Sunday, September 16, 2012

Writers Blogging About Other Things

Photo of Arborglyphs from Tree and Twig,
To blog or not to blog? That's a question a lot of writers ask, but another question to ask is what to blog about. Blogging about the writing process or books we love is a natural extension of our bookish tendencies, but is it the best way to reach readers?

As in all things, it depends. Many writer and book blogs have strong followings, particularly in YA, and I've found the online community of writers to be a fabulous source of knowledge, community, and support. But why not reach beyond that community to create content related to your book?

I follow a few wonderful, informative blogs that are rarely about writing at all.

Marissa Doyle, author of YA historical fantasy romances BETRAYING SEASON, BEWITCHING SEASON, and the new COURTSHIP AND CURSES (all published by Henry Holt Books for Young Readers), writes the blog Nineteenteen with fellow author Regina Scott about life for a teen in the nineteenth century. It's an invaluable resource for fashions, manners, and customs for a writer or reader of historical fiction.

Dee Garretson, who writes middle-grade adventures WOLF STORM and WILDFIRE RUN (HarperCollins), also does double-duty as a writer of adult historical fiction. On her blog, she writes about topics related to her books -- facts about presidents or Camp David (the setting for WILDFIRE RUN) and other topical tie-ins to her genres. She also maintains, with resources for other MG adventure stories.

Benjamin Martin, author of YA fantasy SAMURAI AWAKENING (coming from Tuttle Publishing in October) blogs at More Things Japanese about Japanese culture, food, politics, and more. His novel, first in a series, is about an American teen who discovers Jitsugen Samurai powers in modern Japan.

I asked them both a few questions about their writing experiences.

How did you decide to create content-based blogs? 

Marissa: I started Nineteenteen along with friend and fellow writer Regina Scott (who writes Regency romance) as a place where we could talk about the interesting little history tidbits we were always turning up when doing research for our books but didn't fit into our WIPs.  After all, you can only cram so many cool history factoids into a work of fiction.
Dee: Out of necessity. I couldn't think of enough posts about writing, plus I knew there were so many writing blogs out there, anything I posted would most likely be lost in the noise. I was also hoping to attract potential readers who are not interested in the writing process.

Benjamin: I had come to Japan teach English and learn more about the history and culture I had learned about at the University of Arizona. I hadn't planned to start writing, but felt there were too many unique experiences to keep to myself. I had a budding interest in photography and food as well so the three new delights came together in the blog. My first post was in 2010, but I only did a few each month. I moved the blog to its own domain and wrote five posts a day for four months starting January of 2012, and it has jumped from 800 views to nearly 30k just this year. For now, MTJ is the non-fiction cousin to Samurai Awakening.
What do you personally get out of it? Is it more fun or more work than writing about writing?
Marissa: Part of why I write historical fiction is because I want to show readers just how fascinating history is--so writing a history blog is just an extension of my sooper sekrit mission to spread history geekiness across the planet.  It's both fun and work--we're just entering our sixth year of blogging, and it's getting harder to find topics to write about than it used to be...and yes, it takes a couple of hours to write each post because it usually involves some research.  But honestly, I wouldn't find it much fun to blog about my writing...I find this much more satisfying personally because I feel I'm offering something useful (at least a little bit) to the world, rather than blog posts about me me me.  Besides, I'm kind of like a centipede when it comes to writing.  You know how you're not supposed to ask a centipede how it walks, because that'll just confuse it and it won't be able to?  Well, that's me.
Dee: It's far more fun than writing about writing. I like odd facts and random bits of information. One of my favorite posts was about all the actors who have played Sherlock Holmes on television and in the movies. I'm both a big fan of Sherlock Holmes and an avid movie watcher, so when I thought of the idea, it seemed a good choice for one of my blogs which I put up for my historical mystery.
Benjamin: I'm not a writing expert. I had never written anything longer than a business plan until I sat down to start working on Samurai Awakening. There are all kinds of writing blogs, but anything I ended up writing (on writing) at the point where I started More Things Japanese would have been of little value to anyone. Why not share what I had learned living on an island with a population of 550 people instead? Personally, it’s a way to give back for the amazing opportunity to live in Japan. I feel strongly about the need to promote cross-cultural understanding and learning, plus it’s just good practice. 
Two years later there are things I could probably share about my experiences writing, but they wouldn't fit. I'll probably get them into bytes at some point, just not on MTJ. 

What kind of practical marketing outcomes have you seen -- exposure, content, sales, etc.?
Marissa: Honestly, I don't know.  We average between 6,000 and 8,000 hits per month, which I suppose isn't bad for a blog that is hardly advertised.  I think, though, that it must be giving us some exposure as people google topics we've blogged about and run across us.  We've also had some well-known historical romance authors ask to guest blog with us...requests we've regretfully had to turn down as we're strict about sticking to a G/PG rating, in light of our target audience.  So someone must have heard of us. 
Dee: I wish I could measure sales, but I haven't been able to tell if any of my posts are making an impact. I have seen from Statcounter that some people who come to one of my blogs because of its content on presidents, do click on information about my middle grade books, so I'm very pleased about that. Both my blogs and my websites have my book covers prominently placed in the sidebar, so people can't help but become more aware of them.

