To Blog Or Not To Blog?

Media

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When I first thought about starting a blog, there was much that didn’t appeal about the idea. I didn’t want to create great swathes of type about the Brontë sisters or Pushkin. There are too many academics and historical non-fiction writers who are doing a far, far better job than I ever could, and my personal reading tastes tend to be wilful and complicated.

I did not necessarily want to detail everything about my books (I believe something must always be left hidden). Nor did I plan to describe in grisly detail the poorly-attended signings, leaky church halls, overheated book basements and empty libraries where the average author ends up appearing through the bleakest months of the year.

I didn’t want the blog to be just about London, as again, there are so many dedicated London sites. And I didn’t want to run a site simply aimed at flogging books to new readers, which seemed cheap and a bit crass (hey, I’m English, we have issues).

So what did I want? I suppose a doorway to a place of ideas (see the door of my nearest bookshop, above) combined with a modern-day version of ‘Picture Book’, the children’s programme in which Freda Lingstrom asked ‘What do we have in the picture book for today?’, so perfectly parodied by Jane Horrocks (whip to around the 3 min point for the ghastly ‘Marching Song’).

What I planned (as much as I ever plan anything) was a sort of interactive potpourri of the arts, offering tasters of many different elements. Prior to this version, which started in 2003, there was an earlier, far more sophisticated version that ran Flash Player, but as formats proliferated it had to be stripped back and simplified. Simon Moore, the talented designer who had helped me create the site, was very kind and patient with me on what turned out to be a steep learning curve. (See below) I came out of it being able to write simple code, which is probably the most boring thing I’ve ever done apart from listening to Wagner.

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The idea of posting every day of the year turned out to be a rod for my back, and began to cut into my reviewing/writing time – so I dropped the reviewing job, which meant a loss of earnings. For a long time I was careful not to blog about religion or politics as they tended to bring out the trolls, and although I was loathe to censor the site, that’s exactly what I had to do in more extreme cases.

Recently, regular reader Brooke very kindly had the good grace to give me the option of deleting her post (I am surely not alone in finding American readers incredibly gracious about such niceties) but others were less caring, and I weathered the usual gamut of casual hate-mail. The Brexit situation brought out a startling rabidity in reaction, so I downplayed that. Working for the press stood me in good stead; at the Independent we were required to personally answer all critics, although this tends to make one wary of posting anything bearing the imprimatur of opinion.

With the proliferation of social media (I post on Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, Amazon and others) my time is being swallowed to an alarming degree, and I now wonder if there is still any need to run the blog. I read every single comment, and if I write about London the piece usually takes three times as long to create because of the extra research required. Looking back through past posts, I’m rather daunted by the range of subjects touched upon. Nothing about sport, you’ll notice (no-one in my family ever showed the slightest interest in any form of sport – we might have been genetically Jewish) and I’ve always been annoyed by people assuming I know about football.

London Taxi Driver: (Cheerfully) So who’s your favourite footballer?

Me: (tetchy, after a bad day) I don’t have one. Who’s your favourite choreographer?

However, blogging taught me a lot. First, never assume. Readership is diverse and surprising. The median age is older for the blog than among my Twitter followers, but more far-reaching. It has been a brilliant sounding board for ideas, and I feel we’ve run a rather shambolic but democratic exchange of views. I once described it to someone as ‘halfway between socratic discourse and a fight in a barn’.

Second, answer with thought. Readers have every right to ask difficult questions, and deserve respectful and considered answers. Third, listen to the young, and fourth, above all keep learning. There’s rarely a day when a reader doesn’t teach me something. I once had dinner with a writer too used to hearing himself being admired, all transmit, no receive, and I vowed never to be like him (I can’t tell you who it was. Frederick Forsyth.)

I haven’t fully made up my mind to stop the blog yet – I have a meeting with publishers next week to get advice on effectiveness, usefulness, readership etc. Meanwhile, service as normal (depending on the highly dubious broadband coverage in the airport this morning).

Monkey-typing

 

32 comments on “To Blog Or Not To Blog?”

