I read a lot about blogging. There is a lot of advice about it. Some people say that monetizing your blog is something you can only do if you’re as insanely popular as, for example, Shaq. (Is Shaq still popular? I think you know what I mean: household name, superstar status). Some people say that bloggers who don’t monetize are wasting opportunities, but that you can’t monetize with Adsense or other ad space, so you need to monetize yourself. I’ve written about that here. Still others say that blogging is essential for authors–like me, and like people more successful than I am–to blog to “build a platform.” Which somebody else says is more like being a literary citizen. (I like that).
People build pipe dreams on blogs. Bored housewives blog. Authors blog. People who are selling something or themselves blog. People blog to give advice, to build their businesses, for personal fulfillment.
I have been thinking about my own blog a lot lately. I took a week off so that I could spend some time thinking through some posts, and get a few in the hopper.
And I’ve been really annoyed lately by artists who work for free. When we work for free, we steal money from ourselves and other artists.
But I work for free all the time, on my blog. Sort of. My blog is an investment in my future, it does not bring me money yet. I’m aiming for 1,000 true fans over the next three years (but certainly by my 35th birthday, my 32nd is right around the corner).
And I do get paid from it. Here’s what my blog pays me: 1. Writing practice, 2. blogging discipline/skill set/Wordpress Savvy, 3. great connections with swell people in the writing/book/publishing world, 4. clout and authority in the same world, in which I’m hoping to be entangled professionally for the rest of my life.
Baggott recently asked some important questions
Julianna Baggott is an author I admire particularly because of her refusal to eschew commercial fiction as worthless even though she is also part of the academic literary community, and her ability to have feet in both commercial and literary worlds; and because she writes commercial fiction as it should be written: with respect for the craft, with commitment to language, and with love for her readers. She also writes under the names Bridget Asher and N.E. Bode.
She has a blog. I read it sometimes.
She recently posted a piece entitled, “The Death of Blogging and… Blogging” In the beginning of the post, she said she read an article about how blogging may be dying. She admitted that it might make her happy if that is true, and she asked some other important questions, too. Go on, then. Click & read the whole post.
The question she asked that filled me with the most glee is this:
I’m worried more broadly about free content in the Information Age and — amid the incredible inundation of things to read — how do writers of books convince the public that some words still need to be paid for? Have I contributed to a cultural message that words are cheap, if not free?
The truth is that good words aren’t cheap. They are very costly, whether or not the writer is ever paid. Good writers spend a ton of time writing: writing well can be an incredibly inefficient process. Trouble is, we writers are more desperate to be read than we are to be paid. After all, getting a job as a food server is easy enough. So is getting a job for the state or at a gas station. There are zillions of ways to get money that have nothing to do with writing.
Conversely, (unless you’re Julianna Baggott), getting articles placed in magazines, newspapers, literary journals–getting manuscripts in front of agents and editors is excruciatingly difficult. I got a rejection kind of recently, and no matter how many I get, no matter how many times it says essentially the same thing–which is basically, “You know this is a subjective thing, kid. Stick to your guns.”–it stings. It sucks. It envelopes me in self doubt and makes me want to zing back to the editor what a tasteless toad she is to not want my brilliant essays, stories, articles, or ideas.
Of course, I can’t, and I don’t, I ultimately don’t take it personally, and I will try again. Right after I shake the self doubt. That part of it does get easier. At first, I’d lose a day to wallowing. Now, gimmie four minutes.
Baggott also observed the following:
It’s hard to talk about making money as a writer in our culture, in general. Why?
1. You’re in a career where the most common adjective used to describe your job title is “starving”; Poe died in a gutter. Real artists shouldn’t expect to make money, right? (The Poe reference is an important one — as Poe was a writer who certainly wrote for money to support others.)
2. Many people believe they can write books — unlike, say, perform brain surgery — and so writers aren’t doing anything particularly remarkable.
3. Many people want to write and writers should be thankful to simply get published at all. Who do we think we are, anyway?
Yeah! Especially that third one. Sometimes the sense is very much, “How dare you care if I screw up your work, how dare you care that we’ve paid you practically nothing for it! You’re lucky we’re taking your work at all! Hell, you should pay us!”
Most of the magazines and papers I’ve worked with have been lovely, really. And their editors are skilled, dedicated people who see the injustice, but are powerless, or are doing the best they can.
And I would add to number two that not only do many people believe they can write books, many people who have no business at all writing books do, and get paid–probably not handsomely, but paid–to do it! I direct your attention to exhibit A: The Boddice Ripper. I recently edited one that would’ve been particularly shredded in any college-level writing workshop.
So is the problem giving the work away for free, or is the problem that we don’t value good writing culturally because a) not enough people can tell when some writing is better than others and b) we live in the Information Age, as Baggot points out, and so much writing is free on the internet, why would anybody pay anything for any writing at all?
Regardless, writing is a profession. It takes a long, long time to get good at it, and being a good writer is much rarer than the present cultural mood would indicate. Baggott references the 10,000 hour rule whenever she talks to and about writer hopefuls. And she’s right. It’s not a craft that’s come by easily. And there are loads of good writers who never make a dime.
So what do you think about free content? Is it helpful or harmful? And if it’s harmful, what can we do about it?