writers’ blogs

Writerly Pursuits

 

Looking at my current Things To Do list — specifically Writerly Things To Do (I also have such lists for the house, the garden and my day job) — got me thinking about activities that characterize the writing life. In no particular order, here is the list:

  1. Read and review the three books from the Emerging Local Authors Collection that are sitting on my bedside table.
  2. Finish writing a story (provisionally) called “The Ice Cream Truck From Hell.” Then post the story to my blog.
  3. Look through my file of stories that have never seen the light of day and select a couple to post on the blog. Then post them.
  4. Read closely and comment on three contributions to my critique group in preparation for a meeting on October 20th.
  5. Format for print publication within the next 3 months the second and third books of the Herbert West Series.
  6. Write some other stories that have been incubating way too long, before the ideas that inspired them wither and die.
  7. Prepare to write another novel — a sequel to the Herbert West Series — set in Egypt, specifically at an archaeological excavation in the 1960s. “Prepare to write?” You know — research, brooding, making notes, visualizing scenes, making more notes, etc.
  8. Read and occasionally comment on the daily stream of posts from the blogs I follow.
  9. Post to my blog at least once a week.
  10. Come to grips with the idea of marketing.

Thinking about this, it occurred to me that this is the real stuff of Being A Writer (except the marketing bit, maybe). It’s the 21st century analogue of what writers used to do in pre-computer days — getting together in cafes and bars, gossiping and arguing about the meaning of it all, writing letters, taking walks in the country and thinking about what to write next, mingling in literary salons, scraping away with their quill pens or pounding their typewriters. Nowadays much of the connection and exchange of ideas is done through social media, of course, but the dynamic is the same.

And, of course, there’s #10 on my list — marketing. Now as in the past, there are businesslike writers and those to whom that is an alien notion. Today’s indie authors don’t have to look far for reminders that to succeed, they must regard their writing and publishing as a business. Any who do not do this must resign themselves to failure.

As with the writing rules that also abound on the internet, the real situation is more complex — a compound of financial realities, creative impulses, expectations and motivations. Many self-published writers display a truly businesslike attitude, with (I assume) varying degrees of financial success and personal satisfaction. Many others do not. (Guess which of these groups I belong to. Just guess).

That’s really a side issue, though, the “marketing” aspect of being a writer. The core of it is whatever leads to new creations — writing. Whether the ferment of ideas and inspiration comes from face-to-face conversations with fellow writers, or electronically around the world, it must lead to sitting down and stringing words together. Otherwise, what’s the point?

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Acceptance and Anxiety: garden blogs vs. writers’ blogs

I’m both a gardener and a writer. My blog posts are split between these two interests, which may not be the best idea for finding a readership, but it means I can usually come up with something to post about.

The blogs I follow are similarly divided, although there are more on writing than gardening. Going through the daily accumulation of posts in my reader, I’ve noticed something interesting. Garden blogs are way more relaxed than writers’ blogs. Even when reporting winter losses or projects that didn’t work out, gardeners display acceptance. They celebrate what is, even while aspiring toward new challenges (getting blue poppies to stay alive and bloom again, for example).

Writers’ blogs, on the other hand, seethe with frantic anxiety, always concerned with the right way to do this and the wrong way to do that. How to get motivated. The right way to start a novel. Ten words you should never use. Why you must hire a professional editor. The best ways to market, make sales and self-promote. Stern admonitions that Writing is a Business. There’s so much at stake for writers! They’re running as hard as they can, looking behind at the competition snapping at their heels. I see so many pleas for honest reviews and for advice on using social media. So many shoals of blue links to books, websites and blogs. Look! Buy! Read! Review!

Just writing that paragraph has made me a bit weary and discouraged. If writing is such a creative joy (and I know it is), it’s sad that bringing the fruits of one’s efforts to the attention of those who might appreciate them should be such a painful struggle. If no one buys your books, you’re a failure.

Gardening can be a struggle too, but usually it’s a physical one — moving yards of soil or compost, chopping roots, spending hours doubled over pulling up weeds, getting dirty, hot and sweaty. The rewards of these efforts, though, are immediate and unequivocal. But there’s another difference, a more subtle one: gardeners live in the hand of Nature, which is eternal. There’s always another year, another plant, another reason to hope.

September 26, 2014

The Truth About the Book-Blog

Just before I published my first book on Smashwords a few years ago, I started this blog. The blog was intended to lead readers to the the book. A no-fail strategy, for sure.

Since then I’ve learned that a blog as a vehicle to promote your self-published books is only as good as the blogger. You have to work at blogging almost as hard as you did writing the book. Harder, maybe. And it isn’t as satisfying.

