Sunday, February 14, 2010

Literary Communications

Is the literary blogosphere getting a little tired? Quite a few new years resolutions from bloggers were to blog less; and perhaps as we embrace a world of short messaging, twitters & buzzes, the considered tradition of the blog will disappear from the virtual news-stands. Though there are valiant efforts out there to highlight new blogs, particularly, the Manchester Blog Awards and Kate Feld's accompanying Mancuinan blogroll; bloggers come and go. The more literary ones seem to sail high for a little while then give up, or go on to writing their novel/Guardian column, or just find life getting in the way. How long, after all, should a blog last for? The Americans as ever, do things differently...and some American blogs are now undoubtedly online magazines with large audiences, numerous contributors, perhaps even with staff and an income. The British bloggers, bless us, still have a bit of the back shed feel about them (about us!) - and long may that continue; though as Wordpress and other platforms offer increased sophistication for free (though its never really free is it? the time it takes...) even that may become increasingly rare.

Yet the literary blog - that esteemed organ, around a decade into its life - always had a number of reasons for being. As a platform for a writer's work; as a connection with readers (blog readers or book readers) providing access between writer and reader; as a review service, when so many newspapers had stopped reviewing; and as a voice for the marginalised, the niche... all of those still exist of course, but I'm wondering whether, like the small magazine which was their offline model, the literary blog is getting a bit weary? There's a number of writers who have since left the space, either because of life getting in the way, out of pique, or simply because of the time it takes; and though the estimable Brit Lit blogs still has a wide range of contributors - I realise there seems to be less comment than there used to be on literary matters, at least on this side of the Atlantic. Reading a few blog posts, and following a few links today, I became aware of a number of things - the new issue of the Manchester review for instance, featuring an extra of Martin Amis's new novel and Tindal Street Press's 10th anniversary collection, Roads Ahead that came out last year. Despite following lots of literary types on twitter (that's assuming literary types do twitter, it's certainly limited!), and going back to old favourites now and then, I realise that for all the activity that's undoubtedly out there on literary blogs, in the UK at least, it's not so easy to find out exactly what's going on - whether we're talking literary prizes, competitions, readings or just new books. Writers, who were amongst the most enthusiastic takers to the web in the early days are still there, but whereas the blog and online magazine used to complement the offline publishing world - I get the feeling that they're both sinking a little together. Pity the poor literary editor who now has to find time for his or her website as well as the printed magazine; or the small publisher who has to add online-marketing to the not inconsiderable other tasks to hand.

I'd probably hoped, in my own case, that this blog would have changed over the years, maybe into something more than just a blog, more of a literary website - but without the time to dedicate to such delusions, it's no surprise I've kept it simple. Additional congratulations then to those like 3AM Magazine who've stuck the distance. With the next threat to the literary status quo being seen with the new generation of e-book readers like the iPad, I get the sense that literary types on the web, may need to develop what they're doing or else get lost amongst the next generation of applications and services.


Jim Murdoch said...

What I’m more curious about is a) why the hell is no one commenting on your blog and, b) why the hell you keep writing? I checked back and no one has responded to you since the beginning of the year. Considering you’ve been online for years now I am genuinely puzzled. I run a literary blog, at least that’s what I choose to call it, and I’ve been on the go for about 2½ years. Granted I’ve had to work hard to attract what little following I have but there are people out there who are genuinely interested in literary matters. Making contact is hard since there’s only two really effective methods of locating these kinds of site, wading through a search engine’s list or following the blogroll on someone’s page. I’ve done both. I’ve spent whole days doing both especially when I began but the thing about the Web is that it’s great if you know exactly what you’re looking for, otherwise it’s a crap-shoot.

Anyway, I’ve added you to my overfull feedreader and will see if I can find something more worthwhile to say than, “Great blog. Keep up the good work.”

Tim Love said...

I've been preparing a blog entry on this subject - I'll post it in a week or so. In it I ask why I've started a blog just when other people are backing off. On my blog - LitRefs - one of the few blogs I link to is Jim's because it's the kind of blog I'd like to write, and the kind I want people to read. I dip into The Art of Fiction too, but not so often.

As Adrian points out, blogs have several uses, but once the novelty (and book-promotion potential) wears off, blogs can become too much like hard work.

Jim Murdoch said...

@LitRefs - I've added you to my feedreader and look forward to seeing what you have to say.

Adrian Slatcher said...

Thanks for the posts - I sometimes wonder myself Jim! Though to be honest I've never judged the value of my blogging on comments and audience - but its true that recently I don't seem to hear anything from the wider world! Whether its me or the world, I'm not sure. I tend to promote my blog posts via twitter, and maybe lit types aren't too prominent on that platform yet? As for Litrefs, yes, a blog is hard work and I guess life and other stuff gets in the way - the web loves novelty as well, and not just individuals but organisations probably need to have a clear idea of what they're doing and what for. The audience may always be small, but hopefully valued.

Jim Murdoch said...

The Web is like a dictionary. Dictionaries are great things when you know what word you want to look up but they’re lousy when you only know the definition. Type “the art of fiction” into Google and your site’s the fourth entry which is good enough. I have a widget that allows me to check the Alexa ranking of every site I visit: Google’s is 22, mine is 868,803 and yours is 5,724,663. I average 4000+ hits a month. You can image what Google gets (in fact 22 is the lowest I’ve seen the site in yonks) and you don’t have to be a genius to work out how many people are reading your site.

The sad thing when it comes to web promotion is that the if-you-build-it-they-will-come mentality doesn’t work. People are not looking for your site or mine. They have more to read that they can cope with half the time and you really need to grab them by the lapels and shove your site in their face to be read. So, how did I find your site? By typing something obscure into Google that you’d written about in 2006. Your article didn’t answer my question but I could see yours was the kind of site I like to frequent. Checking a few articles at random confirmed this. You were lucky. Most of the time I’d scan the post and if it wasn’t what I was looking for I’d pass on by. Point of note: I’ve been online for two and a half years and I suspect this is the first time I’m run across your site. The odds are stacked against you.

Promotion on Twitter is fine in the same way as promotion on Facebook is fine but you’re only advertising to your friends, a few hundred max I would expect. You need to attract new people. Every time I post a new article I promote it on BlogEngage, Dropjack, reddit, Yahoo Buzz, Post on Fire, blogcatalog, Digg, Stumbleupon and, depending on the topic of the blog, two or three blog carnivals; if the post is about poetry I send an e-mail to Ron Silliman to list on his site and I post an entry on News and Notes from Poetry Worlds site. All of that takes about 30 minutes – I’ve got a system. The most important one is Stumbleupon. I can easily get 100+ hits from one listing there.

The main ways I’ve found sites have been by going through the blogrolls of sites I already read. I’ve checked out literally hundreds that way; it’s a chore but it has paid off. The simplest and most effective (and also most time consuming way) to find readers who will stick with you is to find the people you want to read your site and comment on their sites. Invariably they’ll check you out and there’s your opportunity to grab their attention.

Personally I hate all this marketing crap. I want to be left alone to write. But this is the real world. The value of your blog is not in question here but, to get all biblical on you, if you hide your treasure under a bushel who the hell’s going to lift up a bushel these days to see what’s under it?

Adrian Slatcher said...

Thanks Jim - fascinating to hear about your own propagation/promotion. I advise on this kind of stuff for a living, and I'm under no illusions - it's what you put in, (timewise as well as content), that helps you get more out of it. Possibly time for a bit of a shake-up though!