What Should Authors Blog About?

Wesley Fryer / via Flickr

Wesley Fryer / via Flickr

The chain of events goes something like this:

  1. An author’s book nears its publication date (or perhaps the author is attempting to secure a traditional book deal). She knows she needs to market and promote the book and/or build a platform.
  2. She finds (or hears) advice that blogging is a good way to accomplish #1.
  3. She wonders: What do I blog about?

My unproven theory: We have many authors blogging poorly because of this series of events.

It’s not dissimilar to authors ending up on Twitter or creating a Facebook page that ultimately fails to engage readers or sell books.

But then why do we hear all the time that these are good marketing practices?

Because it’s true that blogging is a very effective marketing tool, when done well. I started blogging (in 2008) because it seemed like a fun creative outlet—a practice that would build discipline and better engagement with my community. Nearly 7 years later, blogging acts as the core of my platform and has largely made it possible for me to be a full-time entrepreneur.

So I’m not down on blogging, at least for myself. But I was willing to put in 7 years of effort, and I also improved as I went along. My best blog posts didn’t start appearing until roughly 2011-2012.

You can be a quicker study that I was and be a lot more strategic. (See Chris Guillebeau for an example and excellent how-to guide.) Unfortunately, many authors pursue blogging without any understanding of the medium, and also as little more than a means to an end.

Meaningful blogging requires patience and persistence, as well as a willingness to learn what comprises good, compelling online-driven or online-only writing. It’s not the same as writing for formal publication or in other genres/mediums—or even for websites other than your own.

I’m writing this long preface in response to the question “What do I blog about?” because the first answer may be: If you have to ask, maybe you shouldn’t be blogging. In that, my position is somewhat stubbornly Zen: if the action is too forced or contrived, the blog may be doomed from the start. Or you may not stick with it.

On the other hand, I want to encourage experimentation. If you can approach this because it kind of does sound like fun, then let’s spark your imagination as to what you might blog about.

Here are several models to consider, based on how challenging I think they are (assuming you want your blog to “pay off”).

Easy: The Literary Citizenship Model

If you’re not familiar with literary citizenship, you can read more about my views on it here. It basically means celebrating and bringing attention to authors, writing, and books—the things you presumably love and want to support.

Blogging with the intent to promote literary citizenship opens up a lot of post possibilities, including:

  • Informal book recommendations or reviews
  • Q&As or interviews with people in the community (usually authors)
  • “What I’m Reading Now” types of posts and other “media consumption” lists where you talk about what stuff you’re watching, saving, listening to, collecting, etc.

Key benefits: You’re building a great network of contacts as you build some excellent content at your site. Every author loves to get attention (or find a new fan) for their work.

Where the difficulty lies: Lots of literary citizenship activity exists online, in many forms. To get a large readership will require a unique angle or spin—although this is true of any blogging effort.

Easy-Medium: How-to Model

This is my model. Many seasoned authors have considerable advice and insight for others—and the audience of aspiring writers and established authors is massive. The downside: Connecting with other writers doesn’t necessarily grow your readership; you end up in an echo chamber with other writers.

Key benefits: If you already teach writing or mentor other writers, you probably have some content you can re-purpose to fuel your early blog posts. Initially, you’ll have no shortage of ideas, and your first readers will share your insightful advice on social media and help you build a traffic base.

Where the difficulty lies: In my experience, burn out. After a few years, it’s tough to keep things fresh and interesting. Your readers, as they advance, may also outgrow your blog.

Medium: Behind the Scenes Model

You write about the research, people, news stories, or current events that play a role in the construction of your books or other work. You might also develop competitions and events that focus on reader engagement, such as having readers name your novel’s characters, choose the best cover, etc. Presumably, readers will enjoy knowing more about the context and ideas that affect your writing and being involved in your future work.

Key benefits: For most writers, it feels natural to discuss the things that influence their work, and you will likely uncover and engage your most important fans.

Where the difficulty lies: You may run out of material quickly, and not have a very high frequency of posts. Or you may despise the idea of involving readers in your work.

Difficult: Personal Essay or Daily Life Model

Regardless of genre, some writers write short missives—that can extend into personal essays—that comment on what’s happening day to day or that reflect on their personal life. This could also involve regular posting of specific media, such as photos or videos.

Key benefits: It can be a good creative outlet or practice, especially if you’re committed to blogging on a schedule. Fans of your work may enjoy the intimacy (though some authors prefer to have an air of mystery).

Where the difficulty lies: Not everyone can write entertainingly about themselves (and some don’t want to). For writers who aren’t yet known, it will be hard (if not impossible) to interest other people in the details of your personal life, unless you’re a superlative writer.

This is not an exhaustive list of what you could blog about, but it gives you an idea of the most popular options.

If you’d like more advice on blogging, see the following posts:

Posted in Marketing & Promotion and tagged , , , , , .
Jane Friedman

Jane Friedman

Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in digital media strategy for authors and publishers. She is the co-founder and editor of The Hot Sheet, the essential newsletter on the publishing industry for authors.

In addition to being a columnist for Publishers Weekly, Jane is a professor with The Great Courses, which released her 24-lecture series, How to Publish Your Book. She also has a book forthcoming from the University of Chicago Press, The Business of Being a Writer (March 2018).

Jane speaks regularly at conferences and industry events such as BookExpo America, Digital Book World, and the AWP Conference, and has served on panels with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund. Find out more.

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51 Comments on "What Should Authors Blog About?"

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Anittah Patrick

Jane, in your excellent post regarding how to write a non-memoir nonfiction book proposal, you encourage discussion of an author’s platform in said proposal. For writers interested in writing a non-memoir nonfiction book, it seems that their blog should probably be about the topic of their propose book, yes? If I’m reading this post correctly, the blog for this kind of writer might be a mix of how to and daily life, perhaps, but focused on the topic proposed by the book?

