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Is Blogging a Time-Suck for Writers?

By Jody Hedlund, @JodyHedlund

Last week my agent, Rachelle Gardner, had a post called "Who Needs a Platform?" After reading the post, I glanced at the first comment and was surprised to see James Scott Bell's name there.

Since Bell is someone I really admire and whose writing craft books I've devoured, I had to read his comment regarding building a platform. Of what he said, this stood out: "Don’t pressure new fiction writers to be doing all those things that were fashionable in 2007. Especially starting a blog, which is the biggest time suck for the smallest return known to man. Encourage them to work at their craft and publish." (Emphasis mine)

(Sidenote: Notice Bell said fiction writers. Platform-building and blogging for non-fiction writers is an entirely different topic and is of much greater importance. This post is geared to fiction-writers.)

To be honest, I was taken aback by Bell's comment. But he definitely gave me food for thought. It led me to re-read a post I wrote this past summer: Does Social Media Really Help With Success?

I said this: "In all the social media hype over the past couple years, have we elevated its importance too high? Does social media really give a boost to an author's sales, land them on best seller lists, get them bigger publishing deals, or turn them into national celebrities? After several years and several books, I've decided that even though my social media presence is fairly strong, it has NOT been the most significant factor in my success."

So on the one hand, I tend to agree with Bell's comment. We shouldn't be laying such a heavy burden on fiction writers with social media, that writing excellent fiction is what builds the brand of a novelist.

On the other hand, I'm not sure I agree that blogging is "the biggest time suck for the smallest return known to man." Even if blogging hasn't been the most significant factor in my success, it has benefited my writing career in many ways. I can't easily quantify all of the ways, but I wouldn't be where I'm at without it.

But . . . I can definitely understand why Bell says blogging can be a time suck. I've been blogging for three years. And during that time, I've gone through several phases: 

1. Eager, excited beginning blogger who spends way too much time crafting blog posts and blog-hopping in order to build a following.

2. Burned-out blogger who realizes she's spending too much time on blogging at the expense of real writing time and other responsibilities, who then cuts back to a more manageable level.

3. Seasoned, realistic blogger who understands that consistent blogging is a lot of work, but cuts back again to find a balance in blogging so that the output in time equals the returns.

Let me repeat that last line, because ultimately I think it's a wise approach for fiction writers: Find a balance in blogging so that the output in time equals the returns. I actually think it's a good approach for all social media, but particularly for blogging.

Why spend hours and hours on something that isn't moving your career forward? On the other hand, for those who've found a niche and have an easier time building a following, the returns might be greater.

The bottom line is that the "returns" are going to look different for fiction writers depending on how we define it.

For some, the benefits of blogging are the relationships they build with other writers, because let's face it, most of us don't have real life friends who "get" our passion for writing.

For others, the return in blogging is in learning more about writing, networking with other writers (which could open doors), developing influencers, or gaining industry savvy.

Still others want to see increased sales as a direct result of blogging. They look closely at their statistics and how they can tempt visitors into buying their books. And by guest posting and doing interviews, they generate buzz for their book that wouldn't happen otherwise.

All of us have different reasons for blogging, derive varying benefits, and usually have a mixture of reasons for doing it. 

But the truth is, we can't spend more time on blogging than we're getting out of it. We have to keep it in its proper place in the scope of the writing life, otherwise it truly will become a time suck with little return value.

I continually evaluate the returns I'm getting out of blogging and weighing it against how much time I'm devoting. Even now after three years, I keep asking myself, is the amount of time I spend on blogging worth the effort?

Ultimately, we have to keep our stories the number one priority. Because for fiction writers, our books are what build our platforms. Slowly, over time, one good book after another is what helps our names and readerships to grow.

So, keep blogging in its proper place. And keep the main thing (writing), the main thing.

What do you think about Bell's comment? Do you agree that blogging is a big time suck with little returns? Or do you think that fiction writers can benefit from blogging? 


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