Publishers and publicists often ask authors who their readers are. The one thing you’re not supposed to do is pick a famous author’s book and say, “People who liked Fire Ants in the Birdbath will love my book.” That’s usually considered arrogant.
If a writer is a blogger, s/he is often asked about the blog’s demographics. If it has a niche, then how many people stop by every day? If it’s more general, what subjects get the most readers and comments?
My answer to the first question usually includes Floridians and/or those who like fantasy, magical realism, and paranormal short stories and novels. My answer to the second is “I get the most hits on stuff I’m not writing about now.”
Currently, most of my visitors are looking at blogs that focus on conjure. I wrote a lot of these when my novel Conjure Woman’s Cat first came out. I wrote these because authors are advised to blog about themes and subject matter from their novels rather than promoting the novels over and over again.
When I was writing the conjure posts, they didn’t get as many hits as silly posts, satirical posts, occasional rants, or posts about things going on in my life. Now that I’m writing posts about other subjects–some about my life, some about writing and publishing–those are getting very few hits compared with the massive number of hits on the conjure posts.
This means when it comes to blogging, I have no idea who my readers are except for people who know me in “real life” or on Facebook. I suppose I should have called this post “Clueless in Georgia.” I wonder if that title would have attracted people from Georgia. Since I’m clueless, I have no idea.
So far this year, my posts have had 15,506 views, the most popular post being an old one Barebones Structure of a Fairy Tale with 2,086 views and my navy slang post Heave out and Trice Up with 923 views. It’s also an old post.
For a while, my post about the White House Boys, the survivors from Florida’s nasty Dozier School and its transgressions received many views. Those began to fade as the story about the search for graves on school property fell out of the daily news. I thought some of those readers might find yesterday’s post about the school and Colson Whitehead’s bestselling novel The Nickel Boys ( Colson Whitehead’s ‘The Nickel Boys’ Takes Kirkus Prize for Fiction) that was based on the school. So far, only three views. That surprises me.
After all these years posting on this blog, which began on Blogger and was moved to WordPress in 2008, you’d think I’d know what I was doing. But I don’t. The posts I think nobody will notice get lots of views and the posts I think everyone will notice are slim to none in the popularity category. In “real life,” I don’t believe in fate, much less in the fates of Greek mythology (Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos, et. al.). Yet, sometimes I wonder.
Are three ladies truly spinning thread that represents our lives, measuring it, and then snipping it off? Gosh, I hope not. Yet, “fate” is a popular notion even in our age of science and technology about things that happen for no discernible reason. Others are more comfortable saying “God moves in mysterious ways.” (I don’t mean to imply that God reads my blog. <g>)
Why anything happens when it happens is usually tangled up in so many variables that understanding all but the most simplistic parts of it are beyond human ken. We might say that a person was injured in a car accident because somebody ran a stop sign. The police report usually covers that part. What they don’t cover is why the two cars involved happened to arrive at that intersection at the same moment. There are lots of theories about what “Why” but most of them don’t sync up with our consensual logic about the world so all we can do is ponder them.
Many newsletters these days have within them the code (often within a pixel) which the sender can use to see who reads them. If you don’t read them for a while, sooner or later you’ll get a message that asks if you will want the newsletter. Usually, I do. But I have to logical reasons for why I read it some days and skip it on other days. Sure, there are obvious reasons: I was sick, I was out of town, &c. But then there are the times when my brain is shorted out already and I don’t have the patience for reading something I normally like.
I don’t think that’s fate, but I can’t prove it. I’m happy that so many of you keep coming back to this rather eccentric blog and are reading so many posts. So thank you for being fated to read what you read <g>.
Excerpt from Widely Scattered Ghosts: “On the band bus ride home, the stunning, first chair flute player Melinda Wallace sat beside him. She had no clue how he felt about her, not that he’d said anything. The empty aisle seat next to a clarinet was, he guessed, preferable to sitting in the back with the band’s borderline criminal element of raucous drums and tarnished brass. Melinda smelled like wildflowers and her unruly light brown hair smelled like the wind. When the band played ‘The Stars and Stripes’ Forever’ in concert and Melinda stood up into the light for her piccolo solo—the sweetest banshee cries the world has ever known—her blue eyes were frozen into ice for thirty-two measures of leaps and trills, while her hair could not be restrained.” – The Lady of the Blue Hour in “Widely Scattered Ghosts”
Since I’m not a fan of housekeeping, I procrastinate on the housekeeping chores that go along with having a website and a blog. On the website, I’m likely to let pages sit for a while without a constant supply of fresh material so that return visitors have something new to read. Here, I’ve uploaded quite a few posts, but didn’t touch the pages that display on the menu across the top of the screen for a long time.
