Building a Web Presence for SF&F

Madgeniusclub has an interesting article for SF&F writers on building web presence:

1- Be you.  Don’t try to sound educated, or professorial or anything of the kind, unless that is who you are, naturally.  Just be you.  I swear readers can smell “Phony” a mile off.  Don’t be phony.

2- Part of one: talk about things that genuinely interest you, but not things that are so obscure they will only interest physicists or left handed seamstresses, or something.

3- talk of something other than writing.  Yeah, writing too, it’s who you are, but give value to people who aren’t writers.  MGC, I think, trails behind all our personal blogs in hits, because it’s a writers’ blog.  Like left handed seamstresses, that’s a specialized niche.

4- if you can, particularly in the beginning, get promo from people who have bigger platforms. […]

There are ten points in total. Well worth a read.

I’ve been blogging since about 2002 in various places. I started out with a pseudonymous political blog, which provided my first freelance writing commission (celebrity obituaries). I moved onto a personal blog and, later, started blogging about environmental science to promote my freelance career. The latter was extremely successful but, as I was doing reported journalism, my posts took hours to write. When my business took off, I no longer had the time.

A few months ago, Ed Yong, probably the best science communicator in the English-speaking world, shut down his blog Not Exactly Rocket Science. I loved that blog, especially his famous post on ground squirrel masturbation. He had the same problem as me, it seems. As he became a science journalist, he spent more time interviewing scientists, and it became hard to write daily – as Sarah Hoyt recommends in her MGC post.

Coming back to blogging now, I asked Ed on Twitter whether blogging was dead. He said he’d do the same thing over again if he was starting now. I’m not sure what blogging adds in today’s world of clickbait and cat pictures though. Most of the science blogs I remember have disappeared. Discussion increasingly happens on Facebook instead of blog comment sections.

Another question, of course, is audience. Journalists like Carl Zimmer, who blogs at The Loom, have an obvious specialism. I once asked an agent visiting a creative writing event how I dealt with being a science communicator and interested in sci-fi. She recommended keeping two separate blogs and websites. Trouble is, it’s hard enough to keep one blog updated. And, moreover, my interest in science fiction isn’t divorced from my passion for science.

In general, communicating online seems to have become angry and fraught, with people afraid of saying the wrong thing. I wrote an article a few years ago about the risks and benefits of science blogging for working scientists. This included a recommendation to avoid talking about religion, politics, and other controversial topics.

One of the problems of writing about science and science fiction is the latter is a literature of ideas. Even if you want to write about Mars exploration, your choice of who funds the mission is a political statement. Maybe not a strong one, but it’s there. Sarah Hoyt thinks politics has mixed benefits as some people will agree with you and buy your books. Certainly, taking a strong political position on their blog hasn’t harmed SF authors like John Scalzi.

Finally, Sarah discusses the importance of being authentic – not a phony. That’s probably the most important lesson I’ve learned from blogging. If you daren’t say anything, you don’t have anything to write. If you hide who you are, no one knows if they like you. If you fake your passions, you can’t keep up the writing. One of the take-home messages from my blogging article was that hiring managers like scientists who want to write about science. They’re not just showing up. They’re not faking it. They love what they do.

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