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Do Unpublished Writers Have to Blog?

ETA after reading comments: If you’re happy to blog, please do it. This post is geared mostly to people who are on the fence and who are feeling pressure to start a blog because they hear that’s what they’re supposed to do. The tone of this question is usually, “Do I have to blog?” I’ve changed the title to reflect the framing.

This is a question that comes up a lot at conferences and from people who email me. It’s the familiar scenario: You’re an unpublished writer chasing publication. You don’t have a book or a deal to blog about yet, but you’ve heard that writers need platform and Internet presence, and you’ve heard that blogs get you friends and traffic and riches and unicorns, and you’ve also heard about this Twitter thing. Yet it sounds overwhelming. And you wonder if you have enough to blog about. You wonder if you have the time to keep up with all these things.

But the online writing community you see other unpublished writers enjoying keeps bugging you — You have to blog! You have to Tweet! You have to Facebook!

What do you do?

I’m going to say, probably, the exact opposite of what you’d expect. See, I’m a person who blogs. And I have a Twitter. And I’m on Facebook. I also grew up in the Silicon Valley and worked for a bunch of Internet start-ups before I got involved in publishing. You think I’d be totally into unpublished writers blogging, Tweeting, flickring, Buzzing, Facebooking, and all that. Right?


I never look at the blogs of people who query me unless they can give me some kind of impressive fact, like “30,000 people visit this blog per month” or “I draw a daily web cartoon and have a following” or “I’ve created an interactive game that you can play” or whatever.

If you’re iffy on blogging and worry, already, that you’ll run out of material, I say don’t do it. There are too many bad blogs, blogs about people’s cats (I swore I would never blog about my cat…then she got sick and I freaked out and I blogged…at every conference I attend, people still ask me about my cat!), blogs about their word count for the day and what book they’re reading, blogs by people who think they need a blog. Don’t add one more to the pile. Blogs without good, useful information or blogs by a clearly reluctant author are the worst.

The thing about blogs is that they’re a living thing. Blogs take your most recent entry and post it first. For the savvy, content-rich blog, that’s great. For the reluctant blog, that’s bad. Readers can log on and see the exact date when you lost your zest for blogging or ran out of content. And I’d say that a blog last updated in September 2009 is worse than no blog at all. It makes you seem out-of-date, irrelevant…maybe even dead. (Old blogs frozen in time are almost creepy.)

Fiction writers don’t need to pay attention to that whole “You have to have a platform” myth as much as nonfiction writers do. If you’re writing a novel or a picture book…what is your platform? That you like writing and you’re writing a novel or a picture book. Just like all the other writers out there. Unless you happen to be an expert in a subject matter that plays into your fiction, or you’re some other kind of professional writer who is crossing over, you’re not going to have any more platform than that.

The reason why I’m so negative about unpublished writers blogging and Tweeting is that it’s usually not good content. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about the Internet from actually working for it for all those years, it’s that users come to the Internet to see, “What’s in it for me?” They want valuable content that speaks to them. They Google: “How do I get this stain out of my white carpet?” “Is it okay that my baby is turning sort of purple?” (It’s probably not.) “How do I stop the hiccups?” “What’s a great summer BBQ recipe?”

Most writing blogs — and most blogs in general — are about the writer of the blog, not about the user. I have a blog, but you’ll notice that I try to keep myself and my life out of it (and I was doing a dang good job until my cat got sick!). I want to use this space to give you valuable content, because I know that’s what people want from me. At the end of the day, they have their own cats to worry about, but they would like some writing and publishing advice.

Unpublished writing blogs do one positive thing, usually: they foster community among other unpublished writers. You can come gripe about rejections, brag about word count, share your successes and frustrations and make friends. While that’s nice for you, it has little value to an agent or editor (and not all of us feel this way, so please take this as my opinion) who comes to visit. Unpublished writers also write about writing in their blog, and that may attract other unpublished writers, but it does have a limited reach. Published writers who write about writing usually attract a wider audience, as they have perceived authority.

