It's common knowledge these days that if you're a writer, you'll need some kind of online presence. A website, a blog, Facebook, MySpace. Readers have access to so much and to compete, you need to be part of it.
But what works and what doesn't?
Honest answer, no one really knows. Just like no one knows how beneficial networking is. There's no way to track it with any certainty. There's no way to tell if reading, say this blog for example, will lead to sales of my book. But that's not why I do it. And if you're a writer trying to find your way in the online world, you shouldn't do something just for sales either. You should do what you enjoy, because keeping up with it is work, even if it's fun work.
So how do you know what you should do?
A website is a must. Not only does it get your name and information out there, it's a great resource for those interested in your book and your work -- which can also mean booksellers and librarians. Think of it as the business face of your writing career. It lets readers find you and learn more about you. It updates them on new work. A good website can take some effort (and money) to get set up, but once done, you don't have to worry too much about it on a daily basis.
A blog is a great way to interact with readers and other writers, but it's a commitment not everyone is willing to make. To keep readers coming back, you have to offer them new content on a regular basis. Coming up with things to write about can be hard. Coming up with things to write about that people care to read about is even harder.
My good buddy Juliette Wade is a linguistic anthropologist and writer, so she has a great foundation for a world-building blog. She has solid information to offer readers that could also translate into readers for her short stories and eventual book sale. (I have faith in her work) The same people who come to her for information are likely to read what she writes. A blog for her is a very good match from a marketing standpoint (even though that's not why she decided to blog either).
On the flip side, one of my daily blogs is Deepish Thoughts. I couldn't even tell you anymore how I first heard about this blog, but I'm sure it was a link on another blog I read. It has nothing to do with writing or books, and is more of a journal. But it's very well written and funny and poignant and I just flat out enjoy it. It's a perfect example of blogging for no other reason than you enjoy it.
My blogging is kind of in the middle. I have no direct link between blog and readers, but I assume there are readers out there who will be interested in writing and also be interested in my book. The majority of my future readers won't come from this blog. There's a good argument to be had that blogging is time better spent elsewhere.
Then why do I do it?
Because I enjoy it. I love sharing what I've learned with other writers because when I was starting out, other writers shared with me. I have no way to repay or even thank most of them, since so many came from online crit groups and forums, so this is what I do to say thanks. And I hope that anyone I've helped will do the same and reach out to those starting out when they take the next step on their wiring journey. I also love meeting and talking with other writers. We're a great community that supports each other, and in a business that's tough as it is, having that support is a blessing. I'm also a fan of the blogging medium. I read blogs every day and enjoy being connected to my fellow bloggers. I'm in this for me, not what it might get me. And that's a good place to blog from.
Should you do it?
Only if you enjoy it and feel you have something to share that will entertain readers and give them something they find value in. Heck, you don't really need to have something to say others will find value in if you just enjoy the act of blogging. Blogging could be a great creative outlet for you. It all depends on what you want out of it. If you blog because you think it will get you readers or to push your book, then maybe you're blogging for the wrong reason. If you blog because it satisfies something, whatever that is, it could be for you.
If you don't enjoy blogging...
Facebook and MySpace are great ways to to keep in touch with readers and writers without so much upkeep. You can post when you want, they're usually small, and you can share what's going on in your life, both personally and professionally. I enjoy my Facebook page and it's let me reconnect with friends I've lost touch with. I hope that I'll be able to interact with future readers as well since I love meeting writers I admire, and think it would be equally cool to meet readers who like me. Because isn't that why we write? To tell great stories that readers will enjoy? How lucky are we to live in a world where we can actually interact with those readers!
Do you have to do anything?
Nope. Just like writing, you should do what works for you and skip what doesn't.