Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Blogs & Websites: The differences, and when to start each

This is a post I've been meaning to write for a very long time. I've heard a lot of questions ranging from "Do I need a website?" "Do I need a blog?" "Do I need both?" to "How are they even different, anyway?" And a ton of others about timing. Now, obviously, there's a lot of different opinions on the matter-- these are mine.

The difference between a website and a blog:

In a nutshell? A blog is aimed toward writers, a website is aimed toward readers. This isn't the case every time, of course, but it's a good rule of thumb. Readers and writers are looking for entirely different content, so it's easier to give them just the content they want if you keep them separate. Readers are looking for extras (think the "special features" you see on a DVD), where writers are looking to get to know you through commiseration, your insight, your sense of humor, your skills, and / or like personalities. Writers know to look for blogs; readers know to look for websites.

What if I don't want to make a website? Can't I just use my blog?

Of course! Some people start off with most of their posts being aimed toward writers, then as they get books coming out, they gradually change their focus to things readers will be interested in. Some people do a combination of both, and have a "For Readers" tab and a "For Writers" tab with content or links to posts that will interest each group. Having a blog is not all that different from having a website that also has a link to your blog, no? The biggest difference is how much flexibility you have for the look and ways to show content.

If I decide to do a website, when should I make it?

My opinion? After you get your book deal (if you're self-publishing, then do it when you decide you're going to go that route). Do you need to make a website before you query? Nope. Agents / editors care how much your manuscript rocks, not about how many publicity things you've already done. This business moves a little slowly--- they know you'll have time to get those kinds of ducks in a row before your book comes out. I've been working on my website, and I can tell you that I have SO much more clear of an idea of what I want as content now than I had back when I was querying. Plus, you won't really know what to include for a lot of your "extras" content before you go through the whole revisions process with your editor. It's a much more efficient use of your time if you wait until you know what you want there.

IMPORTANT: If at all possible, register your domain name now. I'm not kidding. If you ever want to do a website, don't put this off. You can google "Register domain name" to find some places to go, or ask around. I asked around, and got a lot of people highly recommending NameCheap. That's who I went with, and have had a great experience with them. If memory serves, it's less than $10 a year to register your domain name. (And no, you don't have to have a website tied to it anytime soon. I bought mine quite a while ago, and just set it to redirect to my blog until I get my website live.)

Here's why it's important: I don't mean to freak you out-- just to warn you of a possibility that could happen (but definitely doesn't happen all the time or even most of the time). I've heard that there are sketchy people out there who watch Publisher's Marketplace for deals. If they see that Billy Bob Jones got a book deal, they'll go register BillyBobJones.com, then when Billy gets around to buying his domain name, it'll be gone, and sketchy person will help Billy out by offering to sell him the domain name for hundreds of dollars. (A second buyer-beware tip: Don't search to see if your domain name is available until you are ready to buy it. Sometimes hackers can see what you searched for, assume you're going to be back, and then buy it quickly so they can sell it to you when you come back.) No sense whining about it-- just work with it. If you want one, buy it early, and don't search ahead of time.

If you decide to blog (which you totally don't have to do), when should you start?

That's a much harder question to answer, because the answer is different for everyone. And no, you don't HAVE to blog. It's good to have an online social media presence, but choose the one (or two, or three ;)) that you LOVE. Forget doing any that feel like a chore. But instead of talking about the ifs and whens of blogging, let's talk pros and cons.

Pros to blogging:

True fact: Writers need writing friends, and blogging is a fabulous way to get to know other writers. They comment on your blog, you go back and comment on theirs... repeat... and you get to know each other! I waited a long time to start my blog. I couldn't believe how much more I felt a part of the writing world once I started blogging.

It can help you find critique partners. Since blogging uses more words than other social media, so you get to know people better. And once you get to know them, you can get a good sense of whether or not you'd likely be good critique partners. I wrote a post once about finding critique partners (you can find it here), and so many people mentioned in the comments that they found their critique partners through blogging.

