Thursday, July 5, 2007

From the Editors: What makes a good Author Blog?

I was a little sheepish about mentioning to anyone at my press that I have a blog. I was afraid the reaction might be like that of my 16-year-old daughter, who, upon hearing that I like to blog first thing in the morning, said: "Well, you could be writing your book!"

But apparently blogs are recommended. Or at least recommended when the book is written. The Penguin Blog offered some advice recently. And they break it down to four basic guidelines. (Hat tip to OUP Blog.)

1) It should be personal - but not mundane.

2) The author should write about their work as well as their interests.

3) They should be entertaining company.

4) Posts should be regular and frequent.

Well, the Legal History Blog fails on at least one criteria: it is not "personal." I don't want it to be "personal." And frankly, not all readers want it to be "personal." Hopefully there can be a corner, even in the blogosphere, for a refuge from the cult of personality. So my advice to academic author bloggers: unless that sort of blogging appeals to you, I think (hope) you can engage a readership without needing to abandon your privacy.

On the question of whether blogging disrupts writing, for some writers that is surely the case. But not for everyone. What writers do is...write. A blog gives you a place for some of that, and keeps you writing even when there's a snag in the book research or some other delay. Before I had a blog, I would write op-eds, which sometimes were published, but like most op-ed writers, most often they were not. With a blog, the ideas just go out, without the frustrating process of trying to place them in a paper while the news cycle quickly expires. And, with a blog like this one, many posts (e.g. SSRN papers) can be done very quickly, even when I am facing a deadline. So my take is that whether you should blog while finishing that book depends on what sort of writer you are, and what sort of blogging you might do.
Here's more from Penguin:
What makes a good author blog?
The World Wide Web was made for finding things out. It's the first place I turn whenever I've got an enquiry, whether it's to find a plumber quickly or discover what Dickens' character I am. But sadly, the interweb cannot always help us. Sometimes when we type in a search term to the Google gods nothing relevant comes back despite scouring page after page of results. This is rare and annoying, but hardly surprising. The World Wide Web is not a mirror held up to the world. It more resembles something you'd find in an old fairground hall of mirrors: the silver backing flaking off and leaving black spots of nothing, the glass scratched and misted, the familiar no longer so distinct if not bent entirely out of shape, the multiple reflections and distortions giving you a headache.
If you're an author, however, especially a new one, you're pretty much expected - by your agent and your publisher - to have a presence in this strange mirror world. If people want to know about you or your work, the web is the first place they'll look. If there's nothing there to find, so the wisdom runs, that's a potential reader lost, a word-of-mouth champion who'll never say your name out loud. Unfortunately, for most authors, your agent and publisher aren't likely to put up the money for your own website. So what is an author to do? Well, these days most are advised to have a blog.
But that just creates a whole host of problems for the author. What should an author blog about? How often should they post? Should they post for their readers or themselves? Might it interfere with their other writing? In short, what makes a good author blog?
Clearly, the answers to these questions are as numerous as there are readers and writers, and therefore so riddled with contradictions as to be almost meaningless. However, it seems to me that a good author blog is simply a platform and, behaving a bit like any well-made table, requires four sturdy legs upon which to stand:
1) It should be personal - but not mundane. 2) The author should write about their work as well as their interests. 3) They should be entertaining company. 4) Posts should be regular and frequent.
Unsurprisingly, few author blogs manage all four. Most writers have more pressing matters to attend to.
However, for any author intending to blog, I would suggest they visit Neil Gaiman's journal.
More recommended blogs and more advice from Penguin is here.

1 comment:

Mojave Joe said...

So many blogs are just a form of exhibitionism so thank you for NOT writing a personal blog. I like tuning into your blog just to see what is going on in your field (which is, by the way, not my field, but interesting nonetheless). I particularly like your book tips (e.g., I see on my shelf the Cambridge Companion to Ancient Greek Law, which, as you pointed out, is in affordable paperback form).