To Blog – Or Not To Blog – That is the Question

Last year I was asked to contribute to an article for The CWA monthly magzine RED HERRINGS, about Blogs and Writers. Naturally one of my first choices was to ask Elaine Flinn as I loved her ‘On The Bubble’. The essay was great but due to a conflict in schedules the commissioned piece was cancelled hence I never got to use Elaine’s essay. This week, I have been thinking about Elaine a great deal and of course I remembered the essay. So I thought it apt to pass it back to Murderati where she was one of the co-founders

– Ali Karim



by Elaine Flinn

And it was a major question for me when Pari Noskin Taichert invited me to join Murderati. I was hesitant to take the plunge. I mean, the net was already burgeoning with author blogs. Could readers be interested in yet another one? I’m not an essayist, nor am I a short story writer. Hell, I can’t even write a short email. And anything I might have to say about the writing life, the publishing world or marketing – has been said umpteen times by others more eloquent. So what was left for me to offer? Not a damn thing, I quickly thought.

But I was intrigued, and knew that being on a blog was a great way to meet new readers and maybe get a gleaning of what they liked, or didn’t like. Pari had rounded up an interesting mix I thought might be unique. Her series has a quirky protag who promoted New Mexico, Naomi Hirahara had an ethnic protag, J.T. Ellison was newly agented, but unpublished, Jeff Cohen and Deni Dietz wrote humor, and Simon Wood was a hopeful horror writer. And moi? I have an antiques dealer who can’t stay out of trouble. But still, I was wary. I’m not presumptuous enough to think I had anything profound to say. While I’ve been fortunate to have garnered four nominations and the Barry Award for my mystery series, I still didn’t feel like an old salt or qualified to offer advice to anyone.

My Eureka moment arrived one night while I was watching David Rose. Interviews! Yes! That’s what I’ll do. I can’t make a fool of myself asking questions, right? I’ll interview writers. But I decided not to ask the same boring questions; how do you come up with plots?, what’s your writing schedule like?, etc, etc. I’ll mix it up – make it tongue-in-cheek – maybe throw in a serious one now and then. Thus, ON THE BUBBLE was born. So I signed on for a year. The fact that I had to come up with fifty-two author interviews hadn’t crossed my addled mind at that point.

Attracting readers for a blog is a slow process, but we trudged on hoping to increase our ‘hits’ and hoping like hell we’d accumulate more comments each day. I mean, we all supported each other on a daily basis, but comments from our fellow blog mates praising each other’s contributions was not what we were after. After about three or four months, we made great leaps and attracted more and more readers. Whew.

I like to think of the writing world as being organic. Change is constant – new sub-genres evolve, scores of new writers debut, some favorites fade away, certain plot themes are suddenly all the rage, and then quickly die. Blogs are susceptible as well to the evolving moods and interests of writers and readers. We experienced changes at Murderati which introduced new voices and new perspectives. When Paul Guyot joined us, that change was immediately apparent. His incredibly popular former blog – ‘Inkslinger’ – daily produced one of the highest traffic counts ever on the web. His legion of fans and friends were quick to engage him again at Murderati. And when Alexandra Sokoloff and Louise Ure came on board, we attracted yet another new set of readers. All great writers with singular voices sharing their world and how they view it. And that is – without doubt –the raison d’etre of a blog.

But I’ve mentioned change, have I not? And blogs – like the writing world – as being organic? Now, I too am part of that swinging door of evolution. I’ve left Murderati, and so has Paul Guyot. Why? Simple. Blogs, dear readers, are hungry beasts leaving few hours in the day to devote to OUR raison d’etre. Paul and I both knew that every minute blogging – was a minute lost writing.

My protag, Molly Doyle is an antiques dealer – and her word of caution to readers is – Caveat Emptor – Buyer Beware.

So – To Blog – Or Not To Blog? Writer Beware!

A Tribute to Elaine Flinn

25 thoughts on “To Blog – Or Not To Blog – That is the Question

  1. Alexandra Sokoloff

    As she always could, Elaine hits a nerve with this one. I finally got up the nerve to experiment with the Layout function on my Blogger account for my personal blog and for the last few weeks have been spending WAY too much time playing with it. So much more fun than copyedits!

    I’ve also been discovering a bunch of new blogs and grogs, and it’s made me wonder – how do you decide if blogging is being effective for you? Do you obsessively watch the stats? Are the stats meaningful in any way, anyway?

    I hear stories about bloggers I really love being late on their books because of the blogging – whether or not it’s true, it’s scary.On the other hand, I am so tired of traveling that the idea of doing more blogging, less flying, is very appealing right now.

