Blogging can open up many career paths for writers
by Anne R. Allen
Most people who choose a career in writing first imagine ourselves as novelists or memoirists, not nonfiction writers.
But these days, writers, even novelists, can’t just write books. We need to start “A Multi-Media Author Business.” And that involves writing a lot of nonfiction. Especially on blogs.
Some of the “multi-media” advice is over the top, in my opinion–writers need to eat and sleep and have friends like other people–but I do think starting a blog is a good choice for most authors, even novelists. (Although I don’t think novelists need to blog more than once a week. I’m a big fan of Slow Blogging.)
Since I started blogging nearly eight years ago, I’ve watched a lot of author-bloggers succeed as writers. They may not have had huge success as novelists (although some have). But for all of them, the blog was the first step to a successful career in publishing.
A lot of blogs disappear, of course. Blogging well requires discipline, good 21st century writing skills, and the empathy to understand what your readers want. But if you stick to it, blogging can pay off in major ways.
Author Blogging is different from Business Blogging
I want to make it clear that I’m not talking about business blogging, which is different from author blogging.
Business blogs are about numbers. If bloggers can collect a huge number of subscribers, they get more money from advertisers. Unfortunately this often means the focus is on gaming the system and manipulating people rather than providing good content.
Writing a business blog requires a knowledge of advertising strategies. It involves the specialized art of copywriting. You need to be able to pack a piece with keywords, keep up with search engine algorithm changes, and write click-magnet headers.
Unfortunately, business blog gurus are often bullies. They use “neg” headers like “Your Blog isn’t Making any Money because you’re a Lazy &*##!” or “Why My Blog Makes a Million Dollars a Day and Yours Doesn’t.” Fixing your “problem” involves paying lots of money for a course.
And the pop-ups! There are always dozens of pop-ups—often un-closable—thrown up as a barrier between the reader and the content. These gurus promise blogging will make you a gazillion dollars a year if you just take their overpriced courses (and find out how to close those 752 popups.) Very few “graduates” make that money back. The “hacks” they teach are usually out of date and can drive away readers rather than attract them.
Their blogging books litter Amazon, and many authors pick up the books thinking they are what blogging is about.
The aggressive blogger image dominates social media as well. A few months ago, I tried to start a Pinterest board for blogs. But I couldn’t find one blogging “pin” that was about writing good content. They were all about aggressive sales techniques, gaming the system, and manipulating readers. I deleted my board.
Authors who hire aggressive business bloggers to set up their blogs are often hurting their careers. Bully-marketing doesn’t sell books the way it sells overpriced blogging courses.
We’re writers. We can do our own blogging—with better results.
Author Blogging Can be a Stepping Stone
Sometimes I think author-blogs need an entirely different name from “blog” since the aggressive business bloggers have given the medium a bad name.
An author blog is like a discreet ad in The New Yorker as opposed to a used car dealer’s late-night TV screamer.
Author blogs only need to appeal to a target readership, not vast hordes of consumers. Author blogs should be readable, friendly, and entertaining–not an advertising machine. They don’t make money directly. Instead they provide a platform for your writing and a way to communicate with readers and fellow writers.
In my own little corner of the blogosphere, I’ve watched many authors find success through this kind of blogging.
Here are some tips about what an author might blog about.
Good stuff often happens when writers take a different path from the one they started on: that Blog–Agent–Book Deal–Fame-and-Fortune path most of us fantasize about when we begin to write.
Seven or eight years ago, I made friends with a lot of newbie author-bloggers who were all trying to get the attention of agents and publishers. A lot of us were using our blogs to track our journeys to publication, so we visited each other’s blogs for industry information and also mutual support and friendship.
Then the Kindle Revolution happened, and I lost track of a lot of my blogger friends as I spent 18-hour days publishing ten books with two digital publishers as well as keeping this blog going. (Including a disastrous year of trying to turn this into a money-making business blog that nearly killed me as well as the blog.)
