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Why Professional Writers Need a Blog. Or Not.

A guest post by Larry Brooks of Storyfix.com

Pardon the cryptic title.  Not trying to sound hip or flip.  Just going straight at it.

Today’s title is literal.  Rather than the traditional try for a killer hook, what you see above is actually the point.

Not recommended as a default blogging best-practice, by the way, but sometimes you have to color outside the lines to paint the desired picture.

If you write for money as an independent contractor (versus, say, the staff obituary writer at the local daily), and if you intend to grow and sustain your client base, you should have a website.  Period.

If you’re any other type of professional writer who has to buy your own health plan, you need a website, too.  But there’s a question you need to answer first.

The Question

These days – and here comes the aforementioned point – you need to decide what kind of website is optimal for what you intend to accomplish.  And this is, as Shakespeare first wrote in a little ditty he called Hamlet, the rub.

This is gospel – as is that rub – for freelance writers in any venue, niche or media: copywriters, ghostwriters, grant writers, novelists, essayists, columnists, non-fiction authors, resume writers, technical writers, speech writers, PR and marketing and training consultants… and to a lesser extent, even screenwriters.

Lesser in that case because, let’s be honest, Jerry Bruckheimer isn’t going to hire you because he found and liked your killer URL. 

Otherwise, if you’re a writer out there on your own, you absolutely need to be online.

So the question is no longer… do I need a website

The question has become… what kind of website should I have?

Which, if Shakespeare were online schlepping his services as a playwright (funny spelling, that one; why the hell isn’t it playwrite?) he would rewrite as: to blog or not to blog, that is the question.

The answer just might surprise you.

What color is your freelance shingle?  

A website is the contemporary equivalent of a yellow pages ad, or a listing in a trade directory, or a flyer you leave on windshields in the stadium parking lot.  It’s your digital calling card.  

In essence, an advertisement.  The shingle you hang out in front of your virtual place of business.

Here I am.  Find me.  Hire me.  Love me.

The “or not” part means that a blog, per se, might not be the optimal choice for your particular shingle.  For some it might actually be self-servingly counter-productive.

So let’s cut to the chase.

For professional freelance writers and authors it boils down to two choices: a blog, or an “official website.”

Get that one wrong and you may pay a price.

The difference is significant. 

Not every writer needs a blog.  Yet some writers – many writers – absolutely do need a blog. 

Many may benefit from both.

It all depends on what business you are in.  On what you write and what slice of the market you hope will send money, by whatever means, in your direction.

We can boil it down to this: if you’re looking to get hired for a project, which implies you offer some vertical expertise in addition to your abundant writing gifts, then you should consider writing a blog.

And you should let the reader know who you are.

Because you need to show the world you know more than they do about whatever it is you do.  You need to demonstrate it.

Both elements drive toward your credibility, which his essential.

If you intend to write a non-fiction book about your vertical expertise – and hey, who doesn’t? – then you absolutely must write a blog if you intend to sell it to a publisher.  This has become a standard prerequisite in publishing – one of the first things a prospective publisher will ask is the nature and extent of your online following, and the URL of your blog.

For the most part, if you don’t have a blog and you aren’t otherwise famous in your niche, your shot at a non-fiction book contract is slim to none.

And if you end up publishing it yourself – which is very viable in non-fiction these days – then a blog is every bit as essential to your goal.

What about authors of fiction or non-expertise-dependent topics?

This is where the conversation gets sticky.

If you are simply trying to get famous, which is a good marketing strategy if you’re a novelist, for example, then a blog may not help you much.  In fact, it may hurt you in the long run.

For you, a branded, somewhat static website is the optimal solution.

It is, in fact, essential.  Remember, every pro writer needs a website.  In your case, however, it probably shouldn’t have a blog on it.

Unless it should. 

A blog isn’t about – or at least shouldn’t be about – you. 

A blog is about your niche, your field of expertise, your message.  Your blog is, in essence, a gift to your readers. 

In effect, your blog is where you give away what you know.

It’s your chance to demonstrate and validate your claim to authority and expertise.

Your blog is, in every essence and facet of the word, content.

Whether you have an agenda attached to that content – you want them to hire you or buy your books, courses or published work – doesn’t change this truth. 

If your blog content is valuable, then they’ll buy your ebooks, products and services.

Maybe even  your book if you have one available.

