As 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.
I 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.