In this episode, Belinda Pollard, Alison Young and Donita Bundy discuss the pros and cons of having an author blog. What are the benefits, and do they outweigh the cost of the time and energy taken to blog? Are there special considerations for us as Christians?
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In conversation in this episode:
- Belinda Pollard, author of mainstream crime novels, writing coach, accredited editor with qualifications in theology, and Gracewriters founder
- Alison Joy, romance author, former early childhood teacher and mother of 4 adult children
- Donita Bundy, writing teacher, preacher and author of young adult urban fantasy
Topics covered in this episode:
- What the research has to say about the pros and cons of blogging for authors
- The practicalities of learning to blog
- The spiritual and ethical implications of whether and how we blog
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Belinda Pollard: Welcome to the Gracewriters Podcast – Christian Writers Changing Popular Culture. Find us on your favourite podcast player and at Gracewriters.com.
Today on the podcast, Do Authors Need to Blog? I’m Belinda Pollard. I’m an author, editor and writing coach with a theology degree and 20 years in the publishing industry. Find links to my blogs, books, and courses at belindapollard.com.
Alison Joy: Hi, I’m Alison Young. I’m a romance writer under the name Alison Joy. I’m a former early childhood educator and I have four adult children. Well, obviously, they’re not children anymore! You can find all my information on alisonjoywriter.com.
Donita Bundy: Hi everyone, I’m Donita Bundy. For the last 20 years I’ve been using my theology degree to inform my teaching and preaching and more recently, my writing and blogging. You can find out more about me at donitabundy.com.
Belinda Pollard: Our topic today is the next in our author platform series, Do Authors Need to Blog? A controversial topic! What the research has to say about the pros and cons of blogging for authors will be our first thing that we’ll look at. Then the practicalities of learning to blog and also the spiritual and ethical implications of whether and how we blog.
Alison, you’ve been doing some research for us. Could you please start, perhaps, with a brief definition of what blogging actually is and then let us know what you’ve found regarding the consensus of whether blogging is a benefit for authors.
Alison Joy: Well, the word blog is short for weblog which is basically keeping your log or a journal on the web somewhere. So, it’s just a way of sending out content to people whether it’s personal or informational or something like that. So, it’s one of those things, it’s very, as you said, controversial. Some people say blogging is the be all and end all. Some people don’t think it’s worthwhile and then it’s basically up to you to figure out if its right for you. It may be right for you and it may not be right for you.
It’s something that won’t be for everybody. One of the main drawbacks is it’s very time consuming. So, all the time you’re putting into your blog is something you could be putting into your writing. So, you’ve got to weigh it up whether you want to spend a lot of time doing additional content when you could be actually working on your writing projects. So that’s something you have to look at.
And I think writers want to know will it be worth all the effort. Are they going to get any return with putting in all this time and effort. Stop laughing! So, for me, I haven’t decided.
Belinda Pollard: I think there might be a world of pain behind that laughter that was coming from Donita!
Donita Bundy: Yes, we’ll talk about that later. Sorry. I’ll just (mouth zipping motion).
Alison Joy: For me, I haven’t decided whether blogging is something I want to do. I have blogged. A bit sporadically at the moment. I’d like it to be a bit more regular. But, in a way I can see, writing is writing so the more you write the better you’ll get so writing in different areas is only going to help in the long run. So, yes, from that point of view blogging is good but it’s just, as I said, putting it in with everything else. So, as I said, I haven’t decided one way or the other about giving it a go. Maybe I should give it a bit more of a red hot go rather than just a bit here and there. But we’ll just see how it goes.
Belinda Pollard: What about you, Donita, what do you think about that? About whether it’s worth it or not?
Donita Bundy: I think it all depends on why you’re blogging. I think if you’re blogging because the books and the professionals say if you want to write books you need to blog. Well then, that’s not necessarily the right way to go about it. If you’re blogging because you want to have raging success and reach multitudes of people, that’s probably also going to end in sadness and tears. If you’re blogging because you have a desire to write. That you enjoy writing. If there’s content or if there’s topics that you are excited about, that you want to explore, I think that it comes from the drive.
Because if you’re doing it because someone says you have to, you’re going to run out of impetus when you hit that wall and you think, urgh. You’re going to give up. If you’re struggling to find something to write, you spend a lot of time thinking, “What on earth am I going to write about.” And you’re right, Alison, it takes a lot to time and to begin with it takes ridiculous time. But I have found, personally, that it does get quicker the more you do it. You do get better. You can’t help but get better the more you write.
When I first started, I knew nothing about writing and as Belinda’s my editor she knows I knew nothing about writing. And the great thing about blogging is that it teaches me some discipline. It teaches me about deadlines.
