I so get this.
I have been at this blogging/online networking thing for over four years now (which is longer than Ninja Girl has even been alive), and I can certainly say that things have changed a lot in those years. Not necessarily in bad ways, just...it's different and change takes adjusting to. Let me try and give a little picture to what blogging was like back then (I say this as if it were eons ago, but hey, four years is a while in technology time):
• There was no followers icon.
• Google Reader and the like were fairly new and under used.
• The only way you could really tell that someone read your post was if they commented.
• You could guess your readership by one, slightly inaccurate method—Sitemeter (or similar services). (Now even Blogger gives you detailed stats of most-visited posts and keyword searches by week, day, month, and all time.)
• Twitter was practically brand new, and not very popular yet. Tumblr? Yeah, not around really.
• The easiest way to see if your favorite bloggers had updated was to have a link list on your site and click them obsessively all day in hopes of new content.
• The writers' corner of Blogland was much, much smaller, and most everyone was fairly new to it all.
• No one really knew what blogging would do for us or for our careers (Okay, hopeful future careers).
• But we all had very high hopes anyway.
I honestly get a little nostalgic for the "old days" of blogging. And I have high hopes that new bloggers out there are experiencing that high I did in meeting new people and learning new things. I know that they say blogging has taken a hit, since Twitter and other, shorter media outlets make it seem old and long-winded, but I still think there is a place for blogging. And I think it can be a huge help to writers.
But. There's always a "but," isn't there? For me, I think some of my blogging fatigue has come from facing the reality of what blogging can really do for you. Because while blogging has given me so much, it's not some magic wand that can give you all the things you want out of publishing. It can't give you the control over your career that we all so desperately crave. And now I think it's really important to be realistic about what a blog will do for you.
First of all, blogging can't make you a bestseller. It can't. Yes, there are popular bloggers that have become bestsellers, but it's not all or even much related to the fact that they have a blog. I know, I can't know this for sure, but as I've learned more about this business I've found that there's a lot that is completely out of an author's hand.
In reality, becoming a bestseller is a crazy lucky mash of things, especially for a debut. First it requires at minimum that your publisher labels you a lead title—which means they will print enough of your book to even get close to bestsellerdom. Throw in a perfect cover, good sales to chains and independents, not to mention big backing from their sales force, marketing on a national scale and probably tours, good reviews in visible outlets, high Amazon presales, Rick Riordan/another mega-bestseller not taking up 5 spots on the list, and on and on. Even then? Not often is it guaranteed.
Blogging and online presence is a drop in that bucket, but if you don't have the "big things" you can't magically make it happen (Of course there is still the luck factor, but it's rare as most luck is). There is, truthfully, a lot that is out of your control. And that goes for any writer, no matter what publishing path they take.
You may not be able to turn yourself into a huge seller, even if you are a fairly popular blogger, but that doesn't mean you have no impact. It's important to be realistic about this impact, though, so as not to be disappointed. Meeting people, putting yourself out there even if it is just online, surely will grab you at least a few more readers. That number is hard to nail down, but it will be MORE, and more is always good, right?
I honestly assume that less than half my blog readers will buy my book. Not because I think you are disloyal people who secretly hate me or anything, but come on—there are a lot of books out there! And mine is not for everyone. And money is tight these days. And and and. I will never be offended by someone not buying my book, because I also have to make that choice when purchasing and I can't buy or read all the ones I'd like to. That's just how it goes.
Visibility, not sales, is what we need to remember when we approach online activities, I think. We need to be aware that not every reader will buy our book, but maybe at some point they will. Or maybe someone that person knows will be looking for a book like ours, and they'll be able to recommend it because they KNOW about it.
If someone wants to know about me or my book, I'm here, you know? Just a Google search away. If not? Okay, that's fine. I feel like I'm doing my part at least, but I also know (now) that it's not necessarily integral to my overall success as a writer. (Which is why it's a myth that you HAVE TO blog to be a successful writer, and why I think you should do what's best for you and always make sure your writing comes first.)
So if you're here for sales, I'm afraid you might find blogging a little frustrating, as it is hard to gauge its impact. And honestly, I guess I can't say just how much my blog will impact mine, since my book is still a year and half or so from debuting.
But there are better treasures in this online community, I think, and going after those is what has made all this worth it to me.
Blogging didn't make me friends with John Green or Cassandra Clare or Sarah Dessen, alas. And the truth is, they'd probably still find me a little creepy if I sent them emails about how we should be best friends (No one likes to be told they should be friends with someone, it turns out.). But I have made a lot of friends over the past four years, and watching those friends find success has been one of the most rewarding parts of this process. I mean, if I can't have good news (and I did have a 2-year Good News dry spell), it's fabulous to be able to celebrate the triumphs of your friends. Friends that started out just as green as you. Friends that you've grown with as a writer. Their success is as sweet as my own, if not more (because I didn't have to go through their hard parts).
And the wealth of knowledge online! Man, it's insane what you can learn about writing and this business with just a few clicks. I can tell you that the majority of my writing "education" happened right here, through this blog and the blogs of others smarter than me. People frequently ask me if they should invest in writing classes, and I usually say no because there is SO MUCH right at your finger tips for free. Not that writing classes are bad, but if you're strapped for cash (as I am and might always be), this community is so helpful. The resources are everywhere. Crits are available at so many venues.
To me, this community has always been a place of learning, and I hope it continues to be so because that has been one of the most valuable things I've taken away from this experience. It's why I've tried to give back and hope to continue giving back, because I am grateful to all of you who taught me. I've put those lessons into my writing, and I can safely say that I found success through learning to be a better writer, and I couldn't have done that without you.
That's the true value of blogging right there. It's not the sales or the possible blurb connections or whatever—being online, participating in this community, finding crit partners, can make you a better writer. And that is the best and most lasting kind of success. What comes after that is all gravy.