Should Writers Blog About Writing? Some Answers

A few weeks ago, I asked, Should Writers Blog About Writing? I never imagined this question would garner so much input. While some of you said two blogs was best and others argued that one blog was the way to go, it was pretty clear that a lot of you had no idea what the answer to this tricky question is.

Since then, I've thought a lot about the direction I want this blog to go in and whether to blog for readers or writers. In the process, I've looked at other writers' blogs to see how they have chosen to resolve the issue.

What Other Writers Are Doing

Some writers, like Joanna Penn, manage two blogs: one for readers (JFPenn.com) and one for writers (TheCreativePenn.com). I'm guessing that Joanna chose this route partly because she established much of her author platform through her writing blog. This method certainly seems to be working for her. Having one blog aimed purely at readers and another offering writing tips appeals to me.

joanna penn, jf penn, what should writers blog about, author blogs

joanna penn, jf penn, what should writers blog about, author blogs

Other authors, like Lindsay Buroker, blog for readers and writers in one place. In order to get more insight into what works best and why, I asked Lindsay for her opinion on the subject. She's attempted to run two blogs in the past, although she now blogs only at her author blog, LindsayBuroker.com. She took some time out of her busy schedule to offer her advice on what writers should do.

Here's how Lindsay answered the question (anything in bold is my emphasis):

If you'd asked me this a year ago, I would have said, "No, you should blog for your potential readers, not other writers, most of whom won't share an interest in your particular genre." Even though I'd been posting articles for writers from the beginning, sharing my knowledge of blogging and online promotion (I was a professional blogger before quitting to write fantasy full-time, so I had experience in that area), I used to say that it'd be smarter for me to gear my blog toward fantasy fans. After all, I was publishing fantasy novels, not books on marketing.

Last fall, I started my Savvy Self-Publishing blog, intending to take the blogging/e-publishing/promotion talk over there while focusing on fantasy on my author site. What happened? The self-publishing site did all right, but I started to get less traffic on my author site and fewer book sales from it as well (I've always had pictures and links to my books over in the sidebar of my blog, and I've monitored how many books get purchased by using affiliate links).

Why less traffic? For one thing, fantasy-related posts weren't as popular on Twitter and with writers, so they were less likely to be retweeted and linked to from other sites. For another, I wasn't as interested in blogging about fantasy as I was about book promotion, so I struggled to post regularly. Eventually, I went back to talking about self-publishing and marketing on my author blog. Traffic (and book purchases) went back up. I did, however, start talking more about my books (including cut scenes, teasers, and news on upcoming releases) because, by this time, I did have some fans checking out the site.

What I've figured out over the year and a half I've been publishing (I know that doesn't sound like a long time, but, in the last 18 months, I've gone from zero income and no readers to having five novels out and being able to make a nice living at this) is that it doesn't matter much what you blog about insofar as building a fan-base for your books goes. At least when we're talking about fiction. Nothing you write on your blog (unless you're posting stories, and people don't particularly want to read stories on their computer screens) is going to turn someone into a fan of your fiction. With fiction, people have to try your stories before they know if they're fans or not, and the best way to sell stories is to get a bunch of them out there--maybe some free ones too--in the places where readers are already hanging out (i.e. Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc.). People find your work in those places and then, if they like it, check out your blog, Twitter/Facebook pages, etc.

So, do you even need a blog?

I can find you lots of examples of bestselling authors, indie and traditional, who don't blog. But I have sold a lot of books through my blog, and I've had a number of people say that they tried my work because they liked my posts. Overall, I've found blogging to be worth it. Also, if you want to make a career out of being an author, you need to cultivate a fan-base, one that you can contact if you need to (to mention a new release or to ask for whatever type of support you may need down the road), and that involves getting email addresses. The best way to do that is with a newsletter and the best way to get people to sign up is to place the form on your site.

As to what you blog about on your site, it's totally up to you. There are a lot of topics you could cover that can bring more readers (And, to counter my opening sentence, even if only a small percentage of those readers turn out to be your target audience, so what? It's better to have 1% of a large audience than 100% of nobody). The topics are up to you, but I will give you two tips for building a successful blog:

1. Be useful -- To paraphrase Zig Ziglar, you can get everything you want in life if you help other people get what they want -- if your blog isn't informative and/or entertaining, it's not going to attract an audience.

2. Be remarkable -- To bring this back to the writing topic, ask yourself if you, in blogging about writing, can offer something that's not already being offered by thousands of other people. The blogosphere is saturated with blogs on writing, and, at the risk of ruffling feathers, people would rather get advice from bestsellers and award-winning authors than fellow n00bs. As I mentioned earlier, I had a lot of experience on blogging and even had six-figure years before I shifted my focus to fiction, so that's why I felt I could offer something to authors when it came to online promotion. Ask yourself how you can offer something unique or remarkable with your blog (and maybe your books, too, eh?), because that's how one stands out. Seth Godin's Purple Cow is a quick but memorable read that I recommend.

