There were five of us on this panel:
Shelly Brown of Writing With Shelly and Chad was our lovely moderator
Peggy Eddleman of Will Write for Cookies
Jenni James of Author Jenni James
Jessica Harmon of Writing Legends
Shelly opened the panel for audience questions right away. This approach made most of the panel a question and answer session. It meant that we were able to focus our discussion on topics of immediate interest to the audience. I’ll admit that I did not do as good a job taking notes during this panel. I’m afraid I was a little afflicted by a “one of these things is not like the others” feeling. In the end that may have strengthened the panel because it is important to have a counterpoint opinion. I have to remind myself that though my approach to blogging is different, this does not make it inherently better or worse. I choose the path that is suited to me. I guess it comes down to a question of genre. Blogging is a form of writing, not a genre. My blog tends to be long and thinky. Jessica’s blog is story and geek focused. Shelly, Jenni, and Peggy all write blogs that are upbeat, short, and extremely social. They interacted with other blogs and with their audience far more than I tend to do. There benefits to each style of blogging. In fact Jenni runs multiple blogs to address different parts of what she does.
The first question was how to find an audience. Shelly, Peggy, and Jenni all spoke of the benefits of doing blog hops. Peggy runs them fairly regularly and says they are a great way to get visitors. They also suggested seeking out blogs similar to the one you write and commenting on those blogs. This may prompt reciprocal visits and comments. I agree that this can be a good way to get started. Reading other blogs helps you figure out what you want to be. Commenting and receiving comments can help you build a writing community for yourself. This is also valuable. However what is really necessary to gain readers is to create links between your blog and other places. I’ve never spent much energy deliberately trying to grow the audience of my blog. This means that the readership grows very slowly. This is fine because I’ve never used readership to measure the value of my blogging.
Another urgency that new bloggers feel is getting comments. This only came up tangentially during the panel. There was some direct discussion about keeping things light, positive, and short. Jenni told how her funny stories about kids will always get piles of comments, but that any time she writes longer or more serious topics there is less response. My thinking on comments has shifted in the last six months. I’ve read lots of advice on how to engage readers and encourage them to comment. There are specific techniques that bloggers can apply which will cause readers to engage and leave a comment. Sometimes I use them. For the most part I find the words to express what I meant and am happy if those words inspire a comment. However I know it is possible for my words to be incredibly valuable without inspiring a blog comment. Just yesterday I read a blog post that moved me to tears. I excerpted a section to put in my journal, yet I did not leave a comment on the blog. Just as the value of a blog is not measured in readership, the value of a post can not be measured in comments.
Jessica supported this by pointing out that for every person who comments there are lots of lurkers who say nothing. But they are still there, reading and enjoying.
However, the picture is vastly different if the primary purpose of a blog is to provide a marketing platform for something else. Jenni’s blog is an excellent example of this. She enjoys blogging because of the interactions with readers. She uses it to draw readers to her books. Then her books draw readers to her blog. Other authors, such as Brandon Sanderson, use their blogs primarily as news feeds to update people about what they’re working on or where they are traveling. One of the ladies, I think it was Peggy, told how she was talking to a marketing director in a publishing house. When an author’s book is under consideration all the people at the meeting will flip open their laptops and google the author. They look for readership, followers, friends, and what they find will affect the purchasing decision for that book. This assertion was backed up for me in a completely different panel when Mary Robinette Kowal underlined the absolute necessity of some sort of web presence, though Mary pointed out that it doesn’t have to be a blog.
One thing that all the women on the panel agreed about is that we all feel boring sometimes. It is a miracle of the human brain that we can get bored with anything. The truth is that everyone is interesting because we are all different. Don’t be afraid to keep a blog because you think you have nothing to say. The practice of blogging can teach you what you have to say. Blogging gave writing back to me after I had lost track of it.
Another thing we were all agreed upon is how much we enjoy blogging. Each of us has her own reasons and rewards.
I wish I’d kept better notes of the questions that were asked and answered. If you were there, feel free to leave a comment to remind me. (Look at me deliberately engaging with an audience. Let’s all talk about blogging together.)