lot of you out there are writers. A lot of you are on Twitter, or have blogs of your own, or Facebook pages. How many of you are doing it to raise your profile? To sell books? For some similar purpose?

I’m doing the same myself. No point lying: I started this blog because I was advised that a successful author needs to be on social media, to have a groundswell of interest before publication, whether self- or traditional. To have presence.

Three years in and I can confidently say that hasn’t worked. Not that it’s been a failure either: I have followers, both of this blog (hi!) and on Twitter, that I wouldn’t have had before. But I’ve hardly got the legions of regular contributors that I’d happily dreamt of when I first committed text to internet. By any objective measure it’s been a failure. So why do I keep doing it?

Simple. Because I enjoy it.

And that’s the point. Even though some weeks I struggle to find anything interesting to write about, and some weeks I don’t feel like I’m publishing really quality or insightful posts: sometimes I wish I’d chosen fortnightly updates rather than weekly. But I enjoy it. I like the challenge. I like to have fun with words. I like to think of new angles upon which to focus. It’s one reason I gave myself a broad remit (‘A Writers’ Life’, rather than ‘This Particular Novel’, say).

And I think – although I can give no evidence – that this is truly the answer to the original poster’s question. The best way to ‘build a platform’ is to find something they enjoy and keep at it. I love Twitter. I have nothing to sell or to promote save vague promises for the future, but enough people seem to like my rambly tweets that I’ve a respectable number of followers. I’d like more because ego – and because soon enough I will have something to promote – but at the moment I’m happy with my slow progress.

Similarly this blog. I enjoy doing it. It’s good practice, and when eventually I do self-publish Night Shift and start sending out Oneiromancer to agents I will have that fabled ‘platform’ upon which to fall.

And, in the meantime, I’ve been opened up to other bloggers and writers and artists and I’ve expanded my own tiny perspective into a wider community.

So, Mr Original Poster, my advice to you – should you actually want it – is to relax and have fun. The benefits may come later. But for now, lay back and enjoy the process.

And, if you’re really, really interested, here’s a link to my (considerably longer) post on book promotion.

Blog in the bubble

I was at a writery-type meeting a few weeks ago and the question was raised: what’s the point of social media? And, following on from that, what’s the point of blogging?

Over the last few years it has become an article of faith: if riches and fame an author doth seek, let them face the public at least once a week. It has become not just common but required; anyone seeking a publication deal must have an ‘author platform’. A webpage, a blog, or merely an active ‘soapbox’ on Twitter or Facebook.

What if this accepted wisdom is wrong?

It’s easy to see the problem. If we’re spending time lovingly crafting these tiny essays, carving and paring our Tweets or telling all our friends what we’re up to (‘just burned the toast lol #toastfail’) then we’re not doing ‘real’ writing. Beyond that – and this is the point of the abovementioned conversation – it’s almost impossible to reach any actual potential book buyers through social media. With so many voices clamouring for attention, and no big product to back up your words, there’s no way to get through to the general public. You end up with a circle of people in your position: other authors, in other words, and all the time you’ve spent ends up shared only within an almost incestuous group of people in the same position as you.

An example is some of these ‘blog-tours’ that I’ve been involved with, hosting and promoting other writers on this platform. Let’s be honest about this – although I’m absolutely delighted to have been involved in these, I seriously doubt they’ve really raised profiles, either mine or other people’s.

Well that’s still better than nothing, right?

When I first set up this blog I was explicit about my motives: I wanted to build up my profile so that I would be more attractive to potential publishers/agents. But over the year and a half or so I’ve been going my reasons have changed. I realised pretty early on that I wasn’t going to get thousands of followers all desperately hanging on my every word, who had been entranced by my witty author-voice and were now itching to get their grubby little mitts on my writing. Instead I found I enjoyed the discipline of working out something to write about, of spending my Monday morning writing-time trying a different style of communication. It’s a place for me to muse about writing, my own and other people’s, and to break down in my own head some aspects I wanted to consider myself. Writing is learning. And what better way to learn then by sharing with other people?

And this little incestuous group I’ve formed – it’s actually quite a nice place. I’ve found a lot of blogs, some of which I have great respect for. Finding other perspectives, other people in the same place as me, is a good feeling.

Now I have a backlog of writing that, should I ever actually achieve my goals and get something published, Josephine Public will be able to find once she discovers me via another outlet. I’ve got a history and a personality online, free for everyone to see, that shares a little of my story and my character. This will hopefully stand me in good stead for the future.

Whether this demand for authors to have their voice is a passing phase or the secret to a prosperous future – well, who can answer that? I know I don’t have much faith in ‘interactive fiction’, with its videos and links and electronic wizardry – don’t people realise that the whole point of books is that this already happens inside the readers’ head without having to step outside the adventure to click on the link?

All I know is that I quite enjoy my little bubble. I like the challenge of trying to be interesting. I don’t think that people should be forced to do the same as me, I don’t want to be a statistic or invisible or a lone voice shouting in the void and to those who have made a career in the field without resorting to Twitter I say ‘kudos’. But I like it here. I’ve made my blog and I’ll lie in it.

What do you think? I know many of my regular readers keep blogs themselves (incest!) and I’d be interested to know whether you consider bloggeration a success or a distraction.

But now it’s time to put my toys away and get on with some real writing. Ciao!

