Monday, July 8, 2024

​​If You’re a Fiction Writer, You Absolutely Should Be Blogging

 A guide to marketing yourself and your work 

By Shaunta Grimes 

Every fiction writer should be a blogger.

There. I said it.

Here’s the difference blogging made for me: When I sold my first book to a major publisher, I wasn’t blogging, I didn’t have an email list. I believed the narrative that fiction writers don’t need a platform.

And, to be honest, I was relieved by that idea. I didn’t want to market. I wanted to write. I bet you’ve heard that before. In your own thoughts.

So, I trusted that there wasn’t anything I needed to do to sell my books, except for write them. Only problem was — that book didn’t sell very well.

I sold another book a few years later, and this time I knew that creating my audience was my responsibility. No one else was going to do it for me. So, ahead of that book’s release,  I started blogging and building an email list.

That book went out into the world with about 1000 pre-sales. That’s a big deal. It made a major difference.

If you’re a writer, you should be blogging.

Blogging gives you the chance to publish regularly . Monthly. Weekly. Maybe even daily. It also puts you in control of the content, something that might be a pleasant change if you’re used to relying on the subjective tastes of various gatekeepers.

Until they’re relatively well known, even the most prolific fiction writer doesn’t publish often enough to really build and engage an audience. Even if you’re one of those hyper-productive indie-published authors who’s slamming out a novel four or more times a year, that’s a fraction of the amount of connection you could have with your audience via blogging.

Blogging gives your audience the chance to get to know you personally, which is how you build a base of fans for your body of work. And blogging  is one of the best means for building an email list full of those fans.

Truly, blogging is really a no-brainer for fiction writers. We’re already storytellers. We already enjoy the base activity–writing. There’s a learning curve for the technical aspect, but once that’s overcome, the activity itself is easy and fun.

Blogging is  a lower-stakes version of our main occupation that allows us to publish super regularly and connect directly with readers.

Plus, with a little extra work, it can bring in some income. Maybe even long before fiction writing does.

I hope I’ve convinced you: fiction writers should be regular bloggers. But we have a problem.

Because lots of people are telling non-fiction writers how to blog and how to build an email list and how to reach their audience. But what about novelists or short story writers or poets or artists of any kind? There’s so much bad information out there, when there’s any information at all. Most of the time we’re left trying to scramble to figure out how to make information fit our needs, when it wasn’t really meant for us.

I got so excited several years ago because one of the big online writing advice guys was advertising a webinar promising that he had the answer. He was going to teach fiction writers how to blog. So I signed up and I logged in. And his big idea?

Fiction writers should be writing book reviews, he said. Write a book review every month. That was it. The entirety of his advice.

I wanted to reach through my computer screen and strangle him. Or at least send some kind of message to all the other writers listening with bated breath.

Because that’s not how this works. That’s not how any of this works.

This is a bad idea on so many levels. The biggest one being that he was encouraging writers to venture into turf that isn’t theirs.

Repeat after me: Book reviews are for readers. 

Once you become a writer, they aren’t your business. If you’re reviewing books similar to yours, you won’t be able to really be critical because you’re talking about your colleagues (even if you don’t know them.) So they’ll be weird, stilted reviews at the very least.

And, like I said, you’ll be inserting yourself into an arena where you don’t belong. Because–one more time–book reviews are for readers. Not writers.

I promise you, building a blog around book reviews if you’re a fiction writer is a bad idea.

This guy has helped fiction writers do some pretty amazing things, it’s true. But not this. What he’s done in the past is help expand on the success of  fiction writers who already have a platform. Which is a whole other animal from being a brand new, aspiring creative writer with no platform at all.

Writing book reviews will not build an audience for a specific writer. And, the real problem is that you’re setting yourself up for critiquing your colleagues, which wouldn’t be good advice in any other industry. It’s not good advice in ours either. 

What I’d like to do today is take a look at a better way.

It starts with figuring out what you want to say.

There are two things that I feel very strongly should not be the foundation for a fiction writer’s blogging venture:

  • Critiques of fellow writers. (AKA book reviews.)

  • Our own writing.

No one cares about our cover reveals or our writing processes if they don’t know who we are. Truthfully, they wouldn’t care about our writing process if we were their favorite writers.

I can prove it to you. Ask yourself how many writers you follow because you’re riveted by their processes?

Uh huh. Exactly. You follow them because they entertain you or they teach you something. You aren’t doing them a favor. It’s all about you.

I’m going to say that one more time, because it’s really important.

Your readers aren’t doing you a favor. They’re reading your blog for themselves. Because readers are human beings and human beings are all about themselves. Maybe your mom or your best friend is reading to do you a solid, but random readers aren’t. Again, ask yourself how often you spend your time reading because you want to help the writer out.

I do have some good news, though. 

If you do two things, you’ll be able to build an audience that will love you and follow you and buy your books: Introduce your readers to you and then make it all about them.

The reason why that’s excellent news is that it means that It doesn’t matter what you blog about. 

Whatever interests you, whatever is interesting about you, whatever you’re good at, whatever you want to be good at. You’ll find people who care about those things, too.

And when you write for those readers, they’ll care about you. Which means they’ll care when you publish a book. It becomes a whole circle of life thing. It’s beautiful.

