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Pulling Off (or Putting On?) the Blog Mask

Friday, July 6th, 2012 | Posted by Managing Editor Howard Andrew Jones

bloggingAs I watch the tumbleweeds blow through my official author web site, I sometimes wonder what I can do to increase traffic. Authors are told that regular blog entries generate interest and that we should keep up a regular stream of witty and attention-getting material to get people curious about our writing.

A lot of us can make all sorts of excuses about how we just can’t do that. Let’s face it: writers aren’t that social to begin with, or are busy enough with writing or the rest of our lives that it’s hard to find time to draft blog entries. And some of us aren’t that witty. On the other hand… longest journey, first step, to sell you must reach your market, tough get going, and so on.Which is why I’ve finally just made myself get to it with regularity. I’ve recently gotten comfortable with drafting material that matters to me in a timely manner. I can’t tell how much it matters to anyone else, but my thought is that if I build it, they will come.

Yet as the tumbleweeds roll stately forward, I naturally wonder if there’s something more I can do to draw in readers, which is why a recent post from editor, writer, and friend James Sutter’s recent post over at Ink Punks got me thinking.

Sutter argues that writers should speak their mind; that they shouldn’t be worried about offending readers with their religious or political views. This, he posits, will draw in more fans even if some are turned away, and quite convincingly points out that blogs where nothing is really said are kind of boring. He writes:

In the current era of constant electronic communication, there’s very little barrier between artist and audience. We’re not just readers but fans, and we want to feel personally connected to the people who produce our favorite art. When I read up on an author or actress and find out that she supports a cause I believe in or speaks out against something I abhor, it gives me a little thrill. I want to help her out that much more because I like her as a person, not just as an author.

That feeling of connection is a huge tool in building a following. Selling yourself as edgy, or progressive, or religious, etc. may cost you some potential customers, but as I said before, casual readers aren’t nearly as important as devoted ones.

A comment section further expands the topic with some thoughtful clarifications and caveats.

My feeling is that he’s right on a lot of this, and for the last few days I’ve been trying to decide how it affects my blog philosophy. When our site designer, the talented Leo Grin, started talking to me about a blog for Black Gate, one of the first things I remember deciding was that I didn’t want religious and political debates to take place here. Black Gate should be for a discussion of the fantastic, and even if contributor opinions are colored by our religions and political outlooks I didn’t want to bring those opinions front and center for debate.

shatner-maskI don’t think Sutter’s advocating his approach for a magazine or publisher web site, but I mention the philosophy behind Black Gate blogging because I’ve been wondering if I carried that philosophy over to my own web page, Facebook presence, and public persona. Until now I’ve actually prided myself that someone reading my work or my posts can’t really get a read on my viewpoints because I would rather my fiction be read without any preconceptions about it coming from a right or left wing bias. I want the work to speak for itself.

Yet after reading Sutter’s post, two arguments begin to loom for me: “take your product to the market or it won’t sell” and “draw attention to the product.” I wonder if my own dislike of controversy isn’t coloring my approach. My close friends and family know my opinions on politics and religion, but I can’t see anyone in the wider world taking notice or caring if I loudly declare I’m in favor of gay marriage. Perhaps being more open about who I am and what I believe will draw in readers… but I’d first have to get comfortable with the idea of pulling off the mask a lot of us introverts slip on when we’re out in public. Meet me at a convention and I’ll happily gas on about most of my passions — the writing of Harold Lamb, Leigh Brackett, Robert E. Howard, Fritz Leiber (and so on), the original Star Trek, the craft of writing, the pop gems of Badfinger, the brilliance of the great Carthaginian general Hannibal, the allure of the literature and mythology of the Middle-East, role-playing games, and maybe even how cool my wife and kids are. But unless you know me very well I’m unlikely to debate politics with you. In part that’s because people that love to debate such things inevitably have more recent facts on hand than my brain holds (too many brain cells devoted to remembering theme music to individual scenes in Star Trek episodes, I suppose). But in part, I guess I’m just not that comfortable discussing much of it in public. Maybe that discomfort is part of who I am, and keeping it private IS being true to myself. Should I change that to help sell my work, or slip on a mask and pretend that I’m comfortable putting it all front and center?

