Monday, December 04, 2006

Cyber-streaking

Blogging will not make a book, in terms of sales, but it could break it. Authors have far more to lose by blogging than they can gain.

I feel like reposting this post but I’m going to expand on it instead. Look at the things readers said, about what inspired them to try a new author.

How many of them said reading a blog made them check out someone’s book?

Uh, let me give you a hint. Not a single one of them.

I have been blogging for 13 months now. I started for simple reasons. The discipline to write a little something every day. The discipline to write something focused, on one topic, which I hoped would help me improve in the short story department. I’d been working on long form for too long.

And if you look at my hits you can see that some of the same people have been reading my blog all along, or since the very early days. Since I have sitemeter I can monitor that. There are hits that come up on the map that I don’t even need to click on – I know automatically who it is.

And those people… I go and read their blogs. Sometimes I comment. It really depends on how much busy I am, because traveling around to blogs every day is time-consuming.

In fact, I recently compartmentalized all my bookmarked blogs. Some I try to read daily. Some I read 2-3 times per week. Others I have on a weekly reading schedule, with an assigned day, and others are in an “occasional” file – I drop by when time allows. It’s the only way I don’t miss the same blogs again and again.

The thing is, when I go to those blogs I see a lot of familiar names in the comments. People who comment here comment at Anne’s. Stuart, James, Daniel... We’ve all been reading each other’s blogs for months. I comment there, they comment here. I email all of them when the mood/need strikes – all of them have critiqued at least one piece of writing I’ve produced this past year, before it was set upon an unsuspecting public. We aren’t just blog acquaintances – we’re friends.

Blog after blog, a lot of the names I see in the comments are the same. Oh, even here there’s been an evolution over time. Boy Kim hasn’t commented as much since something fantastic happened to him, but he still reads. And we still email. We’ve been friends since before the blog, and will continue to be, even if I ever stop blogging.

Same with Kate. Lord knows my Killer Year cohorts are slamming on book edits, interviews, juggling a myriad of stuff…

I don’t even have the time for blogs that I use to. I try to check in semi-regularly, more to keep tabs on people I know, and I bet that most people who drop by here do so for the same reason.

I must admit that I have had people email and say that they read my blog and like my style and look forward to my book. But those people are few and far between.

What I don’t have any measurement for is how many people drop by and put my name on their mental ”Never Read Anything By Her” list, but I’m willing to bet that for each person who takes an interest in my writing through the blog, there is probably one who is turned off.

I’m not just basing all of this on rampant speculation. I remember at Harrogate in July, so many people said, “I read your blog.” They were authors, interviews, reviewers. Industry people. I hate to say this, but how many books do you think reviewers buy each year? Precious damn few. They get free books.

My point? I’m not selling books here. I’m networking with people in the industry, keeping in touch with friends.

When I was in Edinburgh and someone referenced my blog, cluing me in to the fact that they’d read it, it was the first time I was meeting someone who said they read my blog. And my automatic reaction was that I could stop talking. Anyone who’d read my blog knew what I thought about everything from having curly hair to how much I despise spam. There really wasn’t much for me to say, was there?

I got thinking about all of this because the Chicago Sun-Times ran an interesting article on author blogThe Outfit, which starts:
Should a novelist blog? A few weeks ago local crime novelist Sean Chercover was wrestling with this question, nursing a beer at a downtown bar. "I'm suspicious that a blog sells a lot of books," he says. "I think that the blog helps your publisher to be happy that you're blogging. Publishers want to see writers blog because they think it sells books."

I agree with Sean. Right now, whether or not blogs sell books is the great unknown. Until it’s conclusively proven one way or the other, publishers are happy to see their authors blogging.

It means their authors are working on maintaining a strong internet presence. And with so many other authors blogging, well, nobody wants to take the risk of falling behind if it’s something that works.

The truth is, blogging is an involved process and can be a real distraction from work. Going back to that article in the Chicago Sun-Times, what does Marcus Sakey think about the risks and benefits of blogging? "Any minute you're blogging is a minute you're not writing your book," he says. Still, he adds, blogging is now seen by both writers and publishers as a required part of a writer's efforts to keep his or her name in circulation -- especially since crime writers are usually expected to finish a new novel every year. "There's a little bit of an expectation that we'll maintain an image," he says. "But most of the pressure comes from ourselves. As writers, we're very aware of the odds against us. You're asking yourself, 'Am I out there? Am I blogging? Am I doing enough?' "

Right now, there’s still an idea that blogging is going to boost sales and, as Marcus says, it’s important to keep your name in circulation.

