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Do Agents and Editors Expect Novelists to Blog?


By Jody Hedlund, @JodyHedlund

How important is blogging for fiction-writers? Many of us are trying to sort out what role—if any—blogging should play in a novelist's career. Just last week I had a post, "Is Blogging a Time-Suck For Writers," which generated some thoughtful discussion about the issue.

During all the debating around cyberland (both on my blog and others), I heard a number of writers say: I'm blogging because agents/editors expect it of us. Or agents/editors still pay attention to whether or not you blog and how many people visit and follow you. Or agents/editors continue to look for a strong online presence when contemplating contracting with an author.

Such statements didn't ring true with me. But instead of writing a post full of my own assumptions, I decided to go directly to the two people who could give me straight answers: my agent Rachelle Gardner, and Dave Long, the senior acquisition editor for my publisher Bethany House.

I wanted to find out if agents/editors really are placing a heavy emphasis on blogging and platform-building for fiction-writers, or if we're worrying needlessly. Are they putting the pressure on writers, or are we putting the pressure on ourselves?

I asked them both the same questions: How much attention do you pay to blogs/platforms of fiction writers? Does it have any bearing on whether you sign on a new author?

Rachelle Gardner's answer:

For fiction authors, I don't take their blog platform into account at all. It really is all about the book, and their overall writing experience and potential. I can help an author build a platform and market their books, and so can the publisher. But I can't really help them write a great book - they need to already be doing that before they come to me. I'll certainly have a discussion with a potential client about the need to participate in promoting their work, and if they don't have a blog, I won't necessarily even try to talk them into starting one. We'll talk about various ways to promote books.

The most important thing for me is the quality and saleability of the book the author is pitching; and I also want to see that it isn't their very first book, that perhaps they've written others (marketable or not) so I'll have confidence they can write more.

Dave Long's answer:

Platform gets thrown around a lot. It’s something we’re aware of, but it’s not #1 on our “needs.” #1 is a great story we believe in, hopefully in a genre we can sell.

That said, we obviously hope for authors who understand and can use social media at least somewhat effectively. Facebook, Twitter, a blog. Something. But for true fiction writers (not music stars “writing” a novel or non-fiction authors “co-writing a novel) platform and brand are almost always going to be built around the books. Stories that deliver, time and again.

It’s tougher and tougher for new writers to find something worthwhile to blog about. There are lots of writing blogs out there and most novelists don’t write fiction that translates easily to a non-fiction oriented blog. So unless an author had a good idea for a new blog, I don’t know that I’d push them that way at the moment. Six years ago? Probably. It’s simply more time intensive than Facebook/Twitter. (This is for new bloggers. If you’ve got something that’s working…that’s a different question.)

I think it’s easy to overstate the impact of an author’s reach though. We can all compare numbers. 3000 friends is obviously better than 50 friends…but once you reach a certain threshold there’s a tendency to plateau. And, perhaps I’m wrong but I don’t know that there’s all that much difference between 2000 or 4000 or 6000 in terms of being able to move a needle. 70,000? Sure. 250,000 contacts? Absolutely. But those numbers are obviously rare.

Again, I’m not dismissing 2000 friends. Or 6000. That’s great. What’s most important is that, authors with the ability/interest find an authentic way to interact with the friends/family/readers who want to engage them. And then hopefully the books deliver and the brand builds and who knows where you’ll end up five books down the road!


A BIG thank you to both Dave and Rachelle for taking the time to enlighten us. I think I can safely summarize both of them by saying, while fiction writers shouldn't ignore social media, they should focus first and foremost on writing great books. 

So, what do you think? Did Rachelle and Dave's answers surprise you? Have you been putting too much pressure on yourself to blog at the expense of writing your books?

*Photo Credit: Flickr foxtongue
 

59 comments:

  1. Thank you so much, Jody, for seeking out both Rachelle's and Dave's input. I've wondered for a while now if we writers were putting the pressure to blog on ourselves and on each other. I think what Dave said is what drives the point home for me: "It’s tougher and tougher for new writers to find something worthwhile to blog about."

