QueryTracker Blog

Helping Authors Find Literary Agents

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Blog Avalanche: Knowing Which Ones Are Worth Your Time

Happy New Year to everyone! Has anyone committed to try to find more time to write this year? According to one person who sent in questions for our Ask QTB extravaganza, part of what consumes writing time is  reading other folks' blogs. How do you deal, he asks, with the blog avalanche?!

Need some guidance on either (a) the best blogs to read period for LITERARY novelists (including marketing issues) or (b) guidance o how to choose the best blogs for myself. Reason? BLOG AVALANCHE. There is so much out there, I can't finish my book -- too busy reading 80 million blogs.
Since I'm a genre writer, I thought some of you might have some suggestions for great literary blogs.  If you do, please post your suggestions in the Comments!

In the meantime, let's look at what to do with all those blogs you simply have to read.  As always, I believe in a practical approach that includes understanding what you're doing and why you're doing it so you can make an educated decision on how to handle things going forward.

Just How Much Time Are You Spending, Anyhow?

If you don't already know, spend a few days (up to a week) recording just how much time you spend on other people's blogs.  Are you spending the same amount of time each day, or are you just sort of wandering through blogs to keep yourself busy? Also try to write down exactly what you're doing while you're visiting.  Are you just reading, or are you commenting, too?

Now that you know just how much time you're spending and what you're doing in that time, let's talk about why you're really reading all of those blogs.  Here are some different reasons and what you can do about them.

You're reading and commenting like a madman/madwoman because that's "what you have to do these days" to build a platform and get published. 

The reality is that there are thousands of blogs out there that you can be reading in your quest to build a network of connections. If that approach isn't exhausting you or taking away from your writing time, it can be a great way to meet and learn from other writers.

Over time, though, some people realize they're spreading themselves too thin. In psychology we talk about 3 stages of stress, and the final stage is exhaustion.  When you hit that point (or even are just struggling to keep everything in the air), you can't make quality connections, which are the ones that are going to help you most.  What to do?  Try choosing three to five blogs you will read and comment on regularly.

Now, I'm not saying you need to dump all your blogging friends, or that you shouldn't comment on other blogs.  I'm suggesting you triage.  In other words, pick three to five blogs that you a) really enjoy reading and b) believe can open doors for you if you "get in" with the blogger.  They become your focus. The other blogs are bonuses, icing on the cake.  Maybe you watch them in your feedreader but you don't read every post.  Or maybe you skim most posts but only comment every couple of weeks, when something really stands out to you.

In his book The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell argues that there are three rare types of people who do the most work in spreading a "social epidemic" (like, hopefully, news about your fab book).  These are the people you want to be connecting with in your three to five main blogs.  They include "connectors," who have enormous social networks of people who will listen to them; "mavens," who are  expert communicators who are sought-after because they share helpful information; and "salesmen," who are the persuaders.

Again, I'm not saying you shouldn't have ten or even twenty blogs you like in your feedreader, blogs you comment on here and there; maybe you even have more.  But I'm a huge advocate of quality over quantity.  It's hard to pick out what's important when you're overwhelmed by background noise.  So try picking your primary targets and work hard to become a valuable resource to those bloggers.

Also -- you will probably want to set a finite amount of time you spend on the blogs each day.  Remember, you are looking for a Return on Investment [ROI], and if you're investing way more than you're getting back, you're wasting resources. An hour a day might be reasonable when you're just starting out, or when you're really ramping things up because your book is about to come out, but I'd suggest something like half an hour a day other times.  Part of the reason I suggest this is that there are other ways for you to build a platform and you should also be spending time on those.

If a formula would be helpful, try spending no more than a quarter of your writing time on reading and commenting on others' blogs.  So if you have an hour of writing time a day, you should be spending no more than ten to fifteen minutes of it on others' blogs.

You're procrastinating.

If you're spending outrageous amounts of time on blogs and not getting anything written, you may just be avoiding your writing time. We have a tendency to fill empty space with "things" to entertain us.  Writing, especially first drafts, is all about empty space -- the empty page, the empty screen.  It's much easier to go out and passively consume other people's material than it is to produce your own.  But sometimes you really do need to sit there with a blank screen and sweat blood until you're compelled to write something...anything. (And by golly, you may even write something good!)

You're socializing.

A big part of networking is socializing.  That's why we call it "social networking." But our brains can literally only handle so many stable social connections -- psychologists usually suggest a number around 150.  If you're trying to maintain strong connections with more people through blogging, blog-commenting, Facebooking, or Twitter, you may feel overloaded because you are. Your neocortex (the most highly-evolved part of your brain) can only do so much!

Some relationships are going to be stronger than others, and that's okay.  Remember, triage.  Prioritize.  Focus on people who really get you and your work, and people who can help you in your quest to build platform, or learn the craft, or provide great support when you feel like throwing in the towel, or whatever you need most.  The others will probably be there when you go back later -- in the world of internet social networking, they have to prioritize too -- remember, it's literally a limitation of the human brain!

You're afraid you'll miss something you should know.

I'm going to argue that the most important information you can glean from other writers is information on your craft.  How to write well, how to edit, how to approach agents, and so on.  But if you're trying to learn all of that from blogs, you're probably learning it in a piecemeal way.  So try investing in a few good books.  Which ones?  Well, it depends on where you're weakest.

