Author Blogging: You're Doing it Wrong
I think blogging is a waste of time.
Now, I realize this is weird because I .. uh… blog. But let me explain. I think blogging is a great way to meet other writers, to network, and improve your craft. But I don’t think blogging, as it’s usually done by fiction writers, sells novels.
As far as I can tell, the idea of “author platform” started as a nonfiction concept. An author with an effective platform was an acknowledged expert in a certain subject -- say underwater basket weaving. This author often had an established speaking circuit, giving talks at all the important basket weaving conventions. Maybe she also ran The Wet Weaver, a helpful blog with a large following. She had access to her target audience, and when she finally wrote the Basket Weaving Manual to end all Basket Weaving Manuals, she had the means to sell it.
The key to this scenario is target audience. People with nonfiction platforms had access to people who were interested in their topic and likely to buy their book.
At some point, unpublished fiction authors started feeling the pressure to build platforms. The problem is, they forgot all about target audience. Rather than being a means to reach the right readers, blogging became an end in itself – a box to tick off self promotional checklist. Fiction writers, being somewhat one-track minded, overwhelmingly decided to blog about writing. And thus, the writing blogosphere was born, with articles, contests, and promotions all aimed at fellow writers.
The thing is, we haven't created effective platform. What we've created is a never-ending writing conference. Good for many things -- forming friendships, professional development, and learning your craft. But nobody (I think) would argue that attending SCBWI conferences every weekend will catapult your book onto the New York Times bestseller list. In the same way, blogging for writers will not sell your book to the general reading population. This is even more apparent in the field of children’s literature. There are thousands of YA and MG writers (me included), blogging their hearts out to adoring readerships, while ignoring the inconvenient detail that their number of actual teens they’re reaching can be counted on one hand.
A brief aside – people will argue that writers are readers too, and that some sales are better than none. Which is certainly true. And it’s also true that some writers have successfully launched novels using their platform in the writing community (see Joanna Penn’s inspiring book launch for her debut thriller Pentecost). But it’s inefficient -- not all writers will read in your genre or enjoy your writing style. In Joanna’s case, she also sells products directed primarily toward writers, which makes the blog more effective. If you’re only selling general fiction, your conversion rate will be lower.
And you also have to look at the opportunity cost. Think about the number of blog followers you have, and suppose that a fifth of them buy your book (that’s a high percentage, IMHO). Now think about the amount of time you spend blogging. Time spent on the blog is time spent away from something else: writing another book, contacting book clubs, taking a part-time job and investing that money in advertising or a publicist. Given these myriad other options, is blogging still an efficient way to reach readers?
Sometimes in online platform discussions, someone will mention the elephant in the room, that we’re only blogging for other writers. Usually, that comment is met with thoughtful nods. Comments of “Yeah, we should think about that”. More awkward silence, and then we go back to our blogging. We can't help it. It's too much fun, and it's a path of least resistance. I ‘ve never heard anyone come up with a thoughtful, generalizable, plan for reaching targeted fiction audiences through blogging.
At least, I had never encountered a plan until last week -- when I ran across an intriguing blueprint that keeps the target audience in mind. And that was actually what I had been planning to blog about before I went off on my fatalistic rant.
But I'm already many days late on this blog entry, so I will stop here for now. Sorry to end on such a downer – I will be back in a few days with some happier thoughts. (Edit: Here is the followup post) In the meantime, what do you think? Is blogging a waste of time?
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