Sunday, March 3, 2013

To Blog or Not To Blog, That is the Question

Writers blog for many reasons: some do it to express their ideas and thoughts, others want to belong to a guild and discuss a variety of subjects, but a big number seek to create a platform through their blogs. My main concern here is whether or not blogging is an effective self-promotion and marketing tool for unpublished writers.

A few years ago every checklist for the author-to-be included creating a platform via blogging, updating it regularly, finding a niche, etc. This advice included fiction writers. I remember the resolute words of an editor I met at a conference a few years ago. She said that a platform was essential for any writer.

“They tell you a fiction writer doesn’t need a platform, but they’re lying to you,” she said. She mentioned celebrities who write fiction and pointed out how quickly and easily it is for them to publish a book, no matter the quality of the writing or the genre. “It is about who’s in your Rolodex,” she repeated again and again. “It’s all about platform.”

Fast forward to last April. I attended another conference and had the opportunity to speak to a NY agent during lunch. I asked her the following question: what is a significant number of blog followers to make it worth mentioning to an agent or editor? Her answer left me cold. She told me not to even bother mentioning my blog unless I had a minimum of 30,000 followers. Kindly peek at the column in your right and you will see that it would take most of us an entire lifetime to achieve those kind of numbers (unless we post a video of us engaging in activities that involve naked body parts!)

Honestly, I’ve never seen a blog with such a large following.

Another agent who shall remain unnamed told me that a blog is NOT indispensable unless you are a YA writer (since teenagers are so in tune with the internet and technology) but no so much for authors of adult fiction. This makes sense to me, but I also see a lot of adults participating in blogs. 

And what do we make of the fact that most of our readers seem to be writers? Do we, writers, represent a following that could truly translate to readership? Or are we just trying to support each others’ efforts? Sure, most writers are also readers, but does that mean we will read anything other bloggers publish?

There is yet something else to consider: competition. According to Wikipedia, two years ago there were over 156 million blogs in existence. Whether we want to or not, our blogs compete for attention. That is why we break our heads trying to come up with interesting subjects, appealing photos and eye-catching titles. If getting an agent or getting published also requires standing above the rest, should we devote the same amount of time and effort we do with our novels to enhance our blogs?

My conclusion is that it all boils down to motivation. Figuring out what you want to get out of your blog is what determines whether or not you should have one. If your goal is to have an exchange of ideas with like-minded individuals and peers, to build your non-fiction resume with articles/interviews or perfect your writing skills, then blogging is the perfect venue for that. If your goal is only to build a platform, then you’d better come up with a very unique concept that will make your blog stand out and attract a substantial readership.  

So my question here today to all of you successful bloggers, published and unpublished, is this: can a blog create a significant platform for unpublished (fiction) writers? Has your blog helped you in your publishing endeavors? Why do you blog?

For both sides of the issue, check out these awesome articles:


  1. I can't see any reason why having a blog would help a truly unpublished writer with marketing, because there is literally nothing to market. Once you have a book, even if it's just in the nascent stages of publication, then sure. A blog might be helpful. But it seems to me that blogging is probably most important for new authors (with books) trying to find another way to connect with their audience. I know I visit the blogs of authors who are new to me. I don't visit the blogs of unknown authors unless they are friends of mine, and I don't bother visiting the blogs of hyperfamous writers, either, because we all know everything about them anyway.

    The only kind of blogger who would have 30,000 followers and NO book is a celebrity. And as you said, Lorena, they already have a platform. Any book a celebrity writes will sell.

    I have seen, on Facebook at least, a certain number of people who start with nothing and build a pretty large following because they offer memes that get shared, and which then spread like wildfire. Sometimes the memes are just an image, which doesn't bode well for a future book (unless it's a book of images), but sometimes they are witty little insights. However, FB is built for this kind of viral celebrity; blogging is not. Things "catch" quickly on FB. They don't on blogs.

    So the only reasons a truly unpublished writer should keep a blog is for the other purposes you listed: expressing ideas and thoughts, and building connection between other writers. That's why I do it.

    Good questions!

    1. I agree with what you say here: what is there to market for the unpublished writer? But a segment of industry professionals (including the editor mentioned above) say that you should build a platform BEFORE you get published because it would mean a much better deal, better distribution, etc. Basically what they used to say (I don't know if they feel the same way now) is that you should preferably find a subject that you're good at and create a following. For example if your book is about a cook, talk about cooking, recipes, etc. If you're in the medical field and write medical drama, talk about this. In other words, you're selling your writing AND your knowledge. I know, it's easier said than done, that's why I was questioning if this is really doable.

      A classic example of this is the author of "Julie and Julia" who got a book deal based on the popularity of her blog.

  2. I've never understood the idea of building a platform when you have nothing published. I don't know how many times I've heard that an unpublished writer needs to have a website up and going before that first book is published. Why? I've thought about this one, even tried to sketch out my idea for a website, but in the end it looks exactly like my resumé (which is pretty scary since I haven't worked a real job in, like, ten years or something). Why would I want to do that?

    "If you're in the medical field and write medical drama, talk about this. In other words, you're selling your writing AND your knowledge. I know, it's easier said than done, that's why I was questioning if this is really doable."

    No, I don't think it's very doable if you want a life beyond your computer screen. I know some people who blog just about everyday, make connections, but I really wonder about their real writing. Is anything getting done? It wouldn't for me if blogging was all I did.

    I blog because it keeps me writing on days I don't want to write. It keeps me on some sort of deadline. It makes me be responsible for something if I really want this career. If you're blogging only to rack up the followers, then Good Luck!

  3. "No, I don't think it's very doable if you want a life beyond your computer screen."

    I agree with you here, Sister Mary, that's why I wrote this post. I'm trying to get a feel of whether industry insiders still feel the same way they did a couple of years ago when they were spreading this advice (there's a glimpse of this 'debate' in the Jody Hedlund link I provided at the bottom of my post), and whether it's actually worked for writers.

  4. Nice post, Lorena. People seem to have strong opinions on the subject and will probably accept whatever advice or "evidence" supports their position. Those who expect a direct correlation between blogging and book sales are probably going to be disappointed. Those who blog because they feel they have to (grudging bloggers) should probably just give it up.

    But something else struck me, which is that before the internet, authors didn't always limit their writing to work they were trying to publish. They kept notebooks and they wrote letters, lots and lots of letters, many of which are still considered valuable today. Should those writers have been advised to stop wasting their time on any writing that wasn't aimed at publication? Because that seems to be the crux of the problem as currently defined. We don't write letters anymore. Maybe blogging--at least potentially--fills the space of letter-writing.

    1. "They kept notebooks and they wrote letters, lots and lots of letters, many of which are still considered valuable today."

      Excellent point, Joycelyn. Your comment reminded me of a book a friend of mine told me about recently. It's a collection of letters that Ada Lovelace (Lord Byron's daughter) wrote.

      So a writer never knows when something might inspire another book!

      It's so sad that we don't ever write letters anymore. When I went back to Ecuador this summer I found boxes of letters my friends had written me during my teenage/college years. They had so much personality (as opposed to the generic fonts/happy faces we use on emails)!

      Thanks for stopping by!


Disclaimer: The views expressed on this blog are the sole responsibility of each sister and do not reflect the opinions of the entire sisterhood.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.