Now, the website is looking better and I have two new pages–replacing two out-of-date pages–that I’ll try to keep current with excerpts and pictures.
My view of websites and blogs is that, other than talking about my books and related subjects, they are all about you rather than all about me. I wrote an article for a magazine for nonprofit organizations in which I said that many of them were missing the boat when they advertised events and exhibits. Like commercial advertising, nonprofit news releases which appeared in the newspaper should be about the reader, that is, showing him/her why the event would be fun, entertaining, and otherwise worthwhile.
Author C. Hope Clark, who sends out a weekly newsletter from her Funds for Writers website said that author newsletters seldom do much good because instead of talking about books and interesting subject matter, they often degenerate into monthly updates about the authors’ kids and pets. That’s not what the readers want to see. As Clark but it, they didn’t subscribe to be a buddy, they subscribed to find out about exciting new releases and, in some cases, book signings and other events the author would be attending. So, I try to use my website to show prospective readers why they might enjoy my books rather than having, say, a page about what my cats are doing.
This blog is a bit more relaxed. Since I’m disorganized, I’m likely to talk about anything here and sometimes it is about what my pets are doing. Sorry about that, if you’re not a cat person.
At any rate, I hope you enjoy the improving website and the two new pages on this blog. And, if there are certain kinds of posts you want to see more of, let me know in the comments section
When I look at my Word Press dashboard, I often see that old posts are suddenly getting a lot of visitors. Today it was Review: ‘Plain Truth’ by Jodi Picoult from last September. I have no complaints about this. I simply wonder how and why a bunch of y’all find a post six months after it was written. I don’t think the post saw that many visitors last fall.
So, do Word Press readers get together in “secret” Facebook groups and say, “Hey, let’s all read Malcolm’s old review this week. That’ll freak him out.” Or, is there a mother ship in high earth orbit that beams down subliminal messages about the blogs everyone’s supposed to visit?
Posts I’ve forgotten about suddenly appear in my blog’s stats with dozens of visits, and that sends me out to them to see what I might have said. You know, did I insult a celebrity, inadvertently announce a cure for ten horrid diseases, or post nude pictures I didn’t know were available? Of course, I keep waiting for the post that goes viral, the one that attracts the attention of major movie studios who get into a bidding war for my books. So far, that hasn’t happened.
When people find old posts, I sometimes search Google to see if anything earthshaking has happened that relates to their subject matter. Usually not. And then, further adding to the mystery is the fact that a lot of those readers come from the far-flung corners (figuratively speaking) of the world. How do you find me? And why that particular post?
I’m not particularly astute when it comes to the issues of the day or the philosophical questions of our era. CNN doesn’t call me for quotes and the New York Times doesn’t review my books. Humbly, I must say that in both cases, it’s their loss. Of course, if I were invited anywhere special other than the nearest Cracker Barrell, I would decline the invitation because I have nothing to wear. I wear jeans an tee shirts; haven’t put on a suit and tie for years, and those I used to wear no longer fit.
Seriously, I grew up in a swamp–or near a swamp–and today’s social media (including Word Press and Facebook) are beyond me. As for Twitter, my blogs post there, but I seldom go there because I can’t figure out what’s happening. So, I wonder, how do y’all track down these old posts?
I’m usually too buried in writing and weekly chores to notice the stuff that many sites refer to as “trending.” So, if I’m ever trending, it’s news to me. Actually, I don’t want to be trending. That means the phone would ring and people would ask stuff like “Which of the Democrat’s 2020 candidates do you support?” and “Do you buy good wine or swill?” Frankly, I don’t need the hassle.
On the other hand, I appreciate everyone who stops by my blog. As we said in the old days, “What a hoot.”
WordPress keeps sending me notices that more and more people are following this blog. That’s a little scary because it means I can’t slack off and write these posts drunk and blindfolded. Thank you!
While many of my posts do sound drunk and blindfolded, I also have fun reviewing a few books, talking about authors, and occasionally saying a few things about writing. Yet, I have madness in my method and that is something that I believe needs to be said. I say it in fiction. This Facebook cover picture pretty well sums it up:
My publisher is working on a new edition. She just sent me photographs of it this morning. Wow, for a grey and rainy day, they really make me happy. You’re going to like it. More on that later, of course.
