A lot’s been made about “author platforms” over the past few years. Marketers love jargon and “platform” is just another word for presence.
“The line between writer and creative entrepreneur is thinning all the time. Soon it might just disappear,” writes novelist and blogger Justine Musk, who has long been encouraging writers to start blogging well before they are even published.
“I would have done so much better if I had developed a robust online platform before my first book came out in 2005,” Musk continues. “If there’s one thing I’ve learned since publication it’s just how difficult it is to win people’s attention and trust (and money) enough for them to take a chance on your novel, let alone win them over as loyal readers. Also, it takes time.”
But of course, it’s never too late to start.
When I started blogging in 2007, I was sharing excerpts of my poetry, and using my blog as a diary of sorts. Most of my entries were either about dreams I’d had the night before. Over the years, my blog has evolved: I’ve used it as a way to interview people I think are interesting. Then I shifted the focus to make it more personal and confessional. And then to share my creative process.
Blogs can shift and evolve over time, just as their authors do. Today, my blog is just as tied in with my work as a tarot reader as it is with my creative side, and so often it straddles both of those worlds.
So why is blogging a good thing for an author to do? First, there is Justine Musk’s line of thinking:
“Think about what needs to happen for word-of-mouth to build: someone has to buy your book, then actually read it, then recommend it to friends, who need to actually read it, then recommend it to their friends…and so on.
“In the old days of publishing (which now seem as long-gone as the dinosaurs), publishers gave you the space and patience for that to happen. If they published you in hardcover, your first readers had a year to get the word out about you and jumpstart the second life your book experienced when it came out in paperback.
If you were published in original paperback, publishers would nurture you along for four or five books while you steadily accumulated a readerbase… Things are different now.”
And then there’s an aspect of connecting and inspiring other people along the way. For some writers who are just starting out, having a blog to talk about themselves as writers might seem premature.
It might feel like a cart-before-the-horse situation, or like you’re letting someone get a behind the scenes before you’re ready to reveal what’s actually going on back there.
But remember that it’s your blog, so you have control over what you want to share, and how you want to present yourself. And it’s also never a bad thing to start connecting with readers early on, because community can grow through blogging.
There are a lot of writers out there who are looking for inspiration and encouragement, and connecting online is one way for many to break away from the isolation and uncertainty that writing brings. Your writing process is valid, even if you don’t have a book published yet, because you are trying. You are figuring things out as you go along. You can talk about what’s working, what isn’t, and what you’re struggling with. You can share excerpts of your drafts if you really want to.
You can do anything.
You can also use your blog to show other sides of yourself. It doesn’t have to be about writing at all.
Whatever you decide to focus your blog on, just make sure it’s reflective of who you are.
Getting a blog is easy. There are lots of free options to choose from (Wordpress is a good one) and if you already have a website that has blog functionality, use that. Keep everything in one place.
Here are some tips to help you get started:
1. Decide on a theme. Remember, this can evolve over time so you don’t have to be married to it forever. But it should be something that you feel you can generate enough content (aim for a 2-4 posts a month to start) for 12 months, and it should be something that feels true to you and that inspires you. Like a magazine’s editorial mandate, this theme will help inform the vision for your blog.
Maybe you want to share your own creative process, or create writing prompts or other tips that you find helpful. Maybe you want to create a personal blog, or you want to use to explore a specific topic that your writing tends to focus on.
2. Make a date with yourself and brainstorm your first 10-20 post ideas. Building an idea bank gives you a cushion to work from. It can also feel less overwhelming to know that you have ideas to pull from if you ever draw a blank.
3. Decide on a blog schedule. How often do you want to post, and when? Keeping a schedule can help keep you consistent, which is key to blogging. It’s a good way to make sure your blog doesn’t take over the rest of your writing schedule. Decide on how much time you need to write a post. I recommend a window of 20 minutes to two hours, but what works for me might not work for everyone.
4. Consider inviting guest bloggers to post. If there are other writers you really admire, or even just other people doing something you think is interesting and that fits with your blog’s editorial mandate, invite them to write a guest post for you. This can be something you do every month or two. It’s a great way to build community, support other people through your own work, and to cross promote to different audiences.
5. Look at what other people are doing, but not for too long. It can be way too easy to fall into the rabbit hole of obsessing about what other people are doing on their blogs. Remember that you need to stick with what’s true to you, so don’t get caught up in trying to imitate.
What’s working for someone else might not work for you, because that person could have a totally different audience and a different goal than you do. Take inspiration from wherever it comes, but never forget to create your own thing in your own way and trust that it will build itself in time. People who forge their own paths are always way more interesting than the ones who follow in someone else’s shadow.
6. Go with what you know now. If you want to write about the writing process but question whether you have the experience, make a list of what you know is true for you. What do you fear about writing? What do you love about it? Why do you do it?
What, for you, has been the biggest struggle in being an emerging writer?
What has been the biggest surprise? What has been the best part so far?
What’s been the best advice you’ve had? What’s been the worst? What do you wish you could un-learn about writing?
You probably have a lot more to share than you realize.
7. Include a call to action at the end of each post. Ask people to share your content, visit your website, sign up for your newsletter, buy your book, come to your next event – whatever it is, include a small call to action so that your readers know how they can support you.
And if you want more tips about online promotion, check out this post here.
The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.
The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book.
Liz Worth is a Toronto-based author. Her first book, Treat Me Like Dirt: An Oral History of Punk in Toronto and Beyond, was the first to give an in-depth account of Toronto’s early punk scene. She has also released a poetry collection called Amphetamine Heart and a novel called PostApoc. You can reach her at http://www.lizworth.com, on Facebook or Twitter.