And if your blog is about you, then you better make yourself a window into life’s lessons, rather than simply trying to sell something you’ve written.

It’s perfectly appropriate to brand yourself on your blog, too.

If you’re looking to be hired, to secure work from someone who will assume the role of client, then you could argue that you should have something about you on the website.  No argument there.

Just don’t put that stuff in the body of the blog posts themselves.  That’s where your content goes.  That’s where you talk about the reader’s needs, not yours.

The stuff about you is what the sidebars are for.

You’ve written a novel.  Do you need a blog?

In a word, no.

You need a website.  An official author website.

A website  that is unabashedly about you and your work.

Google virtually any famous author and you’ll see this is exactly what they’ve done. 

Why doesn’t a blog work to promote a novel? 

Because you can only blog about your book for so long.  And blog readers are almost completely intolerant of self-serving, thinly disguised promotional agendas.

You have to earn every single moment of personal mindshare from a prospective buyer through the delivery of content they can put to work in their lives.

Blogging also comes with another type of risk. 

Even if you have valid to offer. 

Blogging can be addictive and hungry, it can eat up energy, time and mindspace like no other intellectual pursuit you’ve ever been tempted to give in to.

If you dive in, you need to be all in.   And that’s a huge commitment.

The only reason a website created with the intention of promoting an author and/or a work of fiction (or any book that isn’t dependent on a vertical topic expertise) should include a blog is if the author is delivering relevant content that is not self-serving.  That is not about the book you are trying to promote.

A blog about the writing process, about getting published, or anything that coaches and mentors readers from your own chosen field – in this case, fiction – absolutely can work.

This is precisely what I do on my own website. 

But I’m clear on what it is and what it isn’t, as you should be.  My site is an instructional website, designed for writers of fiction in any form.

My blog isn’t about me – neither is this guest post, by the way, I’m just providing an example — though I do make an appearance in a sidebar.  It’s about the reader.

This opens the door to selling the ebooks I’ve written – also in a sidebar – which is textbook blogging strategy 101.

Does it allow me space to announce my new novel and even create a link to it?  Of course it does.  I even promote a fund-raising calendar in which I’m a half-naked Mr. May. 

But the site isn’t about me, the novelist.  It’s about the art and craft of writing.  I’m just there to help.

When you are solid on the difference, then the peripheral benefits from both sides of the promotional fence will come your way. 

Larry Brooks is the creator of Storyfix.com and the author of the recently released novel, Whisper of the Seventh Thunder, the latter of which has its own website.

 

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Comments

  1. Dave Doolin says:

    Larry, I was just thinking about you yesterday in the context of a mutual friend, and that I needed to cycle back around.

    Because this blogging business runs cycles. Cycles of high energy, low energy. Cycles of spending time with one circle of friends, then another circle of friends.

    It is addictive! Not sure it’s addictive as programming, but it’s very close.

    This addictive aspect of blogging is why I attempt to produce really high quality articles. I’ll have something to show for my effort when I tire, which, strangely enough, that something to show gives me more energy.

  2. Will says:

    To the question about playwright vs. playwrite — a “wright” is someone who makes or repairs something (such as a shipwright or millwright). So, a playwright is someone who makes (or repairs) plays.

  3. LPC says:

    But what, pray tell, has become of that highly useful device known as a paragraph? I wanted to read this post but could not get past the multiple single-sentences finished by periods. Is it just me?

  4. Hey Larry,
    There are many freelance writer who have websites and many writes have a blog..!!
    I know one awesome writer, michael.. who writes for some great blogs including johnchow, bloggigtips. and he have a website, not a blog. .! so i think every writer should go with website, not wih a blog.. :D !!

    Anyways, thanks for sharing this great post. Keep it up. buddy.

  5. Julius says:

    I like the very clear explanation on whether a writer needs a web site or a blog. I agree that it needs time to reflect and think it over as making the right decision can really help in getting the desired number of readers

  6. Anil Atluri says:

    Yes. Good post. The writer would do well to have a website for her book. A professional service provider too needs a website to showcase her work. The potential client can visit, assess and decide: to hire or not to hire? That is the reason why I have my own website by the way.

    Thank you.

  7. Larry, thanks, i have recently opened my blog titled Wizard Journal, well i wanted to give it a funky name so i decided upon this. I will write for readers from now on, keeping in mind what they need to know.

    thank you.