If you have a blog where you can give people really valuable content, tips, and things to make their lives better (or at least to give them good cocktail party conversation), do it. If you are just thinking of blogging because everyone else does it or you heard that agents won’t consider you unless you have a blog, don’t.

Plus, Web 2.0 (social networking) is a time suck. You can go pretty far down the rabbit hole with Tweets and Facebook updates. Then you lose sight of the thing that’s really going to get you published: writing.

Focus on your writing. And if you feel the need to be online, which you should, at least in some small way, put up a simple three page site: main landing page with info about your work, about you page, contact page. That’s it, and it should be cheap to make a page that actually looks good and professional.

Once you’re under contract with a publisher, of course, everything changes. You’ll have stuff to say. You’ll have a book to sell. You’ll have events to publicize. You’ll have readers who want to know more about you. For now, though, don’t bow to the peer pressure if you really don’t feel comfortable blogging or Tweeting or Facebooking.


  1. Kristen Lamb’s avatar

    Ultimately, we have to write a darn good book, FIRST. That should be the priority. But, we also have to face that with the Information Age, a lion’s share of the marketing will be dropped in our lap. Waiting until we get the book deal (in my opinion) is just crazy and can add a lot of unecessary pressure that can affect the quality of future books.

    Blogging is a great way to build a following for writing and content. If you don’t blog well, it would behoove you to learn. There are books and blogs to teeach us. And if you are new and you suck, who are you going to alienate anyway? Three followers? As you improve so will your following.

    I say use that newbie time to gain habits of self-discipline as you improve and gain followers. When I started blogging (I was unpublished) and looking back, the blogs were pretty awful. But I only had fifteen hits per month. But I kept practicing and posting and modifying my content and now I have thousands of hits per month. Isn’t better that I wrote all those sucky blogs years before my BOOK came out?

    I think everyone has posted some great comments, and this is just my opinion. All I know is that you can’t always work on your book. Being an author is a lifestyle. Reading, watching movies, critique groups, all count as “work.” In my opinion, blogging is part of the job description. Once you are published you will be competing against other authors who do blog and who have blogged for years. People like me who started when they were unpubbed and didn’t know a good blog from a hole in the ground, but who kept at it.

    You could have a great book and no following and you will be up against a not-so-great-book with a following in the thousands. Could you come out ahead? Sure. But it’s a lot of pressure exacerbated by being ill-prepared. Writers no longer have the luxury of solitude. It stinks. I would rather focus on my books than worry about marketing too. But it is reality. We didn’t choose it, but we would be wise to accept it and work with i. It can make the difference between “career author” and “one hit wonder.”.

  2. Mikki’s avatar

    Mary, I hope you’re still reading comments on this post, as I just now read it…I’m recouperating from surgery, so both blogging and keeping up with my favorites have fallen behind. But I have a question: I’m a MG/YA writer, and a retired teacher. I guess I’m still teaching…most of the posts on my blog are about writing. I’ve posted tips on such things as POV, how characters show emotion, voice ( both your voice as an author and the voice of your characters), Book reviews, and so on. I’ve also posted about some of the workshops I’ve taken at conferences, along with notes from them.

    In other words, I’m trying to help beginning writers learn some of the things I’ve learned about writing.

    So far, I’ve published stories and NF, but both of my finished novels are in the final revision stages, so I have not yet begun to query agents.

    So my question is, are the things I’ve posted useful content to other writers, or am I wasting my time? I have published a couple of purely personal posts on the blog, but don’t do that very often. Nor do I talk much…if at all…about my writing, how many words/pages I finished today, my latest rejection, or whatever. ( Since I haven’t queried you, you could take a quick look at my blog, listed under “website” above, but perhaps you could also answer my question without doing that. Just in general, of course…I just don’t know if I’m wasting my time, after reading this post of yours.


