When I teach blogging, the most frequent question I get is “What do I blog about?” (For info on what not to blog about, see Part II of this series: How Not to Blog )
A writer starting a blog right now faces two problems:
1) There are already, like, a trillion writers out there lecturing the blogosphere about how to write vivid characters, prop up saggy middles and avoid adverbs. A lot of them probably know more than you.
2) If you’re a writer with books to sell, you want to reach a general audience, not just other writers selling books.
So how can you be different? How do you create a blog that somebody will read—somebody besides your stalky ex-boyfriend and your mom?
The most important thing to remember with any kind of blog is you need to offer something. It should be fresh, informative, and/or entertaining.
How you approach your new blog is going to depend a whole lot on your stage in the publishing process and your immediate goals.
Stage #1: You’re a developing writer.
You’re working on your first or second novel, and maybe have a few stories in literary journals or a couple of contest wins. You want to be a published author sometime soon, but you’re not quite ready to focus on writing as a career.
Your goal: LEARNING THE PUBLISHING BUSINESS AND NETWORKING.
You want to make friends in the writing community for career help and mutual support. You want to learn the best writing techniques, network with publishing professionals, and educate yourself about the business.
Stage #2: You’re ready for the marketplace.
You’re querying agents and ready to publish. You’ve got a couple of books polished and ready to go. You’ve been to writing conferences, taken classes, and maybe hired a freelance editor. Your writing is at a professional level.
Your goal: BUILDING PLATFORM
You want to get your name out there to the general public. When you query an agent or ask for a blurb or review, you want a Google search to bring up ten pages of listings about you.
Stage #3: You’re a published author
Your agent/marketing dept. says, “Get thee to the blogosphere!”
Or you realize the brilliantly blurbed oeuvre you’ve self-published is sitting there on Amazon with only two sales in three months (both to your spouse) because nobody has heard of it—or you.
Your goal: FINDING AND CONNECTING WITH READERS
If you’re in stage #1, it’s OK to blog about writing. (I know social media guru/Jedi Master Kristen Lamb says you shouldn’t do this but I think her caveat is aimed more at people at stage #2 and #3.)
I’m not talking about lecturing on craft as if you’re a pro when you’re not. But an equal-to-equal post about something interesting you’ve discovered about pantsing vs.outlining, writing the dreaded synopsis, or what agents are looking for this month is just fine when you’re reaching out to other writers.
Why do you want to reach other writers? Because writers help each other. (We’re kind of a nice bunch, in spite of our stereotyping as depressed substance abusers.) I know a number of authors who got their agents through a referral from a fellow blogger. I found both my publishers through blogging. I’m not sure I would have made it through the darkest rejection phases if it hadn’t been for the support of writer blogfriends.
When you have a writing blog, you get to participate in blog hops, flash fiction days, contests and all kinds of networking events that help you meet people who can be important in your future career.
But do make sure the blog has something interesting going for it—something that’s helpful. There are all sorts of ways you can help:
- Author interviews
- Profiles of small publishers or agents who are interested in your genre (take them from websites—you don’t have to bother the agents and editors)
- Info on contests, giveaways and blog hops
- Links to great articles and posts in your genre or field of interest.
- Book reviews. If you write thoughtful, useful reviews, you’ll immediately become everybody’s best friend.
If you’re a stage #2 writer, you should heed Kristen’s advice. If you’re starting a blog right now with the goal of building platform, writing is definitely not the best choice of subject matter. You’ve got a trillion competitors and you’re limiting your audience.
So try something that’s related to your writing but has a unique slant. Here are a few suggestions:
- Focus on your genre or subgenre (unless you’re still experimenting with different genres.) You can discuss movies, videogames, TV shows, even jewelry and costumes—as long as they relate to your niche. A great example is SciFi writer Alex J. Cavanaugh’s super-popular blog that specializes in all things SciFi.