For the record, just because you’re a writer, doesn’t mean that you have to write about writing, either. You can write about anything. You’ll find readers who are interested in the topics you want to write about.

And as those readers become fans, they’ll get excited with you when you do talk about your fiction. Which you will, sometimes. Just not exclusively, or even most of the time.

Let’s talk a little about blogging.

There are really two things you can do as a blogger: teach something you’re an expert at or learn something you’re not an expert at.

When I write about writing fiction, I put on my expert cap: I’ve been a fiction writer for more than 20 years, I’m traditionally published, I have an advanced degree in creative writing.

When I write about writing fiction, I’m teaching readers what I’ve already mastered. I’m a sherpa who already knows the way.

When I write about my ongoing effort to be more organized, I’m most definitely learning out loud. I hope no one comes to me looking for expert advice about how to be an organized person, because I am not your girl. I might be able to inspire you to try, though. We’ll figure it out together.

When I write about organization, I’m taking readers along with me as I do this thing I’ve never done before. I’m a stumbler, just like you.

See the difference?

So, start here: Take an inventory. 

Get out a notebook and make a couple of lists. One quick rule, though. Don’t limit your list to the the things you think you should be blogging about. Go wide here.

Start with things you’re good at.

Now list things you aren’t good at, but you want to be.

Next think about your most interesting life experiences.

Finally, what are you interested in?

What you’ll end up with is a list of things you can mine for ideas. I find that this list is a good place to look for intersections. 

Like: how does creativity (one of the things I’m interested in) fair when you’re part of the sandwich generation (one of the things that’s interesting about me)? Or why should fiction writers (one of the things I’m good at) watch a lot of television (another thing I’m good at)? Or can you be a writer (one of the things I’m good at) and a poor single mother (one of the things that’s interesting about me) at the same time?

Put it all together.

Take a look at your lists and decide which ones resonate the strongest with you.

For me, that’s: writing, starting a business, marketing, creativity, productivity, body positivity, weight loss, personal finance, poverty, autism, dementia.

Then start paying attention.

What questions do people ask about the things that matter to you?  Write the answers in blog posts.

What have you observed about your topics? Write about those observations in blog posts.

What ideas do you have that relate to your topics? You guessed it–write about them in blog posts.

I also like to keep books related to my favorite topics near my desk. When I’m stuck for an idea, I just flip one open and I’m nearly always inspired by what I find.

Finding time for it all.

It helps to see blogging as part of your job. Not a side project you work on when you have the time, but an important part of your writing career.

Finishing your novel is a big deal. You need to do it. So you don’t want blogging to take over and push fiction writing out. But when that novel is finished, when you’re ready to publish it, you’ll be glad you took the time to build a little platform for yourself.

Seth Godin said, “Everyone should write a blog, every day, even if no one reads it. There’s countless reasons why it’s a good idea and I can’t think of one reason it’s a bad idea.”

Nearly daily blogging is a big part of my life and I agree with Seth. There are countless reasons it’s a good idea. As long as it’s not shifting you away from fiction writing, I can’t think of a single negative.

But if you can’t swing a daily blog, commit to three times a week. Or even once a week. Just show up for yourself and your readers when you say you will.

Here’s my favorite tool for keeping myself accountable to both fiction writing and blogging.

Now, get out there and write. I can’t wait to see what you come up with.

Shaunta Grimes is a writer and teacher. She is an out-of-place Nevadan living in Northwestern PA with her husband, three superstar kids, King Louie Baloo the dog, and Ollie Wilbur the cat. She is the author of Viral Nation, Rebel Nation, The Astonishing Maybe, Center of Gravity and Here I Am. She is the original Ninja Writer.

She’d love to teach you her unique method for writing a novel.


Natalie Aguirre said...

I really wish writers and authors would get back into blogging. It's a great way to get to know and support each other.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

I've been blogging for 19 years now and it's still a great way to engage people.

Karen Jones Gowen said...

Totally agree! I blog to make connections with interesting people rather than to sell books or even talk about my books. That gets old really fast. Although anyone who wants to read my work can find them featured on the sidebar.

Juneta key said...

Great post. I don't blog a lot, but I do some and use my website to connect with audience.

G. B. Miller said...

I find blogging to be a little cyclical. I started blogging in 2008, mostly as a safe haven from the chat rooms. My heyday was probably through the early 2010's, then we self-destructed to the point where we're still blogging 16+ years later, readership has dropped dramatically. I still do it, mostly for fun, and I still share my links on FB, but I do agree it's a great way to get your voice out there. The one piece of advice I would give is to be consistent. Find a schedule that works for you and stick to it. Trust me, your readers will love you for it.

Elizabeth Seckman said...

I've kept on blogging because I enjoy it. So happy to hear you say it's not a waste of my time.

Gail M Baugniet - Author said...

Your article is interesting and informative. I am getting back into blogging after a 1.5 year break and look forward to the contact again with other bloggers. Thank you for the helpful advice.

Fundy Blue said...

I just found this, Juneta! It's a wonderful post on blogging, and its benefits for fiction writers. I really love blogging, and I especially love all the friends I've made through blogging. One benefit for me that you didn't highlight is blogging helps you become a better writer. My writing has improved so much by writing over 700 blog posts: It's more succinct, pithier, and it has allowed me to experiment with different genres in short pieces. Have a good week!