An idea I think some are already starting to abandon as they move on to the next thing. In the past year four bloggers I read regularly have closed shop. Others have taken leave. We assume they’ll be back, but there are no guarantees.

I have sitemeter on my blog. At any point in time I can go and check the hits and see where in the world people are hitting me from, and what’s bringing them. I’ve kept my eye on it and this is what I’ve concluded:

1. The majority of the people who read my blog regularly read my blog regularly. There are the same hits that turn up on the world map on a daily basis, others that drop by every few days, others that drop by every week or so. Many of them I can identify just by looking at the map.
2. A lot of the people who read my blog are friends, like Norby, Boy Kim, Bill Cameron etc. etc. etc. People I interact with outside of blog life. They go through phases commenting, depending on their schedules. Same with me on other blogs.
3. There are people who google my name every day who turn up on my blog.

It’s #3 I find interesting. And it’s also #3 that concerns me.

This might be where some of you would suggest I be less of a smart-mouthed opinionated blogger, but I believe for every person who stumbles across this blog and thinks they’d like to read my book, there are people who stumble across this blog and think they’d never like to meet me.

And I’m not going to change my blogging because of that.

I never started this blog to sell books. In the beginning, I had no book deal anyway. I started it for an outlet, for a reason to write a little something every day in a short, focused piece. I thought it would help me with short stories, because I’d been writing long form for so long.

I believe the blog has helped me do that.

But because I started this before I knew I’d ever get a book published it was not an author blog. It was just me and my life.

And the other thing is, I think that anyone turned off my book by my blog would probably read an interview with me or meet me in person and draw the same conclusion, so really, it isn’t like I lost a sale I might have had. I wasn’t going to get that sale anyway.

Going back to #3 and the fact that people are googling my name, this does lend support to what Marcus referred to, that authors need to have a strong web presence.

This shouldn’t be a news flash, but there are ways to have a strong web presence without blogging and if blogging is something you don’t feel comfortable doing, don’t want to do, or have concerns about, the alternatives are far better.

Google my name. What do you get on the first page?

1. My web site. Good.
2. My blog.
3. My Killer Year profile page.
4. The interview JB Thompson did with me on her blog.
5. A short piece I wrote that’s on Flashing in the Gutters.
6. A story I wrote that’s in Spinetingler (and for heaven’s sake people, stop reading Write to Kill – gawd, that has to be the roughest thing I’ve done...)
7. My blog profile.
8. The interview Julia Buckley did with me on her blog.
9. A link to all of my Killer Year blog posts.
10. Discussion about me on another blog.
11. Comments on my writing on Flashing in the Gutters.
12. Links to interviews I’ve done in Spinetingler.
13. My press page on Killer Year.
14. A blog post I did on the Killer Year blog.
15. My website page about my novel.
16. A mention of me on another blog.
17. The interview Chris Well did with me on his blog.
18. My comments on an author’s forum.

And beyond that there are references to Spinetingler, the In For Questioning blog (new post there, btw), mentions of me on other blogs….

Remove blog and forum commenting, and you have my website, interviews people have done with me, some of my writing that’s online and the Killer Year site.

An author can build a solid web presence without blogging by having an optimized website, submitting reviews/short stories/articles to ezines for publication and linking to those items on their website, doing online interviews and utilizing a newsletter system through their website to update readers and friends about new stories/articles/interviews/reviews that are online.

Every author will make different choices and that’s a good thing. I think that blogging, done poorly, can be incredible harmful. There are some blogs I drop by from time to time, but almost never comment on and I have them filed under ‘occasional’ because the truth is, I don’t find much there of interest to me, and often those bloggers don’t engage the commenters. It was thinking about that that made me realize that most of my blogging time is invested in the community aspect, and if I don’t feel like I can have a dialogue with someone I don’t see the point. I’m not talking about ‘news’ blogs here – strictly author blogs.

You see, it goes back to communication theory for me. What is the difference between a blog and a newsletter? Well, a blog means you come to me, instead of me sending the info to you. Which means you get the updates when you’re ready for them, not when I feel inclined to send them to you. There’s a part of me that really likes that – it isn’t pushy. I make few apologies for what I post here because nobody’s forced to read it.

And if the comments are turned on you have a chance to interact with me about the subject of my post. It doesn’t mean you have to. It doesn’t even mean you should. But you can.

To me, this is just one little “virtual family” – a network of friends using technology to stay in touch.