It gives you a great creative outlet with less pressure on what you write, with a hugely wide open field of possibilities to write about.

It improves your writing.

Cons to blogging:

It takes a LOT of time. It takes time to think about / write / find images for each and every post. And if you don't spend much time on your posts, people are less likely to keep coming back.

It also takes a LOT of time to build followers. When you first start blogging, the world doesn't automatically know that you just started a blog and that it rocks. You have to go out and search for other blogs that you love, follow them and comment on them so that they'll wonder about you and follow you back to your blog. It takes time to pay it forward with comments, and to build those relationships with other bloggers. It may be totally and completely worth it, but it does take huge amounts of time.

All the time you spend on blogging is that much less time you have to spend on writing.

Other things to consider: 

If you do decide to blog, it takes a while to find your blogging voice. It's different from your writing voice, and it's different from your talking voice. It's all it's own, and you'll develop it as you blog.

It also takes a while to come up with a plan / focus for your blog. It takes a while to try out things to see if they work, and to adjust accordingly based on the reactions of your blog readers.

So if you want your blog going strong when you query / when your book comes out, don't wait until the month before to start.

If you're already blogging, or you've already made your website, when did you start, and why? Do you wish you'd started at a different time? If you're not a blogger, do you ever plan to be?

30 comments:

Kyra Lennon said...

Excellent post! I don't have a website, I use my blog but I feel like I SHOULD have a website. I'm sure it would make me feel more like a professional!

JeffO said...

So many great things in this post, Peggy, I don't know where to start! You're spot on when you talk about the difference between the purpose of a blog and a website, and it sums up so neatly my own messy thoughts on the matter.

Regarding when to start the blog, that's a tough one. I think you should make sure you have enough to say that you can post on a consistent basis.

I started blogging around the time I put my first completed manuscript away to let it 'rest'. I needed something to do, and I thought blogging was something I was 'supposed' to do. In many ways, it was a chore for a while, but I think I've found my voice, and while it still stresses me out at times, I mostly enjoy it, and am thrilled with the friendships I've made.

Aurora Smith said...

Theres more interaction with Blogs, I think people like those more. Good post.

Bea Sempere (Denise Baer) said...

Great post, Peggy!

I started my blog way before my website, and I didn't have a clue about blogging. Since I didn't know much about the blogging world, I just posted things about life, writing, publishing, etc. and I've continued in the same manner. I wanted diversity, which is probably why I don't have a lot of followers, especially writers. I never geared it toward writers.

John Waverly said...

Hey Peggy. Interesting post. I have one point that I don't agree with, so I thought I'd start a conversation.

I agree that a blogger and website creator need to know their audience and that each medium can have a different audience, but I don't agree with the assertion that blogs are for writers and websites are for readers.

I've seen many great blogs geared to readers. There are also great websites geared towards writers.

I've always thought, the focus tends to be one of timing. If a prospective author starts a blog or website it tends to skew towards their writer friends. But if an established author starts a blog or website it skews towards readers.

What do you think? Do you think that it is best to have a blog focused on writers and a website focused on readers? As you get more popular, do you see your blog audience shifting?

Elizabeth Seckman said...

Excellent post! I started my blog when I started querying. I don't have a website, but I see your point and will start thinking about what it should be like. Going to get my domain name now. Great advice. Here in my state, someone bought WVU's domain and put up a porn site and charged the college tons of money to sell it to them.

Jenny S. Morris said...

Thanks for the domain name info. Hadn't thought about that. I'll have to check into getting mine. Thanks!

Daisy Carter said...

Such a great post. I always learn something when I stop by!

I registered my name as soon as I signed with my agent. At the time, I had zero online presence, and she suggested I pick one thing (like you said). I chose blogging because I don't get twitter and Facebook gets on my nerves.

My domain name redirects to my blog for now, too. But I have it when I need it for my website.

