I swear this is going to be my last TOC 2008-related post*. There is one more topic that has been rattling around BSHQ and, well, it’s time to get it out in the open. Blogging. It’s good, it’s bad, it’s ugly, and it’so misunderstood. We need have some frank discussion.
There is no such thing as a blogging imperative
Scott Karp, during the “Blogs as Books, Books as Blogs” session, made a comment that, sadly, was overshadowed by the bizarre twists and turns the discussion took. As a starting point, I want to highlight what he said: blogging systems are basically content management systems. Or, if you will, a blogging system — WordPress, TypePad/MovableType, Blogger — is an efficient way to publish content on the Web. Keep this thought in mind.
In the minds of many, however, blogging is this messy, post every day, create bad content sort of enterprise. Yes, blogging — weblogs — started life as a sort of online diary, but, wow, if you’re still seeing blogs in that way, I have to introduce you to the 21st century. Blogging is so much more. This is that good, bad, ugly, and misunderstood thing.
There is much angst, sturm, and whatnot about blogging. Authors say, “Everyone else is doing it, so should I.” Publishers hold meetings where someone says, “We really need to start a blog.” Booksellers think, “Maybe I should, but how?”
There is no such thing as a blogging imperative. In fact, after long consideration, I believe that most authors should not blog, especially if they’re accepting the messy diarist definition of blogging. Sad truth: most people are not good at writing about daily trials and tribulations with wit, verve, and voice. It’s hard work, and for many authors, it’s the opposite of what they prefer to write. Good blogging is good writing, but not everyone can or should do it.
Sharp readers will immediately seize upon my apparent contradiction. Surely I have been on the blogging stump for years.
No contradiction here — I have never been in favor of bad blogging. I think a poorly written and executed blog reflects very badly on authors. Lordy, if I can’t read your blog without cringing, there’s no way I’m going to dip into your fiction. Those authors who move fluidly between the short-form writing of blogs and long-form fiction are rare and to be celebrated. Champagne for all!
So we have this weird middle ground where blogs are bad but blogging systems are good. This is where Scott Karp was headed and gets back to my favorite aphorism: the blog is not the territory. Or, maybe, not all blogs are the same. Rather than jumping desperately onto the blogging bandwagon, I think authors and publishers and booksellers should be looking at the features these systems offer and using them to maximize their online presence. Stop with the bad blogging and start with the good blogging.
I have the dubious privilege of visiting a lot of author websites on a regular basis. As with author blogs, the average author-oriented website is very bad. Perhaps this is the nature of the beast. I like to think not, but time has not proven me wrong. For a large group of authors, there is a false attempt to create a homey, cozy atmosphere, a sense that there you are visiting their virtual homes (I am, by the way, declaring a ban on American authors who invite me to sit down and have a “cuppa” while I’m cruising through their websites).
The problem is these sites are often the least hospitable venues on the planet (what does that say about your physical home, you have to ask). Horrible, ugly design. Out-of-date content. Information that is remarkably uninformative — my gosh, is it so hard for authors to provide more depth and thought about their books? If I wanted a regurgitation of cover copy, I might as well hang out at Amazon.
Blogging systems such as WordPress allow people to create a mix of static pages, dynamic content (posts or the ear-cringing “blogs”), content containers (places on a page that house specific content), and — hold your excitement — well-designed sites. And I’m just typing off the top of my head. These systems offer so much and are so sadly underutilized.
Focusing still on authors (the other groups, while worthy of my time and love, different needs), you can see how a good back-end system gives you the ability to add and change content on your website without a whole lot of technical skill (and, bonus!, no need to pay a third party to manage minor site updates. Man, I hate that there are authors out there who pay good money to have a site with X-number of “pages” or to add information about a new release. Old-fashioned web development required a certain level of technical expertise. New-fashioned web technologies mask the HTML-goobledygook.
Having a good system to manage the content creates a lovely sort of flexibility for authors. So you’re just wanting to post brief items, a few sentences worth. Go for it. Maybe you are a daily diarist. If you are, then you are. Don’t fight your nature. If you’re the type who think essays are just nifty, nobody’s stopping you from a longer-form writing. And if you want to go even longer than the point where you move past essay into a paper, indulge.
Or mix it up. Stop thinking of blogs as this one thing and start thinking of blogs as the tool you need to accomplish your goals. It’s your career, you know, and you have the power to make sure you’re creating the right impression when people seek and find you.
* – Probably a lie, but let’s pretend.