  8. I suspect it’s because I’m so naturally inclined to run in the opposite direction of oncoming traffic that I tend to break rules as a force of habit.

    I’m a professional writer whose website is a blog filled with content that is almost entirely about my life. I don’t promote it, do link exchanges or put it’s URL in forum signatures. I write very long entries and I discourage comments. In other words, I don’t do anything that I should and everything that a blogger shouldn’t.

    Your advice, for example, is good and smart and sound. Everyone (including myself), would do well to heed it.

    Which is why I won’t. I’m a contrarian bastard.

    P.S. Your mobile theme seems to be eating comments. This is my third try at posting mine, the previous two attempts having been made through the mobile theme.

  9. Chania Girl says:

    Larry, this post couldn’t have come at a more opportune time for me. As a fledgling blogger and aspiring (someday) non-fiction writer, I have been asking myself the question quite a bit lately, “To blog or not to blog?”

    Your post clarified quite a few things for me, and for this I am appreciative. Thank you! :)

  10. Roshan says:

    Hi,
    I don’t have a blog about me! But I wonder why someone shouldn’t have a blog about him/herself. Okay, it wouldn’t be a hit blog if he shares his day to day life simply if he’s not a celebrity. But some do write about their carrier experience and such things and also get some readers right?

  11. What a thoughtful insight. It definitely gives cause for further consideration. Websites and blogs are different tools to be used separately or in conjunction with each other, both with the aim of spreading the word and getting people’s attention (for whatever your purpose).

  12. Lynda says:

    Hi Larry,
    Great post – I have built websites for 2 writers and have directed them both to Darrens blog. Thankfully we seem to be on the right track with both of them – one has a blog on her site and one doesn’t and I can see from reading this that we are on the right track with them which is great affirmation. I have one question – if it is so difficult to get published – and great books get rejected – how do soooo many rubbish books get published? You know, the ones in the 2 for $5 bin? Just curious! Lynda.

  13. Nick says:

    I have 5 blog that I use to make money online, but I don’t have a blog about me. I think it isn’t attractive. However, I always write for readers and keeping in mind what they need to know about my niche.

  14. The timing of your article couldn’t be better for me. My blogs, hosted by GoDaddy, got hit with malware on Friday. Tech support was good and they got the problem fixed but it sure made me reflected on the pros and cons of blogging. As a fiction writer, I totally agree with your comment that blogging is an energy and time sink. Will be turning my sites into a non-blogging website. Thanks!

  15. I’m a freelance feature writer/essayist, working on my first non-fiction book. I also have a blog. Two blogs, actually – one dealing with the same breadth of issues I cover as a freelancer, and the other dealing more specifically with the subject matter of my book.

    I love blogging, and I think it’s made people much more aware of my work than they would be if I was just writing for magazines and newspapers. But I don’t agree that writers need to have a blog – perhaps because I’ve seen too many blogs set up to support a non-fiction book idea (my own among them, to some extent) that don’t actually read like blogs. They’re not conversational. They don’t have a regular readership. They read primarily as just what they are: a promotional exercise for someone trying to sell their book.

    Such blogs might impress publishers that aren’t terribly savvy, but I wouldn’t say they’re an effective form of communication – or even of promotion.

  16. I think that everyone needs a personal blog no matter what they do because everyone has a story to tell

  17. Nelfra.com says:

    I just like to share my own experience. At first, i had trouble finding a concept for my blog. I mean, I am a professional IT person but somehow, I want to write about other things — so I did and I can honestly say I’m happy about that decision :)

  18. I am a fiction writer. I write several articles each week (including a new fiction piece every Friday) for my main blog, but also have a different site – http://www.HyraxPublications.com – solely for the purposes of PR and my digital content storefront. So I have a blog AND an official web site.

  19. Lucas says:

    I think every writer should have a piece of blog on the net. They can share ideas to others.

  20. Fred Kapoor says:

    I totally agree with the insight given in this article. The thing is that, cold as it sounds, choosing to stay away from social media when you are a professional or when you have a business is pretty much like being an individual opting to remain outside society norms and uses. If that is good or bad, well who are we to judge? that is more like a philosophical issue. But, I believe we can say that from the busines point of view, choosing not to use social media sites for business purposes is not a smart move.