Here are a few quick suggestions.  If you have others, please feel free to include them in the Comments!

If you need help with: Try:
Platform and Marketing  Guerilla Marketing for Writers
Editing  Make Your Words Work, Self Editing for Fiction Writers, or Writing the Breakout Novel (which also has a workbook)
Writing a (NF) Book Proposal Write the Perfect Book Proposal (probably the definitive guide), or How to Write a Book Proposal
Writing Queries The Sell Your Novel ToolkitThe Writer's Guide to Queries, Pitches, and Proposals
Ideas The Writer's Idea Book, The Writer's Partner
The Craft On Writing (probably the most-recommended book on writing out there), Bird by Bird (a classic), The Artist's Way (another classic; also has a workbook), The Forest for the Trees

Use blogs to build on the foundation of knowledge you glean from books like this.

What To Do With the Time You Free Up

The most obvious answer to this is -- write!

Another suggestion is that you spend some of your time in critique groups, giving others feedback and getting feedback on your own writing.

Because  it doesn't matter how much time you spend networking if you don't have a quality product when it's time to produce.

Beyond that, I also want to talk a little more about my remark that you can build a platform in ways other than reading and commenting on others' blogs.  You can:

  • Build a website
  • Tweet (ie use Twitter) -- you can make connections quickly because you have to keep your side of the conversation to spurts of 140 characters or less!
  • Meet other writers on Facebook
  • Blog yourself (make sure you have something to say and can keep it up!)
  • Share your expertise by speaking, teaching classes, creating YouTube videos, etc.
Do you have any additional advice on how to handle the blog avalanche?  Let us know in the comments below!

Carolyn Kaufman, PsyD is thrilled that her first book, THE WRITER'S GUIDE TO PSYCHOLOGY: How to Write Accurately About Psychological Disorders, Clinical Treatment, and Human Behavior is now available. Learn more at the WGTP website.  

Also be sure to stop by Dr. K's new blog over on Psychology Today, where she tackles things like how to write great villains, what to do when your personal issues keep showing up in your writing, and which cliche to avoid when your badass character lands in therapy.


Janet Johnson said...

Okay, I'm definitely falling in the "procrastination" category. And I like the idea of the 'Triage' method. :)

Unknown said...

This is one of my "must read" blogs, and I often use a small chunk of time in the morning for blog reading. Evenings are primarily for writing/revising. I also love blogging, so it's important to make sure you're doing things out of passion rather than obligation.

Also, The Tipping Point was one of the best non-fiction books I read last year! Great post. :)

Stephanie McGee said...

For me, I divide my blogs up in Google Reader. There are several folders.

At one time I tried a day-of-the-week approach. My folders were labeled with Monday-Friday and Daily. That only lasted so long because by the time I'd get to Friday's folder, there were a ton of them.

So I changed to folders labeled First through Third, Industry and Cooking/Food (because sometimes I just read fun blogs like that).

The two folders I have to get to in my day-to-day are industry and first. If I run out of time in the morning for anything more, the rest are relegated to when I might get a free minute later.

And I skim the titles and pick which ones I'll read if I'm really busy with work or school or things that should be taking priority.

Lisa Aldin said...

Great post! I've been struggling with this. There's just so much out there and I can't keep up! AW!

Unknown said...

This is great; I've been running into this issue a bit. I love all the people I've met via the blogsphere, but the sheer number of people I'm following is overwhelming sometimes.

G. B. Miller said...

I usually keep my blog readings confined to the mornings before work ( I have about an hour to play with) and at supper time after work.

I don't comment a lot on the blogs I do read (I only comment on about a core 20 or so), so it makes things go that much faster.

Michael G-G said...

Great post. I always enjoy your thoughts and writing, Carolyn.

I'm pretty selective about whom I follow. I've only been blogging 11 months, but it has really exposed me to a lot of helpful advice and taught me tons about writing and the publishing industry. However, it can all be very seductive. My motto is "Write first, blog later." And my writing practice is a "Page-A-Day." This might seem glacial, but it means a first draft of a novel each year.

Julie Musil said...

I'm guilty of being afraid I'll miss something great! There are so many awesome blogs, it's hard to just read a few. Thanks for the tips!

Stina said...

I have just-one-more syndrome when it comes to reading blog posts. I have so many writer friends that I feel bad if I don't read all their posts. I love to hear about their lifes, their hints on writing, and their struggles and successes. But I do have specific times for blogging. After that, I focus solely on my writing.

Kathi Oram Peterson said...

This is just what the doctor ordered. Thanks for the wonderful advice.

Natalie Aguirre said...

Thanks for the tips. Sometimes I feel it is my job to read and comment on all the blogs on my roll. I want to be nice and support other authors. But I know I've got to cut it down because it's limiting my writing time that is already squeezed in between working full time and family.

Erin Edwards said...

It's refreshing to hear such a balanced approach to social media.

I've been following this blog for a while, but I've never commented. (Although I can't claim that it's because I am managing my time well!) But I have noticed your posts standing out in the past, so I thought it was about time I did. Thank you.

Sylvia Ney said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Carolyn Kaufman | @CMKaufman said...

Thank you to everybody who commented! I'm glad you found some helpful ideas -- you gave me some, too!