What Is The Point of A Blog?

What is the point of a blog? is a question I’m asked time and time again. Most of the time, these would be self-publishers are asking me where does a blog fit into the scheme of things? What’s its place in my overall plan? How do I know if it’s working, if I’m blogging well?

But sometimes, they’re asking something else, something a bit frightening. They’re asking what is the point of a blog? because they actually don’t see the point of having one.

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Utterly irrelevant photo, but LOOK HOW PRETTY!

What is the point of a book?

Writers write. We may be locked forever in the battle between I hate writing and I love having written, and we may write not every single day, and there may be enough dust on the top page of our most recently finished manuscript for someone to write ‘REVISE ME’ in it with their finger, but we still write. It’s what we were meant to do, and if we don’t do it frequently enough, we start to feel antsy and anxious, unable to read a book or concentrate on TV or walk down a street without sentences and ideas and characters crowding around inside our head, demanding to be written down.

I assume, as a writer, you would never ask what is the point of a book? You might say this is because you love books, but you don’t read blogs. Well, I love books, but I don’t read poetry. I haven’t since I was forced to in school, and I don’t see a way back into it in my future. I could go as far as to say that I don’t like poetry. But I would never, ever, ask what is the point of it (or try to write it, for that matter, even if someone told me I really should).

Blogging is writing. Blog posts are made up of words. I’m writing this in bed on a lazy morning, laptop perched on the duvet, (cold) coffee to hand, knowing that this afternoon, I have to do some Proper Writing. I have to add words to my WIP. So this blog post is a way into that, a gentle easing into the writing/typing/thoughts-into-words frame of mind. And I always blog, even when I’m not doing any Proper Writing, even when there IS enough dust on top of that MS to write threatening messages. It’s an important part of my writing life.

Writers have something to say

Why do you write in the first place? Why write at all? Forget agents and fame and money and names on spines and book festival lanyards that identify you as an ‘author’ and all that. Go back to the beginning. Why did you start to write in the first place? What made you want to do it? What was the initial spark? Did you start writing, maybe, because you felt you had something to say?

When I started thinking about what is the point of a blog? I knew I had to write a blog post about it. I thought, I will next week. But as soon as I made that decision, thoughts came rushing in: sentences for this post, section headings, etc. until it all got too loud and I had to put down the book I was reading (The Good Nurse—on a bit of a serial-killer-research spree at the moment), pull the laptop onto my knees and start writing this. Because I had to something to say about it.

A novel may take a year or more to write, and it might never see the light of day—if you put everything you’ve to say in there, no one might ever hear it. Or maybe you have things to say about something that has nothing to do with your novel. Maybe you know a lot about a specific something, or maybe you love ranting at bad movies in a way that makes people laugh, or maybe you’ve experienced something that you suspect a lot of other people have too but everyone is afraid to say. All good reasons to start blogging, a blog being the most suitable medium for things like that.

Fun—have you heard of it?

If there’s an option, I don’t do anything that isn’t fun for me. Obviously we all have to earn a living, and you may have a job that isn’t much fun, but you can’t exactly jack it in because you need food, shelter, warmth and something to pay your credit card bills with. But if you hated knitting, would you run home after work every night, take out your patterns and your needles and your ball of wool, and start adding rows to that reindeer jumper? Of course not.

So if you hate blogging or the idea of blogging just as much—if you have to wonder what the point of it might be—then don’t do it. If you feel you have to do it to sell books, my advice is the same: don’t do it. Because if you don’t want to blog, if you don’t love it and have fun doing it and put great books about serial killers aside to write a post before you forget all the points you want to make, then it won’t ‘work’ anyway, whether ‘work’ means people reading it or people liking it enough to go seek out other, longer things you’ve written too.

Do you even read blogs?

