Readers, Writers, and Blogs

The illo is a Hogarth print depicting the print culture of the eighteenth century, which is many ways reminds me of the blogoverse; people saw these prints put up in windows, commenting on the day’s news. The prints went up pretty fast, and could be wildly popular for a short time, sometimes causing violent reaction, just to blow over as quickly when some new thing caught everyone’s attention.

Anyway, a few years ago I asked some questions on my blog. That was before Facebook and twitter and more and more people getting on the net, and finding authors they are interested . . . and before questions of privacy began rapidly changing.

My original question sprang from the furor resultant to a writer who ranted about what a waste of time blogging is.

My first reaction when someone linked to that was, “Okay, fine, that writer is busy, and doesn’t want to blog because of too many demands in too little time.” But I kept seeing it linked, often at the head of an angry post for or against. (Now I think that tempest has long blown away, which is why the writer’s name is redacted.)

The white heat seemed, from my perspective, to generate from questions of legitimacy. The word “professionalism” also got used as a blunderbuss. Blogs as necessary marketing tools–blogs as a danger in possibly turning off agents or editors who secretly read them and dislike your entry–lists of the “blogs you should read if you’re a professional” –blogs as relaxation–blogs as reflection of the work . . .

So to my questions.

It’s for readers as well as writers: do you find blogs change your mind about writers? Does having access to writers (which is a relatively new thing) make a difference in how you partake of their offerings? Do you think that writers owe their readers an online presence, and interaction?

Sherwood Smith

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Readers, Writers, and Blogs — 34 Comments

  1. Do we as writers OWE them? … No … Do I as a reader appreciate access to an author to share feedback, that can be as simple as ‘thank you’? Yes… To read what else they may have written? .. Yes …. Is an accessible online presence good sense? Absolutely …

    .. we are in an era of online conversations, it is foolish to think otherwise. The few authors whose blogs I’ve followed who have their ‘comments’ option turned off have almost certainly lost me as a repeat customer

  2. Widdershins: Speaking as an author, I can sympathize with pretty much any style of blog another author wants to have. But speaking as a reader, I find I seldom return if the blog is nothing but 100% brag all the time. They should have every right to trumpet their triumphs, but . . . there’s no discourse, it’s boring to me to read.

    I really like it when they get in and discuss stuff. Like Kate Elliott over on LiveJournal has been doing that lately–some fantastic discussions. Jim Hines, as well.

  3. A blog might make me want to try a story by someone I’ve never read before; I read Jim Hines’s LJ before I ever read any of his books, because other people I know had been linking to him. He writes great posts, so I started reading his books, which are excellent.

    Just as often, though, if not more often, someone will stick their foot in it online in a particularly nasty way and I’ll decide I don’t want to read their books. It takes a much greater level of nastiness to get me to stop reading someone I’ve been reading and enjoying, but for a writer I haven’t tried yet, I have no investment in them and it’s easy to cross them off my mental list if they do something jerkish in public. There are too many authors and way too many books out there — more than I’ll ever be able to read in my lifetime — so losing an author here or there is honestly no hardship.

    I think that’s the trick of it, realizing that it does work both ways. Blogging can be a great way of getting to know people and maybe selling more books. But it’s also a great way of driving away potential readers.

    On the plus side, I like it when authors with a series has a list somewhere on their blog or web site telling me what order to read in, since publishers don’t always indicate it on the book. I gave up hunting for info on one series (and never did read it) because the author didn’t provide such a list, although I looked on a web site, two blogs and an LJ. If a writer is going to do that much communicating with thei readers, they should consider giving them info that makes it easier for them to hand over money. [wry smile]

    Angie

  4. There are definitely writers I started reading because I found their blogs and liked what they had to say. Some of those turned into autobuy authors, with others I realized that I liked their blogging much better than their books.

    On the downside, there are also a couple of authors whose blogs have turned me off their books permanently. Usually, a writer has to sprout pretty extreme stuff on their blog to permanently turn me off their work, e.g. raging homophobia, islamophobia, racism, sexism, extremist views, just plain insanity.

