Monday, December 5, 2011

What You'll Really Get Out Of Blogging

Lately I've seen several veteran bloggers come out of the woodworks with honest posts about how they're feeling these days. To sum up: A little fatigued, a little lost, and perhaps a bit disenchanted.

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.

22 comments:

  1. *Snorts*. I told Kiersten White we should be friends, but in a "I'll say hi when we're at the same conference" kind of way. We'll see whether she runs from me in May. It's not like I could catch her. My heels are always too high. Also? I am too lazy to run.

    I count some of my closest real life friendships as ones that started from blogging so I'll be hanging around. Only I've lost the sense of obligation, so now I enjoy it even more.

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  2. I started my own blog not even a year ago, and the primary reason was to connect with other writers.

    So far, it's been a blast :)

    ...hey, did you ever get around to watching 'Cyber Six'?

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  3. Monkey, I haven't! I've recently fell into the Korean drama death trap. They have been quite the comfort during all these weeks of morning sickness (that really lasts all day). Must put it in my queue if it's on Hulu.

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  4. Wow. What a great post! I love what I've learned so far from the blogosphere. I've only been at it for a few months too, I can't even imagine the 'good ol' days' of blogger.

    I've met so many great people, people I look up to and admire for their efforts. People who are in the same boat as me at the same times. People who won't tune me out because I'm nonstop rambling about my book, or writing, or anything related to it.

    That's why I blog too. To gain more knowledge, to make friends, and to be a better writer.

    Beautifully put Natalie :)

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  5. Since we pump up visibility in the hopes of sales, I can appreciate many people's disappointment when one doesn't yield enough of the other. But to me there's a lot of artistic expression and life-affirming connection to be made on the side.

    I really ought to try telling someone we should be friends, just to see how it works out. I don't think I've tried the tack since kindergarten (it failed me then).

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  6. @ Natalie

    ...oh my goodness... while I was in animation-school, everyone was into Korean dramas. They are so cheesy, yet so, so addicting... let me think... one was 'the nine-tail fox' or something, the heroine was same actress who played the evil stepsister in 'stairway to heaven'

    I won't do the creepy *let's be frieeeeeends...*, but just to let you know, it's nice to meet another writer who can nerd-out about comics, Korean dramas and cartoons ;)

    I have no idea if Cyber Six is on Hulu.

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  7. Honestly, I think that bloggers who post for the sake of sales create blogs that I don't return to... sure I follow Neil Gaiman and Keith Miller, but I had already read their books and felt a connection that I continue to get through reading about their lives in blogs.

    And the reason I blog is for community... to share ideas with others who are on a similar journey... and to learn from those who have already been down the path I am taking. Sure I ramble a lot and share far too much, but that's something I appreciate in those I follow as well.

    Lovely post, Natalie. Thank you.

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  8. The blogging community is so awesome! I only started blogging about two months ago and I've "met" so many great people already. I had no idea that so many writers were online in the same place, all at different stages of their careers. It's so much fun! Also, yours was one of the first blogs I started reading which introduced me to this community :)

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  9. "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."

    Agreed. Will you make a few sales that you might not have made without the blog? Maybe. But it's really the contact with others, the opportunity to learn and share, and connect. Great post.

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  10. The main reason I blog is that I have fun doing so. I think it has helped my writing, too, but that's a happy bonus. I totally agree that nobody should be forced to blog. When people ask for advice on whether to blog, I say, "Don't do it unless it seems like fun to you."

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  11. Your post is so true about what blogging can and can't do for you. I do think the best thing about it is getting yourself out there in the writer community, making blogger friends, and hopefully offering helpful info like you do.

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  12. For sure. I'm in internet marketing, and that's something that people don't really seem to "get" about marketing online -- it's really not about SALES. It's about exposure, name recognition, customer service, etc. Yes, if you have a cool online persona and lots of people like to follow you, you might see a boost in sales numbers. But it has a LOT more to do with the fact that your name is OUT THERE and people are more likely to recognize it amongst all the other names, not because blogging = sales.

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  13. Remember when we had to make our own websites on geocities or angelfire if we had something to say? Now those were the days. I think my corneas are still suffering the burns of bad design.

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  14. Franzine! Haha! I totally had an Angelfire website when I was 14! Good. Times.

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  15. I don't comment here often anymore, but I always read it. I'm dropping in now to say: YES. THIS.

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  16. Natalie, I would buy your book even if you wrote it in crayon. Also, I'm giving away a copy. But you already know this, right?

    I did a presentation on blogging at the Japan Writer's Conference this year. I think it was the most well-attended presentation. I mentioned not to expect blogging to rain benefits on you. I don't think some people wanted to hear that.

    While I agree it's not absolutely neccessary to have a blog, I think every writer should have an up to date online presence. So no blogs with the latest posts from April, and no websites saying your book is "Coming Soon: January 1995". I think in this online age, people like to be able to search and find you, or all the stuff you did in one place.

    Also, I've heard some people say you shouldn't blog for writers. I disagree. I've got almost 200 followers. Probably 180 of those are writers. I'm starting to get the blog fatigue too, after about 3 years (in various blogs). But one of the reasons I keep going is because I love hanging out with you guys. If it weren't for blogging, I'd never have "met" you and so many other amazing writers. And I've learned so much here BECAUSE you blog for writers.

    So, as the Golden Girls would say, "Thank you for being a friend."

    Sheesh Claire, ramble much? lol.

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  17. I blog and read blogs in an attempt to become part of a community, to get to know like-minded people and get/give support from/to people that I think can have a constructive influence on me. I never really thought of it in terms of what it could do for my career.

    Except that I did. My first thought was that I needed to have a 'profile', and that a blog would boost it (eventually). Thankfully, I then completely forgot about that nonsense as soon as I set up the blog and started writing. Until now, when Natalie has reminded me.

    Despite this, Natalie, we should be friends. :D

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  18. It's hard to believe it's been four years! I think I met you about a year into the whole blogging thing. For the friends I've met alone, blogging has been worth it.

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  19. "No one likes to be told they should be friends with someone, it turns out."

    Ha ha, this made me snortle. That's snort plus chortle.

    I've been blogging since I was about nine or 10, back when you had to hand code in HTML and upload to geocities, LOL. So yeah, a lot has changed. But you're right, the one thing that hasn't changed, that hopefully will never change, is that blogging is about relationships, and it can make you a better writer. And those are two of the most important things to any writer. Or should be.

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  20. I have read a few of the bestselling books that were written by former bloggers who got book deals, like Karyn Bosnak, Julie Powell, and Jen Lancaster. They're all great writers, but I think that one reason they got book deals was because they started blogging when hardly anyone else was doing it. So the fact that they were documenting their experiences online was still fairly new, and I don't think any of them even intended to write books based on their blogs, at least not at first.

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