  21. Glenn Murray says:

    Hmmm. Some valid points and distinctions, Larry, but there’s one main point you’re missing. One very important point. Blogging is so, so, so, so handy for your search ranking. In fact, for most businesses, it’s critical. (And yes, most writers are businesses, in one way or another.)

    You see, ranking well is mostly about getting lots of people to link to you. And people will only link to you if they really like your content. Now if you have a single page of some ABSOLUTELY MIND-BLOWINGLY AMAZING content that people can’t stop themselves from linking to, then you’re on a winner. You can sit back and relax as the page goes viral. But if you’re like the rest of us, and you get maybe one link per four or five pages of content you write, then you need quite a few pages. That’s where blogging comes in: lots of new content all the time.

    Yes, you could write lots of pages of content on a static site, but it just wouldn’t be the same (nor, generally, would it be as easy). Mostly because the people most likely to link to you are bloggers, and they like — and expect — blogs.

    Of course, WRITING the content is only half the battle; no-one’s going to link to it if they don’t know about it. So you have to get pretty involved in social media too (e.g. Twitter or Facebook). But that’s ‘a whole ‘nother story’!

    You can learn more about why blogging is important for your search engine ranking in this video interview: http://www.bluewiremedia.com.au/blog/2010/05/seo-blogging-secrets-with-glenn-murray/. Be warned! You’ll be confronted by my ugly mug for longer than is healthy. But it’s honestly quite helpful. (And no, it’s not a link to my site!)

    Oh, and one of my favourite authors, Patrick Rothfuss maintains a blog (http://blog.patrickrothfuss.com/). He uses it for all sorts of things unrelated to the direct promotion of his books. (Blogging is always indirect promotion.) Like telling impatient readers that he’s not yet finished, and explaining why.

  22. Is it appropriate to comment on your life if you are demonstrating a lesson and/or a moral in the post itself?

    I have talked about my self, however, I just launched a blog and wanted readers to get to know me as a person better – I was trying to make it personable. I also did a blog dedication.

    However, future posts will have very little or nothing to do with me and my life. I understand that belongs in the bio or about us page.

    Thank you so much – you taught me everything I know about blogging today from programming WordPress to social media to how to write for the web.

    I am disabled. You gave me hope to have a career when I could not walk. Now, I am in a MFA Program in Creative Writing. Also, I help other disabled individuals with blog building and creative writing. Your blog has given many people hope!

    Thank you for making a difference in this world!

    Rebecca L. Hotz
    Mosaico Writing
    http://www.mosaicowriting.com

  23. I enjoyed your article, Larry. I agree that blogs are essential for nonfiction authors, but I also recommend them for fiction authors. Posts don’t have to be just about the book. Several novelists have written guest posts on my own blog with excellent ideas on topics that fiction authors can blog about.

    I encourage authors to consider building their author websites on blog platforms such as WordPress. With the addition of “pages,” the site can serve as both a blog and a website and can be easily maintained by the author.

  24. George185 says:

    Yes I think that anyone that does any kind of freelance or contract work should have a blog or website that they use to promote their business. It only makes sense to have one of those internet billboards showcasing your purchasable talents whether you are into web design, writing, or photography.

    Oh, and I’ve never heard of Hamlet referred to as a little ditty before:)

  25. Larry says:

    @Glenn — you right, of course. Thanks for the series value-add to this series. I’m all over those referred links.

  26. Marcie Hill says:

    Thanks for these insights. I will use these in the near future for the book I”m writing.

  27. Nicole says:

    Very enlightening!

    I found this quote beneficial:

    “If you intend to write a non-fiction book about your vertical expertise – and hey, who doesn’t? – then you absolutely must write a blog if you intend to sell it to a publisher. This has become a standard prerequisite in publishing – one of the first things a prospective publisher will ask is the nature and extent of your online following, and the URL of your blog.”

    I have several manuscripts written and trying to find my “niche” in the blogger arena. I think you have made this very clear for me, that I will continue to need to hone my skills for publishing purposes. Thank you for the insight.

    Nicole
    http://www.educatedandfabulous.com

  28. Mokibobolink says:

    Great post and very helpful as I’ve been contemplating creating my own author’s website in addition to my two blogs. I wasn’t sure if I needed both but now that I’ve read this, I see why I should definitely do it. Thanks!