    There is also at least one writer I refuse to read, because that writer has never met an online fight they don’t want to get involved in (which doesn’t bother me in itself) and because they are always extremely aggressive in those fights. It makes the writer just come across as such an unpleasant person that I don’t want to read their books. Certain male (cause they almost always are male) making disparaging remarks about romance and/or urban fantasy, usually without ever having read anything in the genre, also don’t make me eager to try their work. Ranting about bad reviews, other writers who give their work away for free, blogging, fanfiction, etc… doesn’t necessarily endear the author to me, but it rarely puts me off for good.

    There also are writers whose blogs I don’t care about at all, although I love their books. Blogs which are nothing but promotion and contests just don’t interest me, I want some actual content. There also is one writer whose blog drives me mad, cause she seems to have the exact opposite views to my own on pretty much everything and regularly slams TV shows, books, films, etc… I love, while praising stuff I hate to high heaven. At one point, she cheered when a favourite character of mine was killed. Yet I absolutely love her books. I’ve just learned to avoid her blog and website and go straight to Fantastic Fiction, when I want to find out when she has a new book coming out.

  5. Blogs are useful to both writer and reader in getting the word out about works people will enjoy and the author can profit from, but there must be value for time spent. Like other commenters, I dislike blogs that are one long commercial or that rant about something that is not of general interest.

  6. I started keeping a blog and reading others’ blogs with no thought at all about the connection of blogs with books/authors I liked, and with no thought at all about my own blog’s possible impact on my own writing (though really I owe going back to writing to the fact of starting up blogging–but that’s a separate story).

    There are people whom I discovered as interesting bloggers who also turned out to be writers; I found I generally loved the writing of the people whose blogs I was interested in.

    There were others who I knew of as writers whose blogs I visited out of curiosity. Many of these turned out not to be interesting to me, for various reasons. I’d still read their books, but I’m not interested in reading their blogs.

    One or two people were folks I had never heard of before starting blogging, and after taking a look at their online personas, I found my interest in reading their fiction was substantially lowered.

    So yeah, I guess blogs do affect my feelings about writers, but only about writers whose stuff I haven’t read previously. If I like a person’s blog persona, I’m likely to try reading their fiction, and chances are, I’ll like it. If I dislike a person’s blog persona, I’m much less likely to pick up their books. If I already like a person’s fiction, I’m likely to continue liking it, even if they have blog that doesn’t grab me.

    Then there are a few people who keep entertaining blogs but who write in genres I don’t read much; I’ll keep on enjoying their blogs but probably won’t read their books (though I’m more likely to give their books a try than to give other books, but other writers in those genres, a try).

  7. I love reading writers’ blogs. I particularly love those with thoughtful discussions (on most any subject), those with an exchange of ideas, those who talk about the writing craft. I also find myself drawn to the blogs of writers I’ve met, those who live in the southern California area, those who write in the genres in which I read.

    I will buy the books of those whose blogs I read regularly. If I enjoy the books, I’ll continue to buy. Sometimes, I buy just to support these people (if I like them lots) whether I really enjoyed their first book I read or not. And, I will still read, to see if I just had an “off” reading experience with their first.

    However, if the person comes across as arrogant to an extreme, belittles their readers, belittles reviewers and spouts anger that someone didn’t like their book, it’s nor guaranteed that I’ll remain a faithful reader.

    If someone gets involved in online battles at an alarming rate or if they preach views I find unacceptable or uncomfortable, I generally abandon both their blogs and any further support of them.

    I think an online presence can both make–or break–a writer and their popularity.

  8. Angie: In defense of writers, sometimes they think that any book is a way into their series. The writerly perception of that particular storyverse can be vastly different than the way readers perceive it. I’ve seen some interesting discussions about this–to take the example of an author who is long dead, there have been debates about where to start reading the Narnia books, with publication order or with time chronology order. Different readers strongly skew toward one or the other.

