Back from a wonderful weekend at the 2013 Historical Novel Society Conference, where I moderated a panel discussion on blogging. "Virtual Salon: The Historical Fiction Blog" brought together five experienced panelists to discuss the role of blogging in the historical fiction community and to share insight on how to create and maintain a successful blog. I examined what needs blogging fulfills for a writer of historical fiction and how an author benefits from maintaining a blog. As promised, I've posted my remarks below.
Today, writers hear over and over the importance of having an “internet presence.” We are warned that interested agents will immediately Google us, as will readers who hope to “connect” with authors of the books they love. This internet presence should, at the bare minimum, consist of an attractive and up-to-date website that lists an author’s books, biography, appearances, and contact information. But a website is static, one- sided. To engage fully with the reading public and benefit from the exposure the internet offers, an author should consider a blog, a discussion site featuring discrete entries called “posts” about topics of the author’s choosing.
A discussion necessarily involves more than one person. In the past, discussions of books and literature often took place in a salon, where writers, critics and readers gathered in person. Nowadays, this interaction often takes place virtually, through the medium of a blog. This afternoon we will examine blogging from the three vantage points of the “blogging triangle”: author, reader and reviewer. Each of these participants approaches blogging with different needs and expectations; each benefits in different ways from reading or maintaining a blog. The interaction of writer, reader and reviewer through blogs helps make the historical fiction community the vibrant place that it is.
Let’s begin with the author. What needs might prompt an author to start blogging? One of the strongest is the need for community. Many authors turn to blogging because it provides an antidote to the solitary activity of writing. Blogging provides a way for a writer to engage her readers and other writers in an active exchange of ideas. She can propose topics, express her opinion on them, and through the comments on her blog discover and respond to what her readers think. Other needs blogging fulfills for an author might include the desire to share interesting research, the need to contribute to the marketing one’s book, and a wish to provide an accurate picture of the person behind the books.
The benefits of blogging for a fiction author are many and change as the author advances in her career. Most don’t require much explanation. Maintaining and updating a blog builds discipline, forcing a writer to write to a schedule and within a pre- determined framework. It sharpens writing skills and helps an author develop her voice. It provides a forum for her to share and discuss the historical research that underlies her novel. It familiarizes her with readers’ tastes and interests, information that can be of great value in crafting future books. Blogging can also be a way of “paying it forward,” of helping new writers by offering advice based on one’s own experience in navigating the publishing world, or by reviewing and publicizing other author’s works.
Two benefits of blogging are particularly valuable at the outset of a writer’s career. First, blogging allows an new author to establish credibility. By maintaining a blog that offers reliable, interesting content, a writer of historical fiction establishes herself as an expert in her niche. With each post, she builds her credibility and strengthens her reputation as a trustworthy historian and skillful writer. Readers grow to value her insights and opinions. If a writer is able to create this trust through a blog before her novel is published, readers will be eager to purchase the book once it comes out. Secondly, blogging helps a writer build both her audience and her professional network. Posts on historical topics (rather than simply literary or publishing ones) will draw hits from a wide range of individuals, from students to teachers to specialists to random web surfers, all of whom might be tempted to pick up the novel of a blogger they admire. Blogs allow readers to get a feel for an author’s interests and writing style and anticipate new releases. Blog names are easy for them to pass on to acquaintances who might find an author’s work interesting. As for building a professional network, a generous blogger who reviews others’ books, celebrates others’ successes, and comments on colleagues’ blogs, will benefit both professionally and personally from the new contacts and friendships she makes. These bonds will prove invaluable when the time comes to ask for blurbs, publicize new releases, and learn “inside information” about the publishing world.
The session continued as follows:
Deborah Swift spoke on the blog reader's needs and benefits.
Amy Bruno followed with the book reviewer's needs and benefits.
Deborah explored how to find a niche and establish your voice.
Heather Webb spoke on effective blogging strategies: finding topics of interest, scheduling, blog layout.
Amy provided additional strategies: contests, blog-hops, reviews.
Heather Rieseck discussed blogging etiquette and ethical guidelines.
Heather Webb examined how to expand your audience.
Heather Rieseck explored how to measure your blog's success.
You can find a summary of Heather Webb's remarks on her blog. Deborah Swift explains why she maintains four blogs. If you are interested in purchasing an audio recording of the session, you can do so here.
Thank you to the conference board for inviting us to speak and to all who attended and gave us such marvelous feedback! It was a great experience for us and we hope we were able to provide some useful advice.