Belinda Pollard: I don’t think I’d agree with your assessment that you knew nothing about writing. However, on you go!
Donita Bundy: I used WordPress and I have a plugin called Yoast SEO which helps you find search engines and yadda yadda. I don’t even understand that but one thing they did help me with was things like active and passive voice, about a whole lot of other tools about writing that I didn’t know about. And so, they set a lot of things up. So, I learnt a lot in the early days and like Alison said and like I tell my kids, the more you write the better you’re going to get. You can’t help but improve. And so, whilst my audience has been quite small I have just learnt so much through the journey of blogging.
Belinda Pollard: So just to clarify, that plugin that you mentioned you found that by trying to meet its requirements and suggestions you learnt things along the way?
Donita Bundy: Absolutely.
Belinda Pollard: Almost functioning like a tutorial.
Donita Bundy: Absolutely. This particular plugin is free – there’s a free version of it. For a website to be found or for content to be found by a search engine, there’s certain boxes you need to tick. And so they tell you, for example, not to have more than 300 words under a heading. And you need to have certain things in there and so I learnt long sentences, short sentences, all sorts of things. Don’t repeat yourself. So, I learnt a lot of things through that. And I found that really beneficial for my own writing. Also developing a body of content along the way.
Alison Joy: So, Donita, I’m just curious, how often do you blog?
Donita Bundy: At the moment, I am blogging fortnightly.
Belinda Pollard: That’s every two week for people outside the UK and Australia.
Donita Bundy: So, at the beginning of last year when COVID hit and we were churching from home I was challenged to reinvigorate my blog and I started blogging weekly instead of doing my regular preaching at church. I took that teaching online into my blog and I started writing series. I keep my word count to about 800 words and so I would then do about a four-week series and I would do that weekly. We’ve been back at church for a while now, but I felt challenged to continue that blog. But because I’m doing other things and as you said, Alison, I’m still trying to write books and I find that it is time-consuming, I’ve dropped back to a fortnightly blog.
Belinda Pollard: Just a couple of little technical matters there. Donita has mentioned a plugin. A plugin is not something you plug into your electrical outlet at home. It is, basically, a small piece of software that you can add to the software that’s running your website that enables some new and different functionality. And a blog is essentially just a particular type of website. It’s not separate to your website.
We’ve talked about the fact that you need to have a website as a writer these days, unfortunately. It’s just, kind of, one of the things. And so a blog is, essentially, just some content that’s being updated all the time instead of sitting there just static. And one of the things that I love about blogging – I’ve been doing it for about 10 years on different websites – and I’ve found that blogging attracts the Googlebots. So, it brings them to your website because it’s new content.
So, the search engines notice that you’ve created new content so they keep coming back round and then if they see that people are reading your new content then they will share that new content to more potential new readers because they’re, essentially, trying to work out what people want to read. So over time, and it does take a while. It can take two years for a blog to start gaining traction. Over that time you start to get delivered more and more traffic to your website.
So, I find it really useful from that point of view that it’s just helping raise your website in the search results on Google and other search engines. I find it’s useful in that it helps develop a writing practice. It helps you to find your voice. And your voice as a blogger might be a bit different to your voice as a writer depending on what type of writing that you’re doing. But hopefully, it can be a bit of harmony between the voices so that people who like the way you blog might also like the way you write in your other writing.
I remember sitting at a writing conference, a few years ago, where all these people from the big publishers were on a panel up the front and they said the first thing they do when the see a submission they like from a writer is Google that writer’s name. So, Google your name and see what’s coming up. And what we want is for what comes up with your name to be content you create. Not some picture someone posted of you on Facebook with a bucket on your head but something that really does represent you and what you’re all about.
It’s, kind of, this really interwoven thing that’s happening. And this is why I continue to love blogging even though I do find it a time imposition and often find it difficult to do. I’m constantly adjusting and changing things. Well, the other things that I’ve had out of blogging is I’ve had a lot of actual real world career impact from my blogging. I’ve had invitations to speak at national conferences because of blog posts. I’ve had work opportunities and collaborations.
So, it has really helped me and it has, actually, changed the course of my writing and publishing life. So, I guess, I’m a little bit of a fan but I also totally agree that we need to find what to do and why to do it. And to take those little tentative first steps.
I’m running three blogs. The Gracewriters blog was initially weekly but I switched it to just being the fortnightly, every two weeks, podcast episodes because it was so time intensive and I’m also trying to run a business and look after family and do all the other things. And so now it’s links to the podcast and the transcript every two weeks. So, the transcript is, basically, forming our blog post and attracting the Googlebots. All those words that are in the transcript are showing Google how to find us.