Benjamin: Since my blog is about Japan, and since it’s a way to give back, I don't do any advertising on my sites (I have three now). Just as there are a lot of writing blogs, there are a lot of great Japan blogs too. I try to keep mine original by producing unique posts about what I know, rather than trying to chase a fad. I do link between my sights though. I get a lot of search traffic for people looking for information about Japan. I try to create posts that answer real questions, without being too encyclopedic or too personal. I do include links on the blog to my book, so it is a great for people interested in Japan to find out about Samurai Awakening.
Since SA is out in October it will be some time before we know just how well its going, but it has been fun connecting with other bloggers, and of course new readers.

Inspired, I started a blog called Tree and Twig with photos and links about trees. I'm not an expert, but I've researched the topic for DEADWOOD, my MG novel about a cursed tree, and I might as well share what I've learned for readers, educators, and librarians.

But mostly posting about trees is fun and easy (and I'm pretty silly about it because I especially like trees that look like people if you use your imagination a lot), and it generates an entry point for searches -- people looking for photos of trees or tree carvings might stumble upon the site. They might not turn into readers, but most of them are people who don't dwell in writerly corners of the Internet and would otherwise never have heard of me at all.

So will my tree blog work to reach readers? It's too early to say, but at least it has me paying more attention when I walk around the neighborhood. And it's fun for me, so I might as well keep doing it.

Do you blog about anything besides writing and books? Do you know of other good blogs by writers who blog about other things? Post them here!


  1. I'm taking a workshop on the YA author brand. We came up with author tags and I realized it has nothing to do with my blog. And then I realized my blog tag is out of date. Yes, I talk about writing and photography, but I occasionally talk about other things too (like bullying tomorrow), and I'll continue to talk about other things as the focus of my blog slightly shifts.

    One of my goals is to study the blogs of YA authors and figure out what I like and don't like about their blog content.

    Great post!

  2. First, Kell, I absolutely have to tell you: When I visited England, I came across a tree on Addison's walk that looked SO MUCH like a person. Like Treebeard, in fact. :P It was cool.

    As for the question of whether writers should blog about writing or something unrelated... I think there's an important distinction to be made between an "aspiring writer" blog and an "author" blog. For a while, pre-querying or while a writer is still querying, I think it's important for them to blog about writing as a way to connect with other writers and take full advantage of everything the writer-reader blog community has to offer. That said, I also think that once a writer is agented and/or has a book deal, it makes a lot of sense for them to start a new blog (or shift the content of their "aspiring writer" blog) in order to appeal more directly to their potential audience. It follows logically that a potential audience--unless you're writing a book about writing and nothing else--will be more interested in topics related to your genre, your book, and even your personality than they'll be interested in, say, "How to write a scene."

    *Some* people in a writer's audience may also be aspiring writers, and that (as well as the good will to help out other writers) is the argument for having a tab on the author blog/website for "Aspiring Writers" or linking back to the writing blog if you keep it active.

  3. It's true that it's good to have different information for different audience. I love being part of the writing community! Without my Internet writer friends, I don't think I would have stuck with writing so long. I might have taken my first rejections too hard and not realized how many more I could handle and still be OK.

    Still, I know that I really sweat about finding writing topics -- what do I know about craft??? I feel like a beginner! I think a lot of writers feel like they "should" be doing it, but there's no "should" except what you want to do and can maintain with genuine enthusiasm. I really believe that any online activities -- whether published or pre-published -- ought to be ones that we enjoy. I

  4. Personally, I blog about life. This is what I write about in my fiction, and this is what can be expected from my posts. I'm sure once I have a published novel, it will be different.


  5. It would also be cool to include treeHOUSES in your blog- I've been looking at a lot of them for the new kiddo (granted, it'll be a while before she's old enough for one, but there are some cool ones out there.)

    I blog about writing thrillers, but along those lines, I also like to blog about things related to thrillers, like true crime, funny laws, or things of that nature. For years I wrote a humor blog before my "writer's blog," so I'm really trying now to start melding the two.

  6. Jennifer, I think the personal blog is the original use of blogs! It's time-honored (as far as a blog can be!) and I think readers (especially adult readers) appreciate the personal side of writers -- definitely better than just "buy my book!"

    Colby, I plan to include treehouses as soon as I can make a few field trips.

  7. I blog about my life as a writer working out in the country. I began the blog when we moved from the city and found my passion for writing. So in my case, the writing part of my life came after I began blogging. I tried to maintain the Funny Farm blog and a writing blog, but got the great advice that I did not have to blog about writing to be a writer.

  8. Good Blogs,^^, these.
    I interweave posts about writing and ones about other things. I tag the ones about this-n-that 'the rest.' Not a great tag, but it does describe it.

    Whatever you do, it must work for you as a long-haul journey.


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