Bloggers: Are You Being of Service or
Self Serving?

Service Bell

Writers love metaphors, and one of my personal favorites is the comparison between writing and sports. They’re both something anyone can do, but few can do it at a professional level.

What’s intriguing about the comparison – at least for this writing teacher and novelist turned blogger – is that while hardly anybody with an ounce of sanity who takes up tennis or golf thinks they’ll eventually turn pro at it, just about everyone who has ever darkened the door of a writing workshop or has secretly begun writing a novel has every intention of doing so.

Everybody wants to publish. And yet, the odds of doing so are about the same as the club champion at the corner links getting a tour card. It happens, but the odds more than suck.

Enter blogging. The brave new world of publishing. Anyone can do it, just push a button and you’re out there. Suddenly everybody is a blogger, and as with those of us who write novels and screenplays, just about everybody has visions of making money at it.

Does Your Content Come First?

Whatever happened to just writing for fun? Like playing a lazy round of golf or just shooting some hoops while the burgers are cooking? A few journal writers and closeted poets are still kicking around out there, but it seems like everyone who has a blog up is not only writing with an agenda, they’re promoting themselves as if their mortgage depended on it.

It’s not a bad thing. I do it, too. It just points out a very real risk, and an inherent opportunity.

Everyone who blogs and has one single Google ad or an ebook for sale on their site is out to conquer the world. Just like the thousands of people who have self-published a novel or find themselves on the C-list at a legitimate publishing house.

The name of the game then is promotion. Networking. Linking. Joining a community. Branding yourself. One of the best strategies for all of it is blogging. It’s why we’re here today.

But pretty soon you may find yourself distanced from the writing itself.

Quality Contest First, Necessary Promotion Second

The difference between writing for publication and blogging for cash is that the former consists, for better or worse, of actual writers, while the latter group is largely composed of people with an agenda who write about it. A subtle difference. Doesn’t mean they can’t write, it just means that something else – subscriber base, site hits, revenues – comes first.

I’ve seen a similar trap consume writers who began the journey with the purest of literary intentions. Publishers, even the established ones, do virtually no promotion whatsoever unless your name is Nora Roberts or Michael Connelly. Which means, we all suddenly have websites, we invite ourselves into bookstores to sign stock, we kick around on writing forums, and of course, we blog.

And here is where the agendas shared by novelists and bloggers once again converge. Because it’s easy – too easy – for the promotional realm of the work to suck the energy and the joy out of the writing itself. In fact, it can even kick it off the path.

The best and most effective blogs are about the reader. About delivering value, however you want to define the word. A blogger who forgets about delivering value merely promotes… until the promotion itself becomes the blog. It becomes just about selling something (which ironically tends to sell less).

Be Known for Service and Then You’ll Sell

I’m thinking that at the end of the day, at least if you do it right, it’s still about quality content. About delivering a gift to your reader. About throwing it out there and seeing what comes back to you.

Gift is a powerful word. Think of your blog that way and you’ll be on higher ground.

The best businesses in the country succeed on that premise – they’re all about service. Ritz-Carlton, Nordstrom, Southwest Airlines, Hertz – they’re known for service as much for what they sell.

Because what they sell is a commodity. It’s everywhere, just like free content on the Internet.

It’s how they sell it that sets them apart.

Service – the equivalent of delivering value in your writing – is their brand. And they are legendary because of it. They are virtually recession-proof.

So it should be for us, too, whether we write novels or blogs. High-quality blogs – and you’re on one right now – live this ethic day in and day out. Read them carefully and you’ll see that the common element is a selfless focus on the reader, an enthusiastic delivery of real value, with a foundation of credibility.

A gift, if you will, to all of us. It’s why we subscribe.

Bottom line – value is the one business model that never fails. Even for novelists and bloggers.

About the Author: Larry Brooks is a critically-acclaimed bestselling author of four psychological thrillers, a freelance writer and writing instructor. Check out his blog Story Fix.

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Comments

  1. I like the analogy of comparing writing to sports. So many people can do both but so many people are not Professionals at either one. I’ll definitely work to brand myself as someone who provides quality information and articles as a service. Thanks for the advice. It helps me keep everything in perspective.

  2. Larry,

    You get right down to business with a kick-um-in-the-ass style of writing I dig! Welcome to the 3rd Tribe!

  3. Mr Brooks, while I certainly appreciate the content of the blog entry, I am nearly giddy with happiness that the en dash was used properly! If I had a nickel for every time I see a hyphen used where an en or em dash should be, I’d be quite wealthy.

