Wednesday, April 23, 2014

What should a fiction writer blog about?

In my last post, I discussed how blogging can help your writing.

The topic sparked in interesting discussion in the comments thread. The question was posed - what should a novelist blog about?

Ah. Good question.

It's a question that stumped me for a good number of years. In fact, that's why I only started blogging at the end of last year - even though I've been writing fiction much longer. It took me a long time to figure out my blogging niche.

If you're struggling with the same question, I'd like to suggest some approaches you could take... and one that perhaps you shouldn't.

1. Blog about writing
Now, this is a fairly common strategy. After all, they say we should blog our passions, and for a writer - writing is a central passion. It's a subject we "know" and are constantly learning more about.

The problem with this approach is the target audience. Who is attracted to a blog about writing? Other writers. And while it's a brilliant way to connect in with the writing community, network with other writers, and form meaningful friendships with like-minded people, it may not be the best platform for marketing your books. The writing community is, by its very nature, over-saturated with book promotion. It's chock full of authors who all constantly have new releases and soon-to-be-releases and cover reveals and e-book promotions, not to mention the backlists they'd still like to sell. It's enough to make you giddy, trying to keep up with it.

Not convinced? Wendy Lawton of Books&Such literary management wrote an excellent post on this topic: The Trouble with Tribes. I highly recommend you check it out!

2. Blog your subject matter
If you write historical or genre fiction, you've hit the mother lode of blog material.

Historical writers love to research, but many of those details and anecdotes won't find their way into your books. Why not blog your fascinating discoveries? An example is WWII novelist Sarah Sundin's "Today in WWII history" feature, where she shares a brief anecdote for each day of the year.

If you're an author of murder mysteries, you could blog about relevant news headlines; police procedure; a layman's guide to forensics; biographical sketches of serial killers... the list goes on.

Do you write romance? Blog about romance. Tips for a first date. 10 ways to bring the sizzle back to your marriage. Best honeymoon getaways. 5 ways to date your husband for free. Conversation-starters with your spouse. Thoughts and anecdotes and inspiration regarding relationships, love, and commitment.

3. Blog your themes
Perhaps you're not a genre author. That doesn't mean you don't have something to blog about.

Take a look at the themes running through your work. You may have themes of forgiveness, redemption, trust, identity, belonging, surrender... and many others. Your blog is a chance to delve deeper into some of these ideas as you journal your ideas, thoughts and reflections on life.

Friend of the Alley, Jeanne Takenaka, does this beautifully on her blog. I love my friend Megan Sayer's tagline "Deep thoughts from an ordinary life." These women are gathering an audience of people who resonate not only with their writing style, but with the quality of their insights into everyday life - characteristics that will draw this same tribe of followers to their novels.

4. Blog your characters and settings
If you worry that you're not inspiring enough or don't have enough to say of a thematic nature, there's other blogging material to be found in your novel.

You could interview your characters; write journal entries from their POV; share photos of models or actors who look like your character as you imagine them; discuss the settings in which your novel takes place; share short excerpts or deleted scenes; and include recipes inspired by your novel. These can all be effective teasers.

One caution is that it could prove difficult to build an audience using these methods, if you're starting out with no platform and have no publishing contract yet in sight. Readers will probably not be interested in hearing endless details about characters they haven't yet "met" in a book, especially when there's no immediate chance of doing so. This approach would work best once you have an established audience and are building buzz for a newly-released book.

5. Blog short fiction
Why not give your readers a teaser of your writing style by blogging a weekly short story? If the writing you offer for free is consistently good, you'll slowly but surely build a fan base who'll be first in line to get their hands on your full-length work - simply because they like your stuff and want more of it.

Another creative approach: one of my favorite writing blogs, Novel Matters, are currently running a serial story - written collaboratively by their blog readers and posted in short instalments.

Alternately, you could write your own serial story. Bestselling action/ thriller writer Matthew Reilly did this with his story Hover Car Racer, and then released the whole as an e-book.