    My guess is, if a writer who otherwise has a significant presence on the bloggoverse isn’t recommending a reading order, it’s because they probably think the reader can get into their world through whichever of the books has the most appeal.

    (I could be wrong, of course.)

    Pilgrimsoul: that’s an important phrase, value for time spent. Of course we will all define that differently. (But I personally don’t feel I get any value at all from long lists of praise-only reviews, and brag posts and contests. Doesn’t mean I think the author is scum for posting such, or that I’d stop reading their books. Nope! Just won’t read the blog.)

    Asakiyume and Cora: while there are a couple of authors whose blogs really turned me off, in retrospect I also was lukewarm about the books, except for one. (And that person, I still love the early books, I am just not the audience for the recent ones.)

  9. Janice: that can be a tough call when one sees an author one otherwise admires espousing a view we consider heinous. (And from the writer’s perspective, it can be dismaying at best to be scolded and finger-shook by readers who feel that you should think differently about some subject.)

  10. Sherwood — that might well be the case, but if so then it’d be nice if the writer said so specifically. [wry smile]

    In some cases, the writer might think the books can be read in any order, but some readers might disagree. One might be able to read the books in a series in any order without actually getting confused about what’s going on, but if there’s a perceptible chronological order to them, I want to read them in that order just because I’m kind of anal that way. If there’s really no particular order, or if there are bits that are ordered but the whole thing isn’t, then the writer should explain that. Even if most readers don’t care, it’s nice to grab the other 15% or however many.

    I know what it’s like to have a complicated verse, reading-order wise. I have an urban fantasy series that’s not so much a series, with Book 1, Book 2, Book 3, etc., as it is a universe I like to write in, more like Heinlein’s Future History or Niven’s Known Space. There’s a novel and a couple of short stories featuring the main group of characters; one of the shorts takes place right after the novel, while the other takes place a bit before, but is a stand-alone incident and can be read at any point. There are three more stories that are set in the verse, but are about characters who aren’t mentioned in the main line and don’t have to be read in any order with respect to the main line stories. One is a stand-alone, the other is a published short and a short freebie up on my web site.

    My fiction list shows the books (e-books — most are short) in a convenient reading order, but the mainline books that have to be read in order are numbered, and the freebie is marked as “Sequel to Chasing Fear.”

    It takes longer to explain than it does to just look and see what’s going on [laugh/flail] but my point is that it’s not hard for a writer to put something up indicating reading order, even if it’s just a note saying that all the stories are stand-alone and that reading order doesn’t matter. Or that there’s a clear chronology and the books are in this order (insert list) but that you don’t have to read them in that order if you don’t want to. That lets the reader make the choice, rather than just having to guess whether the books have no particular order or whether they do but the writer just didn’t think to tell us what it is. :/

    And of course, it’d be great if the publisher would let us know too. I’m particularly annoyed with Jim Butcher’s publisher (Roc, I think) for printing “Book One [Two/Three/etc.] of the Dresden Files” on the covers of the first six books — great idea, wonderfully helpful when I’m browsing the bookstore — but from book seven on only printing “A Novel of the Dresden Files” and leaving it to the reader to juggle multiple open books to check the copyright dates and try to figure out which one to buy next. :/ I guess it works in that they got me hooked before phoning it in with a generic line of text instead of the specific numbers, but it’s still annoying. If you go to Jim Butcher’s web site, though, right there at the top are all the books, in order. Good writer! [gives cookie]

    Angie

  11. Perhaps, if you espouse a controversial point of view, you set up a separate web page and blog for it. The number of blogs is infinite; you could set up one for each hobbyhorse you ride. The example might be Joel Rosenberg, who has a page revolving around his fantasy novels, and another entirely different one for his pro-gun advocacy. (This is now public knowledge, since he was recently arrested for carrying a firearm into a courtroom as a political statement.) This at least allows those people who only want to read and talk about his novels to not get sucked into discussions about the Second Amendment, and vice versa.

  12. Angie: it could be that that author has no idea that people have this problem. Have you written to them to ask about that?

