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Blogging Advice for Novelists — Dummies’ Edition

Blogging Advice for Novelists — Dummies’ Edition

by Mike Duran · 26 comments

Blogging is hard enough without being a novelist. Unless you’re J.K. Rowling or Stephen King, getting readers to frequent your blog can be quite challenging, especially if you’re doing it to simply pimp your products. Which is why Michael Hyatt developed 13 Blog Post Ideas for Novelists. If you’re a novelist struggling to excavate ideas for blog fodder, Hyatt offers these possibilities:

  1. Excerpts from Your Novel
  2. Backstory of Your Novel
  3. A Behind-the-Scenes Look
  4. “Directors” Notes
  5. Interview with Yourself
  6. Interview with Your Characters
  7. Interview with Other Novelists
  8. Interview with Your Editor
  9. Interview with Marketers
  10. Advice for Other Writers
  11. Common Obstacles
  12. Emotional Challenges
  13. Lessons Learned

Perhaps this is why I don’t follow many author blogs.

Some will see this approach as essential to maintaining blogging tenure and building a fanbase. If that’s you, have at it. However, lists like this tend to feel tiresome. I mean, how many Interviews with Myself can I do before you start thinking of me as narcissistic windbag?

  • I get bored following authors who only talk about writing (especially their own)
  • I get bored talking about writing (especially my own)

I am quickly approaching a decade’s worth of blogging. One of the reasons I’ve made it this long (other than the grace of God) is because I don’t follow advice like that of the above.

That’s not to say it won’t work.

But unless you have a large canon of work to choose from and/or readers find you exceptionally wise or interesting, I don’t see how it can. One exception could be if you’re writing in a niche genre that overlaps with history or the hard sciences. In that sense, topics other than just your stories and characters can be broached. Historical research, scientific studies, medical findings, criminal procedures, etc. Even then, building a steady base of blog readers will require writing about something other than just yourself and your novels.

But this goes against the grain of “industry advice.”

On the one hand, novelist are told by the experts that we need an online presence, a blog being one of them. On the other hand, we’re pressed by time and pressed for ideas. Novelist bloggers are encouraged to find a niche and then mine that audience. And finding your niche means narrowing your subject matter in order to target specific readers. Which is the assumption behind Hyatt’s advice.

Novelists should write about writing novels.

Call me contrarian, but I’ve never been sold on that approach. I read certain author’s blogs because I find the author interesting, knowledgeable, witty, or informative. Or I really love their voice. I rarely read a novelist’s blog to know exhaustively more about themselves and their novels.

There’s only so many Behind the Scenes looks at your novel I can handle. And if you think that Interviews with Your Characters will keep me coming back, think again.

The best advice for novelist bloggers that I can offer is this: Write about something other than yourself and your novels.

Question: Why do you read author blogs? What elements of a novelist’s blog keep you coming back for more?

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{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

Charmaine T. Davis November 18, 2013 at 10:47 AM

Okay, I’ll give the gift of going second…The very few author blogs I read are for writing information that is fresh, innovative and reader-focused–not industry demand-focused. I also read for encouragement and because I like that author’s style. I do not read any other blogs unless I come across them through other media and I only read those if the NONFICTION topic is titillating.

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R.J. Anderson November 18, 2013 at 11:08 AM

To me, author blogs and an author’s work are completely separate things. There are blogs by authors whose books I love, which I don’t read because their blogging “voice” or their personal opinions irritate me and I don’t want to be soured on their books. I also follow many delightful, clever author bloggers whose books I have never read and probably never will, because they simply don’t sound like the kind of thing I would enjoy reading.

Basically, I see little to no connection between blogging and book promotion, unless the book is being promoted by a third and disinterested party whose tastes and judgment I’ve learned to trust, and they describe the book in such a way that I can see it is Relevant To My Interests. I might think an author’s blog is witty and insightful and generally entertaining, but that doesn’t mean I’m necessarily the right audience for their particular brand of fiction. And if all they do is talk about their own books, books I haven’t read or am not a particular fan of, I’m not going to be reading their blog very long.

There is only one exception I can think of to the blog =/= book sales rule for me, and that’s Zoë Marriott, whose blurb and book trailer for her third book made me decide “I NEED THIS BOOK IN MY LIFE RIGHT NOW.” I found that post after following a link of hers from Twitter to an essay on her blog that looked interesting, and decided to read some of her other recent posts as well. So I’m not saying authors can’t or never should talk about their work, to be sure — but I am saying that if they’re only doing it to try and drum up sales, they’re wasting their time.