5. Blog about books
If you love reading and reviewing, this approach makes perfect sense for you as an author. What better way to reach a book-loving tribe than by blogging about books? Regular book reviews and meet-the-author chats are fantastic ways to connect with readers who enjoy the same type of books as you do.

Two great examples of this approach are the She Reads blog and our own Casey Herringshaw's blog, Writing for Christ.

6. Blog to your target demographic's interests
At this point, it's time for me to confess that I don't use any of the above 5 approaches. I've gone a different route altogether.

Why? Because first and foremost, you need to blog on a topic you're passionate about. If your heart's not in it, your blog will feel lacklustre, and you'll struggle to keep up your commitment for the long haul.

For various reasons, none of the above felt like quite the right fit for me. Hence why I wriggled around uncomfortably for years and put off blogging altogether.

Finally, it was Wendy Lawton's excellent post, The Trouble with Tribes (also referenced in Point One above) that gave me my lightbulb moment.

The point of a blog is to gather a tribe of readers. 

I write contemporary, inspirational women's fiction. Therefore, my ideal readership is women: particularly (but not exclusively) Christian women.

Women who enjoy picking up a novel for entertainment, but might not be drawn to a non-fiction style blog.

I started thinking - what does this readership want? What do we enjoy doing in our downtime? What inspires us? What do we watch on TV? In other words, outside of reading, what are the concerns and interests of this particular demographic?

Clearly, there's no one right answer to these questions. We're all unique, with different interests. But stand back far enough to survey the big picture, and you'll notice trends.

Women are - not always, but more often than not - the home-makers. We are the creative CEO's of our family, called upon to organize, feed, decorate, entertain and educate.

The explosion of Pinterest highlights the enormous popularity of lifestyle and DIY among women. Lifestyle TV is huge - cooking shows, decorating shows. It's a thriving niche market, and it falls smack dab in the middle of my target demographic.

As an ex-Creative Arts teacher, mum of small kids, and a part-time interior decorator, I knew I had something to offer in this field. To women, like myself, who want to mother creatively and make their house a home.

Most excitingly for me, it's something I'm actually passionate about. It's a topic thrilling enough to me that I have more blog fodder than I have hours to blog about it. So, I launched a home-making blog: a house full of sunshine.

It's an experiment, of course. Will I gather a tribe of readers who love my lifestyle and DIY posts, but have zero interest in my someday books?

My strategy is to use the posts themselves to constantly refine and focus my audience. I'm launching a monthly book-club. (Hate reading, and annoyed by those posts? You'll probably step off here.) I post openly about my faith in God. (Militant atheist? You'll no doubt unsubscribe at this point.)

I try to see those unsubscribes and un-follows as a positive thing. They're a sign that my audience is becoming more honed, more targeted, more clearly an embodiment of my ideal readership, day by day.

Most importantly, I'm building a tribe of readers who are connected with who I am as a person, and interested in what I have to say.

Do all of them start out as passionate fiction-lovers? Of course not. But it's my belief that every person can be a reader. And by looking outside the traditional avenues - writers who read writing blogs; readers intentional enough to look up book reviews - I'm tapping into a new market of people who are just women... like me.

Women who might just pick up a good book if it comes recommended by a blogger they've connected with.

How about you? What do you blog about? What is your target demographic - and how do you plan to reach them? How would you describe your ideal reader?


Help - I'm a fiction writer and I don't know what to blog about! Find inspiration here: Click to Tweet

Novelists - can you describe your ideal reader? If not, your blog may be missing the mark: Click to Tweet

Why writers shouldn't blog about writing - and a wealth of other ideas to try instead: Click To Tweet

Karen Schravemade lives in Australia, where she mothers by day and transforms into a fearless blogger by night. She's a Genesis finalist for women's fiction and is represented by Rachel Kent of Books & Such. Find her on TwitterGoogle+, Pinterest, and getting creative on her home-making blog, A house full of sunshine.


