Jeff O'Handley, Author

Jeff O'Handley

The Doubting Writer Finds His Voice

Will Success Change Your Blog?

About five years back the Magpie convinced us to get a trial account for World of Warcraft, a multi-player online game, which has Tolkien, King Arthur and obvious and subtle pop culture references all rolled into one. My wife jumped into it right away and was hooked. I held out for about a month before I ‘rolled’ my own character and got similarly hooked.
Now, if you’re not familiar with the way the game works, your character starts out as a level 1 with few abilities, a crummy weapon, and ugly clothes. As you complete quests and kill ‘bad guys’ (and most quests come down to killing bad guys), you gain experience points. Gain enough experience points and you see a lovely shower of light around your character and you ‘ding’, as they say, that is, you gain a level. As you gain levels you get new abilities and powers, fancier clothes, and gain access to more difficult zones and quests, and you need more experience to get to the next level. At the time we started playing, the level cap was 70, and it was a slow process to get there.
I was a total newbie at the time, and the social aspects of the game concerned me. Fearing my own incompetence, I mostly steered clear of group play, until the day I took turns saving and being saved by a fellow Paladin while fighting ogres. Eventually, she invited me into a group with some of her friends to run a dungeons; I threw away my fears, joined and had a great time.
I hit it off extremely well with one of the guys in the party, and over the next few days we ran more dungeons and did quests together. But my wife and I shared the account and she wanted to play, too, so I did not have a lot of uninterrupted time. A few days later, I noticed my buddy was in a different zone and was a couple of levels above me, and running the next tier of dungeons. Within two weeks he was thirty levels or so above me. We still talked, we were still friends, but we couldn’t play together. He had left me behind.
I thought of this as I read Nancy S. Thompson’s Wednesdaypost this week. Nancy has observed—and published authors have told her—that achieving publication can have a funny effect on your blog: you get fewer visitors and fewer comments, and you may even lose followers and friends. Nancy considers two possibilities, both quite valid: first, there’s less time for blogging and cruising around commenting on other blogs for an author who is revising/rewriting under a deadline, and we all know there’s a great degree of ‘reap what you sow’ in blogland. Second is the jealousy angle, that some people can’t handle their jealousy and disappear. I admit, I am jealous and envious of Nancy and Lisa and Carrie and Peggy andcetra and so forth—they have agents, they have publishing deals, they have books coming out, and I don’t, so I’m jealous. There. I said it. In keeping with the World of Warcraft theme, they’re off in a 25-man raid killing Magtheridon while I’m slogging around Desolace killing lizards for gizzards that have a 2% drop rate. I’m jealous, but I can handle it. I envy their success, but I’m happy for them, I don’t begrudge them, I know how hard they’ve worked and I’m not going to stop visiting their blogs just because they’re published and I’m not. Not everyone can handle it, however, and some of those people may well disappear. It’s an unfortunate part of human nature, but there it is.
But I think there’s a third reason for the change in readership, one that may have more to do with the blogger rather than the reader, and it’s back to Warcraft for this one. The game at level 70 (actually it’s 85 now, soon to be 90 or 95 with the next expansion) is very, very different from the game at 22 going on 23, or 48, or 63. And I suspect that being a published author is a very different game from being an aspiring one.
When I was leveling my character, I’d log in and get right into questing (and I got a lot better at using guild chat while killing stuff, so I could be social AND effective; it made the game a lot more  fun once I found some friends), heading out into the dangerous world, following the quests where they took me, working on getting to the next level. Sometimes I’d head back to a home city to train new abilities or to put acquired junk in my bank, or to go to the Auction house to sell or buy, but most time was spent out in the world aiming at the next level.
At level 70 the game changed. Welcome to a new world, the world of raiding. The entry level raid at the time required an extensive quest to get a key to get into the dungeon. You also needed to get gear to help you survive more than 3 seconds in the raid environment, which meant running the top-level 5-man dungeons on heroic difficulty (and some of these dungeons required keys, which required special quests, too). There were daily quests and daily heroic dungeons, and then raids. But there was also a lot more standing around in a city waiting for something to happen, trying to put together a good group to go into those dungeons. There was more time spent in the auction house buying certain gear, or materials to make some specialty item, or going out fishing for special foods or picking flowers for potions, etc.–completely different gameplay from the act of leveling up.
And that, I think, may be what happens in the blog world. Looking at my list of followers, looking at the blogs I follow, there are many at or around the same ‘level’ as me. Reading about your trials and travails helps me—I’m not alone in my struggles, we share many of the same experiences and feelings. It’s encouraging to me, and I try to offer support and encouragement in turn (at least in my comments, if not always in these posts). But what happens when you reach ‘level cap’? (and what IS level cap for an author, anyway? I sure don’t know) When I publish, will my concerns shift into different areas, and will the nature of this blog change? And if it changes, will you have a reason to come back?
I can’t answer these questions from my own experience. I am interested, though. For the published authors out there, has publication changed your style and focus of blogging, and what has that done to your readership? And for the non-published among us, have you seen changes in your favorite blogs once the owners reached ‘level cap’?
Thanks for reading and commenting, and have a great weekend.