David P. King said...

This is great, Peggy, especially since I need to develop a website soon. Your insight is gold! :)

Rena said...

This is a great post Peggy. I go back and forth about the website thing. I do design work for some people, but it takes SO. Much. Time! And design is hard, like not easy, but seriously unhappy hard work. Good post!

S.P. Bowers said...

Thanks for this! There's lots to think about.

Peggy Eddleman said...

All very good points, John!

Yes, I agree that you can have a fantastic blog aimed at readers. I do believe it's a lot more difficult, though, to continually find things to blog about that will interest readers (with the exception of blogging about things that will connect the reader with the author, versus connecting the reader with the book). Maybe that's why blogs tend to aim toward writers-- because there is a never-ending supply of things to talk about that tie the two of you together. But a reader blog can be done well. And yes, the target audience of a blog may be a matter of when the blog was started in relation to the first book being published.

I haven't seen many (or any that I can think of) where a fiction author has a website aimed at writers only. (Unless they are building a platform for their non-fiction books on writing.) I have seen some websites that have a blog tightly integrated with their website, with a great deal of it aimed at writing, though.

And I do think that blogs tend to evolve and change over time. Writers tend to not post the same types of things when they first start writing as they do when they are querying, going on sub, going through pre-publication stuff, and then after they have books out. That's a good and very natural progression. And if you see that your blog is attracting readers, it definitely is time to start gearing those posts toward readers.

I have no idea how my blog will change as time goes on, only that I'm sure it will. It has already in many ways.

But I do believe that readers will look for a website first (and then go to a blog if they still want more, or if the blog is prominently displayed on the website), and that writers will look for that blog first.

Thanks for the great comment!

Rebecca Green Gasper said...

Thanks so much for the info! Great post. I agree that blogging is great for getting to know other writers- it has been so much fun commenting and finding out fun stuff about others. I love it! Thanks for sharing all this great stuff.

Delia Moran said...

Excellent info! The website registering stuff is particularly timely for me. Thank you!

Jeff Hargett said...

Great post (as usual) and great discussion in the comments.

Neurotic Workaholic said...

I started blogging after I took my prelims in grad school; the blog was a "present" to myself after all the months of studying and stress. And gee, I didn't know that there were sketchy people out there buying domain names in order to scam other people into paying them. It makes me strongly consider buying my own domain name, because I wouldn't want anyone else presenting themselves as "Neurotic Workaholic" or using my web address if I had a website.

John Waverly said...

Peggy,

Thanks for the reply.

I'm more inclined to agree with you now. Especially about the website-for-readers part. I went out to a few writer-specific websites I like. I noticed that the authors had registered a new domain to cater to writers and their main website was more focused on readers, except (as you noted) the authors who had a non-fiction book about writing.

I appreciate you taking the time to respond to my questions.

Now I'm off to think about your statement that readers will look for a website first and writers look for a blog first. My own habits are to click on the first thing that comes up in Google or Bing that has the name of the author in the URL hostname regardless of if it is a blog or a website. If nothing looks official, then I'll try Goodreads or Amazon to find the author or publisher website that way.

With all this thinking...I think I need a cookie. *wanders off to the kitchen.*

Jessie Humphries said...

I think you are saving lives with his post! Such important stuff, that luckily I learned from you a long time ago!

Nick Wilford said...

Great post, a lot to think about. I tend to agree that a website would be more for readers (the content won't change as frequently, and will be more of an information/reference base). It is quite hard to start a blog as a budding writer and not gravitate towards writers, because you're talking about what you're going through... but if a reader is a big enough fan, they might be interested in that stuff. I didn't really think I needed a website if I had a blog but you've given me food for thought.

Sadly it doesn't surprise me that some elements would try to make a quick buck from putting a stranglehold on domain names... Bah!

JeffO said...

