Given that I’ve been blogging since 2008, it’s perhaps ironic that I revisit the tricky question: “Do I bother to blog the nonfiction book that I’m currently writing or recently finished?”
Help me out. If you’ve landed here because you’re pondering similar issues, I hope you’ll mull right along with me.
First, let me make it clear I’m not talking about novels, which I also write. Blogging and other forms of online marketing generally don’t help literary novelists. Even after all this time, most successful novelists’ websites are pretty lame, which might tell us, after all this time, that their success doesn’t depend on websites. (I still advocate having a “calling card” website with some content, including bio and interview links, just to help people find you, but I’m tentatively skeptical about spending a ton of time updating between books or significant events.)
Let’s also make it clear that just because Julie and Julia and a precious few blogs/memoirs-from-blogs found success in a long-gone era when blogs were new and fresh, does not mean that a person can blog away and then get a book deal. We’ll let an expert, agent Jane Friedman, cover that issue as well as its very few exceptions.
Let’s also consider, with help from this thoughtful post by Stephanie Bane that appeared in Creative Nonfiction, that the notion of author platform (especially digital platform) is vastly overrated. An anonymous source inside Amazon, and we all know how well Amazon knows numbers, evidently told one of its writers, Write more. Don’t waste time on social media. The single biggest factor in whether or not you sell books is whether or not you write books.
Note that the Friedman post is dated 2012 and the Creative Nonfiction post is 2014. The fact that my “should I blog my book” search turned up mostly dated entries is a clue all by itself.
A few pros and cons remain. Are you still with me?
Here are the pros for my running travel blog, based on my year-long project of running all 50 states in America, that I started last summer and then dropped in fall, when I got super busy (death in the family, child’s wedding, surgery). I am trying to decide now whether or not to get back to it, since the nonfiction book project is at the exact midpoint and I still have a good chance of bringing the blog back to life.
*It did get some visitors. Not a tidal wave, but more than some other projects, and that’s probably because certain types of nonfiction, especially ones that are more focused and practical, lend themselves to searches. I covered only a few of our travels but those posts did get hits and honestly, I love sharing my passion for running and public lands trails, so that makes me happy.
*It got visitors who matter to me. Most of the referrals came from Facebook, which tells me they are people in my circle or close to it, and people landed purposefully. Compare that to my general author website (focused on fiction), which gets a bizarre number of short visits from Russia. Something is going on there, and I don’t think it has anything to do with my fiction.
*The blog helps store images, data and casual thoughts that will help me write my later book. This is the argument I struggle with the most. My book, in tone and content, will not be nearly as “run here, eat there, aren’t we having fun?” as my blog. The book is far more personal and will include content I can’t and won’t dash off in a quick post, covering the gamut from a family death to personal health and aging issues. The readers of one won’t necessarily be readers of the other (though they definitely could be). But the blog does act as a sort of journal. It makes the project seem real in those months or years before the book takes shape and finds readers. It motivates me, in a sense, and it could motivate me even more if I could keep it up to date!
*If and when the book is published, the blog would already be populated with material that could support the book, even though the blog is much lighter in tone. After a book comes out, it’s awfully hard to get content out into the world. Nice to know I’d have some content pre-ready. And if an agent thinks the same way, all the better.
*The con is simple. Life is short, writers need to write and research, and all time away from that activity is usually time wasted.
In fact, distraction is so prevalent nowadays that the writers who prosper may be those who better understand not to dribble away their time and attention needlessly. (For more on this check out Deep Work, a self-help manual for learning to say no to the shallow work hobbling your projects.)
Need an excuse to back away from all blog/social media and most website activities? This is it. For the last decade, many of us have been drinking the poisonous “platform”-and-constant-connectedness Kool-Aid, and thereby losing focus and stamina. We don’t have to. Passing on the left!
Our own Deb Vanasse recently mentioned her belief in setting boundaries and balancing commitments.
The jury is still out. My half-started, ready-to-be-resuscitated-or-retired blog awaits. I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Andromeda Romano-Lax is a co-founder of 49 Writers and the author of Behave. Her next novel, set in Asia in the years 1934 and 2029, will be published in 2018. Meanwhile she is writing two nonfiction books, including a memoir about running public lands in all 50 US states during a year in which she grappled with mid-life health and aging issues.