    It’s a vexing question, thinking it over, if one has interconnected stuff that ranges all over the place. Like, there’s not only the question of time chronology and publishing chronology, but what if one series is for young adults, and another is adult? Some readers have hissy fits if they try something by an author and encounter bad words and sex, after reading squeaky clean stories for kids. And some get mad if they expect an adult novel with adult complexities and encounter something a little more linear, meant for a younger audience.

  13. I started blogging, less as a way to tout myself (because really: who cares?) than as a way to have a social life. Writing is such an isolated business, and we’d moved to a city where I didn’t know much of anyone, and it was a way to keep in touch with friends back east. And then I started making new friends (who would have included in their SF predictions half a century ago that one regular feature of our world would be people meeting each other in this entirely electronic way?).

    And because I write, I tend to blog about writing. In the same way I blog about parenting, and cake making, and dog walking–all the things that I’m involved in. I get political only on occasion–not because I’m not interested in politics but because I am deeply aware of how much I don’t know.

    And sometimes, because some people find me because they like my work, I’ll post something about a publication or an event in my professional life. Because I’m involved in that, too.

  14. Indeed they do. They can make me more interested in a writer’s work or put me off them completely, depending on how they come across – that depends of course on there actually being personal commentary on the blog and not just book news posts or factual descriptions of characters or whatever else has to do with the craft side of it.

  15. I think it would be pretty arrogant for a reader to think that an author owes anybody anything.

    But I do think that blogs are a nice way to connect and having a second-level connection with the producer of a book strengthens the bond while reading it. One of the things I worry about moving to ebooks is losing the physical connection with the thing I’m reading. I wonder if that can be filled somewhat by a perceived relational connection from blogging writers?

    I have certainly bought books I wouldn’t have thought to otherwise simply because I’d been following an author’s blog. I have not yet been turned off authors because of blogging; however, I have found myself re-evaluating the writing of someone who used to be my favorite author because of his articles and interviews, so I’m not sure I see the difference, except perhaps volume. If the fear is that you might turn someone off by blogging, you probably want to stop talking in public altogether. Even a book signing has the potential of being caught on video and spread around.

  16. I don’t think my experience is very representative.

    I seldom wonder if an author even has a blog, much less search for it. Perhaps that’s because most of the authors I read are dead. And anyway, although I use a computer every day, my brain inhabits a pre-computer world. For instance, it still comes as a shock to realize that I can now search online to find out if my favorite childhood authors wrote any more books after I grew up.

    I don’t think I would read (more than once) an author’s blog which existed solely to promote the author’s work. Like Sherwood, there has to be content or discourse — or I’m outta there. (BTW, Sherwood, you have really good content on this blog!)

    Bloggers writing about an author or his work have often caused me to seek out a book. But I can think of only one case where reading an author’s own blog has caused me to get the book: Sexual Authenticity: An Intimate Reflection on Homosexuality and Catholicism by Melinda Selmys. Another blogger had posted a link to one of her posts, and I was so impressed with her writing that I actually bought her book — even though
    it’s not in my usual line. But her blog is definitely content rich and her book just blew me away.

    Sometimes I read an author’s blog even though I never read his books. I happened to stumble across John C. Wright’s blog, and though I’m not a regular reader; I go there whenever I’m in the mood for something amusing and curmudgeonly. But I’ve never read his books and probably won’t. They just don’t sound like my sort of thing.

    A couple of times bloggers whom I was already reading regularly ended up writing a book which I then ordered and read because I already knew I enjoyed his or her writing. But that’s a different sort of case — more like having a good friend write a book which you already know you’re going to like.

    –C.B.

  17. C.B. Yeah, I’ve ordered books because I liked a blogger’s voice, or their view of the world. Thought their fiction might be entertaining.

    Madeleine: me, too. I started blogging because I had no time for socializing (friends having spread into the world, and many more online); talk about what interests me, and if others like it, they comment, and if not, they don’t. Actually, I really love this method of discourse.

    Estara: I don’t think I’ve avoided someone’s work because of their blog, but I guess it could happen!

