This is a blog about the impact a blog can have on your life. And while that might sound over-introspective, the issues involved are those all writers today need to think about.
Three weeks ago, The Guardian asked me to speak at a conference they were organising on self-publishing. Of late this has become my specialist subject. I became fascinated about four years ago, and since then have researched and written a book on the subject (The Naked Author) before embarking on second stage research with an expanded cohort of self-publishing authors.
The findings were significant, and have been made available in a series of articles in academic journals, but in brief:
- Far from being the sad losers that they're widely assumed to be, self-publishing authors are motivated and well prepared for the process they are taking on;
- They are educationally well qualified. A staggering 44% of my cohort had a postgraduate degree;
- They were very satisfied by self-publishing, process and final product; inclined both to do it again and recommend it to others;
- Money was not their most significant motivator. Much more important was the need to finalise material and see it preserved.
I presented a talk along these lines at The Guardian conference. It went down well, and I offered to write about it for them. Hoping for the paper, I was offered the blog.
What really surprised me was how the blog caught fire. I didn’t find out it had been posted until a few hours after appearance, and by then there were already 15 responses sitting at its foot. I watched as the link got re-tweeted, by industry heavyweights like international agent Jonny Geller. Then as the US woke up, the link made its way across the Atlantic, following the sun from east to west coast, passing around US publishing houses, agents, independent authors and readers. I gained new followers on Twitter and The One Show got in touch, said I’d come highly recommended and booked me to do a recording next week. We are not talking Justin Bieber numbers of course, or the sudden acquisition of followers that followed news that Beyonce was pregnant, but it was odd.
The wider point is that today all authors are expected to take part in the marketing of their work. It’s getting increasingly difficult to say your published output says it all; publishers will want to know your Twitter count and blogging-frequency before they commission you. So for those who are new to these things, here is my list of top tips based on this week’s experience:
- Share your ideas when you are ready. A blog is public property from the time it appears, and there are people waiting to comment/pounce on things they don’t agree with. Lack of eye contact can make those commenting careless of how much damage they deliver in the process. Understand the difference between attention and approval.
- Timing is important. The feature in The Guardian appeared just before the London Book Fair, so publishing was very much in the air. Wider point: find a time when your material is topical and the market has an inclination to read. Three years ago, when self-publishing was much less respectable and I was trying to air my ideas, I confess I posted related blogs on the sites of The Bookseller and Writers & Artists just before Easter, in the fairly certain knowledge that it would be up for four days.
- Feedback is unlikely to be restricted to the medium through which you shared your ideas. There were comments on the blog itself, others to my work email account, some to my home email account (even if you don’t routinely make it available, it will be found), texts to my mobile, feedback via my website, Twitter re-tweets and direct messages from those I already follow. I was informed by Klout that my rating had gone up.
- It’s very disruptive. The reason I have always blogged on other people’s sites rather than built and managed my own, is that I don’t want the time commitment and effort of running one (I’ve got students to look after). But when the hits started coming, I found there was an adrenalin rush that was entirely counter-productive to effective writing.
- How often should you reply? Engaging with those in metaphorical green ink is perhaps best just left. And while it’s lovely to see your ideas being chewed over, and tempting to reply to every comment, there’s a real danger that a quick response both invites more points to debate (more time lost), and that the inevitable typographic mistakes in a passionately typed response impact on your message. So what’s the writing equivalent of sitting on your hands? I’ve been running every day this week and now have a very clean cooker.
- If offered the online option, take it. My instinctive reaction that the print version of The Guardian would be preferable to the online one was clearly wrong. If it had just been in the paper the buzz would not have happened, and the readership would have been minute by comparison. Don’t confuse your own reading habits (and I still read a daily newspaper, in print form) with that of the potential readership.
Finally, there wasa very odd synchronicity with Mrs Thatcher. My blog was published on the day she died, and it brought back memories of my (later) husband’s 21st birthday when we sat in the TV room of his hall of residence drinking a bottle of champagne for an entirely different reason. The One Show recording had to be rescheduled because Gyles Brandreth – who was chairing the feature – now has to attend her funeral.
Professor Peter Hennessy has written about the energising experience of reflecting on the times you are living through, and perhaps that’s my ultimate conclusion about the last few days. To have my thoughts about how the industry is developing, and my at one time radical thinking about self-publishing confirmed from around the world has been both affirming and profoundly exciting. As my friend, author Andrew Crofts, emailed:
"It wasn't till I got to the end of the article on The Guardian blog that I realised it was you. I was just thinking 'this writer has completely got it' and then I saw your name. Very well done. You completely nailed it."
Dr Alison Baverstock is Course Leader for MA Publishing at Kingston University.She is the author of titles including Is There a Book in You?, The Naked Author - a Guide to Self-Publishing and Marketing Your Book: How to Target Agents, Publishers and Readers.