  1. Chris Webb says:

    I hope you don’t decide to drop your blog, but I am very surprised you have been able to keep up a significant daily post for years. Maybe you should cut back – take it easy, put you feet up, cup of tea and a custard cream. Perhaps a longer weekly post aimed specifically at the sort of people who read your books (“target demographic” blah blah blah).

    I’ve got a blog which I add a new post to on average once a week, but each post takes about a day of hard work so it’s difficult to do more. I think weekly is sufficient though, and few people would expect more than 2 or 3 a week on any subject. Every hour you spend on your blog is an hour you are not spending on the more important task of bashing out Bryant and May books.

    I don’t get many comments but most are spam, usually offering to write posts for me (!) or to get me at the top of Google. Oh, and flogging \/ | /-\ G R /-\ of course.

  2. Helen Martin says:

    Everyone (I refuse to limit this one) is sitting holding their breath while you think about it. I don’t know how many “do” Twitter, Instagram, or whatever else there is but this & Facebook is all I do. And facebook gets tiresome if all it is is first day of school photos and “hit like if you agree” with some trite piece of non-thought or other. The people I meet here are so much more intelligent, educated, learned, generous, and fun than any other group I know. What will I do without access to all these brilliant minds?
    Limited to once a week would at least keep the discussion door open. You have no idea how often conversations contain “Well, someone was saying on Chris’ blog today…”.
    I’ll go back to holding my breath and reading Bk 4 of GofT. (Book 3 was just one bucket of blood after another)

  3. Jo W says:

    Hi,Christopher. I for one would be extremely sad if you stopped blogging. As Helen said,there are times in this house where we talk about the day’s topic and who said what. I believe it has got ‘im indoors to read B&M,three so far.
    But,of course, it’s your decision. 🙁
    ( My favourite footballer was Harry Cripps- anyone else out there remember him?)
    Please feel free to delete any of my drivel at any time!!

  4. Peter Tromans says:

    I have followed your blogs for a long time, though only recently gathered the courage to add comments. I have started my own blog, mainly to learn about website creation. It is immensely hard to write well on a new topic on a regular basis, while earning a living and just living. I am amazed at your capacity to do it every day!

    We would all regret a termination of your blogs, but understand and respect your situation.

    I suggest changing to a weekly cycle with extra blogs when some special subjects motivate you.

  5. Blogging daily is no mean challenge, especially when each day’s post is meaningful and so carefully thought through. It’s easy to question the time and effort required, and whether it’s an efficient way to communicate with a relatively limited audience. But to develop an idea beyond 140 characters and earn feedback from an informed readership, it can’t be beaten.

    I hope you’ll never let the blog become a tool to make your publishers happy, rather than a regular output of writing you enjoy.

  6. admin says:

    Thank you, Diamond! For those who don’t know, Diamond Geezer runs one of the truly in-depth London blogs, and was someone I wanted got emulate.
    Hele – off-piste I know but I hear the GoT books diverge radically from the series, which seems to suddenly get much better from the Red Wedding g onwards.

  7. DC says:

    I get why you would consider dropping the blog. When it comes to effort of maintaining a daily blog, I can see how it might hamper other work.

    I have visited websites of some other authors and the general trend seems to be, a flurry of posts around release of a book and then tumbleweed for months. After a few visits and seeing no updates, I tend not to go back. I enjoy the fact that your posts are not specifically about your books. I appreciate the diversity of your topics and the insight they bring.

    I’d be happy if you decided to reduce the frequency, as long as there are not huge gaps. Personally, I wouldn’t be interested in a fan site for B&M and other works. I like the almost “drive by” references to your work and the context your life brings to your work, through your posts.

    At the end of the day you’d have to decide the benefit all his effort brings to you. As a reader, though, I’d be sad to see them stop completely.

  8. DebbyS says:

    It’s no surprise that the blog is eating into your time and energy, given the quality and quantity of your output. I do hope that you will continue on an occasional basis, whenever your muse nudges you.

  9. Ken Mann says:

    Well I’d miss it, but better books than blogs. A blog that only updates occasionally is quite a difficult beast as readers lose the habit of checking it. Those of us on twitter can be nudged if there is a new post, but how many of us are on twitter?