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R.J. Anderson November 18, 2013 at 11:12 AM

(I have just realized the above comment amounts to a confession that I haven’t read your books, Mike. Which is true, I must shamefacedly admit. But I want to assure you it is not because I lack confidence in your skills as a writer! It’s because I am a total wimp when it comes to horror, which is in no way your fault.)

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Iola November 18, 2013 at 1:10 PM

What RJ Anderson said.

This is one of the few ‘author’ blogs I follow, and I think that’s because you’re not pushing you or your books, but are feeding us interesting ideas. Sometimes I agree with you, sometimes I don’t, but you get me thinking, and your posts are well-written.

I stopped reading Nathan Bransford when he started publishing books. I read Jody Hedlund because she has a good balance between things that interest readers and things that interest writers.

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Heather Day Gilbert November 18, 2013 at 11:28 AM

Mike, this was timely as I’m on a blog “tour” this month, and I realized I’m totally tired of hearing myself blog. HA. Seriously, you can only probe your writing life/personal life/novel so much. I’ve always loved your blog b/c it offered a non-judgmental, thoughtful place to talk about just about everything under the sun.

I’ve tried blogging topically (homeschooling, marriage, parenting), and while it let me share my thoughts and drew in some readers, it wasn’t really “da bomb.” One of the things I’ve enjoyed most in blogging is interviewing authors…but then trendy bloggy advice said no one READS interviews (What? I’m the only nerd who does?).

All in all, I think blog readers want to get to know authors as people, but I never felt they KNEW ME until they read what I write. So I’m a fan of serial novels. I’m a fan of posting sample chaps (if you’re not entering in a contest or on submission). Mostly, I’m a fan of getting your book out and then communicating primarily via shorter blips, like on FB or twitter. Because while blogging is fun and a great way to build a base, when your novel releases, you’ll accumulate new followers. And sometimes all they want to know is when the next novel is releasing, not any other poignant thoughts. Grin.

Basically, Mike, “you’re doing it right,” as they say. I’m just pooping out on blogging at this point. I’m thrilled to be blog touring, don’t get me wrong. I’m blessed, honored, and thrilled. But my own blog is more a home base where people can find out more deets on my book. One thing blogging does teach you is how to be succinct and to the point with your posts–what people will read. And that’s very valuable in any online appearance you make.

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Heather Day Gilbert November 18, 2013 at 11:37 AM

And to make that long answer short–I visit novelists’ blogs who I like personally or whose books I’m in love with. Sometimes I don’t–sometimes I just buy their next books and glance at their website once. But when there’s always content, like here on your blog, I tend to visit more. Or industry insights for me as author. Or personal insights for me as mom/homeschooler/wife.

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ginaburgess November 18, 2013 at 1:31 PM

Hear, here!

I am 100% agreeing with you, Mike. The only author that I read regularly is Randy Ingermanson and that is because his comes to my inbox and is full of tips & discussion that are not only helpful, but often laced with the kind of humor that makes me belly laugh.

I read Rachelle Gardner occasionally, and I used to read Brandilyn Collins religiously as she was writing about her fight with Lyme Disease. But, now I don’t have time to read all the ones like Tim Challies or some of the others like him.

I got into a debate with someone at Mike Hyatt’s blog about whether an author could actually build up a huge following from scratch. I think it is much harder that that fellow thought. He had about a million followers so how could he know what it takes to build a following from scratch? I dared him to start a blog and never, ever mention it at any of this speaking events, and he couldn’t refer to who he really was or his other blogs that were mega hits. (Speaking Events is how Jon Acuff zoomed to the mega followers numbers, not his very well loved book “Stuff Christians Like”). Then I asked him to come back in a month and let us know how many followers he had… . I don’t know how it turned out, except he did not come back in a month crowing about how many followers he had.

John Saddington wrote about geeky things from his software development and built a following of about 100,000, but he writes daily and has been since 2001. Now he interlaces blogs about his family, entrepreneur stuff, project management, and several blogs a week about new gadgets and what not. He still has his followers and then some.

I blog about anything that catches my fancy or makes my blood boil. I do not have a niche blogging, that would bore me to tears. I blog about things I can be passionate about which includes some deep Bible studies, and some short stories, and Christian perspectives of things happening in the news.

I have studied bloggers for my Master’s thesis (which will be published in the Journal of Religion, Media, and Digital Culture next month). I have found that those Christians who blog are motivated by a desire for God to use them and the talent for writing that He gave them to teach and encourage others. There are all kinds of bloggers and all kinds of things blogged about. The perception is that followers seem to be drawn to the personality of the blogger, how they write, and then what they write.