In my Small Blue Dog for writing, editing and publishing stuff, I’ve got about 80 articles on there now, I think, and I’ve written them to a standard not a schedule, so they’ve been a little bit sporadic over the years. And they’re quite long, 2000 words or more, and a lot of research goes into them. So, that’s another quite different thing. Donita said 800 words. A lot of the business blogs are only 4-500 words. People want to read them fast. But it’s funny that writers seem to like long content and I can tell they’re not reading it all, but they share it. I can tell they’re not reading it all because they ask me questions about things that are in the blog post!
Donita Bundy: Welcome to the world of teachers, Belinda!
Belinda Pollard: And yet, they somehow find them useful, and they keep sharing them and they keep coming back to them. So, I don’t know, it’s just all a matter of muddling around and trying to figure it out. And on my name blog, belindapollard.com, I’m experimenting with creating a monthly post with a creative writing piece and some Instagram photos and some books news and some links to my other websites, so I’m experimenting with that. That’s what, as we record this, is lying ahead for me and because we record these ahead of time you can go and have a look and see if I’ve done it, or not! But that’s the goal. It’s tricky, isn’t it.
So, we need to have a website. Is there something that we can write that we can be constantly updating which then tickles the Google algorithms and helps bring more people to our website.
And what are you doing at the moment, Alison. What’s your approach been, practically?
Alison Joy: I haven’t really established anything. I’m probably putting a blog out every couple of months. I think I need to try and get it out, at least, one a month and maybe a bit more often than that. But I think it’s a good way to engage and build community with the readers. I don’t know if you ladies might find that people might read your blogs long before they actually buy a book. Have you found that? That people come to you for your blog and then eventually buy your books.
Donita Bundy: And I think that, Alison and Belinda, you mentioned before about the content of your blog and your writing. I really do feel that there needs to be some harmony between the two because we’ve been talking about, with the website, and building this community. If you’re building a community based on what’s in your blog and your writing is on a different level and a different topic or a different whatever, you’re focusing on one community and alienating another.
So, I honestly believe there needs to be some balance so that people who are drawn in through the blog or the newsletters, or whatever, are finding further outlet or further food or further interest in the writing. And I think that comes back to, we’ve talked about brand. How we need to have our brand established first then we create the website around who we are, what our brand is. Then if we choose to blog, if that’s a path we go down, that then is something related or connected to our writing.
I know some people just write their books. They’re producing several books a year. How these people can possibly blog as well, I’ve got no idea. Blogging isn’t for everybody but having regular content on your website should be something we should be aiming at for those reasons you said. I really would love to encourage people to think about having a continuity between their books, or whatever their product is, and their blog.
Alison Joy: It’s interesting. The publishing guru, David Gaughran, the island that he lives, I think he lives in Portugal now. It’s funny because he says, “No, you don’t need to blog.” But having said that he blogs because he gets a lot of benefit from it. But he can see, because he put a lot of effort into it, and he’s got a billion links and blah blah blah, he does promotions and stuff. So, he can see the advantage of it from his point of view but he’s saying, “Look, really.” I guess his big thing is website and newsletter and that’s it. You get all that and then you add on everything else after that.
Belinda Pollard: I was looking at one of our Gracewriters the other day, and she’s got a great Instagram profile on which she posts stories about what she’s doing and those stories are quite lengthy, a couple of hundred words. She’s got a blog post there, already. Now, whether you post it on your blog plus on Instagram or whether you post a short version of it on Instagram and say, go to my blog to read the rest. It’s a bit tricky with Instagram.
For those who haven’t come across Instagram, it’s a social network where you can post photos and it’s not very good in terms of links because there are no live links in your stories. So, it’s not like Facebook or Twitter where you can post a link to your blog and people can click the link and go straight to your blog. It’s a bit harder. But there are services like Linktree where you can have that in your profile, people can click your Linktree and in that can be your link to your latest blog post. It’s complicated but I wonder a bit if because she’s already got the audience on Instagram whether she should keep posting them on Instagram but also post them on her website to create some ongoing content because there’s people who would be interested in that content who are not on Instagram.
Donita Bundy: Yes.
Belinda Pollard: And so, creating using the same content and repurposing it for this other situation. And I see other people who are writing quite interesting stuff and they’re doing it on Facebook, and we’ve seen, over recent months, that Facebook can make their own decisions about whether we’re going to continue to be seen or not in people feeds. So, sure, keep, maybe, posting stuff on the various social networks but link it back to the website and then that same material that you’re already producing can become your blog post.
Donita Bundy: Yes.