  10. Martin Tolley says:

    What DC, and Helen M said.
    I’d be more than sad to see you pull the plug, but also I understand the amount of time and energy that you invest in the blog. If you do go, how I’m going to get through the increasingly fraught breakfast time conversation with Mrs T where she doles out my tasks for the day? My diversionary strategy of “I’ve just read in Mr F’s blog that…. did you know…have WE ever visited… do you remember….?” has had a wonderful effect on my domestic and personal well-being. Without your morning offerings, I shall be bereft.

  11. Chris Webb says:

    Could you please give us a link to Diamond Geezer’s blog, ta.

  12. DC says:

    Ken. RSS is quite old technology but allows you to be informed of new postings and the titles of the piece etc. I use RSS feeds to aggregate many sites and allow me to skip anything of no interest and select just the articles which might be worth a read. This site does use them. You can get RSS readers for all platforms.

    I have had a Twitter account for years, but frankly I seldom look at it now. Facebook has gone the same way. I like to choose how I spend my time, rather than have stuff forced on me.

  13. brooke says:

    I agree with Diamond Geezer’s point about the blog becoming a marketing tool versus something you enjoy and use to engage with readers.

    Frequent posts give you an advantage, namely, you have your own data direct from your audience to offset your publishers’ opinions. I feel that publishers don’t give a hoot about readers, especially older readers (until the holidays when we are the people buying books). Perhaps because we are low volume social media users, we disappear from publishers’ marketing algorithms.

    You’ve started a promising new author identity–L.K. Fox. To make Fox a smashing success, does that mean more social media and less blogging? Do what you have to do.

    In terms of time management, perhaps your agent should stop sending you on speaking tours to church basements, and arrange for you to use more digital media like YouTube–you present well.

    For as long as I have followed your blog, you’ve been living a very hectic, creative, adventurous life. Time to chill at bit?

  14. Colin says:

    I hope you stick with the blog. It has offered superb recommendations on books, films and music. Currently reading a Patricia Highsmith book, something I would never have done without this blog. Loving it by the way.
    It’s always thought provoking and interesting and is obvious a lot of hard work goes into it, which I am sure all appreciate.
    Thanks Chris, whatever your decision

  15. Steveb says:

    I would certainly miss the blog quite a bit. I have a permanent tab on my phone. I’m not in Facebook or Twitter, I don’t know exactly how many there are like me in that. The blog is your audience on your site under your control.

  16. Margo says:

    I’ve never commented here before, but I read every post. As an American admirer of your work and a London-phile, I love hearing the thoughts of someone so conversant with London, and so thoughtful about our distressing times. I have also read books and seen movies I never would have were it not for you. So do what you must to stay sane, but know that I and many others would miss your posts. Thank you for years of pleasure.

  17. Brian Evans says:

    I don’t know how you find the time to do a blog each day. Also, some days I am surprised about how little feed back you get. I would find that quite disheartening.

    I would be very sad if you stopped, so what about taking up the idea mentioned above and compromise and just do one a week? Or wean us off slowly by starting doing one every other day.

    It’s good to hear from Diamond Geezer. I love his blogs too.

  18. SimonB says:

    I wish I could say “long time reader, first time commenter” or such here, but I only found your blog recently and am slowly making my way through the archives as I like to read things in order. So having only reached April 2010 to date I could easily cope with a lower frequency of posting as I probably won’t read them for a couple of years yet! But, what I have read so far has sent me on visits and to the shops, as well as generally stimulating my brain…

  19. Steveb says:

    @ Brian, No feedback isnt such a big criterion. I imagine Chris has stats for blog vs twitter vs fb. If I dont have anything to say I … hopefully … dont write anything. Does Chris tweet the blog entries?

  20. Adam says:

    Really enjoy reading your blog, but appreciate that it must take up a huge amount of time. Holding yourself to a daily blog takes some doing. It’s great to have a writer who is prepared to take the time to engage with his readers.