Let’s pretend for a second that you’re at a writer’s workshop. How To Write A Novel, Get An Agent And A Six-Figure Deal By Next Weekend, or something like that. You meet a guy who arrives wearing hipster eyeglasses and a tweed blazer with leather elbow patches, and has his portable vintage Corona under his arm. He will write first in longhand, he tells you, with a 2H pencil he’s sharpened with a Swiss Army knife. He’s set up a card table by his washer/dryer because he read On Writing and found out the Stephen King wrote Carrie in his laundry room. He knows how many pages he’s going to write per day; he might even have a title for the novel. He has a list of agents he’ll send it to you as soon as the ink’s dry. But he’s never read fiction for pleasure. He isn’t really ‘into’ books. But he wants to get published, and to get published you have to have written a book, so…

If you don’t read blogs, if you don’t like to read blogs for pleasure, then why in the name of fudge are you even considering starting one of your own?

The hard sell

I know I’m guilty of telling people that blogs help sell self-published books, because I believe that this blog helped sell my self-published books. But that’s just what happened: it wasn’t my intention. My intention was that I wanted to start a blog—or another blog, because I’d previously had a travel blog which chronicled my backpacking adventures in Central America. And I’d really enjoyed creating and updating that blog. I loved it.

I have never, I hope, gone for the hard sell on this blog. Sometimes I do of course draw my readers’ attention to workshops and new releases and things like that, but I hope that I’ve earned their permission to do that every now and then by not doing it all most of the time. You’ll never catch one of the those GOD AWFUL RED-RAGE INDUCING pop-ups on here that some blogs have, that pop up like a fruit fly at the end of your nose every time your browser loads the site, asking you to sign up for something stupid so you can get something stupid for free in return, which all gets in the way of why you were there in the first place—to READ THE BLOG—and sometimes, makes you give up before you get past it. And I don’t find a new way to mention my latest book or my most relevant book at the end of every single post. My advertising is confined to my sidebar, which most blog readers don’t even see, what with blog reading tools like Feedly (which just show the blog post itself), and the use of smart-phones (the mobile version of this blog shows the sidebar items at the end, after the blog post).

If I whipped all my titles off Amazon right now and vowed never to write a word destined for a price-tag ever again, you know what? I’d STILL write this blog. I really would. It would have to become exclusively about coffee and Christmas crafts and The Amazing Adventures of Catherine Watching TV, but I’d still do it. Because I like it. I love it. I want to blog.

The practicalities

I don’t believe that people can be taught how to write, from scratch, although I do believe that if you have any little smidgen of writing talent at all, you can learn how to write better. Or more good. (That was a joke, by the way.) So if you want to write any and all things, and you have something to say, and blogging is fun for you, and you like to read blogs and think they add to your daily life, then yes, there are questions I and other bloggers can answer about blogging.

I think, for example, that:

  • While it’s fine to let Facebook and Twitter grow cobwebs occasionally, your blog should always be up to date
  • Your blog design should reflect your personality, and make your blog stand out from the rest
  • You should use WordPress.com
  • It doesn’t matter how often you blog, but your blogging should be regular
  • You should have a contact page where people can send you private messages (blog peeve #214: when bloggers have contact pages that tell me I can contact them on Twitter—you never know who is going to try and get in contact with you—journalists, radio show producers, publicists, etc.—and they mightn’t bother if they’ve to do it in public)
  • Your blog and website should not be in different places, they should be combined, i.e. a blogsite. (Like this one)
  • Like writing the book you want to read but can’t find on the shelves, you should create the blog you want to read but can’t find online.

But this is all just irrelevant crap if you don’t genuinely want to blog, if you don’t already have something to blog about.

Do you agree?

And now, that I’ve got this out of my system, that I’ve said my something to say, I can go back to my book—the one I’m reading—and later, get myself to the desk, because there’s no pressure: even if I add nothing to my WIP at all, I’ve already written 1,828 words today. And I enjoyed writing them, and I look forward to reading your comments.

That is the point of this blog.