  3. Mary’s avatar

    Mikki — It sounds like you’re finding this fulfilling, so keep on keepin’ on. How can you tell if your posts are helpful? Well, are you getting traffic to your blog? Are people commenting? That’s usually how you can tell if you’re moving the needle in any way. But, as you can tell from these comments, blogging really does stir up a lot of passion! If you’re passionate about it, I say keep on doing it. If you’re just doing it because you think you have to, take a peek and see if it’s worth it for you.

  4. anita nolan’s avatar

    Great blog post, Mary! I think you’re exactly right. Blogging/tweeting is a huge time suck and the writing is what’s really important (and now I have to get back to it.)

  5. Mike Jung’s avatar

    Great post, I thoroughly agree – don’t jump into the blogging, Facebooking and Tweeting if you don’t have an innate desire to, because your lack of desire will show. Now, in the spirit of full disclosure, having an active online presence has been a very good thing for me – I’ve struck up acquaintances and friendships with a ton of other writers, I’ve gotten numerous agent referrals, I’ve opened lines of communication with more than one editor because they found my online persona amusing, and the agent I ultimately accepted representation from originally requested pages from me after reading my blog. But I honestly believe that all those things happened because I genuinely enjoy Facebooking, Tweeting and blogging. Topic-wise I stick largely to my own writing, and more than often than not by only goal is to amuse myself. I don’t know that I provide any kind of definable value to anyone, and I certainly don’t have thousands (or even hundreds) of readers. But I have fun goofing around online, and I think that’s what’s drawn positive responses from other folks. If I didn’t enjoy my own efforts at being online, I seriously doubt anyone else would.

  6. DPLblog’s avatar

    Thanks for this statement:

    “You can come gripe about rejections, brag about word count, share your successes and frustrations and make friends. While that’s nice for you, it has little value to an agent or editor … who comes to visit. ”

    I’d add, little value for ‘readers’ who come visit. I’m sure there is a place for the writer’s community to share war stories. Personal blogs don’t need to be that place. I’ve stumbled across writers’ blogs that talk about the publishing game/business as the content of their blog and wonder if people realize that THAT IS THE MESSAGE THE PUBLIC IS GETTING about theose writers. They may be the most brilliant philosopher, or the most research savvy historcal-novelist in the world. But I don’t see that if their blog posts are comprised of “Whew, another 1300 words down today. Gotta go put in those peony transplants now. G’night”.

    I’m a writer who journals mostly, with a couple novels and short stories under my belt, and never thought blogging was worth anything becasue of so many vacant messages like this. The I found a few that I like to go back to, simply becasue the content is consistent, and the writing ABOUT that content is good. I read blogs about football, or beer, or politics, or business, or fashion, or poetry. The common theme is that they are all well written, and reveal honest storytelling, whatever the topic may be. (Good example is This is the test for new bloggers: find a theme that you can write about regularly that can also take your storytelling outside the realm of the mundane. I didn’t think I’d like blogging, but when I realized that blogging was just ‘writing’, but without the predictable canonical formats, I started to really enjoy it.

  7. erica’s avatar

    Just a fast question about blogging and fiction. Though I’ve done quirky observational blogs to a very modest few, my novel falls squarely into the dark-urban-fantasy genre. I would like to build up at least a small platform before I query an agent, but I don’t see how my sharing observations about upper-middle-class white women who purchase “Spiritual Indian Names” (via a guru’s webpage) will draw interest in a novel about the Cailleach Bheur abducting people from the produce section of Albertson’s. Should I simply do a series of short stories to pique interest in the world I’ve created? Or should I keep making observational humor blogs, on the assumption that what I write is less important than how many people follow me? I’ve been looking around, and most “fantasy blogs” I’ve seen have either been from published authors and/or been about the process of writing. I’m confused.

  8. Natalie’s avatar

    I enjoy blogging! I’m not published, yet. And, no, I also don’t do it for the money or press coverage. I’m a writer and so my main goal is to grip, grunt, and (g)rant!

  9. Sonia’s avatar

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