To blog or not to blog, that's always a big biz question for writers.
Unless your publisher puts it as a requirement in your contract, you're not obligated to create and maintain a weblog when you get published. Many publishers encourage their authors to keep a weblog, but some discourage it, and someday I'm sure they'll figure out a way to filter our content.
I've been doing this in one form or another for going on seven years now, and every other author I know has a weblog. I also know plenty who don't, or who have tried blogging and found it wasn't for them. Not every writer is comfortable with the idea of having an online journal, and not everyone has the spare time to keep one rolling. Unless you sell space on your weblog or content to advertisers (which you must now disclose), no one pays you to blog. If you're not a big name author with fans who will happily read your grocery list, and/or you can't create consistently interesting content, blogging soon becomes a virtual form of talking to yourself. If you expect every one of your visitors to respect your personal privacy, your professional accomplishments, and/or your opinion, then blogging is not for you.
Now that I've rained all over the blogging parade, the upside: blogging can be fun, a daily form of writing practice, a solid means of self-promotion, and a way to connect and network with the online publishing community. You can set up and update a blog with very little effort; I work offline so posting to mine take about one minute of cut and pasting and clicking the publishing button. Blogs can make your stories and insights available to the entire planet at little or no cost to you. Blogs sell books -- I do very little self-promo here, and yet my sales on new releases and my backlist have skyrocketed since PBW went public. By blogging, you can join a vast community of professionals in the industry and discuss issues that are important to all of you. Collectively speaking, author weblogs have become the largest online source of free, up-to-date information about the publishing industry. For pros, blogging about the biz is a great way to pay it forward and help the next generation of writers.
Probably the most common mistake writers make with their first weblog is going public with them from day one, before they know if it's going to work for them. I did this, too. There is no law that says you have to announce your weblog to the world the minute you start one. Consider keeping it private or anonymous for a couple of weeks. See how it feels to blog for a while, and find out if you really do have the time to devote to the project. Once you've worked out your layout and built up some content, invite friends you trust to have a look and give you feedback.
The trial method helped me a lot after I closed down my first weblog. I created another and kept it private for a year, gradually opening it up to friends while I debated on whether I wanted to go public again. I also wrote another blog just for myself where I experimented with writing outside my comfort zone. PBW was the result of all that I learned from those experiments. When a weblog doesn't work out, you don't have to dump it, either.
If you're a niche blogger, your content will likely reflect whatever you're passionate about. If you're only interested in promoting your own work, you'll focus mainly on yourself and your books (the most common type of author blog.) If you're into the industry, you'll get more into the buzz about the biz. If you're a political hound or a cause junkie, you'll be all about the protests and the pundits. If you're obsessed with craft, you'll talk shop. If you enjoy flame wars and pissing contests, you'll pick fights with other bloggers, etc. Niche blogs generally have limited appeal, but the reader always knows what to expect.
If you're a spectrum blogger, your content will be more varied and unpredictable. I've noticed that organic writers often become spectrum bloggers. You'll write about anything and everything that interests you. It can be incredibly freeing, but a hell of a lot of work to take the spectrum approach, as you never know what you're going to write. The spectrum approach can create some inconsistency of content, and make a blog harder to nail down in the mind of the visitor, but when done well can appeal to a wider range of readers than the niche blog.
I used to prefer spectrum blogs over niche blogs, but now I think incorporating elements from both types results in the most interesting content. A blog that has regular features as well as a variety of content in between has a little something for everyone. The best melding of the niche and spectrum I've seen out there is the weekly creative meme The Thursday Thirteen that so many bloggers do. It's a nicely structured feature that still allows a lot of individuality.
If you'd like to test drive writing a weblog, you don't have to invest a lot of money in paying for a hosting service or a blog designer. I've never paid a dime for PBW, thanks to Blogger, so that I could do it myself and to kind of make a point: you can use a free service and still have a nice-looking blog. Blogger has its problems, but I've been with them seven years now and they've gotten a lot better over time. It's easy, too. Although my pal Tom did upgrade the blog (I was too terrified I'd lose the archives if I tried to do it) I've done absolutely everything else here by myself, and you all know how techno-challenged I am.
There are tons of other free blog host sites out there; here's the list of just what I found with a five-minute search:
Windows Live Spaces
Before you use any free service, always check out the terms of service, restrictions, and see if there are any hidden costs or archive storage limitations.
Blogging is not for every writer, but any writer can blog. It doesn't matter who you know or where you are in your career; no one controls the online writing community. What counts here is how well you write, what you can contribute to the blogosphere, and how much you enjoy blogging. Look at the most popular author blogs out there, and you'll notice they all have one thing in common -- they're having a good time doing this.
Dave Pollard's post How to Increase Your Readership, with five ways on how to improve your weblog, and five ways on how to attract more attention to it.
PBW on podcasting, and Ten Things for the Webloggers.
7 Secrets to Successful Blogging