On a quiet retreat with hubby back in November, we were in a hotel library sipping wine in front a blazing fire when another couple entered the room. We started chatting and she asked what I did. It’s always hard to explain to civilians what I do, so I settled for I have an online magazine for women, it’s called Birds on the Blog. Her response was stunning, her eyes lit up and she said - I know your blog, we talk about it at the Women’s Institute. We think you are doing great stuff with it, OMG I can’t believe I’m having a glass of wine with you. We both fell about laughing as it seemed very surreal.
I’d like to write about today the relationship that writers have with their readers, and whether or not it’s all about being known to them.
If you have read my previous posts you will see them littered with references to Steven Pressfield. I grew up with a love of Greek mythology and read the Illiad to my eldest as a newborn. I have read all of Steven Pressfield’s books around the major ancient battles, although not to the newborn. There is a bigger male role model in my life, one whose works I similarly adore – Gauis Julius Caesar, his Gaul epic is one story well worth a read.
There is always an underlying story as you read; the politics of the day, the people and how they influence an outcome, strategy and most important of all, diplomacy.
Caesar has been dead 19 centuries so I have no website to link to. I am not trying to get the attention of Mr Pressfield so I would link to him if you’d like know about him, but right now I can’t. You see he’s a blogger too, and it’s deemed by some readers that if you link to bigger bloggers you are trying to get their attention… for some it’s not about making life easier for your reader but to me, the reader is the most important person. They shape the conversation.
And that’s what I’d like to ask you today – the relationship between writers, bloggers and readers- where does it start?
This is my sandpit blog, it earns around $12,000 a year. I have other blogs that earn 20 times that. I blog for the money pure and simple. If my blogging ceases to pay, then it’s tweaked until it does. I’m told that’s why people like me, that I have a real world business and know what makes blogging pay.
For Sartre, the writer needs the reader to bring the work to fruition: to “make it come into view a concrete act called reading is necessary, and it lasts only as long as this act can last. Beyond that, there are only black marks on paper”. The literary work comes into being only through the collaboration of writer and reader: “the operation of reading implies that of writing as its dialectical correlative and these two connected acts necessitate two distinct
agents. Sartre on writing.
In the quote above Sartre sees the writer and reader as symbiotic like partners, in need of each other. I think the same about blogging.
I have read a lot of work by Steven Pressfield, I know more about him than he would possibly feel comfortable with. If we ever met that knowledge could unsettle him. Is our relationship purely transactional? Is it fitting to liken a former marine to a whore, writing not for the reader but to pay the rent? To me that’s not our relationship, to me he is paternal in telling his stories, sharing his wisdom. Would I tell him that if we ever met? Of course not, I’d ask for his autograph and faint if he said yes.
Am I going to do a Kathy Bates on him from the film Misery (a book by Stephen King*)? Of course not, but readers do get mad at authors. Having read all the books in the Game of Thrones series, I can completely understand how she could react that way.
George RR Martin fans, how did you feel when Ned Stark was killed? As the author tells the story he kills characters all over the place, usually right after you have started to love them. It makes you want to harden your heart to the pain that is inevitable. The author has drove me insane! I have said I’d give him a piece of my mind should we ever meet. In truth, that would never happen. Deep down I admire the author that tells the story regardless of the pain and anguish he causes the reader. When you are involved in the book and feel the emotions, it’s very real to you.
George RR Martin says his last book was “3 bitches and a bastard to write“, it took him 6 years. And my lasting impression of the book was fury at the author, yes, he’d killed someone else… but if we ever met, I would thank him. His stories are vivid in his mind, he lives with them every day and he shares them with us, his readers. He evokes strong emotions, tells an epic story and his readers live 1,000 lives…
With blogging there is a public reaction in the form of a comment and a tweet / share. But the relationship with a reader starts before that, long before that. Just like it does with a book.
An author gets reviews of their work, they are to entice the potential reader into reading the book. How well they market the novel depends on whether the reader takes the next step and makes a financial transaction. Blogging is the long tail version of this. It’s sharing your content over a longer period of time to then gain a financial transaction.
When I set up this blog in 2009 I had 14 readers. I knew everyone of them personally, by name and had met them, they were my friends.
I’d blog here sporadically and get the occasional comment. Last January something happened and almost overnight I went from 14 subscribers to 300. They had never commented, those additional 286. I know their names and they are strangers to me, but they read so I have to write for them – we have a relationship
Back in the summer I started to blog more here and my traffic exploded – very little of it through SEO, through social sharing. I went from 2,000 pageviews a month to 40,000. I got my a heck of a lot more emails from my readers, sometimes it overwhelms me and one or two responses slip through the net. Only I am not famous, I am a lowly Brit blogger with 6 magazine blogs, with 100+ bloggers regularly blogging. I am not on anyone’s radar and that’s cool with me. I make my own way, I am the master of my own destiny.
Through Birds on The Blog I get tremendous exposure for the women that write there, it’s the biggest platform for female voices outside the US. We take guest posts from unheard of bloggers and share them with our audience for two reasons:
- They have a right to a voice, and it should be heard
- They can only improve / grow if you encourage and nurture them
*Stephen King recently appeared in Season 3 of Sons of Anarchy, as a body disposal expert. At the time I thought hmm, he’s so familiar, who is he? IMDB confirmed that it was Richard Bachmann one of King’s aliases. I have never seen Stephen King in real life, but I recognised him on TV, I recognised him when all I know of him is his written word.