Lindsay also addressed whether two topics might cause a blogger to lose some readers:

People just browse through their RSS feeds (or Twitter) and click on the interesting links that apply to them. I definitely get a different group of commenters, depending on whether I'm posting excerpts/teasers or advice on publishing and promotion (every now and then a reader will comment on something for authors), but nobody's ever complained.”

And here's what I got out of her thoughts, in case it helps you digest what she just said:

  • there's no real need to blog since most of these readers aren't your target readers
  • some of your blog target readers might try your books
  • it is good to have a blog since this is where people can find you and find out about your books
  • it's more important to blog for readers after you have a book out

So is that clear as mud now?

One Blog vs. Two Blogs

Here are some pros and cons to think about when deciding to blog for target readers, other writers, or both.

One Blog For Readers And Writers

Pros: You only have to pay for one domain name. You insert one website link at the end of your books or guest posts. Less time and effort to maintain. One Twitter account, Facebook page, Goodreads account, email, etc. to maintain.

Cons: Some readers may not like a blog/social media account that covers more than one topic and may not subscribe/follow you as a result. Readers may not associate you with both blogs.

One Blog For Readers, One Blog For Writers

Pros: More organized approach. Specific readership so you know what they'll be receptive to. Can promote your books on more than one place.

Cons: Multiple website links at the end of guest posts or author bios. Cost of additional domain. Take more time to maintain. May have to hire additional designer or buy additional child theme. Will have to manage multiple social media accounts.

My Answer to the Question

After being unable to decide which way to go, I had an epiphany one day. I'm not saying that the following solution is the answer for everyone. You may come to a completely different conclusion on which approach to take. And that's completely okay.

I still don't know the “ultimate answer” to the question, “Should writers blog about writing?” But here's where I'm going from here.

I love the idea of having my entire online home under one domain. Better yet, having it under a domain name that matches my name. I like the simplicity of having one link to insert at the end my books, author bio, or guest post.

Yeah, it may cause me to lose a lot of current and future readers but if you think about it, only the most dedicated fans of your work will visit your website anyway. Lindsay recently blogged about the 10,000 true fans an artist needs to make a living in What Does It Take to Become a Full-Time Indie Author?

So some people may still not like the different topics covered on one blog, but that's why you make your posts so good that not subscribing is simply not an option for readers.

In terms of blogging for writers, this means offering truly unique tips. For example, I gather and categorize the best writing links around the web every week in Friday Features. Only Elizabeth S. Craig's Twitterific rivals the sheer totality of it (I'm only talking about weekly link roundups here).

You can also blog from an angle that's never been done before, similar to Ollin Morales' Courage 2 Create. He blends self-improvement with writing to create awesome advice. Otherwise, it'll be very different to stand out in the writing blogosphere.

And if you feel like you don't have something new to offer, that's okay. You can aim your blog completely at readers instead.

As far as blogging for readers, I would suggest beginning to create interest in your work if you're not published yet. Give readers monthly updates that include intriguing snippets from your WIP. Send them a free short story if they subscribe to your newsletter.

Better yet, get one of those short stories published somewhere, either in a magazine, anthology, or in a short story collection through Amazon. As Lindsay mentioned, the best thing you can do to cultivate your fanbase is to get your work out there.

If you are published, you can give your readers access to alternate endings, extended chapters, and deleted scenes. You can also offer free short stories about the characters or worlds in your books or updates on how the next book is coming along (and when it'll be out). Like I said, only the biggest fans of your work will visit your blog so this is the kind of stuff they're going to want to read.

But there's the dilemma of email/newsletter subscriptions and how to deal with two different kinds of readers (although some will overlap) without annoying them. You can always have one subscription box and send two separate newsletters as well as all blog posts. Then readers can read the ones they're interested in and delete the ones that don't appeal to them.

If you have a service like Aweber or Mailchimp, another option would be to create custom newsletter subscription boxes with checkboxes for each kind of newsletter or blog post the reader wants to subscribe to. Problem solved.

So while I started out saying I would most likely create two blogs, I've found that one blog with different posts for different readers is the way I'm going to go. I'll see how it works and adjust as necessary. I hope you'll join me for the ride.

If you're a writer with a blog and still don't know who you should be blogging for, look at different author blogs and see what appeals to you. Weigh the pros and cons and think about what's realistic for you. Keep in mind that you don't have to blog at all.

Also, don't be afraid to experiment because you can always create another blog or merge two different ones later on. Your current readers might welcome a little change. And you never know what might work for you.

Do you blog for readers or writers? Both? What has or hasn't worked for you?