    I think blogging is one of those examples of how at a certain point promotion can become addictive and counterproductive.

    I’m just not sure where that point is.

  2. R.J. Mangahas

    I think that can be true. All though blogs are fun to read and can provide some useful information, it can very much be a detractor from the work that needs to get done. (I know I’m certainly guilty of that)

    But another aspect of this whole blog thing is that now the net is saturated with them. It’s hard to decide which are useful and which aren’t; which are accurate and which are based solely on opinion with no research or fact checking involved.

    Okay, that’s my say on it. So now, I have to stop reading these blogs for today and get back to work.

  3. Louise Ure

    It’s nice to hear Elaine’s blogging voice here today, even if it is in absentia.

    My opinion? I think blogging is going to become just as necessary to a writer as business cards or a website. It’s our year-round presence in the community. And that means that we’re going to have to find a way to both read and write blog posts, just like we find the time to both read and write books.

  4. Marianne

    I have two blogs: one for my painting and one for my book reviews and such. Neither gets updated all that frequently these days. I’m behind on my book reviews because, although I love reading the material, writing about them keeps getting put off. The reason? I handle business and travel stuff for my husband’s art career, I paint, and I’m also writing my first mystery novel. So answering long emails and blogging tend to drop off when I’m busy. I like to read others blogs, but not too many because I can procrastinate with the best of them. Right now there’s a scene brewing in the back of my mind that’s gonna require dropping everything for a couple hours real soon now. 😀

    Elaine’s post, in absentia, hits home. :-)Cheers,Marianne

  5. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Really, Louise? That’s interesting. I can’t figure out if I think it’s becoming essential or it’s on its way out. It’s true that it can be our year-round presence in the community, but we’re pretty spoiled here on Murderati – we’re lucky to have been one of the blogs that “took”, at the right time.

    On the other hand, sometimes I think it’s just as valuable to build and be a presence simply by regularly commenting on other blogs.

    I really don’t know what to think.

  6. pari

    What a joy to read Elaine, to hear her alive through her nonfiction words again.

    The question she poses remains valid. I know that weekly blogging is truly time consuming. You can see that in the way Murderati has evolved in its short existence; the majority of our members are bi-weekly contributors now.

    I tend to agree with Louise that blogs — or an equally timely approach — will become more and more important because of the conversation function. Readers and others can interact with their favorite authors this way and they like it.

    We were lucky when we started Murderati. I knew that there was no way I’d have a loud and compelling enough voice by myself to gain the kind of audience — and frankly, to do what I hoped this blog could do — in the then-already-saturated Blogosphere.

    But now, nearly three years later, those days seem like the Good Ol’ Days of blogging. The competition to be heard wasn’t nearly as pronounced as it is now.

    We were — and are — able to build and maintain audience because of our diversity.

    The original members of the ‘Rati were an eclectic and fascinating group. Each new shift has brought someone who enriches this blog.

    The thing that amazes me still is that our ‘Rati readership and community continues to grow.

    It’s a tribute to people like Elaine who were here at the beginning, to people like Allison who have just joined us — and to every single reader of this blog.

    Thank you, Elaine.Thank you, all.

  7. Naomi

    I don’t think that it’s the end of mystery author blogs. There’s definitely a place for them, especially for emerging writers. (It’s interesting to note that of the writers Elaine mentioned, “unpublished” J.T. now has two published books–and many on the way–and “small-pressed” Simon has multiple contracts with large publishers.) Because how else will you be able to reach a wide audience without spending much money (aside from labor, of course)? I know when I put on my conference organizing hat, I look for people on blogs.

    The blogs that seem to attract to most attention are either very personal, unafraid to show your warts; political or controversial; or informational. I only wanted to be the latter and when I couldn’t keep up the steady stream of information, it was time for me to say goodbye to Murderati.

    A bad blog is worse than no blog at all. But a good blog/grog like Murderati is invaluable.

  8. JT Ellison

    This essay showcases exactly why we wanted Elaine to be a part of Murderati in the first place. I always thought she should add in a few essays, despite her insistence that she had nothing to say.

    I credit Murderati with helping me land me a publishing deal. In this current publishing climate, the new author with a platform – ie: known in the community, short stories published, a blog that isn’t about them, but is value-added for the community and their subsequent reader – is going to have a leg up on someone who is completely and utterly unknown. I agree with Louise, it’s a prerequisite now.

    That said – value-added is the trick. The author blogs I read are either by my friends or ones where I’m learning about the industry. I’ve been asked several times in the past few months about new authors starting blogs. I encourage them to either find a group of like-minded people to work with, or offer something no one else is offering. A tall task, but it will pass off in the long run.