Julia M. Reffner said...


I think your blog is a great example of the uniqueness that is Karen. I LOVE it! You are so talented in the areas of decorating and fun ideas with the kids, it is a great niche for you.

Blogging about subject matter: I think Laura Frantz does fantastic with this, showing us all the dresses and settings and teaching us about real-life people in the colonial era. Another one who does this well is Carla Stewart.

One of my favorites for blogging themes present in her novels is Mary DeMuth. Her blogs contain the same emphasis on freedom and redemption you'll find in your books.

Other favorites:
I love how Sherrinda blogs about art and creativity. She has such a talent in those areas and her artistic blog shows who she is. I love that Mary's blog features books but that she also spotlights devotionals.

Great meaty post!

Jeanne Takenaka said...

Fabulous post, Karen! You gave so many wonderful ideas on how to blog as a fiction writer!

That post by Wendy Lawton really got my attention too. That's one big reason I opted not to start another blog on writing. I'm not sure I could offer anything unique on that front anyway. :) You gave me some good food for thought to consider as I trek forward in my own blogging journey.

Thanks for the mention. That was sweet of you. :)

I look forward to checking out your blog!

Pepper said...

Great post, Karen.
I have a good idea of what I want my blog to cover, I just have trouble consistently posting.
Maybe when life slows down a little I can be more intentional - and I'd probably fit into the blog about themes and reading.

I want my blog to be about Appalachia (which fits with my geographic area of books and themes), but also I place my book reviews up there. Is that counterproductive? I usually have Book Feature Wednesday (not today...mind you - because of my inconsistency at the moment), but that's the plan :-)

Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

JULIA, thanks for those sweet words. And what a great list of blogs that fit into those categories! Mary deMuth is a great example of blogging themes. She absolutely does this so well. I love that there is such diversity among fiction writers who blog - and that each blog has it's own flavour and personality. Our own personal Alleycat blogs are all great examples of that.

Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

I'm going for the "how many times can you fit the word great into a single comment" award. ;) Still waking up!

Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

You're very welcome, Jeanne! And yes - that article was really pivotal for me as well as I launched my blog. Lots of wisdom amongst those agents!

Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

PEPPER, I don't think it's counterproductive at all. It's a fantastic way to engage a readership who enjoy books and love reading about the geographical area - both of which characterise your ideal reader. You've nailed it! As for posting consistently, that's one of the hardest things to do, especially with a plate as full as yours. I think you have your focus in the right place - you're working hard on your craft and your product (your books) which is first and foremost the most important thing you can do.

Casey said...

This is such a great post! I really connected with your comment about blogging about our genre--I need to do more along the lines of romance. I love to write about what I'm passionate about to: singleness, purity, modesty, etc. Just a really good resource here, thank you! And thank you for the blog mention. :)

Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

Thank you, CASEY! So glad it was helpful for you. And you're very welcome! :)

Megan Sayer said...

Ha! Thanks so much for the shout-out Karen! I read this yesterday, and got so much out of it - and didn't even notice you'd mentioned my blog. Sheesh! I wasn't even skimming!
Anyway, GREAT topic. When I first started blogging I had absolutely no idea. All I knew was I didn't want to start another writing blog, or make it all about my book, my process, my writing journey. I'm not a genre writer, nor historical, and my themes are broad. It took me a while to realise that the big thing that motivates me as a writer is honesty about life, and speaking up about things that matter to people that they don't necessarily talk about. It seems to have worked for me. I'm so glad it resonates with you. I think for me the biggest thing was finding something that felt true to me that I wouldn't get bored of in a fortnight. That's harder than it looks :)

Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

It definitely seems to have struck a chord with lots of people, Megan! I'd say you're onto something there. Your writing always feels so fresh and interesting and I think your unique voice is a big part of your appeal. Plus you are a deep thinker with so much insight to offer. It's a gift. I'm lucky if I can come up with something inspiring to say once a month. Seriously. :-)