Biggest thing I worry about now, with the blog, is that there isn’t much more for me to say elsewhere. Like that moment in Edinburgh when I felt like I may as well stop talking, the people who read my blog have heard my crazy stories, they’ve probably had it up to here with my opinions… Why see me on a panel? Why read an interview with me? Don’t you know it all?

Well, okay, you don’t. But the truth is, having a constant regular web presence through a blog means something else. You can always catch up with me. Which means it’s possible for people to get sick of me, or not be too interested when there’s a new feature about me, because they can hear about me any time.

And that, I think, is a real risk of blogging regularly. The only reason I haven’t taken more drastic action is because I’m clinging to the belief (or is it delusion?) that most of the people who come by here are my friends.

Now prove me wrong. How many of you have read a blog and decided to buy a book or try a new author because of it?

And I will read your comments. Right after I wake up properly, which means I'm going back to bed. Evilkev is supremely annoyed at my nightly gymnastics as I do flips and rolls (in other words, toss and turn) all night. If anyone has a cure for insomnia please post that!

35 comments:

Sela Carsen said...

Actually, I have bought a book because of an author's blog. I purchased Lynn Viehl's (PBW) first Darkyn book because I'd read about it on her blog and it sounded just like something I'd enjoy. I'm relieved to say that I *did* enjoy it.

As for the other, blogging may not be so much about huge amounts of publicity, but it's a connection in an otherwise quite lonely profession. I'm not sure how pathetic this is, but most of my friends are online. It's difficult sometimes to find people IRL who share the same interests and struggles.

SAND STORM said...

Well like you I started to establish a bit of a presence and to read and communicate with other unpublished writers. Then I started to get feedback from published authors, editors publishers etc and from their it has kind of snowballed. I soon realized I had to post to keep the interest in my blog at least on someones radar. Now it is both a joy and a pain much like writing. I have met cyber friends from all over the world and to answer your question I have bought many books because of blogs, not so much from author blogs but general Lit/Book blogs. I have (and this may hurt some authors)usually found straight "Author Blogs" to be too much "me me me" in focus and that's a turn off. I much prefer a generalized Lit/Book type blog.
Books I bought becuase of reviews or comments or items mentioned on blogs:
'No Country for old men' Cormac McCarthy I thought it was pretty good.
'Atonement" Ian McEwan I didn't care for it.
'The City of Fallen Angels' John Berendt boring! Loved his "In the Garden of Good and Evil"
'Three Day Road' Joseph Boyden Awesome and disturbing tale of WW1.
There are more but I think we bloggers do find books by reading blogs anyway that's my two bits. Steve

angie said...

I probably wouldn't have picked up Anne Frasier's book if I hadn't been to her blog. I liked her sense of humor & thoughts & picked up Pale Immortal because of that - and I'm glad I did. Same with Cornelia Read's book (not because of her blog, but because of reading her comments on other blogs) and a few others as well. I'm probably an anomaly, but there it is.

I'm with Sela on blogging for community. It's great to see how other writers think and work, not to mention being able to ask questions. Mindy and I talk just about every day - mostly about writing stuff, but family and life stuff, too - and that's all thanks to blogging. And, I guess, thanks to you.

I don't know that blogs are the ultimate marketing tool, but that's not really why I like blogging. It's a great way to keep up with industry stuff & what my blogger buddies are up to. I don't post every day and I don't always comment, but I don't plan on closing up shop any time soon. It's too much fun! For me, that's enough.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Sela, if it's pathetic, then we're in good company!

Sand Storm, yes, same process for me.

You see, I knew as soon as I posted this that I was kidding myself, because I can think of a couple of purchases via blogs. But in the grand scheme, not many.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Well said Angie.

Me personally? The day it becomes something I have to do is the day I shut it down.

Anonymous said...

I just wrote a great long post and darn Blogger Beta wouldn't post it! Let me test this one.

Anonymous said...

Okay, still weeping over my lost content. But it was something like this: I was very resistant to starting a blog. I saw it as "modern," meaning intimidating. But once I started a blog I became something of a blog-a-holic. I have no idea if it affects my book sales (I'm guessing not), but it's something I enjoy.

As a reader I see a blog working as PR in reverse. That is, if I read a writer and loved her/him, I would go to their blog to get MORE of her/him. I would want to experience that person some more, and I would look to the blog/website to provide that. In this case I think it would help sales, because if I liked book one and liked the blog personality, I would certainly buy more books, probably feeling as though I sort of know that author.

