Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Does blogging sell books?

Today at Romancing the Blog, Shannon Stacy has posed an interesting question:

There’s no doubt the ‘net has revolutionized the relationship between the author and the reader. In days gone by, the reader got a book jacket photo and the knowledge the author lives in Connecticut with her husband, four children and six dogs. If the reader were truly moved, she might craft a letter and pop it in the mail.

Now, of course, readers have as much access to the author as she’s willing to put up on her site—even photos of the six dogs. And almost every author site has a contact button. Many also have blogs, message boards, Yahoogroups, tagboards and guestbooks.

But have readers become used to authors being accessible to the point of being less inclined to buy books from authors who aren’t quite as open?

I'd say no, because I've yet to be convinced that author blogs, websites, and other internet activity, in general, has any appreciable impact on book sales to begin with. So an author's nonparticipation is unlikely to hold back a flood of sales.

You may think that's an odd opinion for me to hold, given that I have an extensive website, encourage people to communicate with me via e-mail, participate on various blogs and message boards, and blog right here six days a week. Surely, you're thinking, she must believe all that is going to sell her books. Why else would she do it?

Elementary, my dears. I do it for two reasons. Here they are, in order:

1. It's fun.

2. And it might sell some books.

So there you have it. My big secret. If you are an author asking whether you should set up a website or start a blog, I am going to tell you no. Don't do it unless you want to, because this stuff takes a great deal of time and emotional energy. And here's the salient point: Nobody knows what impact--if any--these activities have on book sales.

Your editor may be leaning on you to set up an author website, but it's not her time and money she's volunteering, is it? She has nothing to lose, and your website or blog might sell some books. But do you really want to spend a couple of hours a day on the internet for something that might increase your sales? Perhaps you'd rather put that time and effort into writing more and better books. Or in promoting your books through other channels.

As your mother always said, if a thing's worth doing, it's worth doing well. So any author who puts up a website or begins blogging because all of the other authors do it and readers expect it and that's how we sell books in these modern times, is probably going to fail miserably. If you don't put your heart and soul into your blog or your website, nobody's ever going to read it but your mom and your three biggest fans--and they're already buying every book you put out.

So here in a nutshell is my advice to authors who are considering launching a blog or handing money to a web designer: Love the internet or leave it alone. Any author who lacks the passion to participate fully is not going to find a pot of gold here.


Anonymous said...

hope you counted me in as one of your biggest fan,

Marianne McA said...

Statistically insignificant, but I did go and buy a copy of you book after reading your blog...

Lee Ellen said...

I read your blog because its fun, and I bought your books.

I enjoyed Finding Hope. There was a twist that I expected and then a twist that I didn't expect. Lots of fun for me.

Looking forward to A Family Forever. I have preordered it from Amazon.

From a Nursing prospective (That is my day job.) How did you get the attitude of a surgeon so right on?

A Fan..
Lee Walters ;)

Brenda Coulter said...

Statisticly insignificant, perhaps, Marianne, but it still gives me a little thrill to hear from you people. Thanks for posting. <3<3<3

Lee, perhaps I shouldn't say this in public, but my husband is an architect who builds hospitals, so he works with surgeons every day. He might have told me a story or two at the dinner table... I think you know the kind of story I mean. ;-)

Chris said...

Brenda said: "As your mother always said, if a thing's worth doing, it's worth doing well."

You've been talking to my mother?! Oh crap, am I ever in trouble.

--Chris (dFm)

Bonnie Calhoun said...

Count me as another one. I didn't know about your books until I read your blog!

I agree with what you say. If an author doesn't like the internet, they should flee from it! You're personality comes across, in volumes, in your blog Brenda. That is one of the reasons that I buy your books.

Think about the author that doesn't really want to write a blog. Does that come across to the people who read it. Probably yes, and that could possibly turn potential readers away!

Shelbi said...

