Monday, September 19, 2011

The Blog Ate My Book

by Sophie Perinot

Once upon a time it would have been, “The dog ate my homework.” But today when something goes missing (or misses a deadline) the culprit is more likely sitting on an author’s desk (NO, not the cat) and the only growling it makes is the hum of that little fan inside that keeps it from overheating. The culprit is the computer, or more precisely the many things—facebook, twitter, blogging, games—we can do with it other than write our novels.

In this age of digital distractions it might seem sensible for a writer—especially one working on a draft that really should be further along—to “log out” completely for days or even weeks. Assuming for a moment that a writer had the self-discipline to do that (I am not certain I do), it may not be as prudent as it sounds at first blush.

Long absences from the virtual world are not in an author’s best interest. Being an active member of the on-line world is an enormous part of what generates buzz for books and recognition for their authors these days. It is hard to imagine a book or a writer being successful without being a genuine and active part of several social media and/or on-line writing communities.

So where do we draw the line? How do we stay “connected” but still manage the most important task facing us—producing polished and marketable manuscripts? If there were an easy answer I’d bottle it and sell it. The situation demands a balancing act worthy of a high-wire artist and I am currently perilously close to losing my footing and falling into the net (dear GOD I hope there is a net down there—I don’t see one).

It wasn’t always this way. I’ve long been a member of the AgentQuery community (which is how I met my marvelous co-bloggers her at FTWA). I spent a lot of time there. It began to feel like home. I’d pop over when I needed a break from drafting or editing and critique a couple of query letters, or see if I could answer the question of a fellow writer. Very manageable. Then I got involved with Twitter (perfect because 140 characters is more than enough of me for many people). I treated myself to “Twitter time” before my writing day began, on my lunch, and when I wound things down for the day. Still I was humming along. Heck I wrote, polished, and sold an entire manuscript without feeling (overly) harried (I mean, come on, don’t we always feel harried?).

But lately I am not making the progress that I’d like to on my WIP, and I always feel short of time and vaguely panicky. Part of this doubtless arises from the fact that I am also in the incipient stages of promoting my debut novel, but it’s more than that. I’ve always been great at juggling (another circus image—forgive me) but somewhere along the line I put too many balls in the air and one ball is a lot heavier than the others. When I sat down to work on this post it came to me in a flash. In my case, blogging is that heavy ball.

After I signed my book deal I started blogging here. Next came my personal blog. I like blogging because basically, I am VERY opinionated (something tells me you are NOT surprised). I also love reading dozens of writing-related blogs. They’ve taught me much of what I know about this business so I know blogs serve a valuable purpose. But blogging takes an enormous amount of time compared to most on-line community participation. A tweet is a quip; a facebook post can be a couple of sentences or a useful link. A blog requires topic selection, thoughtful analysis and a couple of hundred solid words in support of your argument.

So if blogging is such a huge time-suck, why do we do it?

I know why I started—conventional wisdom (and some publishers) says that a writer HAS to blog. It’s considered part of self-marketing and builds audience (aka sales).

I am beginning to consider this assertion more critically. Is it possible (*gasp*) that the amount of time writers lose to blogging is not counterbalanced by the number of new readers that our blogs deliver to us?

Some writers clearly think so. At a conference this past summer several well-established authors told me (as part of their very kind “advise the newbie” efforts) that if they had it to do all over again they would NOT start a blog. They insisted, quite earnestly, that a writer could get comparable marketing and publicity benefits while spending far less time by merely guest posting on the blogs of others (particularly around his/her release dates).

What do YOU think? If you are a writer who blogs do you believe it will build significant readership for your non-blog-writing? And if so, do you believe that based on evidence/experience or because that is the conventional wisdom? If you are a reader of novels, do you prefer writers who blog? Have you ever discovered a writer through his/her blog? Would you buy a book just because you read an author’s blog?

Me, I know something’s got to give in the next weeks and months if I want to finish this manuscript on deadline (and I have never missed a deadline in my life). I am not certain that “something” is blogging but I have my priorities—I am not going to let my blog eat my book. The book is my job. The blog may or may not be an effective part of developing an audience for my books. I am not certain. But there is one thing I AM certain of—no new book, no audience needed. So the minute I become convinced that blogging is interfering with my bread and butter it will become something I used to do and don’t do anymore.


Andrea Mack said...

When I'm working on my blog, I know I should be working on my book. I try to use a natural division of my time (e.g. only blog before driving kids to school) so that I don't end up blogging away my writing time.

Creepy Query Girl said...

I find myself blogging in fits and bursts. When I'm busy with writing a first draft and editing, my blogging gets put on the back burner. But once that's done and I'm querying it around, I come back to blogging full force for however many weeks or months until inspiration hits and i get lost in my writing again. Kind of just catch the wave of productivity however and whenever I can:)

Sophie Perinot said...

Andrea -- that's a great way to look at the division of labor and sort of what I do myself (blog on weekends or late in an afternoon when I have burned out on novel work for the day)

Creepy Q (hope you don't mind my shortening that) -- It is VERY tempting not to blog while I am doing first-draft work (very), and I have slowed down, but one of the things my web guru told me out of the gate is: "if you are going to blog then you need to do it regularly. If you can't do it regularly, don't start." I've started.

One of the interesting things I noticed while thinking about this post (but then didn't work into the post) is how many industry bloggers I've loved eventually gave it up or put their blogs on hiatus. Eric at "Pimp My Novel" is the most recent example, but there were "Editorial Ass" and others before her who also stopped cold.

So apparently blog-burn-out is real and writing novels isn't the only job that blogging can interfere with to a tipping point.

JeffO said...

