Can We Have Our Cup of Coffee?

by Jeff Abbott on August 14, 2008

Nathan Bransford (aka the patron saint to those seeking a literary agent) asks on his blog if writers blogs are worth the effort. The comments in response are fascinating: everything from (paraphrased) “absolutely, start blogging right this minute” to “I read an author’s blog and he/she was a jerk so I won’t read them now and blogging is a terrible idea”.
My take: I started this blog after being very resistant to the idea for a long time. Because I’d read a number of writer’s blogs, and they ranged from being consistently entertaining (hello, Joshilyn Jackson and Meg Gardiner) to not: authors posting long-winded essays on their writing process once every new geological era. I’ve also seen author blogs turn into flame-fests over publishing-industry topics that most readers could care less about. (No, I’m not going to link to those because I don’t want to bruise feelings, but trust me, they’re out there.)
I said I would blog (my webmaster kept encouraging me), then I said I wouldn’t. I considered every reason not to blog–wouldn’t it suck time and effort away from the writing that pays the bills? Or from my family? I’m a private person, and I wasn’t comfortable with putting too much of my life on display. (However I admire those who can with grace and humor.)
And part of me resisted simply because it seemed like everyone was blogging. I can be a real contrarian sometimes. (Unless everyone is eating–then I’m ready to eat.) But then I kept thinking about bits and pieces of everyday life that don’t seem, at first blush, to be connected to writing–but they are– and I thought, “I’d like to write about that.” So I made a fairly long list of blogging topics I knew I could write about–as well as topics that I would NOT write about, which is equally important–and took the plunge.
I decided I would try and make the tone of the blog much the same as if you and I were sitting having a coffee–we might talk about publishing, or writing, or the hilarious story that was on the news last night. It’s a little different, in that I start each topic, but as long as you’re interested, the conversation goes on.
I’ve been doing the blog for about six weeks and right now it accounts for 13% of the website’s traffic. It doesn’t take up a huge amount of time, but it does take up some time that I could spend writing or making a dent in my to-be-read stack or trying to improve my tennis score on the Wii. (I’ve been told I could post less often but I think when starting one of these it’s important to put up a fair amount of content to give a new reader enough to know whether or not they want to make your blog a habit.) There is always the risk I will stick my foot in my mouth in a way I would never do in a book. Is it worth it? I don’t know. I get a fair amount of reader e-mail (it always peaks when a new book comes out) and no one mentions the blog–they mention the books. I don’t know yet if this blog sold a single book–but I’m also not sure that I expect it to sell books. The point is to start and maintain a conversation of sorts (and it may be one way, I don’t get lots of comments) with readers. Or at the least, let them see a different, more personal side of me that they don’t get from the books. (I suspect, though, that many of my readers don’t want to know me beyond the books, and that’s perfectly fine.) It also gives me a chance to exchange thoughts with readers in a way I only get to do when I’m on tour.
I don’t have an answer to Nathan’s question–it’s too early in the game. But if you’ve read to the end of this entry, what do you think? Are writer blogs worthwhile–or should we just go and work on our next chapter instead, and forget about our online cup of coffee?

    { 7 comments… read them below or add one }

    Kirk August 14, 2008 at 11:41 am

    Well, those of us who don’t write “real” books – not fiction, that is, or not bestselling non-fiction – use blogs as promotional venues. I get lots of readers coming to my blog ( :-) , and some of them buy books. But I agree that it’s more about a conversation with the people who we don’t often meet. At least you get to go on book tours and meet readers: I don’t.
    Another thing: when you run a blog, you own your own brand. You are able to present yourself and your books the way you want. Many authors don’t manage their websites, and have little control over the way their Internet visibility.
    So, worthwhile? Sure, if you have enough readers who are interested. If it allows you to let of some steam, write about things you can’t discuss in your books, and create a conversation, that’s a plus. I’d keep it up; so far, it’s worth my time to follow what you’ve written.

    Jeff Abbott August 14, 2008 at 11:55 am

    Hi Kirk:
    I definitely think you write “real” books. Nonfiction authors–whether writing about politics, history, or technology–have a platform to write about consistently in their blogs. I suppose there’s a platform hiding within most fiction writers’ books but it may be less obvious. And yes, my entry was aimed more at the decision fiction writers face about the virtues of blogging.

