Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Blog! What is it good for? (* with apologies to Frankie goes to Hollywood)

I really liked Karen Ball’s post a few days ago where three different kinds of 21st century book buying and reading were identified. It seemed to me to get right to the heart of the matter: variety is what characterises the habits of book buyers. Since we have recently been having a discussion among ourselves about the possible future directions of this blog, I thought it would be interesting to copy her model and look at my own blog-reading habits as a representative example.

Why do I read blogs?

Blogs such as Cake wrecks are not going to expand my intellectual horizons (though I did learn a lot about different kinds of icing), but they are so funny. I usually don’t look at Cake Wrecks for weeks, then I go back and have a binge, reading back through pages of posts. I laugh and relax and feel happier afterwards. The thing that obviously makes this work is not so much the photos of cakes gone bad, but the author’s fantastic voice – she could write a teen novel if she wanted. Angus, Cakes and Full Frontal Icing?

We all know writing is a lonely business, and for me, the real value of blogs such as helpineedapublisher is that when I read them I know that there are other writers out there, coping with the same problems that I am. I shall not walk alone! Nicola Morgan’s blog works so well for me partly because it deals honestly with subjects that are really important to me, but also, importantly, because of her voice. You feel that a real person is talking to you, a real conversation is being had. The fact that she’s in Scotland, I’m in Italy, and we’ve never met, becomes unimportant. Helpineedapublisher is one of maybe two or three blogs that I actively look at daily.

There is really worthwhile and important information out there on the internet. People are giving it away for free. Most news sites, for example – BBC or the Guardian. From a writing point of view, I can go to The Greenhouse Agency’s blog to hear from the horse’s mouth what you should look for in an agent, or to find out what kind of writing they are looking for. I can go to Emma Darwin’s blog for a thoughtful piece on the technical skills of writing. People hoping to be published have more sources of free information available to them than ever before.

Obviously these three blog functions overlap. Ideally, I suppose a blog should be entertaining, give you a great sense of community, and be instructive as well. Helpineedapublisher does all three, I think.

When do I read blogs?

In a break from work, when I’ve finished typing up a section of my novel in progress, or done something else that makes my brain feel as if it needs a rest. I don’t sit down to read blogs as a duty – I do it in my spare time, for relaxation.

I think, therefore, that blogs are best compared to newspapers or magazines. The same things make both work: being written in a strong, entertaining voice, issues that affect the readers (or that the readers believe affect them), information that they need or want. Just like newspapers or magazines, they get cliquey; people stick to the same blog and want their opinions reinforced more than challenged, as is human nature. But the flip side of that is that they create a sense of lively community.
It seems that we writers should be in a really strong position to make the best possible use of blogging technology. We know how to write in a strong voice, we understand about writing for a specific audience, we know how to make novels readable and gripping – so the blogosphere should be our oyster. All comments on how we on ABBA can make the most of that oyster will be gratefully received below!


Katherine Roberts said...

I am currently doing a series about the writing of my latest novel over on my own blog at Reclusive Muse, which I hope will be interesting for those who have read the book, but everything you say makes sense. I read blogs in the same way I read a newspaper - that is I am always partly "working" as I do, keeping an eye out for interesting snippets and stuff I didn't know before, as well as being entertained and instructed - Nicola Morgan's blog has just helped me on to Twitter!

As a writer, a blog can also be a valuable creative outlet for writing that may never be published elsewhere because it won't make a big enough profit - such as poems, essays, quirky stories. Blogs may be places for taking the risks that traditional publishing cannot take?

Leila said...

I was just having a look at your blog, Katherine - it is really interesting. I think your 'how I wrote it' series would come under 'information'? It's a bit like the extra notes you get at the back of some books.
And I agree, blogs can be a place for taking risks - which is fantastic.

Linda said...

Another interesting question is, how do people find their way to certain blogs? I read ABBA and Bookwitch every day, because they are entertaining and thought-provoking, and are a good way to keep in touch with the writing world. I've just had a look at ''Cake Wrecks'' (which is very funny, thanks for mentioning it) but I'd never have sat down and thought ''Right, today I'm going to look for a website that shows photos of badly iced cakes'' Is this merely a lack of imagination on my part?

So - how do people find the sites which suit them best?

Leila said...

Well, I think I found Cake wrecks because a friend sent me a link to it. I find non-writing sites like that often - personal recommendation/ word of mouth.

Andrew Strong said...

Thank you for introducing me to Cakewrecks and the masterpiece with "an edible photocopy of sprinkles". Wonderful. Perhaps my next book could have edible pages; or the words could have different flavours. Was this the original intention of 'Readers' Digest'? Or was that the book eating the reader?

Elen Caldecott said...

Yes, Cakewrecks came to me by word of mouth - and I pass it on to anyone I think would like it (what's not to like!)
I read blogs every morning over breakfast. I have a list of about 15 that I visit over toast and coffee. They are all writing related (Nicola Morgan, Bookwitch, ABBA, plus a few US agents, Janet Reid and the like). It puts me in the mood for proper work. Some are mostly informative, others have a quirky voice that makes me laugh (The Rejectionist!).

Nicola Morgan said...

Yikes - didn't expect to see myself mentioned here! Thanks, Leila!

Linda - good question. I think if one sat down with the "I must find a good blog to read" it would be really difficult and you'd waste a lot of time. (Even more than we do already!) I think it's more often that there are a few you already know, and occasionally someone mentions another one IN one of the blogs you read, and you go and read that. I think the funniest ones I've found when someone has put a link on Facebook.

Kath - yes, I've seen you popping your head up on Twitter. Are you doing ok? The next bit ot the tutorial should come over the weekend. Don't panic!

As far as Leila's question about ABBA goes, re how to progress it - I think it's doing beautifully. I don't think success should be measured in followers or comments, though those things have a certain amount of power, but many many more people will be reading it who don't actually "follow". I suppose controversy is one way to get people to read something, but it's not really something I enjoy myself so I'm not going to provide it! (Crabbit is all a front...)

Leila said...

Ooh, controversy, I hadn't even thought of that! Now which ABBA member is going to volunteer to have a kiss-and-tell with a cabinet minister? :) :)

Jan Markley said...

Cakewrecks is hilarious. But seriously, I've learned a lot about the publishing industry from agent blogs. It wasn't too long ago (I'd say in the last five years) that you didn't have access to that type of insider pov unless you worked in the industry. For beginning writers it's an easy way for them to do their homework and save time from making rookie mistakes.