‘It’s like yelling into an empty cave,’ is one of my character’s opinion of blogging.
To some extent, my character is right. One of my friends stopped writing her very well informed and amusing movie blog because nobody read it. ‘And I mean, literally, nobody,’ she said.
Writers can struggle to find enough hours in the day to write, let alone research and edit so why spend an hour or two tapping away at the computer for an audience of 17 people? There are millions of blogs out there and it is likely that most are read only by the writer’s mum and a handful of friends who follow them on Facebook. Yet we blog away, shouting ‘Listen to me, listen to me!’ amid the din of social media chatter.
If you are already famous, fair enough, there may be a large enthusiastic audience for what you write – or what your PR assistant writes. You may be able to write useful ‘how to’ guides for would-be authors, cooks, DIY enthusiasts or whatever, if you can convince people you are an expert and build an audience. You may be one of that species called ‘influencers’ whose business model makes blogging essential, but for the rest of us we need to consider what kind of payback comes for the work we put in. I’ve no interest in becoming click bait.
Even without a big movie deal or a new Dagger-winning bestseller to pimp, I still blog every few weeks. It offers me a chance to write in a different style to that I use in my fiction and without needing to apply the precise language and conventions of academic publications. Each blog is a writing exercise which does not need to be professionally edited, peer-reviewed or be commercial enough to sell.
The next motivation is self-promotion. I used to be very English about this in the past, not wanting to blow my own trumpet, but authors owe it to their agents, publishers and booksellers to be prominent. The same goes for the backers and supporters of my archaeological research projects. Search engines make connections between all the different platforms that mention me – Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, Amazon, CWA Author page plus various news websites – and the blog assists me to rank higher than internet dopplegangers also called Jason Monaghan.
Sharing a blog can prove to be the hook to bring a new visitor to a website, which may then give them the curiosity to explore further. To be worth coming back to more than once, a website needs to be regularly updated with relevant content and a blog fills the void between big announcements. People who have enjoyed my books or have an interest in my ongoing projects want to know more.
I programmed my first computer when they were still the size of a room and wrote my first website from first principles before such tools as WordPress came along; before Facebook, smartphones and digital cameras. By moving with the times, I don’t get left behind by the technology and the jargon. The day that movie deal is scented on the wind is not the day to start scrabbling around trying to build a website.
How to create the hook is an important question with so many blogs clamouring for attention and so many forums restricting self-promotion. It’s a no-brainer but I’ve discovered for myself that matching a blog to an audience is the key. If I share writing tips onto a writing forum, the hit rate spikes. My musings on life under lockdown got 800 discrete views simply by sharing it on the village forum. If I had shared something not relevant to the audience, I’d have received few hits, even if the administrators allowed it. When website traffic is quiet I can see sudden spikes in the analytics showing visitors looking at multiple pages and not just the latest post. I then spot extra views on LinkedIn or Facebook, indicating that somehow the dark magic of social media is working.
The cave isn’t empty if you find the right cave. You found this blog, read it, and the hit count goes up by one. Mission accomplished.