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

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