    I still love a good blog. So many writers are great at it. But times are so different now than they were a few years ago when I started blogging.

    Thanks, Jody. And thanks, Rachelle and Dave.

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  2. Wow! It's so great to get viewpoints directly from Rachelle Gardner and Dave Long. Thanks, Jody!

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  3. Love this: "authentic way to interact"...it always comes back to that, doesn't it? Well, and of course having a rock solid book.

    ~ Wendy

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  4. Thanks, Jody, for putting in the time to write this excellent post. I found you through blogging, so I know it is a great way for authors to connect with each other and readers. It is reassuring that the powers that be still look for quality work first. But, I can't help believing that they are also looking for someone who is willing to do their own publicity and networking via blogs and social network.

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  5. I used to use Facebook, Twitter, GoodReads, LibraryThing, Blogger - the works. But I felt like I was just wasting my time most days. So I quit Facebook and Twitter and scaled back quite a bit on GoodReads and LibraryThing. However, I love blogging and get a lot of fun out of it. So I stuck with it :)

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  6. Good morning, everyone! Of course, we must remember that these are only the opinions of Dave and Rachelle. They don't speak for the entire publishing industry. But my feeling is that if they aren't putting a lot of stock in a writer's blogging platform, then there are a lot of other agents and editors who feel the same way.

    I think we've learned a lot about blogging over the past few years, namely that on the scale of what helps sell books, it doesn't significantly move the needle. Obviously blogging can still be beneficial. But the most important way for a writer to develop a brand is by writing gripping stories time and again.

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  7. I started blogging back in February and, at the time, I was under the impression that you needed to have a significant blog to get the interest of an agent/editor. I'm not 100% sure where that impression came from, but it was something that made an impact on me. With that said, the more I've learned, the more I'm realizing that at this stage (unpublished) of the game, the most important thing about my blog is connecting with a network of other authors for support. The friendships I've made through my blog have directly influenced my journey - and I know it will continue to do so. Someday, when I'm published, I'm sure that my platform/blog/social media will need to be tweaked to do something more than just connect me with other writers, but, for now, I'm loving the friendships I'm making.

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    1. I don't often comment if I haven't something new to contribute to the conversation, but it was as if you were in my head, Gabrielle! Thank you for putting words to my thoughts. :)

      It's good to get Rachelle and Dave's perspective on this topic and know that the perceived pressure doesn't exist.

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  8. Nice to have this vindication, but I've heard the same thing from top New York agents and editors. I think Dave Long's point is most apt re: social media. Show that you use something "somewhat effectively." Have a footprint on Twitter or FB. You can even have a non-time-sucking blog if you like. But always remember it's the book, the book, the book that is primary for acquisitions. When your media time begins to take away from your writing and learning time, that is the . . .time to cut back on the former.

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    1. Off topic: since you're here, can I just say I love your Plot & Structure book? :-)

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  9. Not surprised - but it makes me feel better about being an "intermittent" blogger.

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  10. Thanks for taking the time to talk to Rachelle and Dave. They both have great perspectives. It was encouraging to know that I don't have to have it all figured out up front. It certainly takes the pressure off.

    It also inspires me to blog around the topic of my book, even if it's not published yet. Does that sound way off base? It may be good practice, at the very least. :)

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    1. Hi Barbara,

      I think blogging around topics in your book would be a good way to interest potential readers. But again, I'd definitely put more investment into your actual book than into blogging at this stage!

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  11. Love this post, Jody! I was definitely under the impression that fiction authors should blog, which is why I started one in the first place. I will say that without my blog, I would not have the connections I have now, though. And to me, that's been very valuable. At this point, I enjoy blogging, so while yes, it takes time, I still feel like I get a lot out of it. But I can also see that it might not be for everyone, and it appears that it doesn't necessarily have to be.

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  12. Jody, I confess I was relieved when I read this and your other article. I like to blog sporadically but definitely not spend a lot of time doing it. After a while, it feels a little like a worthless effort, with so many writer blogs out there. This is why I've chosen to take part of a group blog so the entire responsibility of "entertaining" an audience doesn't fall completely on my shoulders.

