At the risk of seeming melodramatic and narcissistic, I’d like to talk to you all about this site and what’s going on here, because, to be honest with you, I’m really not sure.
You might say I’m having an existential crisis about this blog, but that makes it sound so much more dramatic than it is. But here’s what happened. Yesterday someone on my Twitter feed shared an article from Digital Book World called “The Truth About Author Websites.” It’s by Jason Allen Ashlock, and here it is. The purpose of this article (the one you’re reading now) is not to debate or re-hash anything Mr. Ashlock says. As most of you know, while I am a writer and this blog is technically an “author website,” you won’t find a lot of stuff here that you find on more traditional author websites. That is to say, advice about writing, publishing tips, how to get an agent, how to promote your book in social media, etc. I do a little bit of that (see here and here for examples), but honestly not much.
Instead, you see a lot of stuff that’s all over the map. I’ve done articles on Civil War battles and World War II weapons. I’ve blogged about homoerotic horror movies and shown you videos of things odd, amusing, astounding, and just plain weird. I’ve reviewed Choose Your Own Adventure novels and serious scholarly works. I’ve interviewed authors, professors and fictional characters. Some of the music you may have heard on this site includes European power metal, New Orleans jazz and torchy German ballads. And then there are the missing persons I’ve introduced you to. Kids who vanished on the way to concerts, missing cardiologists, metalheads and air traffic controllers, Mad Men advertising executives and signers of the Constitution. None of these things have anything whatsoever to do with my books or my writing projects.
This could be the coolest piece of music I’ve ever featured on this blog. Sidney Bechet, “Petite Fleur,” 1952.
I really do love working on this site. Since what I term “the revolution“–which was the day I decided to break out of the rut of the traditional author website–I’ve had a really wonderful time researching content, writing articles, finding the pictures, fielding comments, and promoting the articles. Yes, I do all of that myself. And it takes a tremendous amount of time. I’ve never counted the hours I spend working on this site. I don’t want to know, because it would scare me. I usually do two articles a day on this blog (it used to be three, but that pace was unsustainable). And this is on top of having a full-time job and course of academic study, a family and social life, and writing simultaneously a spy serial and various horror books.
According to at least some of the experts interviewed for Mr. Ashlock’s article, this is all totally a waste of time. They may be right. I probably don’t sell many books as a result of my efforts here. The pages where I advertise Zombies of Byzantium or Life Without Giamotti hardly ever show up in the stats as being clicked on very often.
Yet something is working. Do you know what my average page views on this blog were a year ago, when I was still following “the rules” about author websites? Five. Yes, five. And that was on average–some days were zero. A year later I’m averaging nearly 600. And it’s not just the passing of time, either. The amount of views exploded literally the day of the “revolution.” That was, I think, the day seanmunger.com stopped being an author website.
Yes, I really do write books. Please buy one.
It would be very easy to conclude that I should simply stop putting so much time into this blog. After all, if the point is to sell books, what do I really need? A short bio, a description of my books, and links to where you can buy them on Amazon. How is an essay on what went wrong with the movie Jaws: The Revenge going to help me sell copies of Zombies of Byzantium? It isn’t. It just isn’t. At least not directly.
The problem is, I’m convinced that what you find on most author websites doesn’t help either. Let’s face it–a lot of what you see on author websites is “inside baseball.” That is, it’s writer talk. How do you block out a sword fight? What words should you avoid in a query letter? What are agents looking for these days? That’s inside baseball. It’s aimed at other writers.
Is that really what you, the readers who come here day after day, want to read about? I’m convinced it isn’t. Yet somehow, people who are trusted experts in the world of using online media to promote authors have got it into their heads that this is what you want. I disagree with those people, but I don’t blame them. I understand how they got there.
You’re an author with a website. Who is most likely to sign up to follow your blog? You guessed it–another writer who also has a website. He or she may post interesting content, but the real reason he/she is following you is that he/she is hoping you’ll follow them back and promote your stuff if they promote yours. Because of course a good blogger should cater to his/her audience, you should produce content targeted at them. Thus, author websites become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
I guarantee you will not find an article about “ice mummies” on any other author website on the Internet.
This is not to say–and don’t get the impression that I think this way–that writer-advice websites, almost all of which are run by writers, are worthless or boring. They’re not. Some great advice comes out of them and their creators work hard on them. That’s fine. But to assume that this is the paradigm of an author website, that this is what authors should be doing with their blogs, as a default position, seems quite myopic and uncreative to me.
I cannot imagine a single social media or publishing expert in the entire world who would advise a writer to create a blog that often features dash cam videos of car crashes in Russia. I’ve done that subject four times, and each one has been fabulously successful. I doubt very many of the thousands of people who have clicked on my blog about Bradyn Fuksa even know, or care, that I wrote a zombie book. But a lot of people do want to know about Bradyn Fuksa. Or Marble Arvidson. Or Mark Hamill’s face. Or what Bobby Ewing was doing in the shower.
You tell me. Do you like what you see here? Why do you come to this site? What do you want? What is the meaning of life? Forty-two?
Sorry for the long rant. I think I’ll have a glass of wine.
The image of Rodin’s The Thinker is by Wikimedia Commons user drflet and is used and relicensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 license.