Here’s how to do it: visit and follow a lot of blogs. Those bloggers, flattered to get a follower, will return the favour. “Like” a lot of posts. WordPress helpfully informs bloggers when someone has liked one of their posts, leaving links to posts from the “likers'” blogs. When you get these messages, visit those blogs. Like, comment and follow. Then follow through. Before you know it, you’ll be following dozens, maybe hundreds of blogs and your world will be a whirl of likes and follows.

If you can manage it, leave comments (short ones, of course) on all the blogs you’re following. Bloggers will respond to your comments, and maybe follow your blog. Your followship grows and grows. Some of those people may buy your book.

That’s how it’s supposed to work, but I’ve decided this approach isn’t for me.

I don’t want to follow blogs just to get an obligatory follow-back. Same with comments. I follow only blogs that interest me, or at least look like they might. I want to read and comprehend most of the posts on those blogs, to push the “like” button only when I actually like something and comment only when I have something to say. I have found I can do this reasonably well while following about a dozen blogs, less well with two dozen. I really don’t want to go looking for fresh blogs to follow every day. Blogging becomes a blur and WordPress a bad word.

I’ve been blogging for four and a half years, writing a post every week. I’ve followed a couple of dozen blogs, just enough to experience that blur feeling, but haven’t noticed any increase in book sales as a result. Whatever motivates people to buy my books, I’m pretty sure it isn’t my blog. Maybe I’m not working the blogosphere hard enough.

My blog posts are on two main topics — writing and gardening. The posts on writing are (surprise!) of interest mainly to other writers, all of whom are flogging their own books. Selling books to other writers is not a great strategy. Yes, most writers are also readers, but what with critique group pieces, beta-reading, and reading for purposes of writing reviews (never mind actually writing), writers don’t have much time or mental capacity for leisurely reading. We’re all drowning in books.

My posts on gardening, especially those that include pictures, generate small flurries of “likes” and even a few follows, but no book sales. Evidently gardeners are not in need of novels about a corpse-revivifying physician on a journey of transformation.

The worst thing about blogging as a way to market a book is that it diverts the blogger from writing more books. Some say a writer’s best marketing strategy is to produce a well-written book with an eye-catching cover image and intriguing description, and then do it again. And again. Multiple books generate their own marketing mechanism, in the form of return customers, reviews and word-of-mouth recommendations.

Writers with a considerable social media following may find a blog to be an effective marketing tool. For me it isn’t and probably never will be, because I have no intention to engage in power-blogging. I don’t want to quit, because I find blogging to be good practice in marshaling my thoughts and writing short pieces to a self-imposed deadline. And it is satisfying to get those likes and comments.

But as autumn draws near, I intend to disengage myself somewhat from the time-devouring seductions of the Internet in order to write another novel. I will leave this computer alone much of the time and fire up my old Toshiba laptop (one of those two-inch-thick grey jobs from the turn of the century). It’s not connected to the Great Network in the Cloud, but last time I used it (in 2010) it worked just fine as a glorified typewriter.

 

Unwanted Good Advice

A while ago there was a discussion on LinkedIn’s Fiction Writers Group about whether reading “how to write” advice is a waste of time. There certainly is a lot of advice to be had — books and courses and blogs dispensing shoulds and shouldn’ts, dos and don’ts and sententious pronouncements for those who aspire to be Writers — get a professional editor, rewrite no fewer than 55 times, bow deeply to the God of Marketing, blah, blah, blah. On this blog, I’ve dispensed advice as well as commented on it, so I’m as guilty as anyone.

The interesting thing was how many said they don’t bother reading blogs by “just anyone.” Ha! It’s kind of ironic that on a forum frequented by self-published “indie” authors there should be suspicion and distrust of advice from fellow indies. I’m not surprised though, being inclined to argue with such advice no matter where I find it. Statements starting with “You should,” or “Never,” or “Always,” trigger an inclination to challenge. Sometimes I argue myself around in a circle and actually end up agreeing with the statement. Another irony; life is full of them.

My advice to writers inclined to dispense advice — stick to your own experience, describing things you’ve done that worked or did not work. That might actually be useful to others, especially if you include the ideas behind the actions.

I suspect that 100% of writing blogs are written in order to draw attention to the bloggers’ own books. That brings up the final irony for today, which is that we are preaching to the choir — other writers. I’ll bet most people who don’t write, even those who read a lot, aren’t really interested in dissections of grammar or the details of how to write dialogue. Blog posts on how to write, therefore, aren’t very good for marketing, and if other writers ignore them, what’s the point?

That said, practical advice from someone with credibility does have value. In that spirit, I endorse a post on proofreading from Michelle Proulx, a fellow WordPress blogger whose first book is due out in January. While you’re there, check out her post from December 13, featuring a first try at a book trailer for her book, Imminent Danger.