I’m not sure what I’ll decide in the end, but James has me thinking, and I’d be curious to hear how others approach their blog life. Do you put on, or take off, a mask when you present yourself to the world? Or are you exactly the same in bits as you are in life?


Howard Andrew Jones is the author of the historical fantasy novels The Desert of Souls, and the forthcoming The Bones of the Old Ones, as well as the related short story collection The Waters of Eternity, and the Paizo Pathfinder novel Plague of Shadows. You can keep up with him at his website, www.howardandrewjones.com, and keep up with him on Twitter or follow his occasional meanderings on Facebook.

12 Comments »

  1. Yes and yes, but speaking your mind, and offering readers a glimpse of the Real You does not automatically equal fiery political posts.
    By carrying on about things that matter to you, no matter what the hell they may be, you are laying down prose that matters.

    I imagine I say this, in part, because I am sick to death of the politization of virtually every conceivable topic on the web.
    It seems that you cannot post a comment approving of a breakfast cereal’s texture without some frothing self-righteous goofball responding that you have thus revealed yourself to be a neo-proto-non-pseudo-communal-federal-reactionist who should be interred at best and shot at worst.
    So I won’t mind if we continue to steer clear of overt politics.

    Comment by John Hocking - July 6, 2012 11:25 am

  2. I think it totally depends upon your market. In SF/F, you can afford to be the most bigoted, idiotic, offensive jerk in the world, so long as your idiotic bigotry is of the left-liberal variety. It’s perfectly fine to hurl death wishes at Orson Scott Card or George Bush and denounce stupid, mouth-breathing God-botherers, but you will be blackballed by most genre publications if you point out something as undeniable as the simple fact that sexual equality has no more material basis in reality than rainbow-farting unicorns.

    (Note: I’m not interested in starting a debate about Card, Bush, equality, or unicorns here, I don’t care if you agree or disagree, it’s just a simple fact.)

    On the other hand, if you come out in favor of gay marriage, child sacrifice, or the Communist Party, you can completely forget about being published in the CBA market, which is considerably larger in dollar terms than the SF/F market even though its media profile is much smaller.

    Now, I say whatever I want because I’ve been careful to always avoid becoming dependent upon anyone who is susceptible to political pressure. Also, I have a sufficiently large audience that publishers come to seek me out… although I’ve had three publishers yank contracts after some executive disapproved of one or another of my political views. Of course, that’s why I always insist upon a clause that assures I get paid if they jerk the contract for any reason, so I don’t mind that sort of thing.

    Of course, Amazon is killing off the gatekeepers, so this would appear to be a problem that will dwindle with time, at least until the same sorts of ideological fascists take over Amazon.

    What most people tend to forget is the Fox factor, which is that in a market dominated by lefties, you can do very well by infuriating them.

    Comment by Theo - July 6, 2012 3:46 pm

  3. HAJ –

    Hola!

    You will never be anything but a mask if you seek other peoples’ advice on ‘whom to be’.

    The most important statement on Stutter’s blogging there is; You Don’t Need Everybody.

    You don’t need Stutter either.

    You don’t need RadiantAbyss either.

    I got a thing you got a thing everybody got a thing.

    Just do YOUR thing.

    You KNOW what it is.

    Fucking do it.

    Comment by RadiantAbyss - July 6, 2012 5:56 pm

  4. Im of mixed feelings about being “controversial” on blogs. To me it seems that way to many people do it simply to get page views (or attaboys from the SF intelligentsia).

    Which brings up an interesting question…

    Is it really controversial to post things that your audience agrees with?

    For example the two “controversial” blogs he mentioned arent really controversial.

    What I mean is sure Wendig swears, but does he ever say anything that is truly controversial? and to me, Griffith seems to play to her crowd…but I am not ardent followers of either so I may be wrong.

    I wonder what he thinks of what happened to Elizabeth Moon when she wondered off the reservation a while back?

    Comment by TW - July 6, 2012 6:03 pm

  5. Hey, Howard!

    Fascinating post, and great question to ask. I try to keep my own blog updated as much as I can. I also avoid putting my political views there (although I might bitch about politics on Facebook every now and then). I think the key to doing a regular blog (for an author) is to make it reflect your personality and show your passions. In your case, my gut says “Don’t talk about that stuff if you’re not comfortable with it.”

