Thursday, April 22, 2010

Who Cares if You Blog?

Today I ran across the blog of an aspiring novelist. This writer doesn't have a lot of "followers" and mentioned some worry about how a lack of internet presence might hurt chances of getting attention from agents or publishers. I have some thoughts about this. Now, I don't have a publisher but I do have an agent and I know some published authors and the thing is, if you write fiction, having a blog or not has no influence on your chances of getting an agent or getting published. As my agent says, your blogging will only impress people if you have like 25,000 readers (that's not a typo; I mean twenty-five thousand), otherwise you're just another person with a blog, and we all have blogs and it's nothing special. What is special is writing a good book. So focus on that, because the average reader doesn't read blogs by writers and real agents and editors aren't cruising the internets looking at writing blogs hoping to find something dazzling (they have day jobs and that's what they do all day).

Just write a good book and don't worry about the blogging. Unless, of course, you are an ass on the internets. Because if an agent or editor is interested in the dazzling book you've written, they'll likely Google you and if you look like a difficult person with whom to work, the odds are that they'll pass on your book because, you know, there are 100 people right behind you with books just as dazzling (in their eyes) as yours is, so why wouldn't they rather work with those nice folks than you?

So write a good, dazzling book and be nice on the internets but otherwise remember that blogging--at least according to my best-selling author friends--doesn't sell books and you shouldn't expect it to and it's not, you know, a big deal. Blogging is not the Real World. Look away from your computer screen. See all of that stuff? That's the Real World. Keep blogging and have fun with it and meet lots of cool people on the internets and play nicely together, but remember that it's just the internets and if you want to be a writer, concentrate on writing a cool book, not on writing a cool blog. Because the cool book is what matters.

Also: Apologies to Lady Glamis, because this is her day to post and I've totally hijacked the Lab even though I am still officially on blogcation and I wasn't here and you didn't see me.


  1. Thanks Scott. You just dashed my hopes of Oprah seeing my blog and instantly demanding the publishing world sign me up.


  2. Eric: I'm not saying that it can't ever happen! The odds are against it, but I feel some luck coming in your direction...oh yes, definite luck for you. Use it wisely.

  3. Scott, I think blogging gets out of hand for me all the time, but it's not because I'm hoping an agent will find me. I think it's mostly because I'm stuck home every day all day and blogging is a social outlet when other people aren't around. Still, I'm currently thinking of quitting some of my blogs. I've been thinking that for awhile now. Ask Davin. It's a constant frustrating point for me.

  4. I do agree that you really do need a realistic outlook on blogging, especially as a fiction writer. I think nonfiction writers can more easily benefit from blogging -- there's quite a few blog turned into books out there. That said, I have had agents and editors find out about my blog and contact me -- some because of my nonfiction expertise (brains and writing), but others who just liked my writing samples and were interested in my fiction. It's been a great networking tool for me, but I had to think carefully about how to make it work.

  5. I think you shouldn't blog unless you enjoy it. Period. There are authors of excellent works who blog very well, such as Neil Gaiman, Laurie Halse Anderson and Libba Bray. Readers of blogs are looking for interesting, informative, intriguing, thought-provoking or just entertainingly fun.

  6. Thanks for this. We keep getting hammered day after day with all these messages that if we don't blog and tweet 24/7, we're "not serious about getting published."

    It's always sounded like BS to me, but once I started blogging, it got kind of addictive. Like Lady Glam, I realize it's time to cut back. All the blogging has cut my writing time in half. Seems pretty counter-productive.

  7. Excellent post Scott! I totally agree with you. My friend just got an agent and she didn't blog until after that. Blogging won't get you published, but good writing will. Thanks! =)

  8. I think there is a place for social media in getting your name out there. As someone far, far away from finishing a novel let alone publishing it, I use Twitter and blogging as a way to "presell" my book. My goal is to make people love me so much, by the time my book is actually out, they'll be lining up Stephanie Meyer style at midnight outside bookstores. Hm, I may have to get more creative with my characters if I want them dressed in costume; right now, it would just be a lot of housewives. Although men dressed as housewives would be interesting.

    But I digress. Right now, my blog has 27 followers, and after the first four (my sister, my aunt, my niece, and my friend), I have been shocked by each new addition. I felt the same way when my Twitter following passed 100.

    I think what it really comes down to is I'm a writer, and I want an audience. I don't want to wait until my book comes out to get it.

  9. What Eric said! Kidding.

    I agree . . . writing a dazzling book is far more important than blogging.