    Abbot of U: That is a very interesting question, and one I hadn’t thought about. Like Catholic Bibliophagist says, I inhabit a pre-computer brain, which includes books mainly coming from the library. The connection I felt with a physical book felt tied to the library, rather than to a person (maybe that’s one of my motives for wanting a library of my own all my life).

    I do think that such questions as identity and privacy and changing radically. (As they have for the past three centuries.)

  18. I think for me the idea that I can keep a journal, a diary, really, that isn’t all about how much I hate my life, how cruelly I’m treated by parents, my emo-ing over my boyfriend still thrills the heck out of me.

    I get to journal most days about matters of substance, matters that many others also write about, digging into — not my poor widdle feelings that get hurt so easily (and they do!) — but about ideas, what people think, working out what I think — and then more often than I ever thought, it gets turned into what will be published professionally.

    Maybe because it took me so long, blogging, journaling, whatever, makes me feel, well, grown-up? (Um, right. Forget about that business of my poor widdle feelings, OK?)

    Love, c.

  19. Asakiyume, I hear you about the annoyance of series not being labeled clearly. It gets even worse when the titles and covers are all very similar, e.g. with J.D. Robb’s In Death series or Lara Adrian’s Midnight series, because I often can’t tell offhand whether I already own this particular book or not. I usually have a list of books I’m looking for, but sometimes I forget to take it along.

    Sherwood, in several cases of author’s whose views I just couldn’t stomach I was either lukewarm about the books or probably wouldn’t have read them even if I hadn’t known that the writer was a grade A a-hole. But there was one case where I had read and actually enjoyed one of the writer’s books, before I found out the writer was completely deranged. There are also two writers with extremist political views who occasionally post very useful writing advice. In those cases I only click on the “writing” tag on their blogs, so I won’t have to see their political rantings.

    With my own blog, I am a bit careful what I say, because my site and blog are under my full name, e.g. I am very vague about politics, my personal life and my work. I sometimes blog about school, but never about my translation clients because of confidentiality issues. Since I blog in English, my students can’t read my site (unless they are faking their skill level in class) and there’s nothing to see there anyway. And I don’t think potential employers will be put off by my musings about writing, books and pop culture.

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  21. Do writers “owe” their readers an online presence, and interaction? Absolutely not. That being said, as a reader, I enjoy the small glimpses into a favorite writer’s life that a blog provides, and I’m grateful for them. Having that glimpse has actually caused me to buy hardbound books right when they come out as opposed to waiting for the paperback book, and now I think about whether I want to support the writer or the book seller when I consider a buying books second hand. Neither was true before I started reading writer blogs. Concern for my budget has been modified by concern over supporting someone I enjoy, so that they can continue to write, thanks to the blogs.

    Do I worry about blogs taking time that I would rather the writer spend writing? Absolutely. But I appreciate the blogs and cross my fingers that they don’t replace the books.

  22. I don’t know that blogging would replace my writing (every writer’s mileage may vary) only because blogging is about bits of stuff–things that catch my magpie eye, the contents of my day, “Kids and Dogs say the Damnedest Things” stuff. Fiction scratches a whole different category of itches; it may be where I sort out the day-to-day stuff, but the names, places, and realities are so submerged I don’t always know how what I’m writing relates to what I’m living.

  23. Like Cora, I keep politics and personal life out of my blog. It’s mostly about history – Roman and Mediaeval – with the odd writing post, translated poem and such thrown in. Since I write historical fiction, there is a connection to my writing, and should I ever get published, I intend the blog to offer some additonal ‘author’s notes’ and other cool facts, and thus become a marketing tool; the only one I feel comfortable with. Plus it has pics (and I bet half of my followers come for those). 😀 I also blog under my pen name and use a special online persona email in the user profile; you won’t find my real name and my business email online.

    I have read some books because I like the author’s blog, but often it’s the other way round: I like the books and look for an online presence of the author (other than Facebook 😉 ). There is one case where a blog has turned me off. I hadn’t read the author’s books but went to her blog for the writing advices (got the link from someone), only to find a lot of stupid politics among the writing stuff. That turned me off giving her books a try.

