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“Connect, Don’t Network”: Author Blog Award Winners Gaiman, Benet on Blogging

By Edward Nawotka

“Use your blog to connect. Use it as you. Don’t ‘network’ or ‘promote.’ Just talk,” says author Neil Gaiman, winner of the Twitter category at the inaugural Author Blog Awards given last month in London. Gaiman is among the most popular authors on Twitter, with 1,467,539 followers as of yesterday, May 3. It should also come as no surprise that Gaiman’s novel American Gods was announced as the first selection for the #1b1t -– that is One Book, One Twitter -– book club starting this week.

Photo: Kimberly Butler

Neil Gaiman (Photo: Kimberly Butler)

Emily Benet, author of Shop Girl Diaries, won the overall award for Best Author Blog and, like Julie Powell of Julie and Julia fame, credits blogging with giving her a writing career. “I wouldn’t be an author right now if it wasn’t for the blog, let alone have an author’s reputation. Salt [the publisher] spotted my blog link on Facebook, so without my blog there would have been no book.” But, emphasizes Benet, “I didn’t start it as a sales tool, I started it because I simply wanted to be read and be entertaining.”

You might think at this point in the history of the Web, even discussing whether or not authors should blog is beyond the point. With some 100 million blogs, micro blogs and forums online, isn’t every author and publisher already active online, blogging and tweeting? No.

According to Sherrie Slopianka, director of Cadyn Development, a company specializing in social media marketing for publishers, only 20% of book publishers have any serious presence in the social media world. “Some of the publishers have Facebook and Twitter icons on their site, but several of the links don’t work. Others have opted not to have social media icons but instead use the words “Follow us on Twitter” in such a small font and the very bottom of their page, that it took me some time to find it.” Missing out on social media networking, in turn, can preclude you from being linked to by the other 100 million sites, 30,000 news sources and other opportunities, says Slopianka.

Despite the opportunities, not every author has a surplus of things to put on a blog, in a tweet and on Facebook, and it’s not unusual to hear an author say they find blogging an extra writing burden. Authors can feel bullied into blogging by their publishers.

Blogging as Personal Development

“It’s much more important to write than to blog, so only blog if it makes you happy and if you have something to say,” says Gaiman.

Benet finds that blogging actually keeps her focused and thinking about her audience. “In practical terms a weekly blog keeps me working on the skill of writing and helps me stay disciplined by being connected with my readers,” she said.

Anna Lewis, founder of UK self-publishing CompletelyNovel.com and co-founder of the Author Blog Awards along with publisher entrepreneur Jon Slack, notes that blogging is, in some ways, self-actualizing.

“Our CompletelyNovel blog is a friendly way of letting people know what we are up to as a company,” she says. “I also write guest posts for other blogs such as PublishingTalk and the BookTrust blog which lets me get in touch with new audiences — often with different perspectives on the subjects that interest me. I’ve been building up relationships with book bloggers over the last couple of years which has proved very valuable, particularly when it comes to getting the word out about events such as the Author Blog Awards.”

As evidence of this, she sites how traffic to the contest site surged, largely powered by blogs. From March 8, the launch of nominations, until April 15, when the shortlist was closed, there were 25,000+ visitors to the Author Blog Awards page, and more than 3,000 people voted on the shortlist, almost all because of social networking.

For his part, Slack –- who is also co-founder of the new South Asia Literary Festival –- points out that the very proliferation of blogs created something of a cacophony trapped inside an echo-chamber. “There are a lot of bloggers and opinions out there and there never seems to be enough time to read them all, or even comment or add my own two pence into the mix,” says Slack. “I tend to like blogs as a way to get a movable snapshot of what is happening across the industry and where. Blogs about digital or e-books or ‘the future of publishing’ have to work harder to be interesting because some times it seems everyone is saying the same things or at least going over the same ground.”

This makes something like the Author Blog Awards all the more important in parsing the “best,” or at the very least, “fan favorites.” Lewis says that her company intends to continue to “highlight the best author blogs by creating an Author Blog Directory.”

Twitter as a Practical Tool

Slack is also a fan of Twitter, which can at times be extremely practical, particularly at book fairs where “it seems like the whole Twitter community of publishers, agents and so on jump to life and all pool in around certain hashtags,” says Slack. “It can be great for working out where everyone is and adding to the general conversation and buzz. Same goes for other big conferences or events particularly when I’m unable to attend as there are always some prolific tweeters out there who fill in the blanks.”

Still, for all the upside of incorporating social networking into your online life, whether you’re an author or a publisher, it’s important to not forget the importance of “old media” -– the newspapers, television and radio -– that remain the gold standard of connecting to an audience.

“While it has increased exponentially the possibilities for connecting with readers, social networking doesn’t necessarily translate into sales,” says Mary Bisbee-Beek, an independent publicist. “Blogging and tweeting is something that makes writers feel as if they are being proactive. If they post on Facebook and tweet like crazy, they feel like they are doing their job. But we need to remember that people reading 140 characters are often sitting on trains and reading their tweet -– they’re not necessarily going to remember to rush off to a bookstore to buy a book, or even get out their Kindle to download one.”

She added, “It’s good to have sound bytes out there, but that’s not a panacea and it’s doesn’t take place of the other stuff, like getting a review or profile in the New York Times.”

All of which takes us back to what Gaiman said at the very beginning: “Connect, don’t network.” The true value of blogging and tweeting has to be more personal and private than in service of pursuing a royalty check.

