Eimear McBride doesn’t have one. Nor do Deborah Levy, Rachel Cusk and Sarah Ladipo Manyika. Anakana Schofield does, but it has only been updated three times this year. What don’t these women have? A blog. Hell, Cusk doesn’t even have a website.
Conventional wisdom says these women can’t possibly have got published. But they have. And all five of them are now on the shortlist for this year’s super-literary Goldsmith’s Prize.
Maybe it’s just that these writers are too far down the career path to need a blog now. But when my publisher suggested I start a blog and I was looking for examples to follow, I wasn’t able to find any by brand new literary novelists either.
It’s different in the genre world where there are not only blogs but blog tours, blog communities, group blogs – all the blogs you can think of, and a wealth of advice to draw on as a consequence. The same is true in non-fiction, where it’s increasingly a prerequisite to have built an audience before you even try to get a contract for a book.
But not in the literary fiction world; and that was where I was finding my feet. So if that’s your world, or if you’re a genre or non-fiction writer wanting to do something different, then here’s what I’ve learned over the last year since my site went live:
- The quality of the writing has to be good. Literary fiction is read as much for style as for content and your blog is showcasing your literary style. I am amazed how often people comment on how I write rather than on what I have written about. Many have bought my novel off the back of that.
- Creative non-fiction is your friend. This is a relatively new category in the critical world. It refers to beautifully-written essays, often, but not always, personal in content. (Granta publishes a lot of pieces of this type.) In it you use your ability to write lovely prose and you talk about whatever topic you like. Think Lena Dunham; or this wonderful piece by Sinéad Gleeson [https://granta.com/blue-hills-chalk-bone/]. Personally, I write a lot of creative fiction about mental health, which is also a theme in my novel. But…
- …You don’t actually have to stay on topic – so long as the writing is good. Your short stories and novels will not all be on the same topic, so why would you place this restriction on yourself in your internet home? You are not a non-fiction writer who aims primarily to inform readers and who therefore needs builds a brand that is based on a specialism. Your specialism is use of language, and the better you do that the more freedom you have to write whatever you like.
- A blog’s a great place to hone your personal style. A unique ‘voice’ seems to be the hardest thing to learn. The blog is the place where my voice first became clear to me. In the blog I don’t write to anyone else’s guidelines; I don’t have to sound objective; there’s no word count to stick to. Slowly as I wrote post after post, I realized that my style had formed.
- It will take a while to find that style. In my early posts I was exploring options for topics, styles, lengths. Some were successful. Some were not. Nobody died; and I learned a lot.
- Wonderfully, you don’t have to do what the blog gurus say. In fact, I’d go further, and warn you against following generic blog advice which weakens perceptions of your ability to do wonderful things with language. Numbered lists, in my experience, feel plain odd in the blog. (I’ve tried it, though; there’s nothing stopping you.) Ditto sub-headings optimized for search engines. They feel crude, clichéd, trite. Think about who your readers are. Mainstream SEO techniques may bring you more views, but they’re unlikely to be from the people who’ll want to read your novel.
That’s it. Six points, for what they are worth. Most of all know that you’ll need to make your own model. Like I said, there are not a lot of examples out there. This offers creative freedom. Go out and take hold of it in both hands. Have fun.
Kate is the author of The Storyteller (2016) which has been variously described as ‘an extraordinary novel about depression’ and ‘Anita Brookner on acid’. It’s on Kindle for the price of a hipster coffee.