Writers are told so often, and so adamantly, that they need to blog or have an email newsletter that I read countless confused and half-hearted attempts. I fell into that category myself years ago, directionless but feeling like I had to do something.
Unfortunately, doing something can be worse than nothing if it takes time away from more valuable writing and marketing activities. And more often these days, I’m telling writers to stop their blogging activity (and even sometimes their newsletter sending—until they come up with a better strategy). Here are the key reasons why.
The writing amounts to “musings”
Once upon a time, around 2001, blogging was informal and akin to journaling, but those days are long gone. If you’re trying to blog or send an email newsletter with a marketing or platform building effect, random thoughts and ideas you had over breakfast isn’t likely to cut it. Social media is the best place for musings, especially if you’re in the mood for conversation or to compare notes with other people.
Instead, for blogging: Think about the potential value and longevity of the content and why people might be compelled to share it with others. Blog content, despite being free, should offer some of your most iconic and impressive material to be noticed and competitive. Here at my site, you can find such material under the blog tab—you’ll see my “greatest hits” where I give away essential information on the business of publishing. If people enjoy it, they’ll certainly find their way to my books or classes on the topic.
For email newsletters: musings might be acceptable for an intimate audience of fans. Just make sure that it matches your voice and what people come to you for. Which brings me to the next reason blogs/newsletters fail.
The writing is overly informational and without voice
Both blogs and email newsletters excel when there is an identifiable voice behind them or a particular angle or POV offered. My POV here is to educate writers on the business. I’m frank, honest, and don’t hold back on the realities. Other blogs for writers might be more encouraging or inspiring. I err in the opposite direction.
The greatest sin you can commit, unless you are writing entries for Wikipedia, is to simply convey information. There may be a few rare occasions where that is merited, like when you need to offer instructions on how to do something. But otherwise, blogs and newsletters thrive on you creating a connection with the reader. People tend to stick around because they value and want to hear from you.
It took me years to find my voice, and it’s a journey that’s hard to speed up. But here is one secret: envision one person you know well, who you feel comfortable and confident with, that loves to hear from you or learn from you. Write for them to help find your way.
The writing doesn’t consistently connect to current or future work
One author-client of mine has been blogging for years on how to be your best self, then she segued into blogging about racism after George Floyd’s murder. What’s her upcoming book about? A memoir on reciting Kaddish for her father for a full year. It’s a fascinating story, full of internal and external conflict, but her blogging and newsletter effort didn’t connect to it. (For an in-depth look at this case, watch my Business Clinic from last month.)
Sometimes writers cite their own boredom as a reason to write about anything and everything, while others think that any blogging will do, and the topic doesn’t matter. But it does matter because each piece of writing you take time to write and publish creates both an impression and an opportunity. When you add up those impressions over time, you become known for something. You want to be intentional in what you’re getting known for.
If you have little or no consistency in what you’re writing, it’s difficult to create impressions or opportunities around the work you want to be known for—or earn a living from.
For more guidance on writing effective blogs and email newsletters
- How to Start Blogging: A Definitive Guide for Writers
- Email Newsletters for Writers: Get Started Guide
- Blogging Versus Email Newsletter: Which Is Better for Writers?.
Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) has nearly 25 years of experience in the media & publishing industry. She is the publisher of The Hot Sheet, the essential newsletter on the publishing industry for authors, and was named Publishing Commentator of the Year by Digital Book World in 2019.
In addition to being a professor with The Great Courses (How to Publish Your Book), she is the author of The Business of Being a Writer (University of Chicago Press), which received a starred review from Library Journal.
Jane speaks regularly at conferences and industry events such as Digital Book World and Frankfurt Book Fair, and has served on panels with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund. Find out more.