Sorry, this grew into a longer post that I intended, but it is definitely something that I am passionate about, and that I have been studying for a long time now. Just wanted to add my 2 cents :)

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Kat Heckenbach November 18, 2013 at 2:14 PM

There are authors whose books I love, and authors whose blogs I love, and *sometimes* that overlaps. But I definitely don’t want to read just “hey, look at me and my books” all the time, and I loathe writing blogs like that.

Not that I’m a great blogger. My stats aren’t exactly amazing, but I write what I want, when I want, so there is substance to what goes up. It may not be some deep, meaningful article, but even if I’m just posting vacation pictures I do it in such a way that those people who are reading my blog because they are genuinely interested in me will likely enjoy the post. And that’s what I’m going for–being me :).

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Kevin Lucia November 18, 2013 at 3:14 PM

I’ll be honest and say that, as a young and still growing writer, I’m VERY much interested in reading blogs about writing, especially those written by folks who have been there, fighting in the trenches, or folks who have their ear to the pulse of the market.

Honestly, I’m a writing-nerd. I love talking about the craft and listening to folks talk about the craft (this also comes from my teaching background). In a moment of confession also, my favorite blogs of yours, Mike, involve the craft and what you’re doing as a writer. Sadly, those never seem to draw much attention, and sadly, I have very little interest in your controversial blogs.

When he was blogging a lot, Norman Partridge blogged about old Universal horror movies, toys, his “Bradbury Shelves,” his office, his writing method. Honestly, I dig that sort of stuff. Maybe that makes me boring, I don’t know.

My blogging? Whatever is on top of my head at the moment. Sadly – and maybe this is a mistake – I don’t ever take an “audience” into consideration. If I feel like blogging about my family one day, I do it. If I feel like blogging about my inspirations, about the market, about teaching, about writing, about reviews of my work, about worries and anxieties as a writer, I do it. It’s my blog, and I blog about what I want, I guess.

See, I’ve never come to a writer’s work through their blog. It’s the reverse for me. I became interested in Brian Keene and Norman Partridge’s blogs because of their work. Same with you, Mike. To me the blog is like a snapshot of an author’s life, and that’s all. Some of my favorite authors never blog, and that’s fine with me. Leaves them more time to write books so I can read them….

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Kat Heckenbach November 18, 2013 at 3:23 PM

Kevin, I think there is a difference between baring your soul as a writer on your blog (talking about what you’re going through, what you’ve learned, etc.) and posting the newbie-writer posts that reek of Trying to Gain an Audience. And I agree that Mike’s writing craft posts are interesting–but it’s because they fall into that former category. He’s just being honest, being genuine. Your posts are like that, too.

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Kevin Lucia November 18, 2013 at 3:32 PM

Thanks, Kat. That’s always nice to hear….

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Jill November 18, 2013 at 4:08 PM

My favorite bloggers usually talk about whatever’s on their mind. That would be people like Jessica, Jay, Katherine, CathiLyn, yours. As far as why I chose those….I would guess it’s just a personality thing. I like their personalities.

For the record, my memoirs, in which I write about myself, are my most popular blog posts. My stories are my least popular, and everything else is hit or miss. Shrug.

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D.M. Dutcher November 18, 2013 at 4:58 PM

I think it was mostly your writing about Christian fiction as a genre that kept me coming. To find someone not afraid to call the genre out on its negative trends was refreshing, and the way you do so on other social issues is too. I know it may not seem like it on the web, but there’s a tendency for Christians to sweep discussion of tough issues under the rug in the name of harmony, and it creates situations that we all pay for later.

I don’t mind authors writing on their books, but I think given how long it takes to write and publish them that you run out of things to say. Unless you are churning out a book a month or something.

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Shay West November 19, 2013 at 8:37 AM

I think part of the problem is that when writers blog about writing they are engaging other writers NOT readers! Let’s face it, most readers (who aren’t writers) don’t really care about the ins-and-outs of publishing, plot lines, character development, etc. I’m a writer and I don’t care how George RR Martin, Stephen King, etc writes their books. I’d rather know other stuff about them. People are full of so many layers and it’s in these layers that they can bond with readers.

I tend to blog about many things scifi/fantasy that have nothing to do with my books, science and nature (I’m a biology professor), stuff about my crazy cat. The posts I get the most hits on have been ones with me sharing what I’ve gone through with my divorce. Nothing at all to do with my books. Not even close.

I rarely post stuff directly tied to the books unless it’s a cover reveal, book launch announcement, etc. And this goes for FB and Twitter as well. I’d rather chat it up with potential scifi/fantasy readers about other things we have in common: Doctor Who 50th Anniversary show, second Hobbit movie, Leonid meteor shower, favorite movies, etc than spam them wit stuff about my books. I get more satisfactory engagement with them and make social “friends” even of they never buy my books. The funny thing is, when I DO post the occasional tweet or FB post, they are the ones who RT and share.

