Being ‘just an author’ in the 21st century is no longer enough if you want to be a thoroughly modern writer. Or so it would seem anyway, with social media and the ‘blogosphere’ saturated with authors trying to make an impression on would-be readers (and publishers).
With increasing pressures on the publishing industry, the advent of social media, and an audience which always expects more, the days are gone when you can get away with just writing your books.
Or are they?
Not so long ago, if a writer – particularly an up-and-coming writer - wasn’t blogging, there may have been a few raised eyebrows. Weren’t they serious about their work? Didn’t they want to interact with their readers? How did they expect to sell books and get their name ‘out there’?
Some writers didn’t – and still don’t - get it. Why waste time writing personal blog posts when those precious hours could be spent writing your next book? Others began blogging, but then couldn’t find the time to maintain it. Some liked it. Some didn’t. Some stopped, while some posted prolifically and are still going strong.
So, what do some of our local authors think of blogging? Do they blog and if so – why? Is it a necessary evil, a joy to do, or something they try to keep on top of, but often leave languishing..?
For Portstewart author Bernie McGill, who has been published by Headline Review and Tinder Press Publishers, blogging is something she does sporadically, though her posts are generally quite detailed.
‘I’m not a natural blogger and to be honest, I’ve fallen out of love a little with it lately,’ she says. ‘I’ve always been a bit erratic about doing it and recently I’ve been suffering from, ‘What do I really have to say?’ I can see the value of it from a promotional point of view, but for the most part I’d prefer to put my energies into writing fiction.’
In McGill's experience, blogging is certainly something publishers seemed to be encouraging not so long ago. However, she’s of a view that the medium has now perhaps been overtaken by ‘micro-blogging on Facebook and on Twitter.’
‘Blogging is one way of connecting with readers but in my experience, it tends to be a one-way process,’ she says. ‘People are more spontaneous with their responses when using other forms of social media.’
The North Coast writer also sees it as ‘a worry’ if publishers are requesting social media statistics from writers submitting their work. ‘Having a following on social media does not necessarily translate into quality of writing,’ she declares.
Newtownards author, Kelly Creighton, whose crime novel The Bones of It was published by Liberties Press, says blogging gives writers a ‘chance to just be yourself and have fun.’ Having just recently taken up blogging herself, Creighton adds that, ‘when you write, it’s important to do something extra.’
‘Readers like to know more about the authors they read, and the nature of blogging means you can reach a wider audience,’ she says. ‘A strong social media presence is undoubtedly a great advantage. Writers should try to see it as a place to be more spontaneous about their writing.’
For fellow crime writer Brian McGilloway however, who is based in Derry~Londonderry, and has been published by Macmillan New Writing, blogging is something he rarely does. As a New York Times bestselling author, one might say he’s managed fairly well without it. Like most writers, he also has a day job - in teaching – so time is tight and any spare minutes are better used, he says, for penning books than blogs.
‘Any writing time I do have, I’m spending on work rather than blogging,’ he says. ‘I suspect publishers were very keen to push the onus on PR from them onto the authors, so there was a big focus on social media and connecting with readers that way.
‘While it’s great connecting with readers, unless you’re blogging frequently, I’m not sure how useful it is. Ultimately, I think many blogs are cases of shouting into the void unless you’re prepared to put in a lot of time and effort making connections.’
His crime fiction peer Declan Burke is a case in point, he adds. Having dedicated a lot of time producing daily blog posts, the author now has a ‘strong, loyal following.’
‘That’s a lot to put on yourself in addition to writing your own work,’ says McGilloway. ‘I admire Declan a lot for it. I’m not sure I’d have the staying power…’
Carrickfergus sci-fi and fantasy author, Jo Zebedee, is both self-published and also traditionally published by Tickety Boo Press Ltd. Surely those who self-publish are arguably more in need of audience-building, without a publisher’s marketing team behind them?
‘I actually don't think writers need to blog - nor do I think they should do, unless they like it,’ she says. ‘Nothing looks worse than an inactive blog. But I do think they need to think of some kind of platform to engage with their readers.
‘I blog mostly because I enjoy the freedom of writing something that’s quick, fun and doesn't need a lot of editing. But the purpose of my blog is to showcase what it's really like to be an aspiring writer in a really tough modern market.’
She adds that simple enjoyment of the process is what keeps her blog going, though she understands why publishers may well now enquire into authors’ social followings.
‘It's a tough market and publishers need to know if they spend money to produce a book, the writer is at least able enough to help with promotion,’ she says. ‘And I think that any aspiring writer who isn't on at least one platform, should start building a following. Right now. Today.’
Belfast-based crime writer, Gerard Brennan, believes blogging is ‘a great way to exercise your writing muscles’ and has recently refocused his energies on his own blog.
‘Fiction doesn't always come easy, but blogging – especially when the focus is on reading and writing - can really help get the juices flowing,’ he says. ‘I don't know if all writers need to blog, but personally, I've found it's helped me make contact with other writers. It's also a great way to track your reading (when you actually take the time to write and post reviews), and if you’re not reading, you're not writing.’
Brennan, who has been published by Pulp Press and Blasted Heath, adds that for him, blogging mostly generates writing opportunities and friendship. As for publishers that take more than a keen interest in the size of a writers’ digital fan base, he says: ‘I wish writers could focus on being writers rather than creating a brand. In a perfect world, the branding crap would fall to a PR guru. Unfortunately, the marketing budget just isn't there in most cases.’
Whether writers actually need to blog appears to be a moot point, but in today’s digital world, it’s certainly one way of building an audience. Like most things in life however, blogging requires time and dedication and if a writer has to choose between writing a blog or a book, the latter will most likely win out.
Read more of Claire's writing, including updates on her own forthcoming book, on her blog www.clairesavagewriting.wordpress.com.