Friday, August 19, 2011

The Effectiveness of Author Blogging and the Gartner Hype Cycle

Free-form Friday

If you spend much time in the high-tech industry, you'll run into a Gartner Hype-Cycle chart. With any new thing there is an initial spurt of wild expectations ("It will solve all our problems!") followed by an inevitable backlash ("It's not good for anything.") that gives way to a more measured assessment of the innovation's utility and place in the industry. The analysts at the Gartner Group use this framework to assess the relative maturity of various technologies and companies.

Insofar as writers are concerned, I suspect we're somewhere near the Peak of Inflated Expectations when it comes to social media.

At one level, it's simply structural: the early movers--the people well positioned to take advantage of the situation at the beginning of a gold rush--will see astonishing returns for their efforts (e.g., Amanda Hocking), giving everyone else inflated expectations.

At another level, it's so difficult to gauge the effectiveness of blogging and tweeting and friending that we take it as a matter of faith that it's probably a good thing to do.

Livia Blackburn recently observed that with regard to the critical issue of reaching the audience for which we write books, most author blogs are not very effective.
"At some point, unpublished fiction authors started feeling the pressure to build platforms. The problem is, they forgot all about target audience. Rather than being a means to reach the right readers, blogging became an end in itself – a box to tick off self promotional checklist. Fiction writers, being somewhat one-track minded, overwhelmingly decided to blog about writing. And thus, the writing blogosphere was born, with articles, contests, and promotions all aimed at fellow writers.

"The thing is, we haven't created effective platform. What we've created is a never-ending writing conference. Good for many things -- forming friendships, professional development, and learning your craft. But nobody (I think) would argue that attending SCBWI conferences every weekend will catapult your book onto the New York Times bestseller list. In the same way, blogging for writers will not sell your book to the general reading population. This is even more apparent in the field of children’s literature. There are thousands of YA and MG writers (me included), blogging their hearts out to adoring readerships, while ignoring the inconvenient detail that their number of actual teens they’re reaching can be counted on one hand."
Livia followed up with a second post with some thoughts on actually blogging for your target audience.

There is some value in creating an Internet footprint so that when you're shopping your book, agents and editors will have no trouble finding you. But I suspect that many of us are guilty of magical thinking: of believing that if we do all the stuff we're supposed to (without considering whether it's effective) we'll be successful.


Image: Photography by BJWOK / FreeDigitalPhotos.net