Blogging for Authors

This post is for you writing and creative types who are unhappy with your blogs. You feel like you are Supposed To Blog, but each post is a chore to write, and if anyone comments, it’s the same two friends. Worse, you feel like your blogging doesn’t support your booklife–maybe it even takes away from your writing time.

Believe me, I can relate. And if you like, I can share the tale of my slow rise and rapid descent as a moderately successful niche blogger–more as a cautionary tale than a success.

I hand-coded my first blog platform when I was working for a dot com over ten years ago. I’ve switched platforms a number of times, but I’m still at the same domain. Here’s the text of my first post:

man, starting a weblog is tougher than i thought. i think that part of the problem is that i actually care what you think. and i’m looking for feedback, relationship, community. this is like the beginning of an extended blind date with a million potential partners.

 

but i’m doing it anyway, risking rejection or even worse–total apathy. i am closing the door behind me, stepping out into the blackness, lit only by the glow of your monitors, and starting with this first post. hi::

Blogging has always been deeply personal for me. When I started, I was a posing IRL as a clean-cut, god-fearing, stalwart Mormon man, but inside I was full of sin and doubt and turmoil. On my blog, I could tell the truth, be the real me. And I posted under my real name. Over time, I connected with other closet unbelievers and grew a mini-community. After a few years, I took on a blogging partner who had experienced her own painful exit from Catholicism.

We covered a lot of topics, but my personal story focused on my gradual exit from Mormonism, with an emphasis on feminist critiques and a personal campaign against Prop 8 that culminated with my excommunication. I felt that public reporting was my only defense against an institution which abused social power over me and my family. My publicly posted criticism of the Church was cited by the authorities as a primary reason for my excommunication.

This was when mind on fire reached its zenith in terms of visits and engagement. It was a relatively successful blog at the time: on its peak day, it had 20,000 page views, with 12,000 unique visitors, each staying for an average of 2 minutes. My posts on my blog and as a guest blogger elsewhere were getting a 100, 150, 300+ comments. I wasn’t trying to be successful. I was simply doing this: I wrote my life, I wrote my obsession, I wrote with a purpose, and I wrote for an audience that I knew well, that I connected to deeply.

But as I put Mormonism behind me, and healed from my dysfunctional relationship with religion, my need to write about it evaporated. I lost almost all of my followers. I am a blogger in crisis.

As I consider what to do next, I’m thinking about four bloggers in particular: Bill Shunn, Mary Kowal, Cory Doctorow, and John Scalzi. I think I was following them all back in ’05-’06. With the exception of Bill, I was pleasantly surprised to discover, over time, that they also published in my genre (and I followed Bill’s example and went to a Clarion workshop). I paid money for books and stories by these four authors because I first got to know them as bloggers. So, if your goal is to use blogging to expand your audience, don’t write for SF writers, write for potential readers.

What do you think? How can you blog to increase your reputation as an author? (and your sales!) Do you have blogger-authors you look to as models?

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  • This is PERFECT timing for me. I’ve been having trouble sticking to a blogging schedule. Someone gave me the idea to blog on days I train, since I never miss a gym workout. That worked for a while, then I fell of the blogging. I tried entering a blog challenge. Apparently, I wasn’t up to the challenge because I fell off that one too.

    I LOVE Mary Robinette Kowal’s blog. I LOVE Kat Richardson’s blog and Carrie Vaughn’s blog and they all blog for their readers.

    I think my road block is not having any readers to write for! LOL. I feel kind of silly posting things most of the time when I don’t think anyone will read it. I keep thinking “one day” I’ll have readers and THEN I’ll blog. Then again, I don’t want to wait and like you said, I’d like to use blogging to expand my audience.

    Thanks for this post and I’ll look forward to other people’s comments on their favourite blogers and ideas.

    • John Dewey Nakamura Remy

      Sandra, I thought of you as I was writing this post as a prime example as someone who has a strong following. It’s been intriguing to see where your writing and fitness selves overlap. At the same time, I wonder if it’s been a struggle for you at times, like you’re having to work twice as hard to communicate with two very different communities. I know I’ve felt that with my ex-Mormon and SF-writing halves.

      I do hope you find some way to keep on blogging, and to reach out to readers. (Then I can copy you!) 😉

  • Luna Flesher Lindsey

    It is interesting to see that you were excommunicated for being vocal
    against Prop 8, though it doesn’t surprise me, since I’ve heard that
    tale before.  They did the same thing in the 70’s re: ERA.  I’m sorry
    they did that to you — when I walked away it was by choice.

    I post to my blog maybe once a month.  At most.  And that’s not often enough.

    My strategy in terms of subject matter is to write about what I want.  My platform strategy is to “be me”, and if anyone is interested, they will get to know the deep thoughts I’m thinking at any given time.  Which means my blog is pretty random, because I am pretty random.  I write about writing now and then, because a lot of my friends and twitter followers are writers.  And because that’s what I do.  But I also try to write about whatever else strikes me.  (My review of Sucker Punch, a random whim post, has surprisingly attracted thousands of hits.)  My only rule is “nothing political”, though I do dip my toe into political philosophy, like feminism, etc., now and then.