Writers are usually advised to have websites and blogs. There are lots of reasons even though blogs aren’t as popular as they were, say, back in the 1990s when the concept began. Blogs become, so say the experts, part of your platform or presence on the Internet.
Not counting widely known writers, blogs seem almost mandatory for those writing nonfiction because they help establish subject-matter credibility. Such blogs have a built-in niche and tend to draw readers who are interested in beekeeping, home repair, investing, or whatever the author’s subject matter is. If the author is busy, s/he may have announcements of upcoming events related to that niche along with links to his/her articles along with resources links to sites and articles written by others. So the blog becomes another clearinghouse of information and (so the author hopes) will be a way of publicizing the books.
Widely known fiction writers have a built-in audience of readers who are looking for them; they want to know the latest news about new books, presentations, panels, signings, etc. Unknown writers don’t have people looking for them. So, they are often told to blog about the subject-matter and locations of their books more than their books. If they write several posts a week about their books, that’s often considered SPAM. On the other hand, after maintaining this blog for a number of years filled with posts about Montana, Florida, mountains, swamps, hero’s journey, hoodoo, the environment and related subjects that relate to my novels, I can say that after a while, the writer runs out of book-related subject matter to talk about.
And, as far as I can see, there’s little correlation between those who read my posts about hoodoo, for example, and the sales of my books in which the main character is a conjure woman. Of course, most of the people who read this blog aren’t fans of hoodoo and related subjects, so I can’t establish a “hoodoo niche” and write about that all the time. But even if I did, I suspect that readers searching on hoodoo and conjure are looking for how-to more than fiction.
This brings me to the point that some writers make: blogging takes time away from writing the novels one is supposed to be writing. Yes, it does, and while I appreciate all of you who follow this blog greatly, I’m wondering if the blog is “earning its keep.”
J. K. Rowling, Stephen King, and other well-known and wealthy writers can make political comments on Twitter all the time without harming their authors’ reputations. They may lose a few readers, but I’m sure they don’t care. I wrote a political post on this blog yesterday and deleted it today. Why? I guess I wish I hadn’t written it even though writers–among others–are being urged to speak out more and more about political matters. The thing is, politics has become so polarized these days, one can hardly say anything that doesn’t bring down the wrath of the multitudes. Suffice it to say, I’m a political moderate, yet the polarization in venues such as Facebook is so extreme that moderates get beat up by both conservatives and liberals. I don’t see a lot of real dialogue on Facebook. Just a lot of nastiness from people who wouldn’t dare say the things they say at a backyard barbecue or a bar or a party. I don’t think I want to bring that nastiness into this blog even though my political views are just as real as everyone else’s views.
So, What’s Left to Say?
My first thought is “not a lot.” I’ve been blogging for a long time on many platforms over the years. I’ve met a lot of cool people, found interesting discussions, been lured into exciting blogs of others, and had fun shooting off my mouth. But after 25 years of that, I’m not sure I know what I’m doing here on WordPress. As people reach my age (I’m not telling you what it is) they often find they’re out of sync with the world. That is to say, it becomes more and more obvious with each passing year that they are part of the older generation which is variously considered to be: (a) responsible for what’s wrong with the world, (b) out of touch with the major thrusts of culture and popular culture, (c) trapped in the past.
The days are long gone when old people were venerated for their wisdom. (Hell, my generation grew up with the admonition not to trust anyone over 30.) Not that I have any wisdom. When I was a kid, I thought I would know lots of stuff by the time I was a grandfather. Boy, was I fooled!
If the answer is “yes,” then why is “blog” a menu selection? I see out of date blogs a lot on writers’ sites, social service organization sites, and environmental group sites every week. Sure, they’re a lot of work even if they’re only updated once a month. Perhaps they were started when writers were less famous and had more time or when volunteer groups happened to have somebody on hand to write a blog who has since left the organization.
When I visit a social service or environmental group and see that the latest post is two or three years old, my first thought is, “Have you people done nothing since that post worth talking about?”
I realize that social service and environmental groups have to be more careful than other bloggers because they don’t have to luxury of posting rants or even reasonable debates because such things are construed as the voice of the organization rather than how the blogger happened to be feeling one day. So, most likely, blog posts have to be approved by upper management–or by the publicity department–and that can be time-consuming. However, I think an out-of-date blog creates about as much damage as any inadvertent post that headquarters may not like.