  10. Michelle: I know what you mean, because in my job I spend all my time alone, preparing spreadsheets and reports and there's not a lot of people contact, so I use the internets to feel like I'm still a member of the human race. But at the same time, the internet world can start to feel more real and important than what's actually going on around me and I have to remember that this is not the case. Though I have met some great people via blogging. Still, my personal blog is mostly just my own form of a writing journal, a way for me to gauge my progress as I work through books. It's nice when people comment, but that's not really the point. I started that blog about a month before I got an agent, but there's no causal relationship!

    Livia: I'm glad your blog works as a networking tool for you! But no fair: you're a neuroscientist and you have a professional-looking blog.

    Tricia: All of those writers were successful authors before they were bloggers. I like Gaiman's blog; he always seems to have fun with it.

    Anne: It's addictive and sometimes fun. But my point is that it's not crucial to writers.

    Carolyn: Yes!

    Shelli: "Getting your name out there" is way less important than getting your book out there. And the one won't really help the other if you write fiction. It's fun to have blog followers, but to quote one of my published writer friends, "Blogging didn't sell a single book as far as I know. You want to know what had the biggest measurable effect on sales? Three letters: NPR."

    Scott: So let's all be dazzling and bedazzled.

  11. Scott --

    Lol, the "professional looking blog" is a free blogger template. Just took me an afternoon to set up, and I know almost no html/css/whatchamacallit.

    And the neuroscientist stuff has indeed helped me a lot, but I think the secret is not brain science, but rather to brand yourself and make yourself stand out -- so that you're not just another aspiring writer blogging about life. I chose neuroscience cuz.. well, that seemed the obvious choice for me. You guys at the literary lab have done a great job of of branding yourselves and offering quality content, and your blog is well known because of it. It's just a matter of being creative.

  12. Thank you. I haven't had the time to post more than once every other week lately. Then again I'm getting a massive amount of writing done on my current WIP. (Hugs)Indigo

  13. When I went to Nathan Bransford's workshop last year, I asked that question. His answer was basically that if you have a blog or web site and mention it and an agent checks it out, they're not looking at your following. Or the quantity of comments. They look at your writing style, and if you have people commenting, what your responses are.

    Not long ago either Rachel Gardner or Janet Reid had a post that pretty much said what Scott did about internet presence. It's not necessary to sell a book, but if you have one and they find you a normally rude person, they are unlikely to pick you up as a client b/c personality fit is also a factor in choosing who to represent.

    If you sent them what they consider the most amazing book in the history of publishing, a bad attitude probably wouldn't keep them from signing you. Agents are in the business of selling books, not people afterall.

    But for myself; I like having that internet presence, and hope that if an agent thinks seriously about my MS, they find me easy to work with on a personal level as they do on a professional level. I doubt my blog is doing any more for me professionally than networking with other writers on the same journey; but it is helping my writing skills, and that certainly can't hurt the publishing process any.


  14. Okay, this isn't ENTIRELY true. Sometimes agents DO run across writer blogs and contact the writers. I don't know who these agents are, whether they're young and hungry, or what, but two of my bloggie friends have been contacted by agents asking them to query when they're ready. Why? Because they read excerpts of their work on their blogs, and liked it enough to open the door.

    It does happen. It happens rarely, to be sure, but it does happen.

    I'm not counting on that, though. FYI. :)

    (Okay, and I wrote that before I knew Livia would be posting here. She's one of the two. Hey, Liv!)

  15. I log onto this here Blogger space for two primary reasons: to learn from other bloggers, and to network. Some of that "networking" is just making connections with other people who are on the same journey, which makes me feel like I'm not in this lonely business of writing all by myself.

    But it sure is easy to abuse this tool and spend would-be writing time goofing off online. I think it's just a matter of balance and being conscious of time.

    If some agent, or, like, Oprah, stumbled upon my blog and offered a contract, I'd feel like I won the lotto without buying a ticket!

  16. Scott,
    This is a great post and an interesting take on blogging as a writer trying to get published. I would say that you're spot-on that getting noticed probably won't happen through blogging. But, what I will say is that our blog has served several important purposes.

    First, it's just like Lady Glamis said in her comment. It's a social outlet for connecting with others in the business. People are overwhelmingly supportive of one another and looking to network. We have met such phenomenal people through blogging!

    Second, it has helped Martina and I stay current in children's publishing because we run our blog mainly off of great tips and posts we locate on other blogs. You hear it time and time again to do your homework and know the market. This has been a HUGE benefit of blogging.

    And finally, even if it's not exactly writing a manuscript, blogging has required us to read and write daily. This, of course, is something that's a must for writers.

    Thanks for terrific perspective on blogging!


  17. Thanks for this timely reminder as I was just thinking... gosh I haven't posted anything all week and how am I gonna get more followers if I never write anything dashing and clever and then I lost a follower. How do you do that? So don't sweat the blog. is that what you're telling me? Cause that's what I need to hear.

