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.
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.