Writers who blog are well used to being told by critics and journalists that they should pack it in and leave literary evaluation to the professionals. It’s a stale argument, as many bloggers write criticism which is more in-depth and less compromised than their professional counterparts.
However, a few nights ago, via a tip from Helena Nelson, I read an article against blogging, by writer and blogger, Morris Rosenthal, which made me think, not for the first time, on whether blogging is a good idea for writers. MR begins with an argument that most writer-bloggers must have considered at various points:
“Blogging sucked three years of creative writing out of my brain, and it can do it to you as well.”
He then continues:
“If I could sum up the problem with blogs in one 90's concept, it would be the lack of closure. Blogging never reaches a logical conclusion, it just goes on and on until the blogger breaks the vicious cycle and walks away, or finds a sort of peace six feet under.”
Of course, blogging is a form of creative writing. It does mean that you are writing a blog rather than a poem or a novel, but the blog is only the problem if that very fact begins to feel like a problem. Some writers (not me) might view their blog as a more valuable artform than anything else they have written and will have no regrets on writing it.
MR says that visitors for archived posts tend to be very few in number. All that effort, all those words you’ve written over several years, will go largely unread – that’s Chris Anderson’s “Long Tail” theory examined in the article. Compared to static pages on a traditional website. MR found that an archived blog post gathered very few hits. One problem is that search engines are attracted to, or repelled by, titles. Come up with a clever title and, once the post has left your blog’s front page, you’re unlikely to get many hits on it. However, when a blogger realises that, he/she should be able to title his posts to attract search engines and still write good content for readers. The title may be boring so that search engines aren’t put off by apparently hermetic or confusing terms, but the content can be as intriguing as the blogger is capable of.
One central aspect of MR’s argument is that blogs don’t help writers to market books. I guess most writers think that blogs do help. I know I have always thought that, but without any hard evidence. MR argues that a good static website is far more effective. Blogs, he says, can help writers who have already produced books if the blog is an occasional update on progress and content (although not too much content, or readers might feel they no longer need to buy the book) attached to a static website. However, he then says:
“But if you're unknown, have yet to produce your first book or write non-fiction as a work-a-day author, entertaining a fan base just isn't relevant.”
That may be true in general terms, but I wonder if poetry is an exception. The market is small anyway, the poetry ‘world’ is small, and perhaps a blog can be useful in creating and entertaining a ‘fan base’. That said, people will only buy a poetry book I write if they like the poetry. Whether they enjoy the blog is irrelevant. They may read excerpts from the book on my Salt page, when it goes up, and decide on that basis. They may read some of my poetry through the links on the right-hand sidebar here, but that’s static content which could just as easily be on a traditional website. MR is blunt on this point:
“In terms of visitors received and books sold for the time I put in writing, blogging is the worst return on investment I get.”
I have no idea how many copies of my pamphlet sold due to this blog. I’m sure some sold on that basis, but perhaps a static website would have helped sell as many and for much less work.
A blog, however, isn’t just a marketing tool. As MR himself said, he is an author, not a telemarketer. I’d see my blog as something I author, much like a book. It has value to me in its own right, irrespective of related pamphlet and book sales. It’s put me in touch with many writers and readers I might not have come across otherwise. On the other hand, I now wonder what I might have written if I hadn’t been writing the blog, although there’s no point in thinking too hard on such ‘what ifs…’! MR’s article also makes me think about the future, about the issue of closure, on whether I should have a website, and on whether a blog really is the best medium for sounding off on literature.
Morris Rosenthal's Self Publishing blog is still very much active!