  18. Scott, you're beginning to frighten me just a bit with your unpredictability. More and more I start to think that word of mouth is the key to the success of a book. To get word of mouth we need some initial visibility. I think a blog (or even just a circle of friends) could accomplish this. That might be one benefit. But, it's probably best just to have fun and not worry about stuff like that since most likely it won't make a difference.

  19. Scott -- I really think you are a bit too dismissive of the potential blogging has to create interest in your work. I may have been very tongue in cheek in my first comment, but pre-selling is a solid business model.

    If you walk into any high end store, a commissioned sales person is going to approach you and attempt to create a rapport and establish a relationship of trust. If he is successful, you are much more likely to see his sales pitch as a personal recommendation, and you'll probably end up buying whatever he suggests.

    Once a customer is sold, they are golden. You never have to sell them again. If the product met their expectations, they'll keep coming back to you for more. Even better, they may even recommend you to others, doing your pre-selling for you.

    I could wait until my book is released to start promoting -- but why waste all that time? Yes, writing my book commands most of my attention, but my blog is a way for me to connect with others during this process. Hopefully I'll learn a lot and improve my writing. And yes, I am hoping to connect with my future audience as well.

  20. Shelli: My dismissiveness is based on conversations I've had with published authors who have blogged away, done "blog tours," done internet interviews and all sorts of online activities. The consensus among them, at least, is that it made no difference. I think that when we're online, the online world seems really important to us. But agents tell me that, if you are very lucky, 10% of your blog readers will buy your book. If you have 5000 readers, that means (if you're lucky) 500 sales. 500 sales is not significant to a publisher. And you'll only get those 500 sales if you're really lucky. My point is that if you are a writer and you are worried that your online presence is not fabulous, you should probably not worry. You should just work on your book. Yes, there are a few people who can use the internet to their advantage and turn that into real sales. Maybe you are one of them. But most authors, even published authors with publicity money thrown at them from publishers, get very little value in terms of book sales from the web.

    Davin: I really think that the initial visibility we need for our books is, you know, a book. For sale somewhere. Anyway, I just wanted a light post today telling people not to worry and to just work on their book, and to have fun on the internets and not be mean to each other.

  21. 500 sales is nothing, sure. But if you sell 500 books to people who like you and will tell three other people each about you, you're starting to see some better sales. If you've established a rapport, that initial 500 is solid gold in terms of publicity, no?

  22. Simon: I don't know. If you only get those 500 sales, then no. Every sold book does not turn into more sales through word of mouth. If that was true, every book would be a best-seller, wouldn't it? Publishing companies do not realistically expect sales to come from author blogs. Authors are expected to have web sites these days, but how many bestselling authors are on blogger? How many of them were on blogger before they were bestselling authors? Where is Jhumpa Lahiri's blog? Where is Stephen King's blog? Where is J.K. Rowling's blog? Maybe some people will work it. What I'm saying--all I am saying, really--is that it likely doesn't matter if you don't blog well.

    I am not saying that blogging has no benefits. I am saying that not blogging will not hurt your chances. What will hurt your chances is not writing a good book. What will help your chances the most is writing a good book, blogging or no.

  23. Simon: You know what does seem to work, though? In-person author events. I know a guy who's personally sold something like 7,500 copies of his first book, all at readings and presentations. His publisher has sold fewer copies than he has. This author has a website, but he doesn't blog.

  24. Oh, Scott, no need to apologize. I wasn't going to post today, anyway.

    So thanks for filling in. :)

  25. I might be a tad naive - or just easy - but those 500 book sales represent 500 people that liked my book. If that is the sum total of sales for my first novel, then I'd be happy. I'd be hopeful for the next book.

    Now, Agents may not want to take a chance on a second novel because of the poor sales record, but I think they'd look at a lot of other factors that went into that low amount of sales.

    Me, I'd be happy I sold anything. Sometimes I think writers discount the small steps. If a writer doesn't make a fortune off the first round of sales, does that writer totally ignore the few sales they accomplished?


  26. Donna: Maybe. I don't know. It's not really what I'm trying to talk about.

  27. Scot I think you're spot on the money here.

    I think the idea that if you sell 10 copies from the internet and all those people tell their friends and their friend's tell their friends that you'll sell more book is really attractive. Not long ago the same reasoning was mentioned in support of self-publishing. And sometimes it does happen that way.

    But I think for most people it doesn't work as well as it seems it should.

    Thanks for this post.

  28. Someone made a point on a similar thread once. Say you blog for a year, spending 10 hours a week on it, and get 2000 followers. 200 end up buying your book. Those are real sales, and not to be dismissed. However, say that instead of blogging,you worked at burger king for $7 an hour. After a year that's $3640 dollars. You could hire a publicist (how much do they cost, anyway?), and that might sell more books than the 200 you made by blogging. I do find blogging fun and worthwhile, but I think Scott's point is that it's not the be all and end all to selling your book.