Much better to remove the “blog” menu selection than to leave it there and have people think you’re lazy and/or have nothing to say.
Writers get busy, especially those who are on the faculty of a college, on the board of one or more writers’ groups, or are charged with organizing writing workshops and conventions. The amusing thing is, many writers proclaim on their web sites that they write daily. That said, how long could it possibly take to add a hundred words to a blog? When a writer’s blog is empty, I feel cheated, especially if they haven’t come out with a new book in a while or been interviewed in a writer’s magazine. “What are you thinking about these days?” I want to ask. An out of date blog makes me think the answer to that question is “nothing.”
It may seem like a little thing, but that empty or abandoned blog on the writer’s or organization’s website is causing a lot more damage than most people realize.
When I log on to my WordPress dashboard, I see how things are going. Quite often, posts I think will have traction aren’t noticed while silly throw-away posts attract hundreds of readers.
Sometimes, I do a Google search to see if the subject of an old post that suddenly has hundreds of hits has been in the news. This time, it’s my 2011 post Many Glacier Hotel 1963, where the fantasy began. Why are people suddenly reading this old post?
I check the news to see if the hotel burnt down, had a string of murders in the basement, or got sued for not having an elevator in the annex.
As far as I can see from scanning Amazon, no new books have come out about the hotel that might cause people to put it into their search engines for more information.
President Trump isn’t staying there, nor has he unleashed a Tweet Storm about the place.
My publisher hasn’t made a surprise announcement to the press that I’m going to be there to talk about my two novels set in the historic structure.
So, I’ve got nothing. If any of you who went there see this post, I would like to know why you went there.
This is very a perplexing thing for a blogger. Why people read what they read. Lately, I saw that a lot of people arrived on my blog after a search for subject XYZ. So, I wrote a post about XYZ. Nobody read it even though my search terms index kept showing me that people were looking for more information about it.
Sometimes I think the Feds are doing this to make me go crazy to they can put me in a home, a One Flew Over the Cukoo’s Nest kind of home. Why would they do that, you wonder. My guess is that it’s because my alter ego Jock Stewart has contributed a lot of guest posts on this blog that made fun of the Feds. (Lately, the real news has become so crazy that Stewart couldn’t think of any way to satirize it.)
Okay, let’s pretend the Feds aren’t going it. Maybe some of you are doing it. You probably have a ringleader, some tough guy or badass chick from Chicago who calls the shots. Why would s/he do this? Kicks? Too much free time? A dislike of bloggers? Nurse Ratched withholds their meds unless they click on old blogs of mine to make me wonder why they’re clicking on old blogs of mine.
I’m sure there are other possibilities. The Russians hacked into my blog or maybe the Mafia did it. Or, possibly aliens from a place where no one has gone before.
Like those cop shows where a crime is committed in the middle of a crowded mall where nobody saw nothin’, I strongly suspect nobody knows why everyone’s headed out to that old Many Glacier Hotel post.
Okay, I can play that game, too, because my hacker software knows who you are and what you did. <g>
“You’ve got to be very careful if you don’t know where you are going because you might not get there.” – Yogi Berra
This blog came into being after I tinkered with earlier blogs on Blogger, MySpace, Typepad, and Xanga. Since this blog doesn’t have a real niche, you might say that in all its incarnations I never knew where I was going. Except in wholly practical matters like getting on a plane and ending up where my ticket says I’m supposed to end up, I much prefer not to be going to any particular place. I dislike planning.
I took a look at the first post on this blog in 2008 to see if I began with a plan, forgot about it, and then decided there was no need for a plan:
As of 2008
A friend asked in a recent post on her MySpace blog “How Do You Define Success?”
Essentially, her answer was finding the freedom to be herself and to follow her dreams. The challenge for her–for many of us–was that while following our dreams requires a measure of security and financial well-being, if we spend too much time or stress establishing that, we may not ever get to our dreams.
My answer to her question was similar to hers. Success to me is doing what I’m here to do: making an inner journey and writing about it. This blog represents my random thoughts, and a lot of yours, about the challenges we face and about the things we see along the trail.
I’m influenced, as many of you can tell, by the work of such writers as Edward Abbey and Colin Fletcher and by the dedication of volunteers in such organizations as the Sierra Club and the Nature Conservancy. I’m also influenced by Jane Roberts’ “Seth Books,” by the writings of Carlos Castaneda and Caroline Myss.