    In the case of the Virtual Sanctuary (my blog), I’ve dedicated it to “all things cosmic and earthly”–so it has a philosophical bent to it, but definitely NOT religious. I’m not what you would call “religious”, but I am highly spiritual. (And I don’t want to bash or discredit anyone else’s adherence to any religion.)

    MOST of my posts are simply me talking about what I love: books, comics, music, writing, some tv shows. But the rest of them are my “philosophical posts”, where I offer thought-provoking bits of wisdom that speak to my spiritual take on living and existence. I love the books of Deepak Chopra, and I find a lot of interesting thoughts to share when I see what he’s up to. I’ll also post quotes that I find anywhere else–anytime I find a quote that really speaks to truth or human nature, I usually rush to get it on my blog, with some kind of accompanying “cosmic” artwork.

    My one big rule is that I won’t blog about books and other works of art that I hate. If it don’t like something, I don’t write about it. I’m not in the business of making enemies–and I’m not a reviewer who gets paid to tear apart others’ creations. I also truly believe that all art is subjective–something I loathe may be someone else’s treasure. So my approach is to feature on my little corner of the web only the stuff that I think is great. I also try to avoid reviewing the work of friends and associates, but sometimes I can’t help myself.

    A mix of “my favorite things” and “my cosmic philosophy” is the heart of my blog. No religion, no politics, but a lot of passion about the things I believe in. I don’t know if any of this helps you decide how to approach your own blog, but my nutshell advice is that a blog should reflect the passion and personality of the author (rather than religion and politics). Of course, some people love to argue and engage in controversy, but I’m not one of them. I want readers from all cultures, religions, and political arenas, so I try to make everybody welcome to the Virtual Sanctuary. Cheers!
    http://johnrfultz.wordpress.com/

    Comment by John R. Fultz - July 6, 2012 6:39 pm

  6. These posts are truly thoughtful, and I want to thank you all for your time.

    I guess I should confess that I figured out how I was really going to respond as I was writing the essay, but I decided to finish the thing as I had originally conceived it.

    For better or worse, I just don’t LIKE talking politics or religion in public any more than I like discussing candle making or carpet weaving. I don’t have anything against discussing any of those topics; they just don’t fascinate me, and a lot of people know a lot more about them than I do.

    As Radiant sez — though he would advise not to listen to him, which I rather like — just do your own thing. It’s sound advice. It may be I won’t attract as large an audience but, really, anyone who would be attracted by my posts on religion or politics would likely be disappointed because my historical novels aren’t tracts trumpeting my opinions, and never will be.

    Comment by Managing Editor Howard Andrew Jones - July 6, 2012 10:54 pm

  7. I’ve been told I’m just the same in person as online, which means it was not only weird enough to notice but to comment on.

    But I don’t post about stuff that would draw flames.

    Comment by Mary - July 6, 2012 11:13 pm

  8. I love discussing politics and religion online, as the medium allows for contemplation and research when responding. But since debate of that nature is right below hen’s teeth on the rarity scale, I generally don’t bother.

    Hmmm. Is there a WordPress plug-in that limits participants to one response per week? That might encourage those so inclined to make it a good one while keeping the thoughtless ones down to a dull roar.

    Comment by Jeff Stehman - July 7, 2012 11:01 am

  9. come to think of it — while posting frequently has the biggest impact of things you can control, the best thing for traffic is to be linked by a person who gets lots and lots of traffic.

    Sometimes you even pick up permanent readers that way.

    Comment by Mary - July 7, 2012 12:42 pm

  10. Mary, I’m probably about the same online as I am in person, and I think I’m going to keep it that way.

    Jeff, I have no idea, but I’d be surprised if no one has implemented that idea before. I could see it coming in useful in some places.

    Comment by Managing Editor Howard Andrew Jones - July 8, 2012 4:38 pm

  11. […] a little mulling over the purpose of blogging as promotion, and it provoked some lively discussion. You can find it by clicking here. Cancel […]

    Pingback by Wandering the Web | Howard Andrew Jones - July 10, 2012 8:45 am

  12. […] Pulling-off-or-putting-on-the-blog-mask […]

    Pingback by Black Gate » Blog Archive » The Top 30 Black Gate Posts in July - August 31, 2012 1:53 am


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