    Meg Gardiner August 16, 2008 at 8:54 am

    Thanks for the shout-out, Jeff. Like you, I resisted blogging for a long time. But, egged on by my editor and agent, I gave in two years ago. I’m glad I did. The blog has in fact helped me professionally — at a time when I was looking for a U.S. publisher, a number of editors first came to read me online, and gained a favorable impression of my writing from the blog. The blog has also become a bit of a hobby, and a fun one; I like to poke around the web while I’m having coffee in the morning, and see if anything bloggable catches my attention.
    Best of all, the blog has turned into a conversation with readers and people from all over the world who share my taste for oddball topics (writing, weird crime, comedy). It’s a way to put out news and keep in touch. And I’ve gotten a real kick out of meeting people in person who for years I knew only by their blog handles.

    crimeficreader August 16, 2008 at 5:45 pm

    Hi Jeff, I arrived here via Meg’s blog. I saw you both on the stage at Harrogate this year and played on the same quiz team as Meg. Before I say more, no, I have not bought one of your novels as a result of this blog. But I did buy one the other day as a result of seeing you on stage at Harrogate. You’re now in my TBR pile.
    I am not a writer or a budding novelist, but I’ve been blogging for three years now and I’ve also viewed a lot of blogs. As a result, I’ve learnt a lot about the industry and things have developed in ways I could not imagined when I started. I’ve also made a good few friends of shared interests: essentially crime & thriller fiction.
    But an author blog carries some risk. For a reader, it’s like meeting the author in person. You can start a productive relationship, continue one, or be turned off completely. In the ideal world, the fictional stories will remain the key, but if the creator proves to be a jerk in the reader’s eyes, it’s all over. Obviously, however good the story, there will still be some who walk away. That’s just the playground arena revisited. Not all of us are happy bunnies in one anothers’ company. I’ve seen some good author blogs and some dreadful ones, so here are some thoughts:
    1. Make sure you have objectives and a theme in mind and stick to theme, in the main. A set of posts resembling poster paints in a kindergarten leaves the reader in the wilderness with no idea what to expect. This will create a loyal tribe of readers because they know and love what to expect. Defining that theme is key, though. If all you talk about is writing and the publishing world, it’s more likely you’ll get budding authors reading your posts. Remember the readers of your novels and the potential readers, because that serves a constructive purpose for both you and them.
    2. Avoid giving up so much of yourself that you’ve let your readers know everything about your personality and life history within six to nine months of starting your blog. What is left to come back for? An author blog, in my mind, may be considered a female thing: always retain an element of mystery. (Easily said, but not so easily practised on the part of some female mystery writers, I’ll have you know…)
    3. Avoid political views unless you know that someone (or a whole country) has said or done something that the majority of the world’s population unites against. Then you are free to diatribe. Wait to see the reaction to worldwide media reporting before you spout off and do cut it short, unless you have a real personal interest.
    4. Keep ‘em guessing… Add in the odd post from time to time. Something close or local to you, that is personal, but does not put your liver and kidneys under your readers’ microscope.
    5. Always talk about your books, regularly, and especially what you are working on next and when it will be published. Your readers will always want more. Let them know it will come and the current schedule.
    6. Be a human author. Think Salman Rushdie for a contrast at the moment, here in the UK, in the wake of the recent Man Booker longlist announcement. I firmly believe that it’s his life history and lifestyle that lead to so many detractors. But, I think you’ve got this already Jeff, in your post that was your interview with your son. Keep it human, keep it personal, but also hold more back than divulged. That keeps readers hungry.
    I hope these comments help.
    I think you have a good blog here, Jeff and I wish you the best with future posts. Now that I’ve found you, I’ll be reading via a bookmark and I look forward to reading your novels as soon as time allows.
    Best wishes,
    the crimeficreader

    Shawn, atlreader August 16, 2008 at 6:42 pm

    May I speak from the point of view of the reader, rather than another writer? I read the blogs of a number of writers. It fascinates me to see how the talented, creative mind works. It stimulates me to have access to those who discuss ideas and who are willing to share insights into the intelligent, creative world of thought. I have taken many stories or ideas I’ve read in blogs to many dinner tables – and have loved the charged conversations that have resulted. So much more interesting that listening to what everybody thought of last night’s tv! So please keep blogging. We may not post in response, but we’re here.

    Shawn, atlreader August 16, 2008 at 8:04 pm

    Huh. I just read another author’s blog (albeit different genre, and she too is thinking about discontinuing her blog. Although she says she enjoys it, and the interaction it allows her to have with her readers, she, like you, is concerned about the amount of time it takes away from her writing.

    Jeff Abbott August 17, 2008 at 8:57 am

    Crimeficreader–those are excellent suggestions, thank you. Your thinking about what works and doesn’t work in a blog parallels my own.
    Shawn–I’m glad the creative insights part of the blog is interesting to you. Also, I should clarify–I’m not considering discontinuing the blog. I do keep an eye on how much time it takes, which is not much right now, because the book writing has of course to take precedent. But I actually have some ideas for new things on the blog I’d like to try, so this blog is continuing onward, no doubts, and stay tuned.

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