Alison Joy: I think, obviously, you’re going to reach different audiences with different mediums. So, which ones work for you or which ones better connect with your readers. And then, obviously, that’s going to be trial and error as in everything on this writing journey. It’s just try something and see if it works for you and if it doesn’t, well, no big deal. Just move on to something else.
Belinda Pollard: And you’re a photographer too, Alison, so I wonder if sometimes some of your photos you could post them to your blog and just tell a bit of the story of the photos.
Alison Joy: Well, usually, when I do a blog I have a photo that I’ve taken.
Donita Bundy: Something that was very successful when it was working for me, when I worked at a smaller country town further north, I’d drive home a different way each time with my camera and then each week I would post snapshots of the week. And I would just show photographs of the area. It would be like a photo journal of the week with just a few words. Very popular for the locals and people overseas who wanted to know and people who lived here who had family overseas. It was just an interesting way for them to do that. And that was very easy to consume quick and then post. So that was, maybe, something you could look at doing if you’re doing a lot of photography.
Belinda Pollard: Spiritual and ethical implications of all this stuff. Donita, could you get us started on thinking about some of those things about whether and how we blog and how that interacts with our faith as Gracewriters.
Donita Bundy: Yes.
Again, we’re going to struggle with blogging and the lack of immediate success if we’ve come at it looking for the worldly success. To be Christians is not to receive success the way that the world sees it. I’ve got a reminder here of Amy Carmichael and her words, “I’ve been called to be obedient not successful.” And I think if we have a burning desire to write. If some of us feel called to write well, then this is an opportunity for us to share that voice and to represent to God and get that message out.
Some writers have lots of ideas – they don’t know what to do with them. Blogging is another way you can get those things down. If you’re coming at blogging, or if you’re a writer who feels called and that there is that burning message. I know, personally, I just think life would be so much easier if I didn’t blog but then as soon as I stop blogging, I just have this, “Oh, I’ll just jot this down, just quickly.” And I’m just constantly thinking, anyway, so I figure I may as well do it and do a good job of it, as best I can.
Just summing up, not only have we, personally, as children of God received that message, that Gospel message, that is soothing and invigorating and healing. The living message, we have received it but we also have a responsibility to share it. And to do the best we can with that message and whatever our audience is, whatever our topic of writing is, there are ways that we can work those truths into blogging. Again, it comes back to who we are. Who we’re created to be. What the call in our life is and who that message is for.
Belinda Pollard: Good thoughts. Any final thoughts, Alison?
Alison Joy: There is no magic formula for this writing journey and everybody’s different. And everybody will find different things work for them and it’s just a matter of trial and error. Yes, just give it a good shot. Look at some other blogs that other people have done, get some ideas, maybe try it out and see what happens. And then if it doesn’t work out it’s not the end of the world. You can move onto something else.
Donita Bundy: I think it’s also really helpful to note that when we begin we’re not going to have a huge audience. We’re not going to have hundreds of people reading our work. It’s going to take a long time to get that kind of response and so it takes the pressure off knowing that the content we’re putting out is not necessarily going to be judged by heaps and heaps of people.
It’s also really important to remember that we are not going to please all people all the time. And think of Paul, he went out with God’s message and he divided communities. People either loved him or hated him. We’re not going to please all people all the time so, pray about it, do the best you can, trial and error.
Belinda Pollard: How about we pray for the Gracewriters.
Heavenly Father, we thank you so much for the opportunities that we have. We thank you that you have some great ideas about blogging and that you’re very willing to share them with us. So, we ask you to please help us. Give us wisdom. Give us good sense. Help us to know how to set up, if we’re going to blog, how to set up a sustainable practice and what you would like us to write about. Please show us, Lord, in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Alison Joy: Amen
Donita Bundy: Amen
Belinda Pollard: Thank you, Alison Joy and Donita Bundy. I’m Belinda Pollard and we will see you next time on the Gracewriters podcast.
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Jeanette Grant Thomson says
Thanks, girls. I love blogging – well, I love writing. At the moment I use blogging to express more overtly spiritual things than I would put in some of my fiction works, although my biographical books are very God-centred.
I began with Jeanette’s Journallings, a smorgasbord of life stories and comments. Now I’m doing godwhispersjgt.blogspot.com which is specifically about when God shows up, either subtly or very obviously.
I do feel these blogs have drawn some readers to my books but I blog only when I feel I have something to say, which can be every few weeks or not for months.
Thanks again, Jeanette Grant-Thomson
Belinda Pollard says
That sounds great, Jeanette. The relationship between our blog readers and our book readers is an interesting one. I’m glad you love blogging too. 🙂