I know, I know, the conventional wisdom is that Every Author Must Blog. You have to get your name out there, connect with your readers, etc., and blogging is one of the best ways to do that.
I don’t disagree with that, as far as it goes. But I have seen a lot of authors sabotage themselves by approaching blogging in the wrong way. In their rush to obey the Prime Directive (Every Author Must Blog), they neglect to follow the One Essential Rule of Blogging:
Don't be boring.
After all, what are we blogging for? People use fancy phrases like “establishing a presence” and “connecting with our readers,” but the bottom line really is this: We blog to build up our reader base and hang onto the readers we already have. If a potential reader comes to your blog and feels the yawn reflex start to kick in, is he or she likely to run to the nearest bookstore, lean breathlessly over the counter, and demand a copy of your latest book?
How shall I put this nicely? No.
There are as many ways to be boring as there are people on the planet, but in the blogosphere most of them come down to ignoring the Two Crucial Caveats:
1. Don't blog if you don’t have anything interesting to say.
2. Don’t blog if the quality of your blog writing does not come up to the standard of your published books.
Naturally, these Two Crucial Caveats have several Highly Important Corollaries each. (Is this starting to look like an outline? Hey, outlines are cool!)
The Seven Highly Important Corollaries of Crucial Caveat No. 1, Don’t blog if you don’t have anything interesting to say:
1. Don’t fill up your blog with nothing but news and reviews about your books. It’s fine to announce release dates and other important milestones, and by all means have your covers clearly and permanently visible on the page. But if all you ever talk about is your books, readers will get tired of listening to you blow your own horn and will find some other blog to read.
2. Don't get too personal. Do you have an irresistible urge to brag about your kids, complain about the weather, or post cute videos of your pets? Do it on your personal Facebook page, not on your blog (and not on your Facebook author page either). Your Facebook friends may conceivably care. Your blog readers, unless they’re also close personal friends, will not.
Exception: It’s fine to relate an incident from your personal life if you’re using it to make some larger point that is of interest to your readers. This can help readers feel like they know you, which is good. Just be careful what you say about your family members—it could come back to haunt you.
3. As an extension of Corollaries 1 & 2, don’t only talk about yourself and your books. If your blog is all about you, readers will not come back. They want to see something that is about them—something useful, informative, inspiring, entertaining, uplifting, or otherwise valuable.
4. Don’t give good reviews to bad books because they’re written by your friends. Yes, we all love being part of a writing community and we want to help each other out by promoting each other’s books. That’s great. But if you publish a dishonest review, you are betraying your readers, and they will not thank you for it. They may read the book and think, “If Blog Writer liked this trash, his/her own writing can’t be much good.”
5. Don’t vent or rant about something that bugs you without giving it a lot of sober thought. Consider: Is the situation you’re tempted to rant about an instance of true injustice, evil, or serious not-nice-ness, or is it merely something that offended you personally? Can you write about it with some objectivity, or will you come across as whiny, self-pitying, abrasive, or just plain nuts? An outside eye is helpful here—run the piece by a spouse or close friend before posting. And take their advice.
6. Don’t display a negative attitude about writing, publishing, critics, readers, agents, editors, or life in general. (Complaining about technology is okay, in moderation; you don’t want people to think you’re from a different universe.) You can talk about difficulties and struggles as long as you pull something positive out of it. Just don’t wallow in the mire.
7. Don’t preach. Want to communicate the lessons you’ve learned along your life/writing path? Fine—but be sure you make it clear that you yourself have made the mistakes you’re warning against and learned from them. If possible, speak in “we,” not “you.” In the interests of full disclosure, I have probably made every mistake in this post at least once.
Crucial Caveat No. 2 has only two Highly Important Corollaries—aren’t you relieved?
1. If you are a poet or fiction writer who can express yourself brilliantly in that medium, but can’t write a coherent sentence of nonfiction, don’t blog. If readers come to your blog and see prose that is awkward, incoherent, or dull, they will not assume you’re just out of your element and your fiction or poetry is actually brilliant. They will assume you cannot, in fact, write.
Blog posts deserve just as much careful attention to style and structure as you would put into any piece of writing intended for print publication. This may not be equally true for all bloggers, but it is definitely true for authors who blog.
2. If your command of the mechanics of English is shaky—if you rely on your publisher’s copyeditor to fix your grammar, spelling, usage, and punctuation—don’t blog unattended. Hire a copyeditor to go over each post before you publish it. You owe it to your readers, and you owe it to yourself. Really.
What mistakes have you learned from in your blogging career? What positive advice can you share?
Katherine Bolger Hyde is an editor and author. She blogs at The Wayfaring Writer, and tweets daily #grammartips as KatherineBHyde.
Michael Hyatt has a post addressing blogging that also cautions authors on the dos and dont's of blogging. Click on Michael's name and check it out as well.
And another great site is Blogging Bistro by Laura Christianson and yesterday her post was on blogging do's and dont's as well.
Happy Blogging! Happy Spring!