See also: Social Media for Authors: [GROAN] Do I Have To? and How To Get People To Read Your Blog

Authors for the Philippines

Keris Stainton, friend and money-raiser-extraordinaire, has done it again. In response to the devastation Typhoon Haiyan has left in its wake, Keris has organized Authors for the Philippines, an online auction that hopes to raise money for the British Red Cross’ Typhoon Appeal.

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The idea is simple, but inspired. Keris has asked authors, agents, editors and all associated with the book world to donate items. These range from signed ARCs of books that aren’t out yet, to manuscript critiques, to signed special editions, to your name in a book, to a night down the pub with authors Andy Stanton and Anthony McGowan (for which bidding has become complex and hilarious, taking place in ‘bidding cartels’).

Simply navigate to the post that describes the item you want to bid on, leave your bid in the form of a blog comment and then wait until the auction closes on Wednesday 20th November to see if you’ve won. Winners will be asked to donate the equivalent of their winning bid to the Red Cross, and send a receipt to Authors for the Philippines. The author supplying the prize will then contact the winner directly.

Here’s the really important message: it’s not just confined to generous people in the UK. You can bid on these items from anywhere (although make sure that accepting them doesn’t involve travel, like the night in the pub!), as the Red Cross accepts donations from all over the world and, hey, they can post those signed ARCs. Just remember that your bid must be in British pounds (£).

Here are the some of the items that have caught my eye so far:

You can browse the full index of items here. You can bid on as many items as you like as long as you agree to cover all of them if you win.

Please, please consider supporting this amazing initiative. The last time Keris did this (for the Red Cross Japanese Tsumani appeal), she raised over £12,000. Let’s help her beat that this time around!

If you’d like to donate an item, there’s still time. E-mail authorsforphilippines@gmail.com.

Something for the Weekend

I can’t help you do NaNoWriMo, but there is one thing I can definitely help you with: not doing NaNoWriMo.

You know those people corporations hire, efficiency experts? I’m the opposite of that. My area of expertise is procrastination. And here is the perfect thing to help you not get your 1,666 words done tomorrow…

I mentioned WritersWebTV already on this site. Based out of Dublin, WritersWebTV holds day-long seminars that are broadcast live online, featuring well-known names and a wealth of valuable information. You can watch them live for free, or purchase them to download and watch whenever you like.

I tuned in to the most recent one on crime-writing, listening to Jane Casey and Declan Burke, and I picked up some tips that have definitely been changing my writing life, slowly but surely, for the better.

Tomorrow, though, comes the big one: Getting Published, featuring Carole Blake, uber-agent and author of the best book on the business of publishing for the author (I think), From Pitch to Publication, and my friend Hazel Gaynor, whose Titanic novel The Girl Who Came Home racked up six-figure sales through Amazon KDP and will now be traditionally published by William Morrow next year after going to auction in the States. So whether your goal is to be a successfully traditionally published author or a success at self-publishing, there’ll be a little something for everyone in tomorrow’s session.

From WritersWebTV:

Writers, are you finished that manuscript but aren’t sure how to approach agents and publishers? WritersWebTV will open the door to the whole process on Saturday, November 9th with Getting Published featuring agents Carole BlakeJulia ChurchillPaul Feldstein and sensational self-published author Hazel Gaynor.

Carole Blake of Blake Friedmann literary agency will impart wisdom from her best-selling publishing guide From Pitch to Publication, and tell writers what to expect from a publishing deal and how to secure one. The US publishing market will be explained by Paul Feldstein who will give you the lowdown on how to crack stateside publishers. Children’s literary agent at A.M. Heath Julia Churchill will be chatting about the colourful world of children’s publishing, how to pitch your book and identify the right agent for your work. Self-publishing success story Hazel Gaynor will talk about the importance of your author profile, how to get the best from social media and how to clock up those all-important sales for your book. 

This free-to-watch-live, online workshop will cover all aspects of getting published and viewers will be able to interact with those in studio to help them develop their skills. WritersWebTV has developed a world-first innovation in online education for writers by providing live-streamed interactive workshops to a global audience, featuring Irish and international best-selling writers and industry professionals.