  24. Gabriele: I suspect that discussing politics is a sticking point for many people, and yet it seems unfair to say “You shouldn’t discuss politics.” A dilemma.

    Maybe the solution is the different-blogs-for-different-purposes approach.

  25. Gabriele, I call those posts “research fallout”, where I link to or blog about cool stuff I came across while doing research. Those posts may eventually serve as an author’s note or link to further resources later on, but they also are an easy way for me to find the information again, should I need it.

    As for blogging about politics, every writer is a political person, has a right to a political opinion and the right to blog about it. However, they should also be aware that those political postings might turn off some potential readers regardless of where you stand on the political spectrum. BTW, Gabriele, I suspect we’re both thinking of the same blog with pretty good writing advice posts and really out there politics mixed in.

    Frankly, I simply scroll past many political posts on the blogs that I read. I come from a different country than most bloggers I read and some writer’s opinion about the state of the union address simply doesn’t interest me all that much. It’s only when the politics get really intrusive or really extreme that I take note and may be turned off. Anything along the lines of “All muslims/gays/feminists/insert group here is evil” is an instant turn-off, as is constant blather about gun rights, global warming, peak oil and how the world is going to hell in a handbasket.

    As for myself, I choose to be vague about politics, because as a teacher I feel I ought to be neutral and not show a clear bias towards one party or another. I also don’t want political statements to scare off a potential translation client or employer, because the party I am just slamming might be one they are supporting or even a member of. What is more, a relative of mine who shares my last name is a politician and member of a state parliament and I don’t think people who google him and find me (if you only enter our last name, I’m above him in the search results) should see me slamming his politics. Finally, since a lot of my readers are not German, I suppose they couldn’t care less about what I think about the fineries of German politics.

  26. Do they owe the public an online presence ? Not at all. But if they do maintain a blog, I think it only courteous to then respond to the people that drop by. Yes, author blogs definitely have changed how I view an author, both for the better and the worse. One author I had never previously heard of, but was recommended to me, had such a great style and voice and humor in her blog posts that I had to go check out her books, which were fantastic. And a few authors that I liked ok, when I checked out their blogs, I was very put off by the content, their attitudes toward certain ideas and people, etc. and while I have read a few things since, my knowledge of the author’s personality/ projected personality has definitely coloured my view of them. I will say that the ability to send an email or post a message to say “Thanks! I loved your book and I just wanted to let you know how much it meant to me! Oh, and could you just tell me why so and so did such?” is amazing. Being able to enter into a dialogue with an author about their work is, for those of us not privileged to be professional book reviewers, interviewers or other paid members of the media, a delight and an honor that truly is one of the rare things that I appreciate most about our modern age.

  27. Blogs, by and large, are a marketing tool that works on me, as a reader. If I find your blog, and I really feel a personal connection to you, I’m far, far more likely to spend money on your books. (Same goes for if you answer my e-mail — you’re a person, Joe Writer, and I now feel a personal interest in your success!)

    I have encountered author blogs I’m not particularly interested in, or have disagreed strenuously with writers about areas in which they’re writing. One writer who I know is very well respected in some of my circles wrote her thoughts on YA as she was preparing her own YA project, and I was shocked at how much I thought she didn’t *get* what the YA market was about — and how much she wanted that market to conform to her own ideas. Another writer whose books I very much like has completely different politics from my own, though he writes about his ideas in such a way that I always found his entries thoughtful rather than hostile. And yet another writer just bored me with her entries. None of those blogs turned me away from the writers’ works — but I did stop reading their blog entries (even the thoughtful political one, though if I had more time to read blogs, I probably would have kept his).

    So: blogs definitely work in my pro-purchase column and have little effect on my anti-purchase column. Thus, I write a blog, hoping that I’ll have that same effect on some readers myself. 🙂 And if not, well, I’ve made a lot of blog-friends, and I don’t consider that wasted time at all.