10 Responses

  1. Interesting. I obviously can't speak to this from experience, but I think you have a good theory on why a blog might change, and I agree–I think it is just a different game, with different challenges, on the other side of the fence, and that would contribute a lot to a change. And some people may change their blog-style to try to attract readers instead of/more than other writers, which we unpublished people don't have to worry about. I've actually given this some thought myself, and I think my blog, which I treat pretty casually now, probably would change by the time my book was actually available for sale. And my guess is it would do so even more if I had several books out. The goals and the 'level' in the experience would just be different.

  2. I think you're absolutely right, Jeff. I know my blog has shifted focus somewhat as I journey farther down the road. But my concerns are the same. And I think I have a different way of contributing now than I used to, say a year or so ago.

    I don't ever want to alienate my readers and followers by plugging my book too much. (I got that message loud and clear.) Besides, I think I'll always have insecurities and questions and other things to write about even after I'm published. It'll always be something new for me, I think.

    As for you, my dear friend, I totally understand your feelings, but I have absolutely NO DOUBT whatsoever that you will soon be agented and eventually published. It's all in the path you choose to wander down as far as how quickly that comes about.

    But fear not, you are so divinely skilled as a writer. You can out-write me any hour of the day, any day of the week, any month of the year, ad nauseum. I am the one who is jealous of YOU. Your talent so far outweighs mine as to be laughable. So have no doubt, no fear that you won't make it somehow. Because YOU WILL. You definitely will!

    (And if you ever want to submit to SSP, I'd be more than happy to introduce you. They'd likely eat you up in one big gulp.)

  3. This is a very good analogy – I'm not sure I've ever thought of it that way before! I've noticed myself doing things like this, subconsciously steering away from blogs of published authors. And I think you're right, I think it is because it's two different worlds and there's less companionship.
    Great post!!

  4. I have seen writers who "make it big" stop blogging altogether or seriously slow down. I think that at some point those types just cease to have anything in common with writers who are at the start of their journey and struggling. I know it was hard when I was unagented or even on subs to read author blogs where every single post was "look how many bajillion books I sold, look where I got interviewed today, look at the bajillion 5 star reviews I got." It starts being a commercial and not really a blog. Of course I can see how easily it might happen. I mean you want to share good news on your blog with all the writers who stood by you during the tough times but I think it's a fine line between being a walking advertisement and still connecting with writers. I think people at different stages have different things to offer. That has been something that has been on my mind a lot now that I have a book coming out. I will obviously use my blog to promote my books but I don't want to lose connections I've worked so hard to make with other very talented writers. I still want to have something to offer. I just have to figure out what it is. Also I'm not that far along in this leg of the journey and I can tell you, the time thing really is a factor. I mean the social media aspect of promoting your book alone is a substantial time suck. I'm not complaining, I'm just saying that that really is true. And if you're like me with a full-time job and a family and various familial responsibilities, it can be really tough. Anyway, this is a really interesting subject. I know for myself I don't want my blog to become a huge snoozefest just because I'm finally getting published!

  5. I haven't paid attention to quite a wide enough set of blogs to see someone reach level cap, but I understand what you mean. I personally hope that when it's my turn, I'll be able to find a way of writing for both people who have found my blog SINCE being published, and people who were following me before. Just because someone levels up doesn't mean they cease to be human. I think I'd keep following if you reached level cap 🙂 I think it's good to be accepting of someone else's success even if you're not quite there yet.

  6. Thank you, Nancy, that is very, VERY kind of you!

    I think it's natural for a blog to shift focus, and plugging is fine, to a point. And I don't think you overdo it.

    Insecurities. Yes, I think most of us will always have them. I wonder if we'll just shift them into other areas of the writing life.

  7. I guess the question is, is there something noticeably different about the blogs of published authors you follow versus those you don't?

  8. I can definitely see how the time factor can play into it. You're in the months leading up to publication with one book, busy writing another, trying to keep up with whatever promotion you have to do–it must be draining. I can also see where the drive, whatever it is that makes aspiring authors blog in the first place, can ebb once that goal is achieved.

  9. I wonder if for some it's also a suggestion of agent/publisher, along the lines of "You need to connect with *readers*, not writers." Even though writers are readers, it is a different audience.

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