Peggy-

I agree very much with your response to John. When you're starting out as a fiction writer, you really have no readers to connect with and no product to sell. It's tough to build your 'brand', because you may not even know what your brand IS at that point. It's natural to start a blog that chronicles the journey of writing, and that's going to attract...writers.

Carrie Butler said...

Great post, Pegasus!

I created my website a month before I started querying. I wanted a centralized hub for all of my information, so it would be easy to stay visible in the industry. :)

BECKY said...

I started blogging in 2008 only because a long-distance writer friend suggested that I really should....since I was a writer! I'm so glad I did because of all the wonderful friends I've made....writers and non-writers,and the contacts I've made, etc. It's been a wonderful way, and great timing, to build my platform. I do have a website, too.....bought the domain with my name (and it rains on the plain in Spain...LOL) but haven't done anything with the site, yet. Thanks, Peggy, for another fabulous post!

Annalisa Crawford said...

Great post. I've been considering a web site ever since Hubby got one (yes, I'm a big kid), but I'm worried I wouldn't have enough content to keep it interesting.

Lynn(e) Schmidt said...

This was an awesome post, sorry I didn't see it sooner. And you're right, it does help you feel connected to the writing community (even in sweatpants :) ) though it is very time consuming.

Speaking of...I may need a nap now..

Richard Hughes said...

I registerd my domain name a couple of years ago. Haven't set it up yet, but I'm beginning to want to.

This is a really good, informative post.

CallieCreativeCelt said...

That's very interesting insight you give there Peggy. For me, I'm not yet a blogger, though I've tried to become one. The main reason it hasn't worked out for me is that I really hate talking about myself. I feel that if I blog, I will present myself as a know-it-all with no humble opinion. I also often fear having the public hear me. I just want to keep myself in the private spot. And just to clarify, I'm not saying that other bloggers are that way (all blog writers I've seen were modest). I'm just worried that I'll seem shallow if I were to be a big blogger. I want to one day be a published writer. Perhaps when that day comes, I'll be ready to blog as a way to communicate with other writers and readers. I won't be able to start anytime soon since I am too busy with college and I want to first become a strong writer (closer to publishable) before I start. When I do start a blog, how do I keep myself from seeming too boastful?

Peggy Eddleman said...

Callie-- I know what you mean! There is boastfullness/arrogance on one side, and uncertainty/shyness on the other side, and a skinny little line down the middle is humble confidence. It is VERY hard to stay right on that line. I guess the best way to do it is to save the writing of blog posts for times when you're firmly on that line (or pretend to walk down it whenever you're feeling less self-confident). But even sometimes when you think you are and start writing a post, you can still stray one direction or the other. Everyone does it, even when we're trying not to, because not one of us is perfect-- it's just important that you strive to stay right there in the middle.

And then interact with your blog readers as much as possible. I think it's a lot easier to do when you're first starting out, and before deadlines completely bury you, but it's always important. I think it also helps a ton to never see your blog readers as fans that are coming to partake of your awesomeness. They are just regular people, exactly like you, and they're there so you both can get to know each other a little, and interact and share your experiences.

And if blogging isn't your thing, you definitely don't have to do it! Really. It's my favorite form of social media, which is why I do it. I truly enjoy it. I think it's important to try out different forms of social media, and figure out what you truly enjoy. And whatever form of social media you choose, you can keep it as private or open in regards to your life as you choose.

CallieCreativeCelt said...

Thank you Peggy for your response! I'll consider that, whatever I decide to do with blogging.

Jessica W. said...

I appreciate this blog so much! I recently was trying to decide on this issue. Glad I went with what I did. :) I really like how you explained the differences.

Sara Bulla said...

Peggy! I needed this. Thank you. I go back and forth and back and forth on this issue. To blog or not to blog??? I blogged with Angie Cothran, which taught me so much and exposed me to you and many other amazing bloggers. I loved it and am so grateful. But flying solo makes me a bit nervous. But I think it's just about time. Thanks for being such an amazing writer and fellow blogger. I really appreciate your posts!