Friday 14 March 2008

Comment: Robin Hobb's attack on author blogging

Robin Hobb recently wrote an article in which she discussed the apparent evils of authors blogging. You can find the article here:

The general gist of the piece is that authors shouldn't blog, and should instead focus all of their creative efforts on writing their fiction. Hobb argues that blogging steals valuable energy and time and that an author's work will suffer as a result.

First off, let me say I agree to some extent. I - in my writer capacity - have often sat down to write, only to be lured away by the appeal of brain-free internet surfing. I can appreciate that blogging quite possibly presents a similar challenge - "Oh, just a quick blog entry before I start writing" and all that. Fine, I can see how it might become a problem.

But I feel that Hobb misses a vital point. It's alright for her to not have a blog, as she doesn't need one. Neither does George R. R. Martin (even though he does and insists it's not a blog). Erikson, Brooks and Feist don't need them. Why? Because they're all established authors. People will buy their books and spend hours discussing them, regardless of whether they blog or not.

But for new authors, those who are just starting out and have yet to build up large, loyal fanbases, having a blog is a crucial way of interacting with readers. It enables the new author to discuss and promote their work, without being seen to be intrusive (it's their blog after all). It enables readers to ask questions and make comments. It allows the author to get feedback and to answer any points raised. It enables authors to have proper discussions about their work with fans (check out Joe Abercrombie's blog for proof of this).

In short, the blog provides a vital link between a new author and readers that can be fundamental to forging a loyal readership. In this day and age, it's vital to have an internet presence and while a website is all well and good, a blog offers a far greater level of interaction. It can even serve to attract genre fans unfamiliar with an author's work - I visit Pat Rothfuss's blog all the time and I've not yet read his book, but I enjoy reading what he has to say.

This leads on to my next point: readers enjoy reading the views and observations of their favourite authors. When an author posts about the way they work, or the way they think, it gives the chance for readers to get inside the author's head and see how their mind works. If an author discusses the workings of the industry, it helps prospective writers gain a better understanding of how things work. Even if all an author does is talk about their day, it still gives readers an interesting glimpse into the life of that author. People enjoy reading about these sort of things. I know I do, and I'm willing to bet that thousands of others do too.

While author blogs can be time-consuming, if managed effectively they offer a wealth of enjoyment for both author and reader (not to mention all-important publicity for the former), and for this reason alone I suggest that authors should keep up the blogging.


Anonymous said...

I do agree with Hobb, people read books in the first place and not some palaver. If you are aspired author, write books that you can sell not blogs that may be fun but they do not help you make a living.

just my 2c

Todd Newton said...

Absolute silliness. Blogging does not consume anyone's life that I know of because it is a completely optional action.

I read several authors' blogs that I enjoy and none of them post daily (or even weekly, most of the time) so I can guarantee that rather than blogging pulling them away from their novel projects, it is actually the other way around.

Personally, I don't "write" every day, and I have four active blogs that get posted semi-often because it takes less of a time and attention adjustment to post something relatively short. When I want to "write," I really want to focus on my story, my characters, and push away everything else (this is why I am commonly found writing at Starbucks which forces you to pay for internet usage and therefore discourages that type of distraction).

When I can't "write," I blog. When I can't blog, I usually "write."

Robin Hobb's rant encourages a complete lack of everything that a writer should exhibit if they want to garner fans: their human side. Do we really want our authors to be deified arbiters that only communicate with us through the filters of their editors and "what makes good fiction?"

Todd Newton said...

Whoops, sorry anonymous person. It looks like I was saying your opinion was "absolute silliness" when I actually meant Hobb's rant was. You posted your comment as I was typing my [lengthy] one.

There are two sides to this and I do respect the other side, I just think making a blanket statement as Robin has is unfair and unfounded.

James said...

Anonymous - if blogs help with fan interaction and help to develop a loyal fanbase, then surely they go some way to aiding the author's earning of their living? Just a thought.

TD, good post. I certainly agree that blogs give the author a chance to be more than some sort of unknown entity and to reveal their personality a bit more.

Todd Newton said...

JG, that only works when they HAVE a personality worth revealing, though eh? (thinking of Terry Goodkind)

James said...

Do not even mention Terry Goodkind. The mere mention of his name makes me feel like vomiting...

Anonymous said...

Really depends on the author, though, doesn't it? You don't really need a blog to advertise yourself, you can have a website that doesn't include journal type posts (much like robin hobb) and this might be sufficient.

Blogging really does take up a lot of time, and a lot of effort, especially if you want to make a good impression as someone who is a professional writer. If that time is worthwhile for someone to spend, then go for it, but for some people that just doesn't work.

And some author blogs can be really boring at times, going over such things as wordcount and such DAILY. Interesting to see, yeah, but if that's the bulk of your journal for 2 months, it's pretty boring for readers who aren't interested in a writer's stats.

I think it really depends how people go about marketting themselves. There's no NEED for a blog, but if it works, great.

I also don't really think Hobb was as serious as all that. I think her writing of that rant was fairly tongue-in-cheek :)

Jake Di Toro said...

I read this the other day when GRRMartin pointed to it, and I think it's completely wrong.

I've been rereading some Piers Anthony stuff, and got to his author's notes. Then over 5 seconds I though, I miss these, why don't other authors do them, wait... their called blogs now. So I started digging through the tubes hunting down all the authors I read blogs.

I have to disagree with the comment that established authors don't need them. I think they need them just as much. It's too easy for me to not be looking at the authors that I have 20 novels of theirs on my shelf. But if I've got their blog in my gReader, then even if they only post once a month, I'll see the notice that something new is comming out.

James said...

Sara: Good point, I do agree that there's no point to blogging unless the posts are interesting and worthwhile.

Karrde: Good post also, and I agree that gReader and other programs are easy ways of keeping track of your favourite authors - hence the usefulness of blogging!

Mark Newton said...

It has the faint aroma of a lady of a certain age not trusting teh interwebs. Pure evil, these computers. I know plenty of younger authors -- and plenty of old ones really -- who can find the time to blog because it's part of what they grew up with, part of their lifestyle. If you have the time, do it, if not, don't. No need to complain. Next it'll be the price of bread going up, or moaning about kids today just having no respect for their elders. And don't get me started on the queues at the post office...

Anonymous said...

JG ~ You have to read Rothfuss. It wasn't hard for me last year to proclaim "The Name of the Wind" as the best fantasy of the year, hands down. It was exceptional. And his blogs sure are entertaining, aren't they?

When it comes to authors who blog, I take exception to any author, even the esteemed Robin Hobb, trying to tell other writers how they should be spending their time. Should everyone write exactly the same way as she does, too? Same amount of time? Same word count? Same outline system?

I think if an author, be he famous of unknown, wants to take some of their precious time to connect with their audience, either in humorous blogs or more serious discussions, then that is their own business. I actually enjoy the opportunity to get to talk with authors I enjoy and see them more as fully defined people than just a name on a cover that might seem untouchable.

Kudos to those who do give of their time. We writers know how valuable that time is.

James said...

Mark - well, that's certainly one way of putting it. ;)

Steve - all in good time; I have a first edition copy sitting on my shelf. It's too big to read on the commute to and from work, so I'm waiting for a chance to read it. Looking forward to it though.