    Great post!

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  13. I love this post. I'm a reluctant blogger. I blog, but only when inspired. And if you look at my blog, my inspiration is sporadic, which is fine by me. :)

    xoxo

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  14. I haven't kept a blog in a year. Why? It sucked way too much time out of improving my craft. I enjoy blogging and hope to be able to do it on a more regular basis soon, but for now I'll focus on my quality of writing and maintaining relationships.

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  15. Thank you for sharing Rachelle's and Dave's insights, Jody!

    One of the best takeaways I had from the recent ACFW conference was blogging isn't necessary for fiction writers. I've been beating myself up for not having a quality blog when blogging isn't a high priority for me. I'm so thankful for the friends I've connected with because of blogging and others' blogs, but trying to find my niche has taken time that could be used for writing more novels that earn an income.

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  16. Interesting post, since Chip MacGregor's post was on the importance of social media today (http://www.chipmacgregor.com/blog/marketing-and-platforms/is-social-media-really-all-that-helpful/). I think it's so confusing for newbie authors.

    I think that authors need to have a working knowledge of social media, and at least a website (if not a regular blog) where people can find you. ONCE your book sells, people automatically look for ways to connect with you on the Internet. How disappointing is it if the author is a total enigma?

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    1. Hey Heather -

      I think that's why Jody's comment above is so important. I love Dave and Rachelle's thoughts, but not every editor and agent in the industry shares them. There are some who put more importance on social media (blogging, in particular) and others who don't. That's why there's so much contradicting advice. Everybody has a different opinion on it.

      The one piece of advice you probably will never hear contradiction on is that a great story is most important.

      Love this conversation, Jody!

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    2. Yes, that's so true. To figure out your platform, you need to have your story in place. That way you know your target audience and you can blog to it! Good point, Katie.

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  17. I've been writing/blogging for almost a year and a half and though I enjoy blogging, your article gives me a whole new slant on things. Thanks so much!

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  18. I've only started blogging six months ago so I still enjoy it but at some point I'll probably run out of topics. Unless I start publishing recipes or pictures of my dogs, that is.

    I think it helps if your blog gets comments. Mine doesn't although my stats show there are readers. It can be lonely/boring to feel you are shouting into the wind.

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  19. Honestly, this is the first time I've heard this side of the debate. All I've ever read on other blogs and from different 'experts' is platform, platform, platform. And although I do enjoy reading blogs of my favorite authors and feeling like can get to know them and connect, so to speak, it's nice to hear this take from Rachelle and Dave. As a writer who is not consistent with blogging, it's reassuring!
    Great post!
    Blessings,
    Amy O'Quinn

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  20. I've always blogged for myself rather than industry professionals, but I pretended otherwise for a while. Now I've come around to acknowledging the truth. My blog is completely self-centered. That's a good thing, I suspect, due to the ever-changing tide of traditional publishing (though I'm no longer really in that game, to be honest. I might be again someday, so I try to keep up).

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  21. I didn't know what a "Platform" was until recently. I blog to pay forward what has helped me from other bloggers. Since I started I realized that I am more critical of my writing (which is noticeable in a couple of recent posts). Is it a time sucker for me? I don't feel it is because, to me, it's a learning experience.
    Your post on this is greatly appreciated. It is good to know that the story comes first with publishers and editors and not an online presence.

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  22. I started blogging in 2006 because I love to write and it seemed like a fun and creative way to share appropriate, diary type, thoughts of my daily life. It is a bit like writing song lyrics (which I also used to do) and I am a firm believer that song lyrics, just like a good comedy routine, touch a nerve or strike a note because someone somewhere has felt or experienced the same thing. So, my blog is a way of reaching out and asking; do you feel this too?" The themes I blog about are inevitably the themes that make their way into my novels - all three of them-and into my children's book. You could kind of think of my blog as the story behind the story.
    Cherry Odelberg

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  23. More than anything, this is a relief. I have a huge loyalty to my blog and to my readers, because everything began with Middle Passages. Almost four years later though, I struggle to post because I'm focusing on my writing. For while, blogging WAS my writing, but now, with a second novel in the revision stages, I need to continue to improve my storytelling skills. Thanks for another post that gives me "permission" to do so.