  9. Jake Nantz

    “On the other hand, sometimes I think it’s just as valuable to build and be a presence simply by regularly commenting on other blogs.”

    This thought had occured to me too, Alex. I have no published novels yet, and just started a blog so of course I get very little traffic or comments, but people DO recognize me on other blogs just from my commenting.

    Now, I realize that’s not exactly a built-in readership for when I do get published, or anything of that nature, but it does show that I’m at least on the baby-step path to creating relationships with people. Some of them are potential readers.

    And while it may not be “branding” on the level Joe Konrath talks about, it can’t hurt, right? (unless people take my opinionated rants to mean I’m an asshole, that is. And I frequently am one, so that may be bad for my career. Sigh….)

  10. Rae

    From a reader’s perspective, blogs and forums and chat rooms are a great way to stay in touch with friends, to recommend and discuss books, and to see what that great new author you just discovered has to say for themselves. It’s the conversational aspect of it that draws me in.

    The issue for me in participating in blogs, etc. is whether readers’ comments are welcome. There are of course many sites devoted specifically to readers, but I’m talking about writers’ sites. The Murderati are really good at discussing subjects that invite readers’ comments, and at making a point of asking readers what they think. That’s not always the case, which is totally cool. Sites for writers that focus on the art and business of writing are great – but I’m less likely to visit a site where my comments are either not pertinent or not welcomed.

  11. pari

    You know what, Rae? I think you made a really good point.

    Every one here at the ‘Rati is truly interested in what everyone else has to say.

    Some of the conversations we’ve had here are just amazing.

  12. Glawton

    I didn\’t know Elaine or her work, but I\’d have to agree. And to whoever said blogging was going to become essential for a writer couldn\’t be more wrong.

    John Sandford did a recent radio interview here in Minnesota with his editor and they both agreed that blogs do nothing for authors. Nothing at all. John called them a self-indulgent waste of time. His editor said they were a waste of time from a business standpoint because, and the publisher had research to back this up, blogs are only read by a finite amount of book buyers. He said there were a couple of dozen or so mystery fiction blogs out there and most were read by the same people all the time. Occasionally a new person or two might drop by, but to actually make an impact on sales he said the research showed that the blogs would have to have hundreds of NEW readers each and every week, who were ALL purchasing the blogger\’s book.

    I read most of the crime writing blogs as do most of you, and I have to say that it seems to me the vast majority of blogging mystery writers are midlist or lower. When the radio interviewer asked Sandford and his editor about blogs helping new authors get established, they both agreed that, again, the payoff for the effort doesn\’t add up. The editor went so far as to point out that conferences don\’t even help that much because again, attendees there are like blog readers – a finite number.

    He suggested a new author work their butt off to become a great writer, and use any time and money available to promote themselves with the big chain buyers as opposed to writing on blogs.

    Everyone has an opinion, and is entitled to it. I tend to buy the opinions of the informed, like an editor who has research, as opposed to those who might have a personal stake in the debate.

  13. David J. Montgomery

    I’ve been blogging for over 5 years now and have read most of the mystery-related blogs at one time or another. (And see scores of them come and go.)

    The longer I’ve been at this, the more I’ve come to believe that if authors are blogging because they hope it will help their careers, they’re probably wasting their time.

    More than once at the most recent Bouchercon conference I heard an author say, “I’m starting a blog. I’m not sure what I’m going to write about, but people told me I need one.” or “I’ve got a blog, but I don’t post very often. I was spending several hours a week on it and not getting much traffic.” The former is the exact wrong reason to start a blog, and the latter is far more typical of the results most bloggers obtain than anything else.

    In my opinion, the only reason for an author to blog is because s/he enjoys doing it and has something they feel a powerful urge to share with the rest of the world.

    Doing it to sell books, win new fans, or advance one’s career is in all likelihood a waste of time.

  14. pari

    I blog first and foremost because I enjoy it. That said, I do think it’s helped my career.

    Yes, I’m “midlist” but there’s no indignity in that, is there?

    Most of us are.

  15. JT Ellison

    BTW, John Sandford’s editor is Neil Nyren, who has been a frequent guest here at Murderati. His message has always been BOOK FIRST, and he’s right. If your blogging gets in the way of your writing, you have no business doing it.

    For me, this blog has been an opportunity to grow and understand myself as a writer. I’m still very new to this game and sometimes a bit obtuse about my methods and motivations. And sometimes a wee bit too honest about those foibles. But I see it as a help, rather than a hindrance. Blogging has never been about getting better sales figures for me. It’s about a journey, and I’ve been honored as hell to have so many people traveling with me.