I'm not too worried about whether my blog sells my books [seeing as how I'm not published yet and still in the first draft stage of my first novel! It could be years before I even have a book to sell!]

But I do know that it's loads of fun to write whatever pops into my head and then respond to people in the comments section.[Notice how I planted that link there? I finally learned it, and I'm ridiculously proud of myself!]

So, if and when the time comes, I think I'll enjoy hearing from and responding to my readers, regardless of whether it sells books or not.

Oh, and reading your blog has made me a fan, and buyer of your books, and I probably would never have picked one up otherwise, so chalk up another one.

Josie said...

Same here! I discovered your work after reading your blog (which I love!)

Anonymous said...

I have a friend who is a published author and is now self publishing another book, which led me to research book and writing forums on the internet. that is how I came across your blog. Once I read it I was hooked. that is when I read your web site and discovered you had published a book with another on the way! I am excited to read your book. loved the chapters I read!

Brenda Coulter said...

Thanks, everyone. It's gratifying to know I've picked up a few readers by bloging.

booksquare said...

I am going to (not so humbly, but you know me so well) disagree with you. I think an online presence does increase sales. Your blog and the impact it has on Google contributes to the long tail -- your books (or future books) may be out of bookstores, but you are building an audience. This audience was unavailable to authors of ten years ago.

But even looking back ten years (okay, under ten, but I'm old and time is getting increasingly blurry), authors like Jo Beverly and Lori Foster amped up their careers thanks to their forward-looking online presences. I think that name recognition and repetition makes a huge difference in sales.

This internet thing (I have a friend who keeps reminding me that it's just a fad) is not for every author, but I think that an author who doesn't pay lip service in the form of a website is making a huge mistake. Of course, I would never offer a strong opinion on this topic on someone else's blog....

Brenda Coulter said...

No, of course not. And neither would I. We two are just a couple of shrinking violets. ;-)

Maybe you noticed that after I posted that I didn't believe my blog was going to sell zillions of books, six people jumped in to say they'd discovered this blog and liked it enough to go out and hunt up my first book. But if my blog sold six hundred books, I would be very pleased but still not rich. In the world of mass-market paperback sales, six hundred copies isn't a lot.

Hey, not that I'm ungrateful. Every little bit helps. But my point is that this blog gets a lot more traffic than do the blogs of a lot of authors I know who are better writers, better known, and prettier than me. I think some websites and blogs do increase sales, and maybe mine will turn out to be one of those. I'm just saying that an author who doesn't love the internet as you and I do is probably going to do better promoting her book in more traditional ways.

I don't send out press releases or do booksignings (okay, I've done two) or radio interviews (okay, I've done one) because those things don't interest me. But the internet, I'm good at. So this is a smart place for me to promote. But Booksquare, I've seen too many authors' blogs fizzle out. And I've seen too many glossy, professionally-designed websites that never got off the ground. Clearly, some authors don't have a clue how to play the internet and win. So I think they're wasting their time.

Not that I'm opinionated or anything.

booksquare said...

I will agree that far too many authors don't get the internet game -- in fact, I just gave a talk at a workshop last weekend on this very topic (and will be appearing live and in person at the Yosemite Writers Conference in August to blab more on this subject).

I think author blogs, like everything else, are a matter of time and effort. You put time and effort into yours. I put time and effort into mine. Most authors get bit by the "gotta have it" bug, and start a blog without a clue. Same for websites -- but you, an author, must have, at least, a website. If you don't, you are making a huge mistake...

Now off to do my workshop description for the aforementioned conference while losing a zillion pounds to make the headshot not scary!

Billy Jones said...

I can't make the claim that blogging has put me on the best seller list (it hasn't) but it has sold a few books and got me a little bit of freelance work I wouldn't have otherwise, but besides all the fun I'm having the advertising revenue is actually beginning to trickle in.

My thoughts: I'm going to continue to write because I love it but I publish (and blog) so others might love it as well.