    I do need to post more frequently, and here is my plan: When I’m deep into marketing mode again, probably next month, I’m going to spend a week or three doing nothing but writing blog posts.  I will store them up and release them on schedule.  In the meantime, I’ve been making note of ideas for when the time comes.

    I don’t regularly read many blogs, preferring to read individual posts that are linked on Twitter.  But in the past I’ve followed Wil Wheaton because he is true to himself and inspiring.  I also read a lot of David Brin these days, because he is ever-interesting.  Inkpunks gets a lot of my attention as well. 🙂

    • John Dewey Nakamura Remy

      Luna, I chose to continue to launch an anti-Prop 8 campaign while making it clear that I was a member. This was a strategic choice on my part, since criticism from a member stings more than outside criticism (one reason they cast critics out of the community). I wasn’t completely surprised at the outcome. I also chose to attend my court, which I think was a surprise to the local leadership.

      Your strategy seems like a sound one, in that you probably won’t burn out the way you might if you wrote a single-topic blog. And like you, I don’t read blogs often, but when I do I follow them off of twitter and other social media outlets (including some of your posts!). 

      And I’m so glad you share your opinions on inkpunks. You are wise and ever-interesting yourself! 🙂

  • This subject is one that I give a lot of thought, because I think that most author blogs that I read are not particularly well done, and it drives me a little crazy. I think it’s very important to both plan out before you start, and continue to evaluate as you go along, what it is that you want to say with your blog and who your audience is. If you have no idea what you want to say, I think it’s very difficult to keep your blog interesting. The fact is, writing a blog post is a skill that needs to be developed over time, just like writing a short story.

    Author blogs that I think are very well done include: Theodora Goss’s blog (prob. my very favorite); Justine Musk’s blog (my other favorite); Charlie Stross; Tobias Buckell; David Brin; Sean Craven. All of these people are obviously writers, but they find more to talk about than *just* their writing.

    As for the Whatever, I think a lot of what Scalzi does, he can do because of the size and tenor of his audience. Looking at him as an example for a new or smaller blog, I’d look at his older work on the site instead of what he’s doing currently.

    • John Dewey Nakamura Remy

      Amy, when I read your blog, I can tell that you give the art of blogging a lot of thought, and that you continue to do so. You are definitely one of the more skilled bloggers I know. 

      I agree with you about the importance of planning, of reevaluating, of developing the skill, and of knowing your audience. I’d like to add that you need to *care* deeply about your blogging to sustain your own interest over time. I’ve felt pretty confident about my blogging abilities in all those areas, but I fail as a blogger when it comes to sustained feeling/caring about my blogging.

      I’ve been intrigued by Theodora’s blog, and need to read it more. Stross is brilliant. And you’re the second person who’s mentioned Brin. I’ll have to check his blog out, and Buckell and Craven.

      Side note: I met Scalzi and Doctorow at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, maybe in 2005 or 2006? They were newish authors with no lines, signing right next to each other and someone big with a long line, who I can’t remember at all. I bought their books for the first time and got their autographs only because I followed whatever and boing boing. (in fact, I still haven’t read those two books…)

      • That’s an interesting point. I wonder where the caring comes in, or perhaps more importantly, how to encourage that caring to thrive and continue the blogging inspiration.

        I’ll add that while I think all those blogs I mentioned are examples of good writer blogs, I don’t read all of them regularly myself because I am not their target core audience. I do dip into each of them occasionally for a relevant post, and then I take a look and see what else they’ve been doing so I can get a sense of what’s working for them.  

  • Erika Holt

    What’s a “blog”? 😉 (Gotta get on that…)

    Thanks for this post and sharing your personal experience.

    • John Dewey Nakamura Remy

      You’re welcome! But beware the blogs! That way lies despairrrrr!!! 😛

  • Ah, yes. The rise and fall of blog fame. Not that I ever hit the heights you did, good sir, but I recall the days when 30 – 50 comments were the norm. Hang on a sec while I reminisce. *reminisces*

    Okay. I’m done with that. See, to get even that nominal exposure, I was reading and commenting on 30 or more blogs a day. And if you’re trying to offer substantial comments (other than “LOL i agree you r0x0r!), it sucks up an inordinate amount of time that could otherwise be spent on things like, y’know, the dayjob, family, home projects and the all-consuming fiction writing.

    Reciprocity builds readership like nobody’s business, but it takes way too damn long.

    Now I’m back to blogging when I feel like it, just to maintain a presence online, and I’m prioritizing the fiction. My readership’s dropped to sub-basement level, and my comments are few, but I’m cool with that. There’s plenty of time to collect sycophants once I’ve published a few bestsellers. 🙂

    • John Dewey Nakamura Remy

      Simon, really good point. I had forgotten all about that–when I was at my peak, I was definitely investing tons of time in community discussion. Unless you’re famous for some other reason, you probably need to be on other blogs and forums maybe 5-10 times more than you spend posting and commenting on your own blog. 

      Bottom-line: blogging successfully is really hard work! You may have the best path to blogging success. I hope you get your sycophants (and bestsellers) soon! 🙂