  21. Chris Lancaster says:

    It would be a shame if the blog ends, as it’s genuine entertainment, and one never knows what subject you’ll write about from one day to the next. I’ve learned about many new and interesting things, and would miss it. However, having once written a crossword-solving blog for four years, I know what a chore it can be. Rather than just stopping, maybe just reducing the frequency of posts even further?

  22. Rich says:

    Nooooo, please don’t stop! I’m just a reader and ex-Londoner, I don’t work in the arts and very rarely go to the theatre (or cinema for that matter) but your blog is one of the first I check each day to get my vicarious fix of all things creative.

  23. Bruce Rockwood says:

    Really enjoy your blog and your books. Always check it out. Do what makes you happy. I would be intrigued to see you do a crossover of Bryant and May with Ben Aaronovitch’s Peter Grant. Or have them visit Leith where my grandchildren are growing up. Our local library and bookstore would be a good venue. Let us know if you ever visit Maine! Best
    Bruce

  24. Ian Luck says:

    I love your reply to the taxi driver. It happened to me a few years back, and, like you, I was in no mood for cheery banter. The driver asked me the same question, to which I answered: “In what?” Flustered, he replied: “Football.” I countered this with: “Is that still a thing? I thought it died out in the 1980’s.” He then glared at me in the mirror, and said: “The World Cup – it was on a few weeks ago.” “Really?” I retorted. “I thought they were repeats of old ones – I mean it all looks the same, a bunch of idiots running about after a kids’ toy…” The cabby remained silent for the rest of the journey.

  25. Roger says:

    Given the things you do, I can see that you may need to drop something, though I’d be sorry if it was the blog. You post much more often than most bloggers and it’s usually interesting and well-written, but it’s not obligatory to post every day. Still, you can tell your sales adviser you got at least one reader via the blog.

  26. David Ronaldson says:

    I fully understand the pressures that producing the blog must exert upon you, but I really hope you will be able to continue producing it. My morning routine begins with 1) Get coffee 2) Check e-mails 3) Read Chris’s blog. I’ll have to join the Sun’s Fantasy Football League if you stop now and we wouldn’t want that.

  27. davem says:

    never stop

  28. Barbara Allan says:

    I love your blog and would miss it. I live in very rural East Yorks and gain a very different perspective on life in Barcelona and London by reading it. I love the items on books (and am constantly ordering them) and also those on London which have taken me off the tourist trail to fascinating places. I can understand the tension between writing a blog and novel. For me, your blog enhances the quality of my life. Thank you.

  29. Vivienne says:

    Oh, I’m rather late here as have been away walking. Please don’t stop. I don’t read many blogs but do know Diamond Geezer – still trying to solve some quiz question he set years ago. Agree with Helen, we get to know similar but challenging minds here and I’m sure some of us still miss Dan. We can live without daily but it would be hard to lose you altogether.

  30. Wayne Mook says:

    I too would miss it, things have been challenging in my private life for a while, so I have not been on as much as I would like, the Andy Capp & Bill Tidy I would have commented on, but it is closed, – Steve Bell If.., Mandy, Capp’s daughter & Capp are still running, there is a statue of Andy Capp in Hartlepool.

    The blog has got me reading your work again, to my shame I had stopped, although Hell Train is something I would have read, but Nyctophobia I may have missed & enjoyed greatly. I am struggling with Lost Boy Found, can’t quite get into it, your teenage female character has left me a little cold. Still I am intrigued enough to carry on.

    I also have gone away to read other novelists you’ve recommended, there are places I am going to go (and have been.) because of you, and you have re-enforced my attitude of treating my city sometimes as though I am a tourist. Film and music you have helped, I was thinking of seeing Hotel Budapest and your thoughts on it made me do it, glad I did. A splendid film.

    In short please carry on, even if it is just weekly. You are one of the reasons I venture onto the net, even if I am not in the mood, the web would be a poorer place without your blog.

    Wayne.

  31. Eleanor M says:

    I’d be very sorry to see your blog go Christopher, although I understand the extra pressure it must make on you. I love your B&M books, and your memoirs and am very much looking forward to your book on forgotten authors – although don’t know when that will hit Oz. Discovering your blog was a joy, and your entries make my day. Thank you,
    Eleanor

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