Does that make sense? And does anyone else find blogging addictive besides me? It's also a nice way of keeping a record of things--almost like scrapbooking.

Sandra Ruttan said...

I'm trying to post a comment at Patrick's and it's beta blogger and not letting me.

So it must be a beta blogger snafu. Solves all problems indeed!

Anonymous said...

And one last thing--I'm on a panel at Love is Murder about blogging and its relationship to writing/sales. So I'll share any good info I hear there. :)

Sandra Ruttan said...

I definitely think that more and more people are curious about blogging and sales and the impact. I'm with you Julia - I find it addictive. And that can be a problem. The more people I got to know, the more blogs I was visiting, the less time for work. And that's not good.

Plus, I find myself thinking about the 'leave them always wanting more' idea and wondering if I should cut back on the blogging. Now Julia, your blog has a nice balance, because you do interviews on it. And that helps make it be about far more than you.

I suppose the other question is, even if you did buy a book because of a blog, would you have heard about the book anyway? I suppose sometimes yes, sometimes no...

Vincent said...

I've bought a couple of books after reading writers' blogs, though in those cases the writers also threatened me in some fashion if I didn't buy their book. I wouldn't like to speculate on which of those two causes contributed more to the purchase.

JamesO said...

I've bought many books I'd never have considered before because I've encountered their authors through blogs. John Rickards, Ray Banks, Lynn Viehl, Tracy Sharp, Tamara Siler Jones to name just a few. There are more whose books I await eagerly. There are also authors whose books I won't buy, but I don't think it is their blogs, or what they say in them that puts me off, so much as they don't hook me in.

Your blog is interesting and engaging precisely because it is about more than just your author personality. We get to learn about Canadian politics, cats, travel, photography and so much more. What would turn me off an author blog would be an endless round of word counts, descriptions of book tours and research efforts. Anyone who shouts 'look at me I'm wonderful' immediately has me turning away, too.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Vincent, Rickards isn't as scary as he tries to sound. ;)

See now James, that's valuable information. And a lot of people will now link to this comment and say, "See! Blogs sell books!"

I'm finding this fascinating. As to the other comments James, the idea of blogging incessantly about my book would bore me to tears. Sometimes it's nice to hear about major milestones/progress. But a daily recap? Oh dear lord, isn't living it bad enough? Why would I want to subject that on others?

James Goodman said...

Anne Frasier, David Niall Wilson, MJ Rose and Justine Musk are all authors whose books I've purchased as a result of my reading their blog.

Having said that, i DO have a list of authors I will not read because of my experience with their blogs...

John McFetridge said...

There's an article in the current Quill and Quire about author blogs. Everyone seems to be saying the same things. The publishers like them.

The marketing people have convinced us that simply remembering the name (or product) is a big deal. I'm not so sure. Marketing people say a lot of things...

I like to read author blogs. I'm trying it, but I really don't have much to say.

Sandra Ruttan said...

James, tell me this. Which list is longer?

John, we did learn in education, about 8 exposures to long-term memory recall. It is true that hearing about something a few times helps it stick in the head.

But there's also such a thing as hearing about it too much. I'm one of the anti-hype people, in that I haven't read JK Rowling or Dan Brown. The more people stick it in my face, the more likely I am to snub my nose at it.

Sela Carsen said...

I read JK Rowlings to see what the fuss was about. I like the movies better. And I still haven't read Dan Brown.

James Goodman said...

The list of books I've purchased is definately longer. I'm a pretty easy going person, so (without going into specifics) you'd really have to pull some dumb crap to get on the other list. :D

Sandra Ruttan said...

Hmmm. There's a new question. How many times do you say a movie is better than the book? There aren't many I'd say that about, but I can think of a few...

James, it sounds like you're pretty forgiving. But then I have to wonder just what someone did do to turn you off!

James Goodman said...

Let's just say, that in all three cases, there was a degree of rudeness involved that was neither warranted nor necessary...

Eileen said...

Great post. Interesting. Reading blogs has led me to various books that I might not otherwise have noticed. I constantly have a "to read" pile on the go.

Take you for instance. I love a good thriller. Would I have picked your book if I never read your blog? Maybe- I love the cover. On the other hand now there is no question. I'll buy it for sure.

Then there is the hard to count numbers. Assuming I love your book (which I am planning on) I'll tell a bunch of people. They may not come to the blog- but may buy the book.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Ah Eileen, you would turn up, one of the living examples I have of where a blog has won me to a book I plan to buy, because I have yours on my list as well.