  4. That was an excellent point and delivered without extreme criticism, sarcasm, or smugness. I read quite a few blog postings each day and had the same thoughts…everyone is getting lost in their “promotions.” I promote “happiness” which doesn’t really pay me a cent and THAT IS OKEE DOKEE by me. I know that eventually I can copy my blog into a book, make five or six copies for family, but most importantly for my daughter. She can have a little piece of me when I am gone some day which is really the reason I started blogging. The fact that others are enjoying my life, humor, motivation and wisdom is just icing on the cake.

    Thanks for a wonderful read EVERY day!

    Your fan…well, I might actually be your #1 fan…LOL

  5. I want to make money off of my blog, but that’s not my primary purpose. First and foremost I want to help people. I’m not very good at writing, but the more I do it, the better I’ll be. Like sports, practice makes you better. Eventually bad writers can become professionals. Nice article, Larry! I’ll check out your blog.

  6. great point I agree

  7. I like the analogy of sports and writing and in fact I’ve made it myself, but I’m inclined to believe athletics prove even more difficult to master.

    For example, becomming a world class boxer, basketball player or tennis player has an incredible array of demands. The hand-eye cordination alone that must be developed is on an unfathomable level.

    I love writing and respect writing. But, personally, I think those who make it in professional athletics are in a league all of their own.

    Not to say getting published isn’t a tremendous accomplishment and incredibly difficult to do. But the few that make it to the NBA, NFL, or who do well on the professional tennis circuit, with this there is even less room and only the elite, of the entire earth, get there.

    This is of course my bias, but I’ve simply always felt that professional athletics sorta stood alone in comparison to many other crafts.

  8. Larry,

    Rock solid advice here. The whole writing game is different than even a decade ago. it pays for authors (and aspiring authors) to develop community and use their gift to give gifts. Developing community will pay big dividends in the future.

    Cheers

    George

  9. Thanks so much for the thoughtful article. I’m relatively new to blogging and am having trouble with focus. I’ve decided my aim is not so much to make money with the blog as to be recognized for having something of value to say and saying it well.

    In writing for my blog, I have discovered my personal interests are too eclectic to monetize the blog I have developed in the last couple of months. Yet I feel the need to legitimize blogging by promoting my freelance writing/editing services. It’s the age-old dilemma of achieving balance, isn’t it?

    The simple act of commenting here has helped me clarify what I need to do. Thank you for that, too!

  10. I love this post it reads to me as if John Carlton was speaking directly to me again.

    I have to admit that John was my first real copy writing course I ever took part in, so anytime I see things written with some of his core principles mentioned it takes me back to that short time I got to spend with him and some other “A” list writers.

    I only wish I could be half as good as he is, but when you are on your 30th re-write you have to ask yourself what is perfect and can you honestly be the final judge on your writing? Probably not…

    Thanks for the great sound advice just before I go to create my 400 word masterpiece of the day.

    Dave

  11. Fantastic reminder to us all Larry!

    I launched my blog in hopes that it would be a jumping off point for me (just trying to get my name out there). A full-time income isn’t exactly a priority, however covering the hosting fees and costs is nice. So, I do my best to provide quality content while also recommending products or services I enjoy.

    The quality of content speaks volumns. When I’ve written something really worth while, I know by the comments left, page views and newsletter/rss subscriptions. If you test and track these three areas, you should have no problem learning what your readers need and like.

    Listen, watch and accept feedback. It might be your blog, but are you your customer?

  12. Larry, I agree with Bamboo Forest that playing sports professionally is more impressive than writing professionally, but I disagree with his reasoning. He says that sports demands more than publishing, I believe both professions follow some form of the 10,000 hours to expertise rule. Nevertheless, sports has a twist – a timeframe for success.

    By the time he is 20, an athlete needs 10,000 hours of practice–not to mention talent–to have a hope of playing professionally. That commitment requires giving up a part of childhood that he will never get back. On the other hand, while a writer can follow the same regimen from the same age, he can certainly begin his journey much later in life. The athlete gets more adulation in part for making that commitment in his youth. The basketball legend who, at ten years old, practiced basketball four hours a day six days a week with a dream to beat Jordan amazes me more than the broke writer living on the Upper East Side who outdoes Hemingway.

  13. Lovely to see you here, Larry! You make a lot of great points.

    Blogging and publishing both bring to mind the tale of the Emperor’s New Clothes. So much boils down to what folk are willing to believe and how good people are at hyping themselves. There are millions of awful published books out there, and many stunning blogs online. Blogging gives everyone a chance to separate good writing from good hype, whether people are making money from their writing or not.

  14. @ Jason Tarre: I do believe sports demand more.

    I think many people who are published are good writers. Then, aren’t there celebs and people with unique experiences who get published largely on those grounds?

    But nobody makes it to professional sports unless they are amazing.

