by Robin Houghton
One of the questions I’m most asked is “How do you find time to write a blog?” I can answer this quite simply–I find the time in the same way that I find time to do the grocery shopping, read poetry, or stroke the cat.
We all find the time to do the things we consider either essential/non-negotiable or enjoyable, preferably both. But this answer doesn’t always satisfy people. That’s when it becomes clear that the real question they want to ask is “Why do you blog?”
Professional persuader Simon Sinek says that in order to inspire anyone you need to “Start with why.” I’m not really in the business of persuading authors they need to be blogging, because it has to be an individual’s decision; it has to feel right. You have to be convinced of why you’re doing it. And that why can be different for all of us. Here are a selection of reasons, and I’d be interested to which of them, if any, resonate with you.
1. To have your own real estate on the social web
The web is an ever-growing place and as with any land-grab it pays to do your research, read the small print, and think long-term. As an author, there are many places to hang your hat: Facebook, Goodreads, Amazon, your publisher’s or agent’s website, your own website, or blog–all good in terms of setting out your wares and promoting yourself.
But with the exception of your own website or blog (if it’s self-hosted), all those other places belong to someone else. You’re renting your space, and the cheaper it is, the less you can rely on security of tenure. Facebook could change its rules at any time (and does!), as might WordPress.com. Your page on a publisher’s site will be branded and controlled by the publisher–it goes without saying.
If you self-host your website and/or blog, that is, if you pay for hosting and are responsible for managing it, and if you own your domain name, you are in control. All presentation and content is down to you. And a blog by its very nature increases in value over time as you add content, it’s more dynamic than a static website and that’s something search engines love. Own your space!
2. To promote your writing and your name
This is often the number one reason authors start blogging: the blog is the heart of your author platform. I know the phrase has come up for some bashing and some have argued that a blog isn’t even necessary to an author platform (for example in this piece by L L Barkat ).
It’s true that any old blog thrown up on the web won’t suddenly deliver you a worldwide audience of clamorous readers. There’s more competition for people’s attention online than ever before. But a blog is still your number one opportunity to create a unique online property to showcase your work, your skills, your personality, and yes–to sell yourself.
There’s a slight issue with the phrase “author platform” in that it brings to mind the author giving a reading or a signing, while eager readers line up to hear what they have to say in a passive manner. A one-way relationship in the pre-social web tradition, as if it were sufficient for the author to broadcast his opinion, with no expectation of feedback. Which of course is a very narrow view of what a blog actually offers.
3. To help develop a loyal readership
Here’s where it gets interesting. Wouldn’t it be great to have a direct line to your ideal readers, those who are going to buy every word you write and tell all their friends about this amazing writer they’ve discovered?
That’s exactly what a blog offers. But it takes time to build a relationship in any setting. Just as in an office job you get to know your co-workers simply by encountering them every day, your blog readers get to know you gradually from reading your posts and comments and getting a feel for who you are through repeated exposure to your blog. It’s not just your blog posts that create the impression, it’s everything from how you invite interaction, the colors, graphics, and images you use, even the choice of fonts.
A new writer, or one in a small niche, wants to build a network of loyal readers. I see this happen a lot in poetry, for example: it’s a small enough world, and sales are so tiny, that poets are inclined to support one another by attending launches and buying books. So what you get is a readership of peers, friends, and family.
It’s relatively easy to build a small but loyal readership, and you don’t need a blog to get to this stage, although it certainly helps–especially if you encourage follows and social shares. And a blog, for example, gives you the chance to build a valuable email list (see point 7).
4. To build an army of advocates
What we sometimes forget, especially when starting out as a writer, is the difference between loyalty and advocacy. Loyalty comes when people get to know the person behind the words and want to support them.
But with a blog, you have the means to develop something more, and that’s advocacy. Your advocates, or ambassadors, are people who are happy to help promote your work to others and are prepared to stake their own reputation on it.
When your blog content gets shared on social networks, it will potentially bring new readers, but social shares are relatively superficial. The real work of advocacy takes place when higher profile bloggers invite you to guest post, or reblog a post of yours, publish a favorable review, or reference your blog in a completely new setting such as at a conference or in a journal, or in the mass media. I’m not saying this happens right away, but the opportunity is there.