  29. Clarabela says:

    I really appreciate this post. I recently started freelancing. I am in the planning stages of putting my blog together.

    I want it to be a place to promote my services, as well as where potential clients can see samples of my work.

  30. get backlink says:

    You really make it seem so easy with your presentation but I find this topic to be really something which I think I would never understand. It seems too complicated and very broad for me. I am looking forward for your next post, I will try to get the hang of it!

  31. Cori Padgett says:

    Great post Larry. I happen to have both, my blog and my service site. And it’s definitely I essential I think to have both, because you’re right, there is only so much ‘self promotion’ you can do on a blog before it becomes tiresome for your readers… the focus needs to be on providing value to them. But on my service site, it’s all about me and what I can do for you. lol And if you don’t like it… go read my blog instead!

    Warmest
    C

  32. hokya says:

    i agree with the words

    Blogging can be addictive and hungry, it can eat up energy, time and mindspace like no other intellectual pursuit you’ve ever been tempted to give in to.

    it’s just like a sword. if we can use it properly, it will hurt ourselves :)

  33. Mike says:

    This is probably the best advice I’ve ever read about the difference between a blog and a website and the uses — and reasons — for both. Brilliant.

    I hadn’t heard of Larry Brooks before. Glad I found him.

  34. This was a great post; and I totally agree. I write children’s books—mostly for the homeschool market—and my blog has nothing to do with that. It hurts me in terms of sales conversions. If I could focus my blog on homeschooling topics, it would mean a lot more book sales for me. But, alas… I’m so darn addicted to blogging about other things—life in general—that I don’t really mind the lost sales.

    And, so, so right about blogging being a ridiculous time commitment! I am approaching the deadline for next book to be to my publisher, and I am waaaaay behind. I know it is because of the time I spend blogging.

    I’ll admit this post made me feel a little guilty about the time I invest (waste?) by writing my blog and reading ProBlogger. How is a girl ever supposed to get anything done around here? : )

  35. Larry, you make such a valid point about the importance of a writer having their own website or blog. And, while I do think it is important to guide fellow writers, offer assistance, recommendations and the like, I also think it is imperative that others see your human side.

    For example, I like to share life experiences, personal obstacles, among other things. I believe that when people read that the person behind the words is as imperfect as they are, they become compelled, interested, and even begin to trust you…

    Thanks for this great article!

  36. Anne Wayman says:

    Larry, nicely said. I run a blog for freelance writers. I tell them that if they are even remotely serious they need a website offering their writing services. I now suggest that their website be created with wordpress because the blog form is so easy for anyone to update. Far better to be in control of your own site than to wait for a web designer or find a new one when you want a change.

    If they also want to blog, that’s fine with me… I get clients from my website and my blog.

    A

  37. Greg Young says:

    I enjoyed your article, but I’ve a question.
    You said that blogs shouldn’t be about you. I’m a creative nonfiction writer. So, what I write about are my experiences and what I’m ultimately selling is about me.

    My expertise? I’m building my skills as a writer yet haven’t had the guts to get a book out. So, I’m not sure that I have advice I want to give anyone about writing.

    Sounds like a paradox, but I’m used to that.
    All the Best

  38. Wow – now that’s perspective! I think we often react in agreement or disagreement because of our emotions, but hearing another side, passionately presented, really makes us think!

  39. Cool, I can’t get enough from you and continue these great work that really inspires me to create.

  40. One of the things Seth Godin talks about – emphasizes, is that writers should have a blog where they build a following of people that digs their stuff.

    At MikeFook.com I created a blog. I list books I’ve done. I also write articles about things that get me worked up. I share a bit about myself. I will be adding videos sometime shortly.

    I agree with Larry – this blog cannot focus on just my fiction novel, nor on any series of books I create. It has to focus on everything. In effect, I’m creating a blog about me – what I like to write about, what I like, who I am, and the rest of it.

    The goal is to brand ME.

    Anyway, so, it’s a tough situation to build a group of followers that enjoy what you write, enjoy who you are, and that will hang on your every word and buy up your books as you release them. If you’re targeted on a specific niche – like weight loss, then it would be easier. If you don’t focus on any particular niche at all – like me – it’s tough to ramp things up. Good luck to everyone trying!

  41. Ultimately, a solid blog that isn’t in my face wanting to continually advertise me some thing. Many thanks, make sure you continue the good work.