Since starting my blog I've tried to keep to a definite schedule for the benefit of my readers (all fourteen of them) and for my own sanity. However, I know there are times when I spend far more time on blog posts than I should, and that some of that time is spent this way when I've hit trouble spots in my book. The blog becomes an avoidance strategy.

Is it useful or not? That's hard to say, but as someone who is in the early stages of the writing game, I view it as useful in that I'm *writing*, and thus practicing my would-be craft. Will it help generate readers when I get to that point? I don't know. I hope to find out.

N. Gemini Sasson said...

I started blogging less as I got more e-mail that said: "When's the next book coming out?" Pressure from readers has really helped me get my priorities in line. Besides, I'd probably have more to blog about if I weren't so averse to causing any sort of controversy. ;-)

Michael Di Gesu said...

Balance is the key... If you balance your time between blogging and writing you will get your writing done on time.

Remember, blogging is an outlet, All work and no play ... For all it's time consumption, blogging is a positive force an a much needed community. Think of all the support bloggers give to one another.

We ALL need that support. I wrote my first novel before I started my blog. If it wasn't for the support, information, caring of other blogger I never would have written my second book. A blogfest about writing outside your present genre. I wrote an excerpt which led to a full novel because of that blogfest.

Now I write in more that one genre and my new novel is the one I have interest in. So if it weren't for blogging ...

Sophie Perinot said...

Michael that's interesting. I get my support on facebook from fellow writers in my genre and at the marvelous AgentQuery Connect on-line community. I do not ordinarily view my blog as a source of support. My contact with other writers through the blog is very limited (a really popular post might get 10 comments at most).

Jemi Fraser said...

I think I started blogging WAY too early - but I do enjoy it and I've learned a lot about the craft of writing, marketing & the publishing industry through it. I tend to blog in my smaller chunks of time (when I'm in the living room with the family, while cooking...). When I have larger chunks of time, I tend to go hide in my room and write. After all, if I want to be a writer, I need to write! :)

Alleged Author said...

Loved this post. It is so hard to keep up on blogging AND write AND hold down a job that pays the bills. Sometimes connecting with others can be so hard.

Leslie Rose said...

I felt a huge pressure to start blogging. The gift was all the wonderful info. and bloggers that I've connected with and that's been worth the time. I know I've read some terrific books that I discovered by blogging like DIVERGENT and POSSESSION. I do dedicate one writing night a week to my blog, but sometimes I do get a little grumpy that night takes away from a WIP.

Sophie Perinot said...

Alleged A -- I hear you. I REALLY do. And I am not like Jemi. . .I can't seem to do a blog post in a small chunk of time. I fact I doubt I've spent less than a couple of hours each on most of mine (with the exception of those that post links to other material). Sigh. I am obviously not an efficient thinker.

Jason said...

A really very interesting read! I hope you keep updating us with more info!

Matt Sinclair said...

My blogging has become very sporadic -- about once a month on The Elephant's Bookshelf and my once-a-month here. It truly is a time suck; between work, family, commute, etc., it's hard to eat dinner before 10 pm much less add another blog post too. But I do it because I enjoy doing it.

Sophie Perinot said...

Matt -- I enjoy doing it to. I worry that, particularly when my muse is in an obstinate and my wip is stuck in a pothole, that I like it too much (as in it is SO easy to work on a blog post rather than push my first draft over that bump in the road). When I was growing up my mother always said to me “business before pleasure” and I wrote this piece to remind me that writing novels is m business and blogging is a treat that I am only entitled to if I’ve got my real work in order.

Patrick Scaffido said...

I started a blog to function as a central information hub for my writing and to post any stray pieces I wasn't sure had a market.
Many days the choice has come down to "push out a half polished blog" or "finish polishing a chapter for release on podiobooks." I find myself seeing more success from the second.
The best posts I've had usually contain numerous references to work by other people- critiquing characters, commenting on writing techniques, responding to ideas for promotion, etc.
However most of my creativity is being eaten by the actual book so I don't have as much energy to put into long pieces that I normally like to write as opposed to shorter "here's where I am in the writing process" style updates which don't seem to be as interesting to me or to my readers.

Julia Rachel Barrett said...

To say finding time to write is a high wire act is an understatement, but it's not blogging that takes time, it's life. I am very very busy in real life and that keeps me away from the computer.
From my perspective, Facebook is a time sink and I spend zero time on it. Twitter can be the same - I tweet and I participate in discussions from time to time, but some people spend an entire day on twitter and Facebook. I simply do not have the time or the interest.

My blog is my own space. I say what I want. I keep it going for me first and foremost. If I get readers and fans thanks to my blog, great. If not, such is life.

Finding the right balance is tough regardless of blogging or not.

Olivia Magdelene, D.D. said...

Blogging is not my issue. I've maintained blogs under various pennames since 2007. It actually motivates me to stay in a creative mindset.

My issue is social media. I am on several boards, one of which I moderated until recently, Twitter, Facebook, and other venues. In total my inbox is overflowing nearly every day with messages of one stripe or another. This eats into time I could be working.

I haven't yet found a proper balance.

Claude Nougat said...

Nice post, well done! Yes, blogging sucks up the time AND commenting on other blogs too! Because you really need to do both...

I'm an author and a blogger like you and I have exactly the same problem. Why doI keep up with my blog? Because I'm opinionated, dammit! It's a great way to let off steam!

I also find that it loosens my writing. After I've finished a blog, I'm ready to write my novel!

But, yes, blog burnout surely threatens: one shouldn't overdo it I post about twice a week - that seems to be enough and leaves me time for writing...

So perhaps that's the answer: DO NOT BLOG MORE THAN TWICE A WEEK!