James Scott Bell

Jane, there is one other alternative to fight the burn-out, and that is the group blog, a la Kill Zone or Writer Unboxed. I’ve been doing once-a-week posts for over five years, and still feel great. You have to have good, solid, dependable people on your team, of course. But once that’s in place it can be a great way to cross-pollinate.

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[…] Not sure what to blog about? Here are four common models, their key benefits, and why they might be difficult to pull off.  […]

William Ash
Jane, you said you have spent seven years before your blog allowed you to be self sufficient. Do you mean that has just happened, or was there an earlier tipping point? Would you say this was linear growth? Was there a particular number of page views that seemed to indicate a turning point for you? In my first year of tracking numbers, my growth seems linear with a 1000% annual growth in my first year keeping records–I started last July, but only started collecting data last October, the same month I began blogging five days a week. (But even at… Read more »
Alexandre Mandarino

Great article, thanks. It helped me make some decisions regarding my blog. By the way, do you reckon it’s best to keep the blog at one’s own website or separated from it, on a platform like Tumblr? My site is on Squarespace and many times I crave a more social-oriented platform for blogging, but at the same time I want to keep my website there (I like the designs and easiness of use).

Sherry Carter

Another important focus of a blog is to reflect the passion that drives the writer. My blog expresses my love of God’s Word and my desire to apply it to my life. My goal is that my readers see my heart and are encouraged. When a reader picks up something I write, they already know what to expect.

Karen McCoy

Excellent post. My blog is in the Literary Citizenship camp, and this has inspired me to brainstorm ways to bring in more unique angles.

Carmen Amato

Jane, I liked this rbeakdown. I ahve been maintaining an author blog with weekly posts for nearly 3 years and like you, find it to be the hub of my author platform. But it can be hard for a fiction author to find the right “voice” in a blog and compete for reader attention with all the helpful “how to” blogs out there. My most popular posts have been the ones that illustrate my book and provide those “behind the scenes” glimpses into what inspires me.

Mary Burns
Interesting instalment, Jane. One of your earlier columns inspired me to become more serious about blogging, i.e., to post on a regular schedule for one thing. My blog is a combination of the above. Sometimes I write about writing, but mostly I enjoy the freedom to explore whatever I am thinking about in a given week. “In the Works” has come to seem like the weekly newspaper column I wrote years ago. Often the subject requires light research; always careful writing, so it is good practice. I am amazed by the continuing popularity – that is, relative popularity; I’m not… Read more »
Librarienne

FWIW if any literary writers want to dip their toes into blogging but don’t want to invest just yet in their own site, I would love to have more people join me as contributors on my group blog 🙂 https://twitter.com/Librariennes/status/527634572188864512

Matt Leitzen
Thank you, Jane, for this very informative post. I am a new writer just starting my blog. I was thinking of using my blog as an accountability device, as well as giving my readers (when I get them 🙂 a behind the scenes tour of writing and self – publishing my first book. For example, I would discuss how my characters and plot evolves as I go through my outlining and world building. Does this seem like an achievable plan or am I am being naive in my thinking? Thanks again for your time and all that you do for… Read more »
Janet Singer
Great post, Jane! If I had to point to one thing responsible for the success of my blog, it would be passion. I started blogging almost four years ago to educate people about what obsessive-compulsive disorder really is, and to spread the word that OCD, no matter how sever is treatable. I was on a mission to share my family’s success story in order to give hope to others. I currently receive over 15,000 hits monthly from 166 countries. I worked on my book at the same time, and I’m sure my blog helped me land a publisher. Overcoming OCD:… Read more »
Linda Adams
LOL — I’ve been blogging on the Difficult Model for the last two years. The others failed dismally for me, so much so that at one point I was getting so little interest in the blog that I was beginning to wonder if it was a good use of time. I remember when the non-fiction writers were telling all the fiction writers “Get a platform!” like it was an easy thing. I write fantasy, mystery, science fiction, literary, and anything else I can think of. So it was very frustrating for me. I even took a blogging class where all… Read more »
DavidA
Very helpful, Jane – thanks. I like the analytic approach you take to content. I wonder how many writers are like me, though: people who write fiction and have zero interest in any other form, especially blogging and tweeting. Zero interest equates to zero talent in those forms, I expect. End of marketing career. And what of the pro writers out there (like me) who have no interest in feedback from other writers? I play music and a long time ago I learned that the last person whose opinion you should care about is another musician. And as for blogging… Read more »
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Calum Tingham

Jane,
Thank you for this great blog post. I am new to the blogging community. For me, it’s really a struggle to arrange the information in my head. Ie. What do I write about? Who will read my blog? Etc. Your breakdown into groups and blog types has really helped me and I can see that I will fall more into the “behind the scenes” category. Thank you.

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Judy jenkins

Anything that that would be beneficial to the readers. Judy jenkins, ca

Sophia

I’ve just started my own blog, as I’m trying to get to the point of publishing a book, and this is a good reminder that I’m not doing it just to advertise my stories, but to give readers something in return for the following they might give me. Blogging should be more of a Kantian idea — not using someone merely as a means to an end — than the common idea, which is so often put into practice, that the authour of the blog is a sort of corporation bent on making money off you.

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Sohag Ghosh

Jane,
If an author blogs for other self-published author,should she use two different websites? In my opinion ,having both sections within the same website will leverage my book sales as well as online presence.But I’ve seen authors like Joanna Pen,K.M.Weiland use two different websites. What’s your opinion on this?

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M.J. Piazza

Excellent thoughts. Do you think I could write a blog post from a character’s point of view every once in a while? As if they were writing the blog.

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