Thursday, June 2, 2011

When Not to Blog by guest blogger Katherine B. Hyde

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!


Timothy Fish said...

The problem I see with blogging is that seems like the answer agents give when they don't know how to answer the question "How can I build a platform?" There are a few people who have built a platform through blogging. There are some people who connect with the platform they already have. But most of us aren't going to get that out of blogging. For one thing, the readership of blogs is often different than the readership of books. There are several blogs I follow faithfully but have no intention of reading the books written by their authors. And I know that many of the people who follow my blog aren't going to read my books. A few will, and I suppose we could say we're aiming for those few if we're trying to blog for marketing, but I think we sell blogging short if that is our aim.

We write books to communicate. We write blogs to communicate. Blogs and books are similar concepts, but the blog is shorter and more instant. Through blogging, we are providing something of value, just as we are doing when we write a book. In other words, the blog is a book that we give away.

Wandering Writer said...

Sometimes I think my travel blog supports my speaking platform more than my published works. I use many of my posted travel adventures as stories in my presentations to make them more interesting and to illustrate points. In addition to the audiences I address, I pick up more followers/readers through the common interest of travel. Travel is never boring but finding things to write about in between adventures is challenging. I fill in with helpful tips and "Books for the road" reviews. I'm not sure how all of this shakes out in terms of platform building but it does at least give me contact with a potential audience for my published works.

Caroline said...

Kathryn, great post. I appreciate the reminders on blogging. Sometimes with all the pressure to build our platforms we can forget those points of what NOT to do.


. said...

I loved your thoughts on blogging. I personally am aiming to find better ways to blog about who I am as a writer. I want my readers to know who am I am on a personal level but I agree with you that to much information can hurt not help. So I do try to watch this when I'm blogging. I use to post things about my animals and such for the lack of having anything else to write about but I can strongly see how this would hurt you as a writer.

I think it is also important to find your ninche in writing, because knowing what you write about will help to produce a better blog that people will want to come to everyday.

I know this is true because I just re-did my blog and my readership has increased because of it. So it's true what you are saying and I love how well you put it. I will pass this along to my other writer friends to help encourage them as well. Thanks a bunch for posting it.

Christine M. Miller-Ramey

Melissa K Norris said...

If you have a blog you need to decide what your theme is about. What the purpose of your blog is? What message are you trying to convey?

Put this at the top of your blog. A one line on what your blog is about so readers know exactly what they're getting. Mine is right under the title of the blog. If you only post once or twice a week, let them know that somewhere on the page too.

Which brings me to my next point. Make sure every post has a take away for the reader. What is in it for them?

This helps you narrow your focus and make sure you're not posting boring updates about your life. Make every post have a purpose for the reader, not for you and your book.

If you take care of your followers on your blog then they'll trust you when it comes to buying your book. :)

Pen Dancing said...

A small suggestion I would make to an excellent blog above - keep the word count short. Kathryn has a reason to have a long blog, and it was not boring. However, when I have a blog come into my email and it is long - it doesn't get read. Just the facts.

Thanks Kathryn, your words are appreciated!

Katherine Hyde said...

You've all made excellent points. Sometimes blogging for marketing purposes seems like a random hit-or-miss affair. We can all learn from each other in terms of the positive what-to-dos of blogging, but ultimately what works will depend on who we are as writers and as people.

Pen Dancing, I hear you! It is best in general to keep posts to about 500 words. This one just wouldn't behave!

Kathryn Elliott said...

"Don't be boring." Best advice ever!

Patty Wysong said...

Great post! Blogging helped me find my brand--and that in turn helped me fine-tune what I blog about and how I do it.

Not being boring is a huge point! And along with that, I think having some kind of take-away value for the reader is important--even if it's "just" encouragement or a point to ponder. =]

Elaine W. Miller said...

Thank you for this post. As a new blogger (well, actually, it's been over a year, but it still feels new), I have struggled with the purpose of my blog. You've helped clarify and affirm what I felt was true. An author must write a quality blog. The good news is that the more I blog the better my writing and the easier it comes.

The thrill is that my blog is reaching parts of the world where my books are not available. I feel it is my way of going into all the world... right from my fingertips. Blogging is an amazing tool I am learning to appreciate one blog at a time.

Elaine W. Miller

dandelionfleur said...

Wow! Someone wrote many of the things I've thought!!! Though you did it more eloquently and organized than I would have.

I've gone through each point, and see that I've messed up a time or two--knew in fact while I was doing it. Now that I see it in writing, you can be sure, it won't happen again.

Thanks for an excellent post!


Rita Garcia said...

Thank you for sharing this valuable information. I will be reviewing my blog and putting these guidelines into practice. Blessings!

Rita Garcia said...
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