The one-day workshops are streamed live from a multi-camera broadcast studio in Dublin. Industry experts interact with an in-studio audience of aspiring writers, who present their work for critique. Online viewers can communicate with those in the studio using Twitter, Facebook or email. They can ask a question, take part in a workshop exercise, comment online and benefit from on-screen feedback from the authors in-studio. 

Led by literary scout Vanessa O’Loughlin, founder of writing.ie, the panel will consider the key elements of fiction writing and furnish viewers with tips, advice and actionable insights to help them improve their writing and get it on the path to publication.

Viewers can watch the full one-day workshops for free when they watch them live. If they want to download a workshop or watch it later, they can pay to keep the course.

You’re welcome! Just tell yourself, you can do 3,332 words on Sunday.

Right?

Do You Read Self-Published Books Differently? Yes, You Do!

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A while back I asked you if you thought that you read self-published books differently, and it occurred to me today that I never shared the results. So here they are:

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Keeping in mind that this is in no way scientific and is only a small fraction of the people who read the post, let alone a microscopic dot in the world of people who read self-published books, the feedback was that:

  • 33% of you said that yes, you were sure you read self-published books differently
  • 25% of you said that you wish you didn’t, but you can’t help it
  • Which when combined, makes it 58% of respondents who say they read self-published books differently, i.e. judge them differently to traditionally published books
  • 33% said they didn’t read them differently
  • 8% said they didn’t know
  • 4% said they didn’t and no one else did either. (The sun must’ve been shining bright over on Unicorn Meadow that day… )

What’s more interesting though are the potential explanations for why readers might have a different experience with self-published books that people came up with in the comments.

A few commenters said that when they read a self-published book and spot an error, they know something can be done about it: they can contact the self-published author, who is probably easily located online, and let them know. Then the error can be removed and future editions will be free of it.

I have to say this horrifies me a bit, because while typos are cut and dried, it comes back to the main point of the original post which is why do you assume it’s a mistake? As an Irish author writing in British English (and I know I’m always on about this but it’s a problem that self-publishing created and a major point of bother for me), I get e-mails from people correcting not my mistakes, but British English into US English, among other things. Even on Robert Doran’s post about copy-editing recently, we had this:

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And I have never, in my entire reading life, picked up a book I bought and said to myself gleefully, ‘Time to play editor!’ I’m there for the story. But then, of course, if something is riddled with errors, you won’t even get that far…

I do wonder how a self-published author could ever write an experimental novel, or one that plays with language like, say, Everything Is Illuminated. If that novel was self-published, would Jonathan Safran Foer get e-mails complaining about Alex and his broken, thesaurus-powered English?

Another point raised was the perception (or misperception) that self-published books aren’t ‘finished’. This may not be a conscious thought, but I can see how readers would, somewhere in the back of their mind, greet a self-published book as a work in progress. Hence, reviews that talk about the gap between what the book was and what the book could be if only the author would listen to the reviewer’s suggestions.

I think the most important issue raised, though, was that of trust. In a few weeks’ time when I open The Gods of Guilt on my 12th Annual Drop Everything and Read Michael Connelly’s New Novel In One Sitting Day, I’ll dive right in, safe in the knowledge that Connelly knows what he’s doing, and so did everyone else who was involved in the book. But self-published authors don’t always instill that ‘safe’ feeling in readers, and maybe we haven’t earned that right yet.

What I’d really like to know, and what I can’t imagine there’s a way to find out, is what percentage of all readers regularly read self-published books. That’s a figure I’d like to get my hands on.

In the meantime, what can we do? There’s only one answer: our best. Keep striving to produce the best and most professionally polished books we can.

Trust is earned, after all.

I didn’t post anything around the start of the month so I didn’t get to say: if you’re doing NaNo, good luck! I hope it’s going well. I’m doing my own mini-version of it, which I’m calling NaFiThBlBoOrElMo (National Finish This Bloody Book Or ELSE Month), so I feel your pain. And if anyone has rolled their eyes at you, send them this