Monday 27 August 2012

Taking stock

There is currently a good deal of discussion about the idea of writers, especially those who self-publish, finding themselves pursuing a shadow career in developing their platforms at the expense of their writing.

Shadow career.  I like this term, which is apt in many ways.  In the 1980s-90s my goal was to have what was called a portfolio career – and at one point I was juggling 4 different jobs in order to write.  Recently, I heard another writer who self publishes refer to a mosaic career, which I rather like too.  A more splintered, myriad, maybe chaotic career.  This really did get me thinking. 

I’m relatively new to the blogosphere, having set up my blog in December 2011 with a certain amount of trepidation and after a good deal of research.  (Although, bizarrely, I published five posts on the same day.) I’ve also spent the last six months researching self-publishing, especially digital, with the help of some wonderful sites, being a prime example.

I called my blog The Beautiful Room; a place for me to go to express my thoughts, ideas and concerns.  A creative space.  Eight months down the line, I decided to take stock.  What has it become?  I considered first the mixture of reasons I set up the blog:

·         To maintain a regular writing habit, i.e. most days, which I have always struggled with, despite being told by successful authors how important this is.  (I tend to write in chunks consisting of 3-4 day blocks of time whenever I can get fit them in round my job)
·         To express a viewpoint
·         To provide useful information for other writers
·         To raise my profile.  Although I’ve been published for many years, my work is mostly translated into other languages and comparatively little published in the English language
·         To provide a shop window – for Jane Ayres the brand and for my soon-to-be-published-on-kindle-by-myself backlist of titles that have long been out of print and deserve another airing. (the writer Kate Pullinger makes some interesting points  about the backlist and spreadable media on her blog

Phew!  Time to assess how successful I have been.  And how do I measure success? I looked at the following factors:
·         The time my blog has consumed
·         How much fun and enjoyment it has given me
·         Did it instil a daily writing habit?
·         Has it raised my profile and how would I know?
·         Finally, the acid test.  The stats.

Starting with the first on the list, the blog has consumed several hours a week.  Is this time that could have been spent writing my next book?  Yes and no.  I can blog while I have the TV on and I can’t always write my novel with too many distractions.  I now have a much more regular writing habit, although I don’t blog as often as I feel I should.  I do enjoy it and I have rediscovered the joy of writing opinion pieces, features and essays, which has resulted in me being a guest blogger for the creative website called Creatabot  I enjoy reading other people’s essays as well as fiction.  You can think that your thoughts and ideas are totally original until you interact and find (via the internet) that probably millions of others are saying similar things.  And far more eloquently.  Self-doubt can set in.  Before the internet, you might have felt safe in your little cocoon.  It is both reassuring and challenging to make this discovery.

Has the blog raised my profile?  Probably not.  Why do I think this? Ah, the stats.
Sold more books?  I will have a better idea of that by the end of the year, when I hope my entire backlist is out there on the kindle (launching later this month).

Back to the stats.  Here’s the thing.  When I started the blog I was delighted to find there had been 3 views (most likely my friends!).  When I had 20, I shrieked with excitement.  As the numbers built, I was stunned to see that many came from as far afield as Russia and China (until my brother told me that’s where most of the phishing comes from.  Oh.  So these viewers weren’t necessarily interested in my actual content.)  As of today, I’ve had 1028 page views.

And this is the revealing bit, psychologically.  Those stats have an addictive quality, stimulating a need to boost those figures.  I want to be read.  Ouch!  I didn’t think it would matter to me but it does.  Maybe that’s because I’m a writer – or have a massive ego?  Is it better to blog and be little read than not to blog at all?   

What should your stats be? Or rather, what figure would make you happy?  A bit like chalking up Facebook “friends”.  Is it territorial pride or merely self-indulgence? 

I’ve given myself till the end of the year to make a decision about keeping my blog.  Is it worthwhile?  If I enjoy it, yes.  Is my enjoyment affected by the stats and the thought I may be writing in a vacuum?  I hate to admit it, but yes.  Does it matter?

All I know for sure is that since I started I have got a bit more confident with IT, learned a great deal about writing, a bit about myself and, with the help of all the wonderful writer bloggers already doing it well, I will continue to learn. 

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