If you have been following the comments inspired by my last two postings, you will observe two of our recent creative writing graduates reflecting on how blogging and other forms of social networking may influence their ability to get published (in various forms of print) and to attach some commercial value to their work. One obvious conclusion is that, despite the expanded opportunities for self-publishing, it is as difficult as it always has been for free-lance writers to make money from their writing. The one new wrinkle is that print publishers are now hoping new writers will come to them with something of a waiting public in hand, a public developed through blogging and the use of other social networking platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. A publisher told one of our graduates that he’s not really an “active” blogger, nor one who might be considered “successful,” unless he’s posting three or four times a week. (And I think I am doing pretty well when I post two to three times a week.)
It isn’t clear just where that publisher got his criterion for a successful blog. Is he thinking frequent postings are indicative of an audience demanding at least three to four postings a week? (One can imagine a scenario in which a bloggers posts seven or more times a week, and yet there isn’t any evidence that the posts are being read by any one.) When I mention that I am blogging to people who are not, and who may not spend much time reading blogs either, the most common example of a successful blog they can think of is that of Julie Powell, whose fame was compounded by the recent film Julie and Julia. The appeal of her blog seems to have derived from the challenge she set for herself—to cook all of the recipes found in Julia Child’s Art of French Cooking within a year’s time. Her blog’s large following was built, I’d guess, mostly through the suspense her effort created. Will she make it? And how did that recipe for duck she attempted last Tuesday turn out?
The second of our creative writing graduates wondered out loud about just what made a blog “good” or “bad.” And that got me to wondering whether an aesthetic about blogs is emerging. Clearly it can’t be as simplistic as the aforementioned publisher’s metric. Because blogs are meant to invite a communal response, they have to be about something that matters to others, like gardening or creative writing or French cooking. In addition, it seems to me a reader has to be convinced the writer knows the subject matter to an extent that readers interested in the same subject matter will find informative. There has been much commentary concerning the exponential growth of the political “blogosphere.” I would, in this instance, differentiate between readers who visit someone’s political blog simply because the writer reflects her or his own biases (the “echo chamber” effect) and those readers who visit because the blogger is knowledgeable and entertaining. Because I am an English professor, I guess I would insist on one more standard for a “good” blog. Writing style still must carry some weight. There has to be some pleasure taken from the language itself.
Last week, while I was attending the Conference on College Composition and Communication in Louisville, I sat through a session entitled “Taming Time: Writing in the Blogosphere.” During this session, a doctoral student from Penn State named Matt Weiss talked about two main ways someone might come to read a blog. One was to be a habitual reader, someone who the blogger held onto through fairly regular postings. A blog with a substantial set of habitual readers would be considered successful in the eyes of the publisher with whom our one graduate was communicating. The second way was to follow a link or search engine to a blog. This kind of reader, Weiss noted, lacked a context for what he first examined, and would have to set about creating one, perhaps by examining a whole set of postings from different periods in the blog’s existence. For this reader, the frequency of postings would seem less important than how well the blog fit in with the interests that prompted the visit in the first place. This kind of reader, Weiss further considered, might come upon blog posts that were five years old, but their age would matter less than the context the reader imposed upon the material.
That thought might be the right moment to end this posting, wondering if a blog is really any more ephemeral than a worthy book of poems resting forlornly on a remainders table in a book store, undiscovered by all but a few because it had not garnered a prominent review, or was otherwise lost in the heavy traffic on the literary highway.