Blogging In The 21st Century

February 25th, 2008 · 19 Comments
by Kassia Krozser

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.

File Under: Marketing For Introverts · Perennials

19 responses so far ↓

  • Clive Warner // Feb 25, 2008 at 1:53 pm

    I just wish Blogs would give us the tools to do the job. I have secretly begun writing an online novel (thanks to Kassia’s notes on the tools conference)

    BUT to my annoyance I have found that the medium almost enforces the novel to be in reverse! Other than frigging about with the dates (gah, do I want to do that? Time waster) there is no tool to reverse the date order. Wake up blog software people!

  • Candy // Feb 25, 2008 at 4:42 pm

    bravo! thank you for making this point. blogging is not an imperative and blogs are content management tools! authors who don’t want to blog don’t have to. they would market themselves better by writing the best books they can.

  • Whitney McKnight // Feb 25, 2008 at 4:44 pm

    In the Jan/Feb 08 Columbia Journalism Review, Chris Mooney suggests that a blogger’s union is in order:

    http://www.cjr.org/on_the_job/blogonomics.php

    I wonder how one might “prove” one’s credentials as a ‘true” blogger. I understand Mooney’s POV, primarily that bloggers drive much of the mainstream media’s on-line traffic (and thus, ad rev’s); but, the revolution blogs have brought is that they are for everyone…only, yes, as you say, please participate in style and by truly contributing to the conversation.

    The blogs I won’t even bother with fall along the lines of a teenage prattling into her cell phone… here’s what’s on my ipod, here’s who I’m taking to lunch, here’s why I am so cool…

    Why unionize that?

    As for only blogging when you have something to say…I just picked up my blog again after a two years hiatus. I just didn’t have the time to keep up with it, and I reviled the conventional wisdom that you had to blog–any blog– or else be left behind.

    I would much rather believe that what I have bothered to clatter forth from my keyboard and into the universe is worth both your time as a reader, and my time as the writer, than to waste time on an indulgence or, worse, an obligation.

    Down with fear-based blogging!

    Whitney McKnight
    PS: Mozilla wouldn’t let me post to your site, so fogive if this apepars twice; I went to IE and tried it there.

  • Susan Herriott // Feb 25, 2008 at 8:59 pm

    I just started a blog for my company, Herriott Editorial Services, to archive the information I send to my mailing list. The mailings include details about writing competitions, calls for submissions, book fairs, book awards, and more. I think that using a blog will make it easier for people to revisit information without having to save all those e-mail messages.

    My blog is different from most that I’ve seen . . . I’m very private and don’t necessarily wish to talk about myself or my views. I just want to share information that may be helpful to writers . . . and I think blogging is the most effective way to do that.

    My blog is called “The Write Habit”:
    http://thewritehabit.blogspot.com.

    By the way, I subscribe to and thoroughly enjoy this blog; and I would like to link to some of these posts.

  • Kassia Krozser // Feb 25, 2008 at 9:41 pm

    Whitney — due to evil spammers, I moderate all comments with links. I hate that I have to do that, but, well, I hate the thought of spam on my site. I am all for freedom of speech, just not freedom of spam!

    However, congratulations for forging your own path. I believe you are giving the world a better experience!

  • Kassia Krozser // Feb 25, 2008 at 9:46 pm

    Clive — blogging software does offer this flexibility, but you’re right in noting that it requires a little programming. For better or worse (in your case, we can guess), there are certain mores that indicate that the most recently posted content should have the highest profile on the site. As you can see here, that’s not a rule (The Daily Square doesn’t appear at the top, nor does Quote of the Week).

    Alas, my programming skills are highly limited. I can suggest that, in some cases, archives don’t follow the reverse chronological format. It’s a bit of a kludgy solution — newest content on the home page, linear progression via the archives, but might give you a temporary solution until someone with real skills comments!

  • Martyn Daniels // Feb 26, 2008 at 2:02 am

    The format has always dictated the form of writing or content. The book has for a long time been seen by many as being of a fixed size, containing x number of words and x pages. It has front matter, content and end matter. It has in fact been a straightjacket to creativity in that it has dictated what many write even how they write. Have creators adapted to it? Yes. Have some great works been created in it? Yes.
    Today we are starting to explode the spine and in doing so express ourselves outside of the jacket. Is that wrong or right? Who cares? Creativity and expression is not a book nor is it a blog or anything between. Dickens wrote in instalments and some Japanese authors are doing similar today in their writing for mobiles.
    Is blog software constricting? Does it pass the ‘fit for use’ test? Who cares? Just like all content the slush will sink and the worthy will rise to the top.

