Prelude to a ScienceOnline panel: Using Blogs to Promote Your Book

If there is any problem with my upcoming panel discussion with Tom Levenson and Rebecca Skloot tomorrow morning it is that there is too much to talk about! There is no way to get to it all. In the spirit of the conference, then, we are going to let the questions of our audience guide the discussion rather than lecture our listeners about our experiences, but I did want to briefly comment an issue Tom brought up on his blog earlier today.Tom wrote;

[O]ne piece of advice I do have for writers planning to start blogs specifically to aid their upcoming book projects -- don't. At least don't imagine that blog created simply to promote a specific book is going to do much for you. Either your book is already attracting attention, in which case the blog won't hurt but won't add much value for the time taken to do it right, or your book is struggling to find traction, and a brand new blog is not usually an immediately effective way to reach much of an audience. Especially if the blog is explicitly built around the work that already isn't getting enough play.

I cannot help but agree. Blogs created to specifically promote books don't seem to get very far. Often times I have seen authors generate a flurry of early posts in the wake of a book release only to abandon the blog relatively quickly. Then they come back a few months later, with a promise to get back to blogging, but this is often more of a last gasp than a true comeback. As Tom aptly points out, while these attempts might not hurt they do not seem to do anything to help a book that is already struggling to find an audience.

Overall I don't think the strict "blog as promotion tool" approach is very productive. Such blogs are not about engaging in conversation. They are simply about selling something, and who wants to read a string of promotional posts with no other content? This is not to say that blogs cannot be used as effective promotion tools, however.

The best way to use a blog as a book promotion tool is to enjoy blogging as a thing unto itself. By developing solid essays, experimenting with ideas, and otherwise using a blog as a writing lab it is possible to build up an audience that will be genuinely interested in the book you are creating. This cannot be achieved overnight. It takes months to years of effort, but as someone who has done so I definitely think it is worth the long hours at the keyboard creating new material. I will elaborate on the reasons why tomorrow morning, but my work on this blog has heavily influenced the creation of my first book. I imagine that it will continue to be important as it goes to press.

The short story is this: if you want to supplement or support your book by writing a job, start early. You might start during the writing process (as a way to play with ideas) or you might pick it up when your final draft goes into production (to bring up material left out of the book or write about related topics), but in the end a blog has to be an independent, yet complementary, entity. Cocktail Party Physics, The Happiness Project, Stories in Stone, and, I hope, this blog are good examples of have blogs and books can support each other in such a way. Can you think of any other examples?

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Thanks for the mention about Stories in Stone on your blog. As someone who did develop his blog to help promote a new book, I think you are mostly right about book promotion blogs. If, as you you wrote the blog is simply a series of "Ooh, ooh, buy my new book!" posts then it won't sell, but blogging, when it tries to convey information and share stories, does open up your book to many more people. And I think most opportunistically for a writer, a blog also creates more opportunities for people to find you and for you to meet people you wouldn't have met otherwise.
Looking forward to your book.