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  24. Platform, schmatform. I agree it's not really about the platform for us fiction writers.

    BUT... I (possibly wrongly, it seems) thought that having a blog was a good way to show an agent or editor my willingness to play along. I thought it gave additional info to them - AND to my readers - about me as a person and a writer. I thought it demonstrated a willingness to participate in my own marketing, evidence that I'm willing to invest my time and effort into carving out a niche for myself in the industry. I thought a blog was a good way to be "available" to them and my tribe - public figure vs. recluse writer, you know?

    I don't love blogging all the time - it often does feel like I'm putting too much effort into it and I'm always having to strive for the right balance there. But I LOVE the people who come and go, who contribute, who guest post, who comment, who ask questions.

    To me, blogging is so much more than just a platform.

    My motto: It doesn't have to be perfect, but it does have to be present.

    Blessings,
    Becky

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  25. Yes, Rachelle and Dave's answers surprised me a little bit but I still think you should have an online presence no matter what genre you write. You gotta brand yourself so people will recognize you. Yep, blogging is more than a platform, it's also where you can make connections. :)

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  26. Jody,
    Your first post about blogging last week resonated with me. Frankly I am struggling to balance blogging and writing and blogging is winning out at this point. Thanks for sharing the comments by Rachelle and David. I truly enjoy blogging, but I am going to have to cut back, because my writing productivity is falling off. Thanks for sharing your wisdom on this subject.

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  27. susannah@susannahscottbooks.comOctober 16, 2012 7:37 PM

    I think this is great validating post, thank you! The other side other is when you spend your time learning storytelling, and you sell, you have to learn social media in a hurry! It is like the argument my moms group used to have about day care sickness, your kids get sick now, or they get sick in kindergarten. Either way they have to build their little systems up. Either way, social media and blogging are a new skill for today's authors. The only choice is, do it now or do it later.

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  28. Thank you, Jody. Your post was most interesting.

    I considered starting a blog recently, but hesitated when I noticed a glut in the market from writers. Currently, I believe a single, dedicated webpage to promote my published work at the appropriate moment might be more useful. Somewhere for readers to find out a little more about the author before (or after) reading the book, without the need to spend time on a regular blog.

    How I got here today shows how important social media has become in general, though. Interestingly, Twitter recommended I follow you and clicking on one of your tweets (I check everyone out before following) led me here, where I found you have Rachelle as your agent. I've subscribed to Rachelle's blog for some time and find her posts helpful and informative. Small world and shrinking fast, I think!

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    1. Glad you found my sight! That's definitely one of the most unique ways I've heard yet! :-)

      And it sounds like you have a good strategy. I do think any writer nearing publication should have an online "office" of some kind to showcase their contact information, books, and a place where readers can go to find out more about them. Whether that ends up being a blog or a website is really up to the author.

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  29. Thanks for this, Jody!! The pressure is off. I've been having trouble blogging again lately due to my health and I've felt like I've been letting that part of my writer life down. It's nice to see agents and editors are in our corners and place the value on a good book foremost.

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  30. Excellent food for thought! Thank you so much for taking the time to arrange and post this. :)

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  31. Interesting post, thanks. I'm a journalist and copywriter who for years has been working on fiction in my spare time. This year I started a blog about my project to try and read a book from every country in the world in 2012 and get the world's readers to help me find and choose the books (http://ayearofreadingtheworld.com/).

    The blog took off and I now have a book deal for the story of the journey. It's not the book I imagined I'd be writing when I finished my Creative Writing MA, but it's going to be so much fun to do and hey, maybe it will pave the way for other books further down the line. I never imagined it would be anything other than a personal project when I started it though.

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  32. I've been blogging for about six years now. I love blogging. It's one of the few marketing/platform things that I do that I feel which I'm "somewhat successful." However, in spite of all my blogging, I still haven't gleaned another book contract (been non-contracted for about 3 years now).