  • Diana Hunter // Feb 26, 2008 at 6:22 am

    I’ve pretty much abandoned my blog for several of the reasons you listed. It took too much time to write a good post (and most of what I DID post wasn’t good), it seemed redundant with what I was doing elsewhere, and I really only had one because everyone said I had to (got a MySpace page for the same reason, but came to my senses before I tried to invade Facebook or any of the others).

    Problem is, authors try to do everything in order to get themselves and their books noticed by the buying public, and often end up doing them all badly. I made the decision about a year ago to concentrate on one major avenue of promotion (Second Life) and just send the occasional wave to the others. My life has become simpler and I have more time to do that which I really want to do: write!!!

    So I’ll leave the blogging for those who know what they’re doing…and perhaps, like Whitney, I’ll pick it up again in the future. But for now…lead on, Kassia! I’ll stick with comments on YOUR blog. :)

  • Jim Murdoch // Feb 26, 2008 at 12:04 pm

    I think the most relevant thing in your post, for me at least, was: “Don’t fight your nature.” I read a lot of blogs too but there are only a select few I feel the need to return to. Yours is one. Keep up the good work.

    A few, a very small percentage, present this chatty-smiley face to the world and witter on about where they’ve been and what’ve been doing but in the main they have something to say in addition to this. The smiley-chatty stuff is their way of presenting it and I can cope with that as long as it’s not forced; grumpy can be good too as long as you don’t take your grumpiness to extremes.

    Blogs are traditionally casual in their style and I like that. What I don’t like are the people who feel they have to post daily or we won’t love them any more. If I like you then your name goes in FeedReader and I will check out every post you make until I get sick of you. Half the time I couldn’t tell you the last time you posted. I’m just pleased to see you when you do. Frequent posting can be as much a burden to the reader especially if it’s a blog you like to comment on.

    Personally what I look for in a blog is: structure, content, quality, consistency, a sense of humour and a font I can read … probably in that order. And it’s actually quite refreshing if someone goes way off topic every once in a while, as long as it’s only once in a while.

  • Kassia Krozser // Feb 26, 2008 at 8:57 pm

    Martyn — excellent point (especially since it’s the notion we kicked around last night after I made my comments!). It’s really scary to play with format, but also quite exciting. I think there’s incredible opportunity to use blogging tools to create new kinds of stories. I’ve talked about this idea in the past. I think it’s a great way to create new kinds of characters — there’s a different structure to this medium and I think it can make for exciting storytelling.

  • Kassia Krozser // Feb 26, 2008 at 9:00 pm

    Susan — I think your idea is awesome! I do so love my mailing lists, but, yeah, managing older email can be a burden. It’s always important to use different ways to reach different readers. I suspect you’re getting additional benefit from offering this content via a blog. There is an interactive, group nature to blogging that creates a cool new dynamic! And no need to talk about yourself — I’ve checked the manual and that’s not a hard and fast rule at all.

  • Kassia Krozser // Feb 26, 2008 at 9:03 pm

    Diana — thank you! And you’ve made excellent points. I think you’ve found your SL niche and created a brilliant career in a way that makes you a trailblazer (which, you have to admit, is pretty darn cool).

    Now I do think there are advantages to maintaining presences on the various social networking sites — the trick is to bolster your core effort, not detract. I think Kirk is going to be talking more about this subject soon.

  • Kassia Krozser // Feb 26, 2008 at 9:09 pm

    Jim — when I first started blogging, it felt like I was coming home. In many ways, this is the type of writing I’ve been doing my whole life. Part of this comes from many years of journalism (not professionally — if my years of schooling taught me anything, it’s that I am too opinionated to report the news), and part of this comes from the way my brain works.

    I am comfortable with long-form fiction as well. I think the two styles complement each other.

    You mention structure — I like that. Structure is one of those things that you only consider when it’s missing. It strikes me now that what I’ve been calling focus really is structure. Once you’ve built structure, then you can play at will. Structure holds the blog together. Before this site launched, I spent a lot of time considering what I wanted it to be.

    It’s changed very much over time, but that’s because I would be bored doing the same thing day in and day out. I like to think most of the changes were gradual and a lot of readers stuck with me as I grew. I know one change was abrupt and scary — and then I just did it and, well, if anyone noticed, they’ve never said a word.

    Sense of humor matters very much. To me that’s part of voice. If I love your voice, you can blog the phone book and I’m enjoying every moment of it.