5. To do market research and try things out
Your blog is a safe place for experimenting. It might not feel that way at first, but even the most cautious of authors tend to relax into their blog at some point. I think of it as putting on the slippers. When I feel I’m among friends I’m more able to be honest and open myself up to other people’s ideas and possible criticism.
Treating your blog readership as a crit group might be taking it too far, but don’t dismiss the opportunity to ask for opinions on things–a new book idea you’re mulling over, a plot twist, or character change. You don’t have to give anything away, you can keep your questions fairly general. But you could get some interesting feedback that might inform your decision.
If you’re in the process of researching a new book, why not introduce into your blog some of the topics you need to know more about? Share one or two anecdotes or examples and ask if anyone has experienced anything similar. Write a post on your favorite and least favorite things about Sense and Sensibility and see how the comments pan out–it could be useful if you’re contemplating a 21st version of Austen’s classic.
6. To improve your writing
To say there’s no substitute for practice has become a bit of a cliché, and even the 10,000 hours of practice rule has been shown to be too simplistic. But anecdotally, it seems to be the case that writing in different styles across a variety of genres and platforms can make you a better writer.
A blog calls for a different style of writing than, say, a novel, or poetry, or even a Twitter update. Some blogs have a lot in common with journalistic writing, and some are notably academic in style. Picture someone whose day job is writing 300-word articles for a celebrity gossip website. Blogging might be the last thing they want to do in their spare time. But perhaps they are also a poet.
If you are a writer and you have a passion for something, writing about it feels natural and easy. Someone who works in an academic or highly regulated setting may welcome the chance to write in a freer style.
Writing a blog makes you think about things like keywords and optimization, how people read on screen, how to order, format and chunk your content, how to plan and think like an editor. Blogging is a discipline that can help improve your organizational skills and well as the range and fluency of your writing.
7. To widen your network of professional (useful) contacts
On its own, a blog may not have agents, reviewers, publishers, and other industry contacts beating a path to your door. First, they have to know it exists, second, they have to have a good reason to visit and third there has to be something unique and compelling about what they find there.
Let’s say your blog is up there in terms of amazing content. Let’s say also that you’ve worked really hard on optimizing the blog for search engines and are getting good visitor and following numbers. For some kinds of blog, especially those focused on making money, being found in searches is the holy grail. But for authors? The human aspect of blogging comes much more into play.
The age-old ways of connecting with influential industry contacts remains the same in that it’s about building relationships one person at a time. Whether the initial contact comes from a face-to-face or online encounter, or from a recommendation, your blog is where people then go to get a feel for the person behind the work. A blog doesn’t stand alone, but it’s a key piece in your professional armory.
8. To create a new revenue stream /supplement your earnings
Selling digital products as one way writers can supplement their income, and a blog is the perfect platform. Decide what you can package (for example “hot topic” content you’ve already written for the blog, tutorials, ebooks or downloads, courses or even a “members only” site).
Taster material can be offered for free in return for an email sign up, so building up a list of prospects to which you can then market your paid content. The combination of a blog plus an opt-in email list is tried and tested: the result is a pre-qualified list of prospects who are likely to buy whatever you’re selling.
9. To get you out of the garret
As with any solitary activity, writing can bring on feelings of isolation. We have a human need to connect, and a blog is a way into the blogosphere and the wider social web. Discovering and reading other people’s blogs, connecting with people you otherwise wouldn’t have met, conversation around shared interests–these are all side-effects of blogging, and there are more.
Combined with social media outreach in the form of a Twitter or Facebook account, a blog places you within a community of readers and writers from which peer support, friendships, and inspiration soon follow.
10. For the serendipity
Blogging is undoubtedly a commitment, and however much of a challenge it might appear at times, if you stay focused on what you’re really REALLY interested in, there’s a good chance you will enjoy it. And from enjoyment comes the delight of the unexpected.
It’s not unusual to find that a blog takes you in a new direction, or leads to completely unforeseen opportunities. Enjoy the serendipity!
Robin Houghton (@RobinHoughton) has over two decades of experience in marketing and communications, formerly with Nike, then running her own business Eggbox Marketing since 2002 specializing in online.
Robin writes blogs on social media and poetry and has been a guest blogger for a number of sites including Social Media Today and MarketingProfs. Check out more of her work on her website.