This is an interesting question that Michaela asked me recently and one I know many grapple with:
Writer or blogger – can you be both?
What Michaela was saying was: everyone has limited hours in their day and a limited number of words they can write. So where should those words go?
For me, I love writing here on my blog because it is the one place I can write purely for myself. I also consider a blog to be a very useful platform and home base for all the writing I do. And it also allows me to connect with like-minded people. That said – when it comes to choosing between writing my book, paid writing and writing here on the blog … writing on the blog does take lowest ‘priority’. But should it?
I don’t feel qualified to write a whole blog post in answer to that so I threw it out there to the experts – three published authors who all have slightly different approaches to blogging:
- Kerri Sackville whose writing career really took off once she started blogging and who actually landed her first book deal off the back of her blog.
- Allison Tait who used to blog daily but cut back last year in favour of doing more writing for her books.
- Kylie Ladd who doesn’t have a blog at all.
These lovely ladies took the time to provide answers to my questions on whether writers should be blogging and the concept of a blog as a platform.
1. Should all writers have a blog? If yes, why. If no, why not?
Kerri: No, not all writers need a blog. Established authors with a strong following don’t need a blog, as long as they have Twitter or a website as a way of communicating with their fans. And not all writers feel capable of writing a blog. Some writers feel that it drains the creative energy they wish to channel into their other projects. But in general, for aspiring or developing writers, blogs can be invaluable.
Allison: A few years ago, my answer on this would have been a resounding ‘yes’. But in the three years I’ve been blogging, I’ve come to realise that there are many different approaches to building a platform. For me, my blog has been the cornerstone of building an online profile, which has then brought speaking gigs and other opportunities my way. Other writers already have a healthy speaking profile, and use Twitter or Facebook to talk to their readers online. I think much depends on where you are in your career. If you’re starting out as a new writer, a blog can be a great place to build a community and thus ‘word of mouth’ about you. It is also, however, a hungry beast and finding that delicate line between blogging for blogging’s sake and blogging as part of a larger strategy can be difficult.
Kylie: Ideally, I do believe that all writers should have a blog, but only if they can keep it (a) regular and (b) interesting. I would rather just have a website and no blog rather than a blog that is only updated once every six months, which is what seems to happen to a lot of writers.
I personally don’t blog for two reasons:
- Time: I work 2-3 days/week as a neuropsychologist, plus have two kids who do lots of activities. I find that when I do have time for writing I am desperate to spend it on my fiction. I blogged for a year for the Child group of magazines (Sydney’s Child etc.) and am glad I did. I enjoyed the reader feedback and am still proud of some of the pieces I produced. But it wore me down, and I always felt the relentless pressure of thinking up ideas for the next blog. Some people find that easy and can produce marvellous blogs out of teensy things, but I couldn’t.
- Staying fresh: I find writing fiction exhausting, I truly do. My days at home writing are much harder than my days away from home being Dr Ladd. Maybe I’m getting old, but personally I find I need to reserve my writing mojo for my books. At the end of the day, what I want to be is a novelist, and I’ve been getting more and more ruthless about that as the demands on my time in other areas have grown. I used to do quite a lot of freelance journalism, but that’s largely fallen by the wayside too… it pays far better per word than writing a novel, but after my children my novels are the things I’m proudest of in my whole life. To me, they have to come first.
2. ‘Platform’ building is all the rage these days – which should come first, book or platform?
Kerri: Ideally, platform should come first. Building a strong platform gives you a ready-made readership for your book. It is incredibly hard for unknown authors to break into the market. We all need an edge, we all need every advantage we can muster to help us stand out amongst the hundreds of new releases. And blogging can do that.
Allison: Publishers will tell you that platform needs to come before book, particularly in non-fiction. But a great book can be a platform unto itself. For fiction writers, it really all starts with the book. If the book isn’t the best it can be, all the platform in the world won’t get people talking about it.
Kylie: Probably platform these days, but to me it’s always book. No point building a huge platform if you have nothing of enduring worth to say. I would also say this differs significantly according to the type of book - Kerri’s books are a clear example of the worth of building a platform first. I’m not sure that approach would work so well for a debut novelist though.
3. For Kerri and Al: Do you find blogging helps your writing at all? Or are your blogs simply platforms for you as writers? Or outlets?
Kerri: Initially, blogging helped my writing enormously. It taught me to write quickly, edit myself as I was going, generate ideas and so on. Now, with more paid writing gigs, and writing books, I find that I need blogging less. These days, I do it more to keep my profile up. Having said that, it’s still the only place where I can express myself without any constraints or editing, and that is a precious commodity indeed.
Allison: Blogging helped me to really hone in on my own voice, which has been great. It’s also been a great place to record different experiences and feelings, which do find their way into different parts of my writing later on. And if you’re looking to develop a writing ‘habit’, blogging can be great. It has also been detrimental in some ways though – when you’re keeping up with a blog, this sometimes means you’re putting the only 500 words you have in you that day onto the blog, not into a manuscript or some other type of writing.
4. For Kylie: Do you feel you are missing out a bit not having the connection to readers that a blog gives? Is there any pressure on you from your publisher to have a blog?
Kylie: I think they get that I can’t do everything, and they appreciate that I have a website and a presence on twitter. To them, those are just as important. I don’t feel I’m missing out at all- but then you don’t miss what you don’t have. I do feel that twitter is a great place to connect with readers and for them to share thoughts and feedback. In fact it might even be an easier place for readers to connect and say hi than a blog. Guest blogs are also a great medium for when I do have something to say, or a new book out- and again, these expose me to far more readers (I suspect) that just banging on about my book on my own blog would.
5. You are all published authors. What advice would you give to emerging writers who don’t yet have a blog or any kind of social media platform? Is having some kind of ‘fanbase’ crucial these days when an unpublished writer is trying to get a book deal?
Kerri: No, it’s not crucial. A truly sensational book will still find a publisher. However, publishing stables are limited, and, all things being equal, a publisher will choose an author with a fanbase over a complete unknown every time.
Allison: I was part of a panel at the Emerging Writers Festival last year with Alice Grundy of Giramondo Publishing. Someone in the audience asked her this question. Her answer was that it basically always comes back to a great book. BUT if a publisher is faced with two great books and has to decide which to publish, he or she will choose the author who has put some work into building a platform. The main reason is that it’s so incredibly difficult to get publicity around new writers, so if that writer has a community of people who will ‘care’ when the book comes out, then the publisher can see a chance of some sales. Publishing is a business, let’s not forget. And anything you can do to help your book stand out in the very crowded publishing marketplace can only be a good thing.
Kylie: I’m sure it probably is, but I’m from the old fashioned school that still naively hopes that if you write it (a good book), they will come. Clearly I’m a dinosaur!
A huge big thanks to Kerri, Allison and Kylie for sharing their wisdom today. Kerri is the author of When my husband does the dishes and The Little Book of Anxiety. She is currently working on her third book. Kylie is the author of Naked, After the Fall and Last Summer. Her next book, Into My Arms will be out in the middle of this year. Allison has had two non-fiction books published: Credit Card Stressbusters and Career Mums. Her first novel is due for release by Pan Macmillan this year.