  • Kevin Radthorne // Feb 26, 2008 at 10:15 pm

    Kassia, I’m very much on board with all of your points. In particular, your last about how sense of humor matters very much, although like Jim I rank content pretty high up there. I only read a handful of blogs: you, Pub Rants (an agent), The Swivit (formerly a NY big press publicist, now an agent) and Bookseller Chick, sadly no longer selling books but full of retail wisdom when she did. All of these share something in common: they provide excellent real world information of use to an author; and they’re quite often very funny (making the cold hard world of publishing seem a little bit friendlier).

    I’ve resisted the “everyone must blog” imperative for a long time (I have my own site and post things on it, to keep my presence out there), because I agree completely with you that the technique for writing a good blog is a talent in and of itself. While I enjoy the good ones (like yours!) I don’t have the knack for doing it myself, being strictly a long-form kinda fella.

    I also know that no matter how naturally it might come to you to do it, it’s also a lot of work! So thank you, for putting in the time to do it, and keep us both informed and entertained at the same time. :o)

  • Kassia Krozser // Feb 26, 2008 at 10:44 pm

    Kevin — thanks (and to all of you who appreciate BS, thank you a million times). When you’re a writer, writing is one of those things you must do, and when there are people out there who read what you’ve written and (this is really key) take the time to say it’s worth their time, it’s really special. It is work, but even when I struggle, at least it’s what I chose to do.

    And I will pass your words on to BSC (she’s a good friend, though her life is beyond belief busy). I miss the perspective she offered, though I love the perspective she offers. While we don’t have a cohesive online literary community, we have a strong online community. As someone who cannot imagine life without reading, this gives me great hope.

    And, man, you have to laugh at it all. I often note that if this were a real business, we’d all be in trouble.

    Blogs are tools. Tools are not rules. They are there to help you do what you want to do. During the session I noted (second paragraph, blogs as books), one of the participants was an author who hated blogs. She’d done some sort of blogging tour, but didn’t like the notion of blogging.

    Completely justified. Her type of memoir writing didn’t lend itself to blogging (by the way, I do love that comments allow me to extend posts in ways that wouldn’t work in the ordinary flow of the piece). That makes sense. But she also displayed (which is why I’m not naming names) an inordinate misunderstanding of the medium. To her, blogs were one thing. As Scott Karp noted, they are many things.

    Tools not rules.

    She’d cut herself off from possibility. Potential didn’t exist. If it works for her, I cannot say she’s wrong, but what I know about real life (and publishing) tells me that you need good tools. She’s rejected the best, the easiest, and the most flexible because she doesn’t get what it’s all about.

    It is a cold, hard business. But it’s ours, you know? There’s survival of the fittest, then, well, there’s us.

  • Sloganeering.Org » Blog Archive » The Reasons For Staying // Feb 27, 2008 at 2:20 pm

    [...] was this post over at Booksquare that changed my mind on this subject. Kassia Krozser is talking about good [...]

  • Susan Herriott // Feb 27, 2008 at 8:31 pm

    I think author Lori Bryant-Woolridge is doing a great job with her blog. I subscribe to it and I ususally read the articles in e-mail format. The articles are well written, engaging, and relate to topics in her latest novel, Weapons of Mass Seduction. It wasn’t until this week that I actually visited the blog page at http://weapons-of-mass-seduction.blogspot.com. I was surprised to see the picture trail (what a cool feature!) and I thought the layout was really good. It made me want to visit the blog page instead of just reading the posts from my e-mail.

  • Henry Pelifian // Jan 27, 2009 at 4:08 pm

    A purpose of the blog is to show and reveal to the reader a perspective that may have as much validity as the tiny, irrelevant and misleading perspective of our mainstream media, especially television news. Our government generally does a poor job in most areas and our representatives are just standing in place digging a national hole for us all.

    Literature that genuinely attempts to show and tell about this is like an unwanted orphan by the editors, who secretly may be working for the government-no, that is impossible. Or mainstream editors have a secret formula for profit-making books that includes the thrill of murders and violence coupled with endless suspense with some lust about topics and people that have no connection to readers or reality.

    Escapism literature seems to dominate. Oh, there is nothing like it. But the country does seem to be suffering some. Why? That is a question that ought to be answered by somebody or by many!

  • steve keeping // Nov 2, 2010 at 1:08 pm

    Suggestion for two really good active blogs. One for adults http://www.illustratorsplace.com which has some great tips for the budding writer and illustrator. And the other for adults and their kids http://www.chubblytheaviator.com, the blog is jam packed full of good stuff, and there are some great free downloads on the site for the children and mums and dads.