As writers we have to know our audience. Just because someone reads scifi/fantasy doesn’t mean they care about the writing process. We need to think like readers rather than writers if we’re going to engage our audience

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Matthew Sample II November 19, 2013 at 9:20 AM

Ideas.

If I may be transparent for a second and not offend you, I love your blog but I’m not a horror fan. Thus, while I will probably read some of your fiction at some point in the future, I’m putting it off as long as possible. I don’t want to discover that I don’t like your books, because I really like this blog.

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Jennifer November 19, 2013 at 10:40 AM

Thank you for posting this! Everything I’ve been told thus far is that I need to be blogging about my book or myself. I just can’t do it for the exact reasons you suggest. I feel like everything I write must be God honoring. Talking about myself or what I’ve accomplished doesn’t feel God honoring. I’m sure, at times, it could be. When that happens, I will. And I’m sure a post or two will suffice. Until then, I need to write what He calls me to write. In no way do I judge others. I don’t know what God has called them to do. This is a personal choice. But you’re right. I don’t want to read blogs about books and characters. I want something deeper. Yours is one of the few author blogs I follow for that reason. Thank you for confirming my gut instinct (or perhaps the Holy Spirit).

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Nikole Hahn November 19, 2013 at 10:48 AM

I agree. I like reading relevant and creative posts.

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Erica November 19, 2013 at 6:03 PM

I love when a novelist interviews a character, but my absolute fav which I’ve been noticing is when an author offers a short story that piggybacks the “Real” novel. Either another character’s POV is explored in the short story or another plot element.

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Karen Peters November 22, 2013 at 9:11 AM

What a great idea!

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Karen Peters November 22, 2013 at 9:08 AM

I’ll be blunt: I like blogs that hold my interest. I don’t really care about an author’s family outing to their kid’s soccer game even if pictures are included. And I won’t revisit a blog where the blogger states “my Mom said I should blog so here it is” (this from a grown adult – I swear I am not making this up!). My blog might not interest anyone except Ren Faire types, but then again that is what I am into. I do think this “rule” of “you have to blog often to keep your fan-base” puts undue pressure to produce something/anything but if I don’t feel its an interesting topic, I am unmotivated to write about it. I’d rather do quality than quantity. That said, I do find it unnerving to blog about myself, even if I think someone may benefit from it. But if God leads me to do it, then I will step out of my comfort zone. I surf other blogs, but Mike, yours is the only one I read on a regular basis – because it’s diverse and high-quality, it keeps me coming back for more.

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Heather Day Gilbert November 22, 2013 at 9:27 AM

Karen–just checked out your blog and love it. I can’t figure out how to follow it! But LOVE the l weapons info. I’m a Medieval (Viking) lover myself.

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Karen Peters November 22, 2013 at 10:20 AM

Hi Heather – I just finished reading the beginning of your book “God’s Daughter” on Amazon – no lie! Congratulations on publishing it. I’m gonna have to buy a copy cause you’ve got me hooked. BTW, the seax you mention…one of my characters carries one too! Awesome!

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Heather Day Gilbert November 22, 2013 at 11:07 AM

Karen–SWEET! Yes, I am enamored with that seax. Thanks for reading some of God’s Daughter and hope you’re able to get your copy. Just so you know, the price on the ebook will go up a bit, probably next week, since the softcover is releasing then. Just giving everyone a heads-up! I hope you like it and would love your feedback on the weaponry in the book. Gearing up for book two and it’ll probably be more violent than God’s Daughter, as my MC in this one is a warrior woman, versus a healer woman!

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rich November 30, 2013 at 2:22 PM

“The best advice for novelist bloggers that I can offer is this: Write about something other than yourself and your novels.”

Doesn’t this pretty much contradict 1 through 13?

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Shay West November 30, 2013 at 2:37 PM

Mike is saying he avoids author blogs BECAUSE all they write about is their books or themselves.

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Lyn Perry December 1, 2013 at 3:24 PM

I skim blogs to see what people/friends/fav writers are up to. I don’t care if they blog everyday about their books or if it’s all personal/family stuff or if it’s primarily cultural commentary or a mishmash of everything. Every writer is different, every blogger is different. Own your style and don’t worry if anyone is reading it or not. I sample Mike for hot button issues, I check out Dean Wesley Smith for his daily writing updates, I drop in on others to catch up on inner thoughts and family matters. No one is right, no one is wrong. It’s purely style and I appreciate the variety. I post jokes on FB. People groan, but they miss me when I’m gone. ;) I’ll miss you too. So y’all keep writing what you write.

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