This website should not exist. At least, it shouldn’t exist in its present form. I’m doing it all wrong. As you may know, I’m an author, and I’ve written a few books. This website was established many moons ago as a means of promoting my books and communicating with my readers. This may surprise you. Chances are, if you’re the typical reader of my website, you probably didn’t originally come here looking for information on me or my books. You probably came here, at least initially, because you were curious about what happened to a particular missing person, or there was a historical event you were looking for information on, or maybe you like wine. Statistically speaking, you’re more likely to have found this website while trying to figure out what happened to Mark Hamill’s face back in 1977 than for any other single reason. So it may be surprising to realize that this is…supposed to be a website about selling books? What happened?
The “Revolution,” that’s what happened. Two years ago this weekend, on May 23, 2013, I was scrolling across the previous incarnation of my blog, which according to the rigid orthodoxy of the online-writer-promotion world was dutifully populated with articles about my books and various aspects of them. Occasionally I did something that was unrelated, but those articles were supposed to be rare. The readership of the typical author’s website consists overwhelmingly of other authors, so I was supposed to do articles that would appeal to them: writing tips and advice, blog tours featuring other writers, book reviews, etc. That’s what I was doing, and I averaged a paltry five page views a day. Yes. Five.
On May 23, 2013, I decided I would not be one of these, and instead take a more innovative approach to blogging.
I decided to jettison the whole “author website” orthodoxy, and instead create a website based, not on selling books, but on stuff that I personally find interesting. If you’ve read here a while you may notice that I find a lot of things interesting. Historical subjects, movies, books, architecture, astronomy, politics…everything. Thus you see the eclectic mix of articles I put on this site. This week alone I ran an article about a famous TV commercial (itself connected to a TV show’s final episode), a video about tasting wine in Italy, a crewman’s cabin from a Norwegian cargo ship, an incredible brain-hack of a game show, and a review of a book from the 80s. I’d certainly be happy if you bought one of my books, but you won’t see a lot of writing tips or author blog tours on this site–once in a great while.
This decision was phenomenally successful. While I still have a ways to go, it’s quite possible I will hit a million page views this year. Before the Revolution I had a little more than 5,000 views–total, for the whole existence of the blog up until that time.
I arrived at the decision to do my site this way because I questioned, and ultimately rejected, two assumptions that authors often make when they set up their websites. The first is the assumption that people will be turned off by a blog that doesn’t cater to their exact interests. Intuitively this seems obvious, but the flip side is that if you bill yourself as a “generalist,” you have a lot more latitude to do whatever you want. My blog never purported to be solely about one subject. People who are only interested in one particular subject–missing persons, for example–tend to just tune out the rest of the articles that they don’t bother reading. Furthermore, a wide range of subjects will often cross-pollinate. I’ve had people who started coming here for wine-related articles become very interested in my history articles, and several of them are now loyal readers who comment several times a week.
One of my favorite recent article series was an analysis of food and wine in Scorsese’s GoodFellas. How does that help me sell books? I don’t have a clue, but the article was worth doing.
The second is the assumption, which is sadly pervasive in the online world of writers, that an author blog’s readership does or should consist mostly of other writers. You can see this effect in action by finding an author on Twitter (there are thousands of them) and then looking at their followers. Quite a lot of the time their followers consist predominantly–or perhaps even totally–of other writers. I guess there’s nothing wrong with this, but the unspoken truth in the world of authors’ social media is that the reason authors follow other authors is often because they hope that if they promote another person’s book, the author will promote theirs. I’m sure this is true of blogs too. It’s certainly how “blog tours” tend to work. (Again, I’m not throwing stones at people that do them, but I just don’t do them very often). What you get is an essentially closed and homogenous universe where retweets and shares are motivated by self-interest more often than by genuine appreciation for the material somebody has posted.
Then there’s also the fact that “experts” in publishing and marketing of books and authors are out there routinely giving very bad, even self-destructive advice. I refer as a specific example to some really terrible advice that appeared in the Romance Writers of America bulletin earlier this year, warning authors not to talk about “controversial” topics for fear of scaring away potential readers. The reason this kind of advice is so bad is because it reinforces the supposed orthodoxy that authors and their social media presences should be bland and boring. I live in the real world. I have opinions. I have a right to express them. I won’t live in fear that someone who is not inclined to vote for Hillary Clinton is going to decide not to read Doppelgänger because I am going to vote for Hillary Clinton. You can’t live like that.
Back in December I featured this video. Why? Because I found it fascinating! You must have the freedom to do anything you want on a blog–at least a good one.
I love working on this site. I love getting feedback in the comments and on Twitter and Facebook, or seeing people who are sharing my stuff because they genuinely find it intriguing and want others to see it. I’m very proud of many of the articles I’ve written here. I’d love it if you bought my book, but if you’d rather watch Russian car crash videos, I’m totally cool with that. There’s more to me than my books. This site is a big part of who I am, and I’m going to continue to do it my way.
Long live the Revolution!