Last week, literary agent and blogger Rachelle Gardner put up a post on the need for a platform for each writer, and a heated discussion ensued, more or less centered on blogging being a time suck for writers, and of “platform” being more than just an online presence.
This week, author Jody Hedlund reopened the discussion about blogging time-sucks, and what that means from her perspective. The discussion zeroed in on the return of investment a writer gets from his blog compared to how much time and nerve he invests in it.
Both Rachelle and Jody have realistic and constructive perspectives on blogging and author platforms, and I really respect and enjoy their blogs. They speak from experience, and really know what they’re talking about. Nevertheless, both discussions were inadvertently steered by James Scott Bell‘s comments, which can be easily ripped out of context and still convey damn much useful advice.
On Rachelle’s conclusion that almost every writer nowadays needs a platform, Jim says the following:
The good news now is that fiction writers finally have a platform-building program that makes sense: self-publishing. That’s because it makes actual readers. And that’s why trad publishers are all over their A list to write novellas and short stories prior to a major release. They know this is what a fiction platform building is all about.
So don’t pressure new fiction writers to be doing all those things that were fashionable in 2007. Especially starting a blog, which is the biggest time suck for the smallest return known to man.
Encourage them to work at their craft and publish.
More elaboration on his perspective is given on Jody’s blog:
Just to be clear, this was the context of my original statement: NEW fiction writers being told they HAVE TO “build a platform,” which included having a BLOG. Well, as Jody can tell you, it takes an incredible amount of work to create a blog that builds a “platform”, meaning lots of readers. It doesn’t take much work to do a blog that attracts a few and which might even be fun. But the key for the new writer is to figure out the best ROI (return on investment, which in this case means time and effort). I said on Rachelle’s blog that the better investment is writing, learning, and then self-publishing which builds actual readers in the most organic way.
Jody and Rachelle are both top bloggers and both have cut back on their blog frequency. It is HARD to do this in a way that builds a strong and continuous following. And that’s where I don’t like to see this pressure put on newbies who may not have the desire for consistent blogging. In virtually all cases, blogging will suck precious time and energy away from the “main thing,” which is writing at your top level.
Some of which can now be put in the self-publishing stream. It would be much more beneficial for a new writer, IMO, to trade blogging time for short story or novella time, get those ready (a big key) and get those out with frequency.
Sure, there is room for a low-traffic, low-expectation blog. It can be a communal thing, as long as community is defined as “wherever two or three are gathered.” That’s up to the writer. If she has fun with it and can manage it, there may be a few benefits. It may be a warm up the actual fiction writing engine, for example.
But my main concern, again, is with the new writer and “platform pressure.” And of all the things traditionally offered to get there, I stand by my contention that blogging has the worst return for the time invested. Writing and self-publishing has the best return.
This is what I want to talk about with you guys: return of investment.
In order to determine if your blog — which is not the same thing as your platform (more on that in a minute) — gives you back as much as you put into it, or more, you first have to be really clear about its purpose.
You can blog to spread a message, to establish your credibility in a certain field or genre, to prove your talent and storytelling skills, to attract agents, to attract your peers, to attract your readers, to sell your books and make money, to save kittens from drowning, or to flatter yourself in public. Writers blog for a really wild variety of reasons, and depending on those reasons their ROI will be measured differently, and it’ll be significant or catastrophic.
I believe it’s rather catastrophic for beginning writers to blog solely because they feel they have to, out of fear they won’t be considered “real writers” if they don’t. The result is usually a mediocre blog with forced articles on topics that stir no strong emotions within the blogger and clarify nothing, and every once in a while it’s peppered with rants and sighs. The ROI is reliably negligible. Wouldn’t that writer’s time and energy have been better invested in a few short stories, an extra novel draft or an online writing workshop? The ROI there is measured in increased skill and increased self-confidence. Wouldn’t that writer achieve his target of proving he’s a good writer much better through a good story than a mediocre blog? I strongly believe so.
On the other hand, if the reason for blogging is integrating into a community, the investment might look a whole lot different, and be comprised of blog hops, guest posts and participating in joined blogs. Or if the reason for blogging is the establishment of that writer’s credibility in a certain field or genre, then the investment will be greatly focused toward knowledgeability, quality and clarity of point of view. Or if it’s geared toward selling books, or getting traffic and good placement in search engines, or advocating a specific message such as in favor of gay rights, or, or, or.
Each purpose requires a different approach, and the ROI must be measured accordingly.
For a writer, having a blog just to have one, tweeting to get traffic to it because everybody does it that way, and commenting on other blogs just to have them check out his stuff, will always return less than what he invests in it. Such a blog is nothing more than a big time-suck.
Having a blog with a specific purpose, and aligning all other online activities to that one purpose, will result in a coherent online presence, and only then will these efforts become a platform. Not one moment before.
For beginning writers (which includes single published writers, regardless of means of publication) it is much more important to gain clarity of purpose, train their focus, and be in control of their efforts and investments, than to jump on the bandwagon and spread themselves so thin that nothing they do has any remarkable quality. Doing one or two things exceptionally well, will have a much greater ROI than doing ten things of mediocre or even poor quality.
So, in short, I agree with Rachelle Gardner that writers should work for their bread and not wait to be given attention and respect out of the blue. I also agree with Jody Hedlund that blogging can be a great time-suck and that each writer should calibrate his efforts. But I most strongly agree with James Scott Bell that writers should not forget that the reason of their existence, which is writing good fiction, takes precedence to blogging and strolling through the internet, and should be their first concern before anything else.
What do you think?
What are you blogging for, and how has it rewarded you so far?