    On the flip side (not sure if this is good or not) when I attend writers' conferences, the editors and agents don't know me because of my books, they know me because of my blog!

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  33. This makes total sense. I think blogging is a great way to connect writers to readers but Twitter and Facebook can do that just as easily. I think blogging is more important for writers looking to land freelance work or new writers to get used to a schedule.

    I enjoy blogging for selfish reasons. I really love the people I meet and have gotten to know through this platform. If it lands me some loyal readers some day, great. I think blogging is a fun way to tell one's personal story vs. anything to do with my fiction. I do like to share tidbits of research or things I've learned along the way as a way of tying in my fiction. I'm no expert so I steer clear of any writing advice.

    I think the biggest mistake some fiction writers make is that they think they HAVE to blog and then their content shows it. If it's not a passion, then they shouldn't do it.

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  34. This post was really helpful. I found you on twitter first and then found this post via Rachelle's blog. A lot of your posts really resonated with me. How do you find the time with 5 children? You are superwoman! With God anything is possible so you're living out those words. I've tweeted this post and I've subscribed so I really look forward to more of your posts, thanks.

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    1. Thanks for stopping by from Rachelle's blog! So glad the post resonated! And yes, somehow I always manage to find the time to get everything done. It's a miracle some days! But by the grace of God! :-)

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  35. Jody, thanks for this and your prior post. I've always followed Rachelle's website - she gives such great advice - so it was great to hear her feedback. For me, I post blogs when they are a positive way for me to connect with fellow writers or maybe to explore an idea that becomes more meaningful to write it out. But the actual fiction comes first. I don't post filler when I have nothing to say, and avoid having it take the place of the important writing. When done in balance, you get the best of both worlds. Clearly a conversation like this one is worth having taken the time to blog for.

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    1. Blogging really does have many benefits. But I agree that the actual fiction writing MUST come first!

      I'm so glad we could all have this discussion too! It's been enlightening! :-)

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  36. THANK YOU!!! I've been agonizing over this questions. I quit blogging a little while ago because I was working so hard but after three years I only had 16 followers. Not encouraging numbers and I didn't feel it was worth it, especially when it took time away from my daughter.
    This helps take the pressure I've been putting on my brain to come up with SOMETHING. Some blog that would get noticed. I've come up with nothing.
    This gives me freedom! Thanks

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    1. Kristen, Yes, definitely take the pressure off yourself. I'm really glad blogging wasn't popular when I was first writing. I don't know if I would have honed my skills or spent the time improving my writing if I'd been distracted by blogging like so many writers are nowadays.

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  37. Jody, So helpful- I'm glad you realized how important this discussion is and that you followed up on it with "professional advice". I enjoy my blog, but plan to establish some boundaries with my time. After reading this post, I'm glad I decided NOT to take the online "platform" course and to focus on my WIP instead! By the way I recently finished Self Editing for Fiction Writers and loved it! On to Plot and Structure!

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    1. Hi Julia, Yes, we don't have to throw out the baby with the bathwater and stop blogging altogether. But we can learn to set boundaries and keep it in proper perspective!

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  38. At first I blogged dutifully because my agent felt it would be useful. Now I blog because it's part of an overall social media plan with my website as the 'hub'. And it's a good place to stash book reviews, and book reviews are a way to thank the authors I've met via social media who have been fun, or helpful. And if nothing else, committing to a blog keeps your writing gears going during times when your creative writing brain goes totally blank!

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  39. wow--thanks jody. this is something i've been stumbling over as a "new" writer. i've never done much with social media other than keep up with bands in town/maintain personal friendships at a distance. now i've got a finished manuscript and very little idea what to do with it. i've never been 'chatty' enough to push out a blog about my own day to day..and i don't even know if that's the right approach to take if i want to use it as a jump-off for this book. at least it's good to know i'm not alone in missing a few pieces of this puzzle.

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  40. Tell the story. Remember, you are not writing a straight article so it's okay if you don't use the inverted pyramid technique.

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  41. Really i appreciate the effort you made to share the knowledge.The topic here i found was really effective to the topic which i was researching for a long time.

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  42. thanks for sharing.

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