DISCUSS: Can being a bad blogger hurt an author’s career?

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7 Comments

  1. Posted May 6, 2010 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

    How refreshing to read this. I started a blog to come into the 21st century, but for me it has always been a way to express myself, a way to write short and hopefully meaningful somethings, as opposed to a book, which takes years. My blog is the one time a week I stop and organize myself and look back on what occurred over the week….what in it made meaning in my life….if anything did. My husband lets me rummage through his photography, so I always have a beautiful picture to add. The whole idea of blogging to market myself is just exhausting. After several workshops and conferences on social media, I’m determined to somehow make social media something I work, rather than its working me. And I don’t see how a writer gets a book done if he or she is too involved in social networking…..it’s like this vast, open space that swallows one. If I’m going to be swallowed, let it be by working on my novels.

  2. Posted May 6, 2010 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

    Thinking about your audience, developing your writing skills, and making yourself happy are all excellent motivations to blog. But for a writer I think the best reason to do so is to rid yourself of the melancholic disposition – the affliction of Democritus Junior in Burton’s 1621 The Anatomy of Melancholy, for example, whereby the writer reads and reads and hesitates to put quill to parchment.

    A blog makes it easy to get in the habit of writing regularly with the knowledge that someone will read it, and judge you, but that this will not ruin your life or your intellectual integrity. It also force a writer to develop and release all of those “ideas” that have been stored away for a better day, many of which one finds are not worth getting to in the first place. But some of them will be, and a blog is a fine forum to get a better sense of what works and what does not.

  3. Posted May 6, 2010 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

    Oh, so often I have blogged when I had nothing to say! Like today, for example. I blogged an admission of guilt, a personal glimpse of my life. And it brought more comments than posts I spent more time on in the past (well, I wouldn’t go so far as to say it brought lots of comments, just more than other posts have).

    Your post was very informative and I liked it a lot.

  4. Posted May 9, 2010 at 5:48 pm | Permalink

    I have to disagree with publicist Mary Bisbee-Beek when she says that readers using Facebook/Twitter won’t necessarily remember to rush off to a bookstore to buy a book.

    What, are we in the 1980s?

    If I read a Facebook post or a Tweet that then connects me to a potential book, I can order it instantly from Amazon if I want the print edition, or download it to my Kindle or iPhone for instant gratification. Nearly every book I’ve purchased in the last 6 months was the result of a recommendation that first came to me from a blog, Facebook post, or Tweet.

    Furthermore, reviews or coverage from the so-called “gold standard” are not having the impact they used to — or at the very least, they cannot be depended on to deliver sales. The cultural authority of publications like the New York Times isn’t what it used to be because people find their own community authorities or tastemakers, rather than referring to huge horizontal publication like the NYT.

  5. Posted May 9, 2010 at 6:03 pm | Permalink

    I must disagree with publicist Mary Bisbee-Beek on the likelihood of someone to buy a book after seeing a post or Tweet. They might not remember to rush off to a bookstore or get their Kindle out?

    Are we in the 1980s?

    When you’re already online, you can instantly order any book via Amazon or your preferred online retailer. As far as getting your Kindle out, clearly Mary doesn’t own a Kindle, since you can order a Kindle book directly from Amazon’s site.

    Every book I’ve purchased in the last 6 months has been the result of an online mention (sometimes direct, sometimes in passing), and I haven’t stepped into a bookstore to purchase a book in a year. Why? Because they often don’t have what I’m looking for.

    Is Mary saying that if you see a book mentioned in a review section, you’ll be MORE likely to remember to go out and buy that book? Nonsense.

    Finally, the so-called “gold standard” of traditional media isn’t the clincher it used to be. Cultural authority of these “standards” had diminished as people use their community authorities & tastemakers as the sources of their information and recommendations.

    Are online reviews, blogs, Twitter, and Facebook taking the place of traditional media reviews and recommendations? You better believe it.

  6. Posted May 10, 2010 at 4:11 pm | Permalink

    Neil Gaiman sez: “It’s much more important to write than to blog, so only blog if it makes you happy and if you have something to say,”

    I sez – ‘to blog’ isz no verb use. To write iz to write iz to write. Blog iz BRAND. Publishers NO LIKE. Put all books in KINDLER, burn them before give them away for free. Kindler 4.51, coming soon.

    I write on Blogger. I write poetry, a lot of it and very, very good. Google protects my copyright, and provides me with advertising revenue (I’ve made One dollar and Eighty-Three Cents in three months so far – they pay out @ a hundred bux).

    Who the hades publishes or prints poets, other than vanity presses and poets with publishing-connected families? You know who. No-one, without you seek out an’ kiss the Golden A** or be born cleverly in the right place.

    Don’t give me no H. Pooter. Publishing company ex-husband+The Worst Witch+A team of lawyers and ghostwriters+a signature = just like all the other crappy committee novels that rule the sad-a** roost these days.

    The future is here. Blogging as a slur is a pretty weak slur. I like Gaiman – think he’s excellent, really – but the difference between writing for portfolio and writing for the public is the difference between time wasted and that well spent.

    Ta an g’day –

    PG

  7. Posted May 10, 2010 at 4:15 pm | Permalink

    Also : article enz with: “The true value of blogging and tweeting has to be more personal and private than in service of pursuing a royalty check.”

    The true motives behind this ‘reportage’ emerge clearly from that sentence if you look at it for a while.

    Ta gain –

    PG

7 Trackbacks

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