But recently I’ve been seeking out some of my old blog-friends. Seeing the paths they’ve taken has been fascinating. A bunch have disappeared from the blogosphere, but others have used their blogs as stepping stones to great careers—not necessarily the careers they’d planned, but creative, fulfilling ones.
So do think about the paths available to you as you decide whether or not to start a blog (or lament that your blog doesn’t seem to be doing you any good.)
Magazine Features Writer
One writer who was a helpful source of information about social media didn’t land an agent, or even finish her novel.
But she got a paying gig for a magazine as an expert in social media. That led to jobs at other magazines.
Now she’s a successful advice columnist with a big following.
I’m sure she’s still got that novel in her files, but now she has a great writing gig that doesn’t involve agents, rejections or the hassles of self-publishing.
Other book bloggers have found regular gigs as reviewers or freelance writing work with high-paying magazines.
Blogging is a great way to show off your writing chops no matter what the subject matter.
At least two of the bloggers I met early on are now successful literary agents. They started with book blogs that specialized in reviews. They became well known for careful, unbiased reviews, and eventually were approached by agents looking for interns.
After an apprenticeship, both of them were made full-time agents. One has recently opened her own agency.
All from a little blog.
I have at least three friends who have been invited to edit new online journals or literary magazines because the founder of the journal or company that owned the magazine admired their blogs.
If you write and curate good content, people notice.
Freelance Book Editor
Some writers offered a wealth of craft tips and editing information on their early blogs. I know of several who were asked for beta reading help and then decided to hang out their shingles as editors.
Several of my old blogger friends are doing very well with these businesses. Their blogs gave them the cred they needed to establish themselves as professionals and provided a ready-made client list.
A number of writer-bloggers I know had artistic backgrounds, so when they decided to join the indie publishing revolution, they designed their own covers.
Then they found that they could make good money designing covers for other indie authors. Most are still writing, but their cover design businesses allowed them to quit the day job.
A lot of indies don’t have the skills to format their own e-books or POD files. Some tech-savvy authors found that formatting books paid more than writing them. They now have thriving formatting businesses.
Some author-bloggers discover they like this nonfiction-writing thing. Even though they started out writing fiction, writing nonfiction for a blog every week brought out their nonfiction talents.
They got into the short, informal essay format that the Web craves.
So they put the novels aside to write nonfiction books, articles, and web content on the subjects addressed in their blogs.
Slowly they became established experts. Now not only are they selling lots of nonfiction books, but they’re in demand as public speakers who command big fees.
Several of my early blogging friends are now publishers in their own right. They may have started a publishing business to publish their own books and then branched out and started soliciting submissions.
Others decided they’d seen too many great writers in their genre get stuck in the slush pile and decided to start a genre-specific small press.
Now they’ve got successful businesses.
Bestselling Indie Author
Many of my blogpals went the indie route while the rest of us were still on the query-go-round with agents.
Some went on to hit the USA Today and NYT bestseller lists. Yes, it does happen.
Traditionally Published Author
I don’t want to leave out the ones who did follow that path the rest of us were all trying to find. A bunch of my blog-friends got offers of representation because of their blogs.
Not because they posted their WIPs and waited for an agent to show up with an offer of representation. That doesn’t happen.
But they used their blogs for networking.
One was friendly with a blogger who became a literary agent. Another often visited a literary agent’s blog and her query got noticed because the agent remembered her. Another had a publishing industry blog that agents often visited, so the agent knew her name.
The most successful authors of all are the ones who started indie and got picked up by one of Amazon’s imprints (which are sometimes listed as “indie” but are really trad-pub.) These authors used social media, including blogs, to create the kind of big platform that gets the attention of Amazon. These are the authors who are buying luxury cars and houses with cash.
Not every author needs to blog, but blogging can help your career in unexpected ways. Here are some good reasons to blog, and some bad ones.
These are only a few of the paths where a blog can lead. I’d love to hear about more from readers.
by Anne R. Allen (@annerallen) June 18, 2017
If you know of more blogger success stories, please put them in the comments! Do you have friends who have launched a successful career with a blog? Do you have a blog that has led you in a direction you didn’t expect?
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