  16. Rae

    I’m back 😉

    From Glawton’s post: “He said there were a couple of dozen or so mystery fiction blogs out there and most were read by the same people all the time.”

    Well, yeah, that’s sort of the point. Marketing efforts aside, I’m here to hang out with my pals, in this virutal pub / coffee shop / diner – however you think about it. I enjoy checking in with ‘the gang’ every day to see what’s up.

    I think David has a good point – if you’re not really sure why you’re doing it, and you’re not really excited about it, then you’ll probably let your blog go stagnant, which is worse than not having one at all, in my view. I suspect that people don’t realize how much work it can be – which is why Murderati’s format works so well. One blog post a week, with plenty of guest appearances, isn’t too onerous for the bloggers, and brings everyone’s different perspectives to the world of crime fiction, which makes the whole thing just that much more fun.

    As to blogs resulting in books bought, getting your name out there in a well thought-out, well-executed way, can’t possibly hurt, imho.

  17. Baxter

    Blogs are nothing but self-indulgent.

    To say otherwise is a lie.

    I would applaud a blogger who came out and said, \”Yeah, I blog because I have an incredible ego and actually believe what I have to say matters\” or \”I blog because I\’m incredibly insecure and the false validation helps me look in the mirror.\”

    But I\’ve yet to find one.

    All you have to do is look at the authors who blog and look at the ones who don\’t, and you\’ll see the above is true.

  18. Fran

    I’ve maintained my personal blog for about two years now, or is it three. . .time flies. I’ll have to look.

    I do it mostly for the discipline of making myself sit and write every day. I’m flattered that people stop by, but mostly it’s an exercise for me. It’s made me aware of the world because I’m constantly looking for something to write about.

    And it gives me a chance to vent. I won’t change the world with it, but it keeps my blood pressure down a bit.

    But I’ve told people who ask me about blogging — and I’ve said it loudly and with table-pounding emphasis — blogs are needy. To keep one up and active takes a great amount of time and energy and input. They can be draining and exhausting. You have to be there for them all the time, like a baby that never grows up. That is, if you want it to thrive. Ignore it and it’ll fade into the ether (except for the truly embarrassing things — those stick around FOREVER).

    I get a lot of indulgent smiles and pats on the head until they see what I mean. I’m used to that, though. I don’t mind.

    But for blogs like this, I come here daily, not only because I learn so much but because, like Rae, it’s a nice sense of meeting friends, of community. I’ve read authors I might never have glanced at because of something I’ve read in a blog, both here and elsewhere.

    That’s my two cents, anyway.

  19. Ali

    As ever Elaine’s words prompt thought and strong opinions.

    As someone who [a] contributes to a blog [The Rap Sheet] and [b] avidly reads blogs about crime and thrillers – I would say that they are great fun, but as a tool to sell books? hmmm, that reminds me of the difference in defining the terms Sales vs. Marketing.

    Good Blogs do not ‘Sell’ but they do help ‘Market’.

    But this only happens when they are interesting, and often blogs that are a labour of love shine, like Murderati, The Rap Sheet, Satah Weinman, Montgomery, MJ Rose, and many other I enjoy.

    I enjoy trawling as I find new things all the time about the genre I love.

    Long live Blogs –


  20. Alexandra Sokoloff

    I’d just like to say – OF COURSE John Sanford doesn’t have to blog! No one on that level has to blog. When my publisher decides to put as much money behind me as Sanford’s puts behind his, I won’t have to blog, either. Neither would anyone.

  21. Tom

    Plain truth – I knew of none of you or your work before I followed a link here from TLC. Now we’ve bought books by nearly all of you – so, it worked.

  22. Catherine

    I can’t even remember the original link that I followed, but I’ve since both bought books based solely on your blog entries, and or successfully requested books for purchase through my local library.

    Originally I’d only read JD and Zoë. I’ve read at least one book from each of you since I first started reading the blog.

    A little while ago I emailed Louise to share that Fault tree (after my request for purchase)always seemed out on loan…The library has since bought another couple of copies. When I requested Forcing Amaryllis also be purchased, and it’s status was ‘on order’. people were lining up based ( I’m guessing) on having read Fault Tree.

    I still see this blog as fairly central in exposing potentially about 250,000 people to Louise’s work.It’s baby marketing steps, but it’s still steps.

  23. Catherine

    Oh perhaps I should also mention that when I originally discovered Murderati, neither Tess or Allison were blogging here…I had independently discovered their work on the shelf myself.

  24. Linda L. Richards

    Ali, thank you so much for this treaure. It’s lovely to hear Elaine’s blogging voice — so sure and commanding here — this last time. I’m quite certain she would have been pleased with how you chose to air this essay.


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