It has been pointed out to me that in recent interviews I have spoken at length about how I started writing – this is mainly because it’s one of the questions that always crops up in interviews, so it’s hardly surprising. My PorterGirl series started life as a blog (this blog!) and it is generally accepted that authors should have a blog or similar web presence. Say what you like about Fifty Shades Of Grey, but EL James started off blogging and it didn’t do her any harm. Neil Gaiman cut his teeth in fan fiction and even Charles Dickens could be considered an early blogger, publishing his works in serialised form for public consumption. So there’s definitely something to be said for it. Even so, blogging and writing novels are completely different disciplines so don’t assume that if you do one it will lessen the work of the other.
There are lots of different types of blog and I cannot profess to knowing the secrets of gaining millions of followers overnight, making your posts go viral or earning vast sums of money from blogging. There are plenty of articles online promising all sorts of wonderful results, if you feel so inclined. All I can really tell you is what I have learnt from my own experience of going from blogger to published author.
Secret Diary Of PorterGirl began as just that – a secret diary. I had started a new job as the first female Deputy Head Porter at a prestigious college and wanted to share this strange new world with friends and family. The reason so few of my characters have names was due to the need for ambiguity and anonymity in case my employers found out (they eventually did) and sacked me (this they did not – contrary to popular belief). This quickly grew into a fictionalised account of my time there and eventually developed into an adventure-murder-mystery type thing.
With the benefit of hindsight, I wouldn’t have started posting until I had a better idea of the structure of the story. Working on a manuscript requires much retracing of steps and rewriting, a luxury not afforded to the blogger. Of course it is possible to go back and make changes, but significant plot amendments are not possible when your readers are following the story step by step. The good news is, major flaws will be spotted early on and if you are upfront and gracious about your mistakes, readers will forgive you and might even find it a little endearing.
How Much? How Often?
Blog posts should be significantly shorter than traditional chapters of a book – I reckon around the 1000 word mark. People read lots of blogs in a day and hefty word counts are off-putting. Also unlike book chapters, it’s a good idea to end each of your posts on a cliffhanger. It doesn’t always have to be dramatic, just enough to pique an interest as to what happens next. When you come to convert your blog to a novel, this will keep up a jaunty pace.
How often you post is up to you, but devise a manageable schedule and keep it regular. Posting four times in one day then nothing for two weeks will not build a regular audience. And it’s not just the writing you have to think about – factor in time for replying to comments and being active on other blogs, too. Cultivating connections with your readers is just as important.
The Comments Section
My favourite part of blogging. The comments section is often more entertaining than the post itself. All sorts of side projects, ideas and inspiration have spawned from this primordial soup of a platform. Contributors have influenced everything from plot direction to character development, new projects to collaborations – and usually in an encouraging, entertaining way. Make time to really engage with the comments in a prompt and timely fashion – you won’t regret it!
A word of warning – whilst it is very important to listen to the views of your readers and take on board advice, don’t fall into the trap of ‘writing by committee’. You will never please everyone and some people will never appreciate your work. Get a broad sense of what works and what doesn’t and align that with your own style and voice.
Building Your Brand
When my blog was in its fledgling stages, I asked a professional to read some posts and see if I had something worth pursuing. He came back to me with various suggestions, but his strongest point was that what was so appealing about PorterGirl was actually me – the personality that came through in the writing. Blogging is perfect for letting your own self shine, far more than novel writing will ever be. It is immediate, accessible and interactive. Bring your work – and yourself – to life by posting things other than just your story . This gives a sense of a real person behind the words and allows readers to feel a little closer to you – they will then invest time and interest in your work and, hopefully, spread the word!
In my case, I interspersed PorterGirl tales with a step-by-step guide to Finnegans Wake, occasional posts about writing, a couple of Poirot parodies and even a dystopian-satire-murder-mystery-sex-romp (alright, it wasn’t that much of a sex romp). Show the world that you are not just a one-trick pony and expand your skill set and experience by doing different things. If you are stuck for ideas, ask your readers!
But Won’t People Steal My Ideas?
Well, maybe they will. They probably won’t, to be honest, but you can protect your work with copyright. Popping a notice on your blog will deter infringement, as it states that the work is protected under law. A copyright notice is not required as work is automatically subject to copyright protection under law, but displaying a notice shows that you have an awareness of copyright and take infringements of your work seriously.
It’s Not All Fun And Games
Some blogs take off over night, for most it’s a slow build up. Don’t be discouraged by low view counts or not getting ‘likes’. If stats are important to you, post cat videos or something – indie fiction isn’t going to make you an online superstar. For me, my blog was a way to practice my writing, cultivate discipline, develop a professional work ethic and to gain insights from other writers. Of course, once my publishing deal came along it became a platform to reach a wider audience and promote my books, but it’s only because I put in the groundwork first that I had that platform. I cannot stress how important it is to publish consistently good work, regularly, on your blog. This isn’t easy but it can be done. At times it might feel like a wasted effort as hardly anyone is reading your stuff, but once it’s on there, it’s there for people to find and enjoy. Be patient, be determined and develop the skin of a concrete elephant.
There will be people who mock your little blog and your literary efforts, maybe even people close to you. They will scoff at spending all that time, writing for ‘a couple of random people on the internet’. You will be ridiculed, labelled a chancer and a wannabe, told over and over again how ‘no one ever makes it that way’.
Do not listen to these people. Just get on with the writing.