As we walk the trail, we learn–as Carlos was taught–that our outer journey is a reflexion of our inner journey and, conversely, that if we are impeccable in what we do in the physical world, we will be more centered within.
For me, success is being on the path and experiencing what I find there and then putting those feelings into words on the page.
What about you?
As of Right Now
My novels and blog posts still reflect my inner journey–more or less. The journey has been satisfying, if not profitable. This doesn’t mean I couldn’t have done better, though I’m not sure better would have yielded the same lessons.
What about you? Have you changed your basic philosophy and/or how you view success since 2008?
I envy people who keep diaries, real diaries rather than those they write in such a way that people years down the road will read them with great admiration. I could never do that. I either couldn’t stay with it or I couldn’t stay with it without fictionalizing what was happening while it was happening. Maybe the embellishments were the real me. I don’t have a clue, and that’s probably just as well. But those can do keep honest diaries can go back and see what the hell they were thinking long, long ago.
I think this blog is just as chaotic now as it was when it began. I like it that way because it makes every day a blank slate where everything is possible. Plans seem to limit what is possible because they’re based on preconceived notions about what I ought to be doing tomorrow or next week.
My wife will tell you that–like most men–I don’t like to stop and ask directions. Frankly, I don’t know why that lack of practicality is a “male thing.” If we’re on the way to the hospital ER or maybe to pick up the Pulitzer Prize, I’d ask somebody where we were and where we needed to go.
Otherwise, I don’t want to know. I want the road to surprise me.
Not the SPAM in a can, but the crap that shows up uninvited in your e-mail inbox and in the comments section of your blog. Fortunately, WordPress weeds out a lot of the junk. Google’s Gmail separates a fair amount of the annoying stuff, but I still get a lot of e-mails asking for money, asking for me to sign urgent petitions in which a million signatures are (for reasons never specified) “needed by midnight,” and offers far more Viagra than anyone would consider using in a hundred lifetimes.
Most of the SPAM weeded out by WordPress starts with something lame: “Hi, I want you to know that I read your blog every day and intend to tell my friends about it.” And then there’s a link to an online store or service that I don’t want.
My assumption is that as Christmas approaches, Santa reads the news and discovers that coal is really bad or really good depending on your politics. So, after a discussion with Mrs. Claus, he decided not to touch the stuff. Plus, many of today’s young people don’t equate coal in the stocking as evidence that their wrongdoings have been noted on the naughty list.
But SPAM, how nasty is that? It’s just another advertisement at best. At worst, it’s a way of opening a doorway to endless malware, viruses, and perhaps death. Of course, most of the medications we take indicate that death is a potential side effect, so how bad can death be? From Santa’s viewpoint, your friendly pharmacist in the white coat pushes more death than the anonymous spammer who promises riches in the Bitcoin market.
Most spammers who try to sneak their comments into this blog are trying to sell software that will write this blog for me and/or monetize it in some way that will be better for me–and any reader who believes the pitch–than winning the lottery. The pitches often begin with: “I notice you don’t have much new material on this blog.” Gosh, they probably sweet talk everybody like that. And then they continue with: “Most bloggers aren’t writers, so we’ll supply a slew of curated crap that will fill up your week’s post with the kind of stuff people want to read. You won’t have to write another word.”
My only question is this: “will the people who read that curated crap be so happy and inspired they’ll buy my novels?”
The spammers say, “Malcolm, of course, they will. You’ll be the new James Patterson.”
Wow, really? Where do I sign?
“Right here where you promise to hand over your next child, your house, your Jaguar, and the access codes to all of your bank accounts.”
Does that sound good to you? No, I didn’t think so. The thing is, the SPAM industry keeps trying to sell it to me. Apparently, it’s illegal to harm those people or even to create a virus that goes back to their computers and fries the hell out of them (the computers). Maybe I should call a conjure lady and ask her to put a hex on them, some kind of plague maybe like frogs in the kitchen and wasps in the bedroom.
Christmas SPAM seems to be the worst SPAM. Supposedly, if I sign up, I’ll experience joy and love and a guarantee that my stocking will never be filled with coal or more SPAM. Gosh, if that doesn’t represent the true magic and spirit of Christmas, I don’t know what does.
I almost feel like wishing the spammers Merry Christmas. Hmm, maybe next year. Between now and then, I’ll try to stay off the “naughty list.”
This has been a wonderful Christmas, one that didn’t require SPAM or smoke and mirrors to make it happen. I hope your Christmas Day is unfolding the same way.