    Here’s another thing to keep in mind. In the corporate world. In the blogging world. And yes, I believe, even in the publishing world–who you know goes a long way, right?

    Not so with sports. And that’s what I find so inspiring about the physical expression. It’s as real as it gets.

    You could be the ugliest person on the planet. You could have very little charisma. You could have zero connections–and yet it wouldn’t hold you back one iota.

    The athletic venture is pure.

    If you got the goods. If you got the skills–you produce. Who you know and how well you market means squat. You get on the court and you either make things happen or you don’t.

    Another thing I love about the physical expression… If you’re good, you’re going places.

    Can we necessarily say the same thing about blogging, about writing, or even about acting?

    The answer is no.

    But with sports, if you’re good, if you produce, you’re guaranteed to get discovered. How many professions can make that claim?

    To add more to this discussion… Let’s look at the competition. Almost every young boy and many girls for that matter, get very involved in sports at a very young age. This isn’t only true in America, but everywhere.

    How many people, in comparison, get so involved in writing well? In doing it on a weekly, monthly and yearly basis? Who practice in a serious way from a young age?

    If you’re looking at this from a numbers standpoint, those in the running, at least in theory, to compete for the biggest prize: Professional athletics–those numbers are simply incomparable.

  15. In today’s blog I mentioned your blog, Are You Being Of Service or Being Self-Serving? Very good post. Here is my post. http://www.bethjones.net/the-revelation-song/

  16. i’ve never thoght that my blogging activities is a professional activity, for me blogging just for fun, n of course also hoping some more earning from this activity out of my office works

  17. This is so true and is very timely for me. Thinking about this very topic recently, led me to asking myself two questions; 1. Would I continue with my blog if I was suddenly given financial freedom and why/why not? The honest answer to the first question was no, because I didn’t feel passionate enough about the track I’d started to go down and whilst I felt I was delivering value to my readers, I didn’t think I was delivering the right sort of value and probably not enough of it.

    This led to question 2. If I did have financial freedom, would I blog and if so, what would I blog about? The answer was yes and has resulted in me not only really pin pointing what I’m passionate about and slightly shifting direction but also placing a much higher focus on the value I’d like to deliver to my readers. It made me think more about what I’d like to give back. I am now excited with the new direction and have big plans on how I will be serving my readers going forward.

    It was an eye opening exercise and is very much helping me move from being less self serving to being of more service. Thanks Larry. An excellent post.

  18. Thanks for the great comments, I’m glad this post has helped some of you gain some valuable perspective. As a newbie here on Copyblogger, I’m humbled to get on the playing field at this level.

    I’d like to weigh in on the emerging discussion about the professional sports metaphor. I offer it from an informed perspective — I was a pitcher in the Texas Rangers organization back in the day… waaaay back in the day — and I don’t haul out that comparison lightly.

    Those of you who said that pro athletes are a rarer breed than published authors may be right, if you count the broad spectrum of publishing options available today. I was really meaning to focus on major publishing deals that result in books appearing in bookstories, and while I don’t discount or under-value smaller presses and POD — Lord knows I’m heading there myself — I guess for lack of a better word I’m talking about “the big leagues” on both sides of the analogy.

    When you count all the major league baseball players, throw in the minor leaguers (trust me, without a name on the back of the uniform the untrained eye could never tell the difference), all the NBA, NFL and NHL rosters, the roughtly 400 PGA/LPGA touring pros… it all comes to about 3000 “major league” athletes out there doing their thing.

    Now compare that to the number of new writers who publish through New York houses, add them to the dwindling ranks of returning writers (been down that road, too), and you don’t even approach 3000. More like 300.

    So which is the more challenging goal? Who knows. But since so few of us can dunk or shoot par, let’s focus on our writing.

    Yes, those athletes begin their journey as children, and it requires decades of evolution to get to where they are. I think that’s not much different than big league writers, and I’m certain the amount of work required is no less daunting.

    Thanks again for all your kind comments. Hope to be back here soon.

  19. Pretty thought provoking piece…has me thinking about my pursuits in writing…

  20. “I was a pitcher in the Texas Rangers organization back in the day.” Now you have my husband’s attention…:). So you waiver with a club but shine with a bat and ball. I like that.

    An impressive post. As an athlete, can so relate. Shifting gears is tough, but acceptance brings ultimate peace…and, alternative specialties with perspective is ‘conquer’ (hence- ‘conquer all obstacles’).

    Thanks for sharing…:).

  21. Enjoyed your post. I don’t consider myself a professional writer, but I DO try and provide content on my blog that will enhance a person’s life. Or at least, their day!