A good year

Tomorrow will be This Blog’s first birthday. The internet is a funny thing: words of a single moment become etched into the bloggosphere, forever archived and accessible to all whether you want them there or not. I was thinking of celebrating with a week off; sitting back and putting my feet up, maybe sampling a nice beer and doing – well, not much. But how could I leave my loyal followers blogless? So here I am again, illuminating and warming your lives with the heat of my personality…

It’s been a good year. Yeah, let’s be positive. It’s been a great year. Nothing to show for it, maybe, but still; it’s hardly been unproductive. This, for me, has been The Year of Becoming Professional. I’ve changed from being a writing dilettante to someone who works day in, day out on their craft. I’ve learnt so much and every time I sit at my computer to write – or kick back with a good book – I’m learning more.

So what have I found over the last year? Time, I think, for a quick list:

  • Rightly or wrongly, people take you more seriously if you can act (and write) with confidence. Sometimes personality is more important that ability
  • That said, Twitting and blogging are great places for the shy to learn (and to teach) with minimal human interaction
  • There are some truly wonderful writers and bloggers out there on the internet. It’s worth spending time on Twitter just to find links to these people
  • Writing: you never stop improving. The setbacks – of which there have been many – are helpful in themselves. Rejections may hurt, but any snippets of advice you may receive are there to be acted upon
  • Agents want to find great books. If they take even the vaguest interest in your work that means it’s got something. A rejection doesn’t mean they don’t think it’s good enough to be published
  • A good submission letter is worth its weight in gold. Constant evolution is the way forwards; rewrite, rewrite, rewrite – and personalise each letter for its recipient
  • Most people in the world are really quite nice
  • It’s an insanely up-and-down world out there. The highs are utterly euphoric, the lows crushing. Treating those two impostors, success and failure, the same is good advice. But don’t ignore praise (you’ve earned it) and take criticism seriously. The critic is usually right, and you can do it better

More specifically, I’ve learnt that my work is lacking in depth of character. I also miss plotholes and don’t provide sufficient red herrings. So I’m working on these things. Thanks to a fantastic writing group and the interest of an agent I’m growing as an author. It’s wonderful. I urge all aspiring authors to embrace criticism, to actively hunt it down because you won’t get better unless you know what you’re doing wrong.  When I first joined Abingdon Writers I was so self-confident, so sure that my work was worthwhile, that I initially met criticism with a barricade of defensiveness. It’s only when I began to dismantle this wall that I really started to improve.

Every question answered, every skill mastered opens a door to reveal wild expanses of ignorance beyond. The questions never stop coming. There’s also something new to learn, new skills to develop. You never, ever, stop learning. Even the great masters – the Hemingways, the Chandlers, the Steinbecks – they weren’t the complete article. And that’s great. It’s the best thing about humanity, I think – life is never dull because there’s always something new to learn.

The Problem with Blogs

In my very first post I said that the purpose of this blog was mainly for self-promotion. That’s fine, and true, but it also brings with it certain problems. Or one problem in particular. That problem is called perfection.

 

I was having a chat with some of my colleagues in Abingdon Writers’ Group in a local pub a few nights ago. We were discussing typos, and in particular the difficulty of hunting down typos in self-published work. Tim Arnot has just recently released his first book on FeedARead (http://www.feedaread.com/search/books.aspx?phrase=tim%20arnot) and was going through his proof copy at the time. He said – quite correctly – that the standards expected of a self-published author are actually much higher than that of a traditionally published work.

 

Everybody hates typos. Every author does, especially. And yet I’m willing to bet that you’ve found errors in almost every single book you’ve read. They creep in everywhere, and no matter how thoroughly you trawl your work, there’s almost inevitably a mistake or two that’s going to slip the net. In a traditionally produced book – where they have copy-editors and you can reasonably expect the novel to have been read by dozens of people before it hits the shelves – you might notice these errors, but you barely think of them at all.

 

In a self-published novel, however, these typos seem to be much more important. They become, without any real logic, a sign that the writer is a fool. That the book is hastily produced and thus not worth reading.

 

Why is this? Surely it should be the other way round? A self-published author doesn’t necessarily have the resources to pay a commercial service to proof-read his/her work, and even if they do there’s no guarantee that the manuscript will come back ready to print.

 

It’s especially hard to take when people such as Steve Bohme are saying that the vast majority of self-published books are ‘unutterable rubbish’ (http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2013/jun/11/self-published-ebooks-20-per-cent-genre?INTCMP=SRCH) and that publishers are needed to act as gatekeepers against the tides of trash that are spreading across the digital waves.

 

The problem with that, of course, is that most writers see publishers and agents not as gatekeepers but as riot police.

 

But I digress.

 

The point is that I have to work very very hard to make this blog perfect. I’ve adopted a policy of writing it a few days before I publish, so I can make sure I’m saying what I actually mean, and that my prose is as clear and error-free as humanly possible. I’m trying to attract agents and publishers to this page, and should they find a single clumsy phrase, a stray Oxford comma (I think there may have been one of those in last week’s post), one measly typo, they will think that I can’t write and will blacklist me forever.

 

That’s the fear, at least. I’m sure that’s not actually really true, but that’s the ever-present fear. I work in words. If I fail to find the right one then I can’t be trusted to write a saleable novel.

 

And that’s a bit of a bugger.