  29. Shelli: I had to smile at your comment about twitter. I scratch my head sometimes and think, who would want to follow me? The whole "following" idea is so weird, as if we are all gurus.

    However, I did learn about this site, and the Genre Wars contest through a blog. And through a tweet, I heard of and won a small pub. house's synopsis contest and have my ms there now; so the information stream has been good for me. Hopefully, my retweets and posts will help someone else.

    Now, (smile)if any of you are on twitter- follow me (@sbjames). I always follow back fellow writers.

  30. I absolutely agree with you, the blogosphere provides a fabulous virtual writing community, but blogging doesn't sell books, at least not fiction.

    That said, I had an agent request a full not just because of my sample pages, but because she "quite liked the tone of my blog." The Tone. Go figure.

  31. The voice of your blog is important if an agent is interested in your work and googles you up.

    Other than that, Scott, I believe you're right. But then I believe in the query fairy, too.

    Ah, man, you mean there's no query fairy either? Gee, now I am bummed out.

    Have a great weekend, Roland

  32. Do people really blog with the hope of being 'discovered'? I honestly hadn't ever considered that.

    I have considered the fact that .. if an agent picks up your query, they might google your name. And, if they do google your name, it might be nice if they found something positive and 'writing related'.

    other than that .. it's just a social outlet and opportunity to learn from others on the same path.

    at least, that's my take.

  33. My first novel is slated for publication this Fall, and the publisher's Marketing Guy wanted me to have an "online presence", not just with my own blog, but by commenting a lot on others, and using Twitter and Facebook as well. But blogging is not something I enjoy, and I despise things like Twitter. I compromised by joining a few LiveJournal communities of folks who liked my fanfiction back in the day, and I have made an occasional comment there. When the book comes out, I'll let them know and that might add a few sales.

    A friend who is a professional fiction author with over 10 titles never blogs, and even believes in-person readings/signings make very little difference in her overall sales. She is a firm believer in doing what makes you comfortable, and I agree. If it doesn't come naturally, there's not much point to doing it.

  34. Mizmak: Thanks for weighing in here, and thanks for paraphrasing Caroline (I assume). I think that any marketing efforts will work better for some of us than for others.

    I maintain, however, my original point that if you don't blog, you aren't hurting yourself. I have a facebook account and I hardly post there. I don't enjoy it and I don't, frankly, get facebook at all. It's a lot of pointless noise to me. I don't twitter either, for the same reason. Margaret Atwood blogs and tweets, but mostly about her politics.

  35. Scott--I liked this one so much, I included it in my Link Love post today. Thanks for putting it up.

  36. Interesting post! I do think writing the book trumps all, but I find blogging useful for a number of reasons. Up top, though, my blog *Insert Literary Blog Name Here*, gives me an outlet that's not entirely related to my book, a way to write and think when I need a break from novel/story writing. I guess it's a bit like my meditation space.

    I started seriously blogging to build a portfolio for freelance work. A few months in, though, I found myself focusing on YA related news and ideas, since I'm a YA writer. While I don't have a big blog, I've found that my YA related posts help me sort out my own opinions (I often need to write about a thing to get my head around it), keep up on relevant industry stuff, and spend more time reading. It's also helped me create a lot of useful connections.

    I don't think an agent will come find my blog and offer me a deal. I do think having a current blog--and the other opps it's created (I write for PopMatters, The NRI, and do reviews for the Santa Fe Writers Project) will help agents who may be on the fence about my work edge closer to a yes because they can see I'm serious about the work, interested in my craft, and willing to put in necessary time.

    Scott, I'm curious--and forgive me if I missed it in the comments--why do you blog? Is there a particular thing you get out of it?

  37. Peta, I'm way late to the party in responding to this and I assume you will never read this comment, but I will write it anyway. I blog mostly because I am fighting a very low-key war against what I see as certain dangerous trends of laziness in writers of fiction. I blog because I don't think there's enough of a dialogue going on about craft, about the quality of the actual writing, and I want to be a buzzing in the ears of writers about that. I don't blog to make connections or find new outlets for my writing, and as I already have an agent that part of the equation is off the table. I don't blog to shill for my own writing because my personal blog has like 56 followers and the Literary Lab's followers seem on the whole to prefer books other than the sort I write, so commerce has nothing to do with it. I just want to sometimes give my opinion about what I see as the important values in fiction, and Davin (who owns this blog) was nice enough to invite me to do so here on a regular basis. So I'm here as an evangelist for the craft, which I see as being far more important than my own stories or career.


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