The World Wide Web was made for finding things out. It's the first place I turn whenever I've got an enquiry, whether it's to find a plumber quickly or discover what Dickens' character I am. But sadly, the interweb cannot always help us. Sometimes when we type in a search term to the Google gods nothing relevant comes back despite scouring page after page of results. This is rare and annoying, but hardly surprising. The World Wide Web is not a mirror held up to the world. It more resembles something you'd find in an old fairground hall of mirrors: the silver backing flaking off and leaving black spots of nothing, the glass scratched and misted, the familiar no longer so distinct if not bent entirely out of shape, the multiple reflections and distortions giving you a headache.
If you're an author, however, especially a new one, you're pretty much expected - by your agent and your publisher - to have a presence in this strange mirror world. If people want to know about you or your work, the web is the first place they'll look. If there's nothing there to find, so the wisdom runs, that's a potential reader lost, a word-of-mouth champion who'll never say your name out loud. Unfortunately, for most authors, your agent and publisher aren't likely to put up the money for your own website. So what is an author to do? Well, these days most are advised to have a blog.
But that just creates a whole host of problems for the author. What should an author blog about? How often should they post? Should they post for their readers or themselves? Might it interfere with their other writing? In short, what makes a good author blog?
Clearly, the answers to these questions are as numerous as there are readers and writers, and therefore so riddled with contradictions as to be almost meaningless. However, it seems to me that a good author blog is simply a platform and, behaving a bit like any well-made table, requires four sturdy legs upon which to stand:
1) It should be personal - but not mundane.
2) The author should write about their work as well as their interests.
3) They should be entertaining company.
4) Posts should be regular and frequent.
Unsurprisingly, few author blogs manage all four. Most writers have more pressing matters to attend to.
However, for any author intending to blog, I would suggest they visit Neil Gaiman's journal. Gaiman has been blogging since 2001, when his publisher set up a blog to promote his American Gods book tour. The tour finished, but the blog rolls on and he now has over a million monthly visitors. So what makes it good? (If we're not a publisher salivating over the figures alone.) Firstly, he posts at least a couple of times a week on things that interest him. He's also charming company and when he talks about his personal life, you not only feel like he's talking to you but there's usually a point to his stories: they're the sorts of things you'd tell your friends down the pub, not the trivia you'd put in your personal diary. He tells his readers where he's going to be and when; what he's working on and who with; what stuff is out there and will be coming out soon. And he answers questions. Above all, Gaiman's blog is a reader's blog.
By way of contrast, another author blog which I believe is very successful is Jeff Vandermeer's Vanderworld*. Vandermeer posts more regularly than Gaiman and uses the blog as a crucial means of communication. He is also a seriously opinionated and provocative writer who loves a joke. Above all, though, Vandermeer is fascinating on (and fascinated by) being a writer. Not only does he provide a great deal of insight into his works as well as now and again posting new stuff as he's writing it, but also he is very good at hunting down new writers and proving very perceptive about their work. To my mind, Vandermeer's blog, while accessible to all, is more a writer's blog than a reader's one. Many of those who comment are fellow writers or have connections to Vandermeer through his writing. All of this gives Vandermeer a formidable online presence.
Pale Cast is a different kind of blog again. Unlike Gaiman's and Vandermeer's, this is a young blog. Sarah Singleton, its author, is a children's novelist and a short story writer and yet she does not write her blog for children. She writes, it seems to me, for herself and that is its strength. Her family, her interest in nature and history, her writing, her visits to schools and festivals and even family holidays all prove so inspiring to Singleton that I'm always looking forward to what she has to say next. Singleton may have fewer writing projects to blog about than Vandermeer and Gaiman at this early stage in her career, but she manages to walk the fine line between talking about yourself and being interesting to listen to.
Three successful blogs then. This is no more than a brief snapshot of three that I read and some of the reasons I read them. What author blogs do you read? Why? What's good about them? Let us know.
Colin Brush, Senior Copywriter
* Update, 22nd June: Jeff Vandermeer has moved his blog to here.