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A guest post by Larry Brooks from ProBlogger.

Pardon the cryptic title. Not trying to sound hip or flip. Just going straight at it.Today’s title is literal. Rather than the traditional try for a killer hook, what you see above is actually the point. Not recommended as a default blogging best-practice, by the way, but sometimes you have to color outside the lines to paint the desired picture.

If you write for money as an independent contractor (versus, say, the staff obituary writer at the local daily), and if you intend to grow and sustain your client base, you should have a website. Period. If you’re any other type of professional writer who has to buy your own health plan, you need a website, too. But there’s a question you need to answer first.

The Question

These days – and here comes the aforementioned point – you need to decide what kind of website is optimal for what you intend to accomplish. And this is, as Shakespeare first wrote in a little ditty he called Hamlet, the rub.

This is gospel – as is that rub – for freelance writers in any venue, niche or media: copywriters, ghostwriters, grant writers, novelists, essayists, columnists, non-fiction authors, resume writers, technical writers, speech writers, PR and marketing and training consultants… and to a lesser extent, even screenwriters.

Lesser in that case because, let’s be honest, Jerry Bruckheimer isn’t going to hire you because he found and liked your killer URL. Otherwise, if you’re a writer out there on your own, you absolutely need to be online. So the question is no longer… do I need a website?

The question has become… what kind of website should I have? Which, if Shakespeare were online schlepping his services as a playwright (funny spelling, that one; why the hell isn’t it playwrite?) he would rewrite as: to blog or not to blog, that is the question.The answer just might surprise you.

What color is your freelance shingle?

A website is the contemporary equivalent of a yellow pages ad, or a listing in a trade directory, or a flyer you leave on windshields in the stadium parking lot. It’s your digital calling card.

In essence, an advertisement. The shingle you hang out in front of your virtual place of business. Here I am. Find me. Hire me. Love me.

The “or not” part means that a blog, per se, might not be the optimal choice for your particular shingle. For some it might actually be self-servingly counter-productive.

So let’s cut to the chase. For professional freelance writers and authors it boils down to two choices: a blog, or an “official website.” Get that one wrong and you may pay a price.

The difference is significant.

Not every writer needs a blog. Yet some writers – many writers – absolutely do need a blog. Many may benefit from both.

It all depends on what business you are in. On what you write and what slice of the market you hope will send money, by whatever means, in your direction.

We can boil it down to this: if you’re looking to get hired for a project, which implies you offer some vertical expertise in addition to your abundant writing gifts, then you should consider writing a blog. And you should let the reader know who you are. Because you need to show the world you know more than they do about whatever it is you do. You need to demonstrate it.

Both elements drive toward your credibility, which his essential. If you intend to write a non-fiction book about your vertical expertise – and hey, who doesn’t? – then you absolutely must write a blog if you intend to sell it to a publisher. This has become a standard prerequisite in publishing – one of the first things a prospective publisher will ask is the nature and extent of your online following, and the URL of your blog.

For the most part, if you don’t have a blog and you aren’t otherwise famous in your niche, your shot at a non-fiction book contract is slim to none. And if you end up publishing it yourself – which is very viable in non-fiction these days – then a blog is every bit as essential to your goal.

What about authors of fiction or non-expertise-dependent topics?

This is where the conversation gets sticky. If you are simply trying to get famous, which is a good marketing strategy if you’re a novelist, for example, then a blog may not help you much. In fact, it may hurt you in the long run.

For you, a branded, somewhat static website is the optimal solution. It is, in fact, essential. Remember, every pro writer needs a website. In your case, however, it probably shouldn’t have a blog on it. Unless it should.

A blog isn’t about – or at least shouldn’t be about – you.

A blog is about your niche, your field of expertise, your message. Your blog is, in essence, a gift to your readers. In effect, your blog is where you give away what you know. It’s your chance to demonstrate and validate your claim to authority and expertise. Your blog is, in every essence and facet of the word, content.

Whether you have an agenda attached to that content – you want them to hire you or buy your books, courses or published work – doesn’t change this truth. If your blog content is valuable, then they’ll buy your ebooks, products and services.

Maybe even your book if you have one available. And if your blog is about you, then you better make yourself a window into life’s lessons, rather than simply trying to sell something you’ve written.

It’s perfectly appropriate to brand yourself on your blog, too.

If you’re looking to be hired, to secure work from someone who will assume the role of client, then you could argue that you should have something about you on the website. No argument there. Just don’t put that stuff in the body of the blog posts themselves. That’s where your content goes. That’s where you talk about the reader’s needs, not yours.

The stuff about you is what the sidebars are for.

You’ve written a novel. Do you need a blog?

In a word, no. You need a website. An official author website. A website that is unabashedly about you and your work. Google virtually any famous author and you’ll see this is exactly what they’ve done.

Why doesn’t a blog work to promote a novel?

Because you can only blog about your book for so long. And blog readers are almost completely intolerant of self-serving, thinly disguised promotional agendas.

You have to earn every single moment of personal mindshare from a prospective buyer through the delivery of content they can put to work in their lives.

Blogging also comes with another type of risk.

Even if you have valid to offer. Blogging can be addictive and hungry, it can eat up energy, time and mindspace like no other intellectual pursuit you’ve ever been tempted to give in to.

If you dive in, you need to be all in. And that’s a huge commitment.

The only reason a website created with the intention of promoting an author and/or a work of fiction (or any book that isn’t dependent on a vertical topic expertise) should include a blog is if the author is delivering relevant content that is not self-serving. That is not about the book you are trying to promote.

A blog about the writing process, about getting published, or anything that coaches and mentors readers from your own chosen field – in this case, fiction – absolutely can work.

This is precisely what I do on my own website.

But I’m clear on what it is and what it isn’t, as you should be. My site is an instructional website, designed for writers of fiction in any form.

My blog isn’t about me – neither is this guest post, by the way, I’m just providing an example — though I do make an appearance in a sidebar. It’s about the reader.

This opens the door to selling the ebooks I’ve written – also in a sidebar – which is textbook blogging strategy 101.

Does it allow me space to announce my new novel and even create a link to it? Of course it does. I even promote a fund-raising calendar in which I’m a half-naked Mr. May.

But the site isn’t about me, the novelist. It’s about the art and craft of writing. I’m just there to help. When you are solid on the difference, then the peripheral benefits from both sides of the promotional fence will come your way.

Larry Brooks is the creator of Storyfix.com and the author of the recently released novel, Whisper of the Seventh Thunder, the latter of which has its own website.