Sunday, February 25, 2007

Beware the Tyranny of the "Shoulds"!

Q. When does a blog cease to be "just" a blog? A. When it becomes a tool you’re using for some other purpose.

Q. Well, that's a great idea, right?

A. Not necessarily.

I found myself in bit of "blog" and "should" overwhelm this week. I was reading a blog from one of my compadres in which it was asserted, quite strongly, that author blogs should be aimed at marketing themselves, and nothing that doesn’t have to do with promotion and professional image/branding should be there. I.E., if your written body of work has to do with, say, nineteenth-century music, amateur sleuthing and metallurgy, nothing else should be on your blog but aforementioned music, sleuthing and -lurgy. That means should you have the urge to talk about your children, your pets, your religion, your football team, or your latest recipe for spinach dip…those things need to be on another blog (if they need to be anywhere at all). The rationale is that you want readers who come to your blog to learn about you as an author, not necessarily as a person. Therefore, if they come to your blog expecting to read about what you already write about and, instead, come upon a blog entry about your cats, they’re going to be upset at you for wasting their time, your blog will be a marketing failure, and they’ll go elsewhere, convinced you’re a hopeless amateur. Do we all really believe this? And if so, why? I don’t mean to poke holes in any particular point of view here. As far as marketing, branding, etc., go, the advice is probably good. It may even be the Gospel According to the Latest Marketing Gurus, and/or people who have sold a heck of a lot more books than I have. But I think it’s a serious mistake to look at this advice, swallow it hook, line, and sinker, and take it as the only way to go, with any other way marking you as unprofessional. The comments about this post were telling. Some agreed it was a great idea. But I also remember one particularly adept author saying something along the lines of, “I’m just starting to figure out how to have one blog working, and now you’re saying I need to have two? Forget it!” To which I said, “Amen, sister.” The internet has brought us an unprecedented opportunity to get information in what can be a very solitary and isolated occupation. This is a good thing. It’s wonderful that we can, with one click, avoid re-inventing the wheel in so many ways. Thanks to instantaneous communication, we can avoid a lot of mistakes and get some very useful instruction, sometimes instruction that we would have had to pay big bucks for in the “olden days” of only being able to get this stuff from a classroom. We can also, however, go into overwhelm very quickly if we try to take all the information available as the only way we “should” be running our writing careers. Because there’s no such thing as a single way a career “should” go, in any enterprise—and especially in a creative one. So consider today’s entry a voice for caution. For reading all the information out there, and still trusting your gut as to what’s going to work for you. And above all, for avoiding the notion that anything “should” be the way to go for you, the only way to go, so help you God. I for one couldn’t disagree more with the frantic branding and marketing blogs that I see from authors. Not that marketing isn’t important; of course it is. Not that setting up a good website isn’t a good idea; of course it is. And if you truly want to have one “marketing” blog and one “personal” blog, and you honestly have the time and inclination to keep up with both of them…more power to you. But for this blog reader? I go to agents’ blogs to hear about agenting, and I go to editors’ blogs to hear about editing, true. But I also enjoy hearing about them as people. And when it comes to fellow authors, this goes double. Yeah, sometimes we can go overboard—or have a series of blog entries that makes people wonder what we’re really about. I don’t enjoy author websites that have inferior writing samples posted…but superior quality photographs of their horses. (Someone might be in the wrong line of work!) If all your blog talks about is your kids’ achievements, or your farm in Connecticut, I may or may not visit it very often. If you’re purporting to be a writer, at least some of your blog probably needs to be about writing! :-) But overall? A blog with a personal touch means I’m more likely to stick around. Yes, information about book signings is pertinent…but so is your perception of the industry from a purely personal POV. Yes, information about your upcoming releases is valuable…but not if that’s all I read, and it sounds like a press release. I'd much rather see a whole person in your blog. Tell me some of your opinions. Be multi-dimensional. That, to me, is what blogging is for. The rest of it we can use news sites, publisher sites, our writing groups, and our publicists (especially the unpaid ones, otherwise known as family and friends!) for. In your blog, I want to get a glimpse of who you are. I can’t get that if you transform your blog from a glimpse into your thought processes, work style, and life to something that’s clearly structured to be a marketing machine. Those things turn me off, each and every time. This is only one author’s opinion, as a reader and as a writer. But I think it’s sad that in this brave new world of information we’re all experiencing, we’re in some senses being put into the same restrictive boxes we would have been without it. We can even more easily get awash in “shoulds,” get convinced we’re missing the boat, and get down about failing (yet again) to recognize the “secret handshake” that’s “going to make all the difference.” Let’s not go there, because in reality, there’s really no such thing as “the way your blog should be.” Your blog “should” be what you want to make of it. That’s only fair for creative people on a creative, worldwide bulletin board. Here’s to blogging for the sheer joy of it— Janny


Deb said...

Brava! Writers acknowledge too many "shoulds", in my opinion. These can stifle Art, if art there is in our work. That's why I started my blog -- because I was so discouraged about newbie writers obsessing about 12 point Courier and 1" margins when they had no story to tell. First, decide what you want to say, say it, then worry about issues lurking around at the periphery.

For every "should" we internalize, there are half a dozen expert writers breaking that rule. For example: you "can't" write about rock singers, musicians, or sports starts. Enter Susan Elizabeth Phillips, whose series about Chicago "STARS" football players has sold about a gajillion copies. Enter Janet Butler, whose novel about a contest pianist with a secret totally ROCKS.

If you read The Rejecter's blog, you'll learn that the industry doesn't get the SF/romance. Don't, however, tell Lois McMaster Bujold this news. She'll laugh in your face and cash her next royalty check.

Writers all, worry about the story that is in your gut, crying to get out. Then if you must, think over a select group of the "shoulds", and do what you have to do.

I for one intend to pass.


Donna Alice said...

I second this opinion! People told me as a writer I should have a blog to "promote" myself. Well, writing is only a small part of me, a BIG part, but still not the total me. My life is a series of layers--hence--layers-of-life.
If I were to just write about writing it would be a slim blog indeed! Although I do hope to add more bits about writing as my career takes off here. Found out FEb. 1st that the newspaper page I write with two other ladies has been Syndicated!
Write your blog how you want to write it. I read it all--even though I know zero about sports it's always fun to see a new post up here.