There was a discussion on Twitter a while back, instigated by James Long of Speculative Horizons fame, about what makes a good author blog. The reason I eventually decided to set up a website and a blog was, primarily, in order to promote my books and myself as a writer. It seemed sensible to have an online presence of some kind. If I have a publication date or a writing event coming up then I try to blog about it in advance (although I haven’t always been as good at this as I should, particularly regarding the events). But events and publication days don’t come around all that often. What do you blog about in the meantime?
My theory is that there are two styles of blogging: there’s the author page style, and the facebook style. The author page style is the kind of blog that deals only with issues of writing, reading and being published. It talks about word counts, and the current state of the work in progress, and upcoming public events, and various publications of the author’s novel in other languages and other formats. There may be serious discussions of serious writerly topics such as gender in SF, or the maps debate, or whatever, but the blog is, fundamentally, an extension of the author’s page on their publisher’s website – it tells you about their books but it doesn’t tell you too much about them.
Then there’s the facebook style of blogging and, for better or worse, it is the one I tend to embrace. This is the kind of blog that’s like a sort of extension of the writer’s personal facebook page. If you enjoyed reading a book then it naturally follows you might have some curiosity about the person who wrote it. This style of blog says more about the author than about their books. It is a less private style of blogging although it does, of course, involve information and announcements about books and writing as well.
I wouldn’t say one style is better than the other but I am curious as to what people generally prefer when it comes to author’s blogs, and what it is that they look for in them. Perhaps the style choice comes down to what you ultimately want to get out of your blog. Do you want to inform? Do you want to make people think? Do you want to make them laugh? Do you just want as many followers as possible no matter what the quality (or lack thereof) of their contribution to the topic being discussed?
I’m a pretty irregular blogger and perhaps I don’t post as often as I ought to. Part of the reason for that is time. Plus, I’m easily distracted. But, mostly, it’s because I don’t want to blog just for the sake of blogging. I therefore only write a post if I have something I genuinely want to say or to talk about. In fact, one of the main factors that finally pushed me into setting up a website in the first place was that, at the time, for some reason that I no longer remember, I felt a really pressing desire to blog about Slowpoke Rodriguez. I remember being on holiday in Athens with my family and looking at these amazing ruins and all I could think about was how much I wanted to have a website with a blog post about Slowpoke Rodriguez on it. It’s odd, I know, but there you are. That’s life. That’s my life, anyway. Ironically, though, to this day, the Slowpoke post remains one of the most popular on my blog.
My personal preference is to approach my website in a pretty informal manner. It is, however, difficult for me to try to guess what exactly the average visitor would like to see from my blog, or from any other author’s blog, for that matter, simply because I can’t look at this in an unbiased way. I can’t help but be incredibly biased because I am a writer myself. So when I think about what I like to see on another author’s blog, I’m still thinking in terms of a writer rather than a reader.
For example, I have recently discovered Dennis Lehane’s crime novels and I have been completely blown away, both by his incredible prose, and the twists and turns of his intricate plots. I looked at his blog hoping to find some discussion of how he writes, or how much plotting he does on a novel before he starts it, or what research he does beforehand etc. But I’m thinking as a writer, and I would assume that the average reader, with no aspirations to write themselves, probably doesn’t have all that much interest in the grim minutiae of the writing process. I could be wrong in this, but I would assume that what might be immensely interesting to me from a professional point of view isn’t going to be so fascinating to the average person who just wants to read the book and then move on. I mean, you can enjoy watching a film, but that doesn’t mean you want to watch a two hour documentary on the making of it.
In addition, there’s also the fact that I don’t normally want to blog about writing because writing is my job. I have been thinking about this stuff all day (and all night, sometimes) and it can get to the point where you just don’t want to think, or talk, about it anymore. I’m usually, therefore, more inclined to blog about some film I just watched, or some weird thing I found, or something my Great Dane did, or something I found funny because my sense of humour is weird that way. It’s not all fluff, though; I have written about politics and animal rights as well – occasionally I’ll have a crack at discussing something serious, at the risk of provoking irate comments on the comments page.
These are the so-called ‘danger’ areas where online spats and arguments are wont to break out and make mountains out of mole hills. Personally, I am pretty thick skinned about these things – like a rhinoceros, really – and I enjoy debate and disagreement and being challenged and made to think about things differently, so a visitor to my blog is unlikely to offend me very easily, but if I write about something more serious than my Great Dane wearing a party hat and eating a birthday cake (for example, if I write about vegetarianism or my political opinions) then I run the risk of offending someone which could then put them off buying my books. Clearly, I do not want this, but, at the same time, I’d like to occasionally use my blog to discuss a topic that is important to me, and that I feel passionately about, without getting too caught up on the possibility that someone, somewhere, might feel offended by my post.
In the main, though, it’s difficult for me to be serious about things (too many years spent studying Law will do that to a person). But I always tend to feel slightly guilty about posts that have nothing to do with writing. My perception – rightly or wrongly – has always been that it’s not what’s expected of an author’s blog. Even though these are the posts I want to write, I sometimes feel like I ought to write about writing instead, even though I don’t particularly want to most of the time.
There’s also the question of who reads writer’s blogs. If you’re just a casual reader who read a book and quite enjoyed it then perhaps you might look at the author’s website once and glance at the most recent blog post but I would think those people probably aren’t going to be regular readers who come back and check the website frequently. People following the blog of a sci-fi or fantasy author are, I think, more likely to be active members of the sci-fi community themselves: reviewers, bloggers, other writers, editors. And they, perhaps, will want something different from the average Joe who bought your novel on a whim in Waterstones because they liked the look of the cover.
Since I don’t know what it is that the average visitor wants from my blog, my philosophy tends to be to please myself and write about whatever the hell I like. If that makes me look like a frivolous sort of personality with an unhealthy preoccupation with shoes, or an unseemly fascination with skeletons, or a totally disproportionate sense of pride in the extreme gorgeousness of my dog, well, then so be it. So be it. This is my blog and the beauty of the thing is that I can write whatever I want on it. I can even delete comments if I want to (not that I have ever have had to do this as of yet – one benefit of not being a super-star is that the quality of the readership and comments on my blog remains extremely high. It’s only when you get crazy popular that the weirdo’s start coming out and harassing you on your own website).
When I first started my blog (with nothing but a blank page and a dream about bringing Slowpoke Rodriguez to the masses) I don’t think I intended for it to be quite so . . . well . . . so bonkers all the time. Or to have quite so many photos of Great Danes and weird things on it. But it has evolved like that over the two and a half years that I have had it, and it’s unlikely to change now. Not unless I undergo a serious personality change at some point in the near future (or rethink my decision to drop out of law school, in which case, clearly, all the fun will have to go). For the foreseeable future, though, I fully intend to stick with my own facebook style of bloggery.