Okay, so we all know I'm kidding myself. The blog sells some books.

But as you said, it's the untrackable numbers that are hard to follow. People who hear from another person (who heard from a blog) and on the other hand, people who were turned off an author/book because of a blog.

We're back to square one. Do blogs sell books? Nobody really knows for certain how effective they are, and I suppose it really depends on the blog.

Daniel Hatadi said...

Authors I've read or will read because of their blogs: John Rickards, Olen Steinhauer, Kevin Wignall, Anne Frasier, Steven Torres, J.A. Konrath, David Terrenoire, Charlie Huston, Stuart MacBride, Ray Banks, Duane Swierczynski, Tess Gerritsen, Victor Gischler.

In some of these cases I've scored a free book from the authors (thanks guys!), but the others I've bought. Some I know from forums as well as blogs, but that still means direct sales due to the author's internet presence and, more importantly, my interaction with them.

Part of the reason for me searching out so much crime fiction is because I'm writing it and want to know how other writers do it. But is this behaviour any different from a pure reader and fan of crime fiction? I don't think so.

SAND STORM said...

MJ Rose was looking through the members at Metaxucafe when she came across my blog. She looked up my profile and authors I like and noticed a smaller percentage of woman vs men. She emailed me, we talked and she then sent me a copy of one of her books.No strings attached. From this I reviewed it on my blog, discussed it on other blogs and have purchased two more of her books. I think for an author this is a win win situation as I'm sure others will purchase her books from the review/comments/blogging that this created.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Daniel and Steve, you guys are proving me wrong!

Daniel, I've been reading a wide range for research too. Good for you. I've been trying to remember if I knew you first from blogs, or John's old place. I think MC...

Very interesting story about MJ Rose, Sand Storm. It's definitely one way of reaching an audience.

Daniel Hatadi said...

And that list doesn't even count the people whose books aren't out yet. :)

Sandra, I'm pretty sure it was MC.

John Schramm (John S.) said...

Hi Sandra!

I enjoyed this essay/post. Yeah, it's still unknown, but I agree with you. I blog for fun and for friends. I am actually hoping the book (when and if) will bring more people to the blog.

Anyway, as I was reading your post, I saw this on the sidebar, which struck me as funny because it can be taken two ways.

[1] Short Story: "Fucked Again" by Sandra Ruttan

or ...

[2] Short Story: "Fucked Again by Sandra Ruttan"

Both titles appeal as potentially interesting reading.

Forty_Two said...

I've never bought a book based on what I've read in a weblog.

Jack Ruttan said...

Blogs have turned me onto stuff. I can think of "Fun Home" by Alison Bechdel, and Roy McMurtry's early novel about a writer (title is '404' when I google my mind).

Doing a vanity search doesn't turn up embarassing stuff, but I enjoy commenting too much. I'm also worried that my blog doesn't do a lot. More or less off-the-cuff thoughts, and some of what I was drawing that day, usually while listening to radio, or the commentary tracks and "extras" in DVDs I watch. Meanwhile, my "real" site is languishing: my portfolio isn't updated, and lots of writing projects are waiting. I'm working on strategies to deal with this.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Hey John! Good to see you!

I am not even commenting on the title. Would it be much better if I changed it to "Sandra Ruttan's Fucked Again"? Probably not. No wonder evilkev hates that title!

Although we think our blogs are doing one thing, clearly the blog world disagrees, and the comments suggest blogs are selling books. They're also killing some sales, as has been admitted. But it's interesting.

Daniel, I do think it was MC.

Forty_Two, you prove one side of the equation!

And Jack, you prove the other side!

Really interesting discussion.

Anonymous said...

I'd say that blogs have sold me books, but perhaps more in the sense of blogs talking about and reviewing books that sound interesting to me. However, I have added some authors whose blog I read to my wish list and intend to buy them. I find that if I think the blog is interesting and provoking then there's no reason to think their book would be otherwise. Also, as I become friends with author bloggers, I feel a sense of wanting to support them by buying and reading their book. I have yet to buy an author bloggers book, but mostly because I'm not allowed to buy any more books this year, but I will be in 2007 (isn't that Killer Year's big year?)

Sandra Ruttan said...

Yes Mai Wen - 2007 is the Killer Year. ;)

Patry Francis said...

I read your blog because it's never boring; and that gives me a good indication your book won't be either!

Sandra Ruttan said...

Well Patry... That seems like sound logic to me!

M. G. Tarquini said...

I read your blog because I'm in sheer awe that you find time to post to it everyday.