  22. I have always been striving to being on service. Not focusing on MMO, so I guess it’s a good back-up to the claim. Wonderful article, I’ve been thinking about this for some time.

  23. “value is the one business model that never fails”, exactly. If you are a blogger always make sure you write for humans, not search engines. Are you aware that CopyBlogger has no single SEO keyword? Still kicking ass though :D

  24. Larry,

    Great post and it came to me at a great timing. I started my blog about 2 months ago and so far I’ve kept up writing once a week. While I have one person reading my blog and eagerly waits for my next post (besides family members), I was getting a bit discouraged about the readership hasn’t grown too much. But your post reminded me of why I started blogging in the first place. The key is to value what we write while having fun with it.
    Thanks!!

    Etsuko

  25. Hi Redhead Riter,
    Glad I read your comment on CB today, visited your site, subscribed to RSS feed, but can’t figure out how to ‘link back’. Sorry, I’m not the most technical person around, but I do good things for the world of women. Visit my blog & you’ll see what I do, and perhaps you’ll want to send me your short mother memoir (bio-vignette).

    I look forward to joining forces via our blogs. And another big thanks to Copy Blogger for all the good stuff they send each day. I do provide content for my readers, maybe they’ll buy my memoir writing guide while visiting my site, but that’s not purpose of my blog – I’m truly passionate about inspiring & teaching people to honor moms in 600 to 1200 words – sounds easy, but it’s deeper than one might think to do it ‘write’.

  26. The sports/writing metaphor is a particularly apt one. Too many people get sucked into writing for their agenda that they forget why they write in the first place – they love doing it.

    Not enough of us write a post just for fun. Which is a shame, because if you’re having fun writing, your readers are going to have fun too.

  27. I liked what you said about considering your blog as a gift. Many people I’ve worked with are so afraid to share valuable content on their blog because they think they should always be receiving compensation for it. Like you said, you should be service oriented and most likely that will pay off in the end.

  28. Content is King, Queen and the Royal Guard of
    your blogging empire! Thanks for the reminder.

    Igor

  29. Those who say content is key to driving traffic is true but I think so is having a wide scope of areas discussed and a means of social marketing. I give this advice as someone who hasn’t used it but more has seen it by the way…

  30. You said it right. That’s the virtue of my blog. Quality work will speak for itself; it’s what I champion on my blogs.

    Keep it up. :-)

  31. This is a great post, I fully believe that you should treat your blog like your Customet Service Center. Be of Value to your visitors.

    I wrote a post on this 2wks ago

    http://www.johnpaulaguiar.com/hi-how-can-i-help-you-make-your-blog-your-customer-service-center/

  32. Thanks SO much for the info. I haven’t started my blog yet but am looking forward to setting one up that will be helpful and informative to students and teachers.

  33. Quality of writing and the intention to educate/inform or serve the readers is what makes a successful blog stand out from the self-serving blogs.

    It’s really true when you have a mindset when writing of helping others with quality information they are searching for, you get the opportunity to continue to share when they dig deeper into your blog, subscribe to your rss feed, join your email list or buy something from you.

    Connect with people as individuals who have needs, questions, wants and dreams in your writing and you’ll find yourself with a community of people who are willing to listen and eventually buy from you.

    @TimothyCarter

  34. Actually I’m still having questions about serving. Top businesses give excellent SERVICE, but the bottom-line is still profits.

    If bloggers intend to make money from their blogs, the concept of “being of SERVICE” from a business stand-point is definitely sound. But if you are just “SERVING”, it doesn’t really work out to profits.

    Something like a BUSINESSMAN being of SERVICE, and a WAITER who is SERVING.

    Even though in both cases, both are adding VALUE to readers, the difference can be one earning lots of money doing what he is doing (because he is being of service), and the other earning nothing (because he is just serving).

    Food for thought…

  35. Charles — good point, one that I’d like to address.

    If the “service” of your blog is on-point to the needs of your readers, then even without coming close to “selling” anything the blog will further your selling agenda. How? Because you’re jacking your credibility within your niche. You’re “branding” yourself, and branding is the bedrock of selling over the long term.

    Blog readers understand there is an underlying agenda to almost everything. But that doesn’t mean selfless service to readers doesn’t work. Take a look at where we are right now: it’s nearly impossible to detect a selling agenda in most of these Copyblogger entries. They are all “of-service.” Occasionally there’s a new product release, and guess what: we accept that, we even buy the product, primarily because of the credibility and branding of the site itself.

    Great blogging is always shooting for the win-win. It’s just that the writer’s win sometimes resides down the credibility road.

    Hope this helps clarify. Not that you were confused; in fact, I think your comment opens the door to the entire branding-through-credibility-and- service issue.