- Blog about your home town or state, especially if they’re the setting of your novels. Travel sites that link to local landmarks and Chamber of Commerce will help you make friends locally that can be a big help later on.
- Choose a writing-related subject that has a broader audience. A brand new general-interest writing blog is The Wordmonger, where YA writer C.S Perryess gives a fun, in-depth study of the etymology of one word per week. I learn something with every post.
- Offer links to important information. If you’re writing a memoir or fiction about certain health issues, promote organizations that help with those issues. Link to support groups and they might even link back.
- Provide people with the benefit of your research. If you’re writing historical fiction about a certain time period—post the research on your blog. (This is doubly useful because it will help keep you from cramming it all into the novel at the expense of story.) Have to research guns for a thriller? Poisons for a cozy? Are you basing the story on a real case? There are people who would love to read about this stuff.
- Appeal to another Internet community. If that historical novel is based on a real person or your own family history, you could target readers from the genealogy blogosphere and links to historical research sites. If your heroine loves to fish, sew, or collect stuff, connect with blogs for fly fisherpersons, quilters, or collectors of floaty pens.
- Provide a forum for people in your target demographic. If you write for a particular group—single urban women, Boomers, stay-at-home moms, or the just-out-of-college dazed and confused—focus on aspects of life of special interest to them.
- Offer recipes or how-tos. Have a character who’s an expert at something? Give readers the benefit of his expertise in the woodshop, garden or kitchen. Have some great recipes that relate to your character, time period, or region? Write about the food in your books, or food in fiction generally.
If you’ve reached Stage #3, you can be more eclectic. People will be coming to your blog because they want to get to know you and find out about your books—so focusing on one subject isn’t as important. The blog becomes a place to showcase who you are. Think if it as your own version of Oprah magazine: not a place to toot your own horn as much as share things of interest to you that will also be of value to your readers. So you can continue whatever you've been doing in Stage #2, plus add stuff about you and your books.
Yes, you can talk about your books. I think people are silly who say you shouldn’t use your blog for self-promotion. That’s why you’re in the blogosphere in the first place. It’s fine as long as you don’t use hard-sell tactics and you don’t project an attitude of “I’m an author and you’re not.”
Each type of blog can evolve into another as your goals change.
A few tips for the new blogger:
- Make a list of topics you might like to explore before you begin, so you have a running start. If you visit other blogs regularly (and you should) you may find yourself making long comments on some subject that gets your hackles up/juices flowing. That’s the stuff you should be putting in your own blog.
- I STRONGLY advise against having more than one blog. It saps your energy and fragments your audience. (It also annoys the hell out of them: I hate hitting somebody’s profile and finding six blogs. Unless one is clearly marked “author” I don’t even try to wade through them: you’ve lost me.) Blogs have many pages. Use them.
- Put your own name in the blog title! Yes, I'm saying it again: your name is your brand. And also, you’ll find it easier to transition from Stage #1 to #2 and #3. Subtitles are easy to change. Titles, not so much. “Susie Scrivener’s Blog” can go from “writing and ranting” to “Floaty Pen Collecting” if Susie decides to change the blog’s focus. But “Floaty Pen Central” can’t be changed to “Susie Scrivener’s Amazing Books” without a lot of confusion. And you want to keep the same blog. The longer a blog exists, the higher it ranks with the Google spiders. (Thanks Camille LeGuire for cluing me in on the importance of longevity in SEO.)
- Write an inviting “About Me” page with clear contact information. I’m amazed at bloggers who don’t even post their names or contact information. The whole purpose of blogging is to let people know who you are and how to find you! (And don’t just post your resume. Be informal and friendly.)
- Don’t succumb to pressure to blog more than three times a week. Posting once a week on a regularly scheduled day is better than posting often but erratically. Allow yourself time to write your books. Remember you’re in this for the long haul. Quality over quantity. Slow blogging works.
- Be friendly. The way to build an audience, no matter where you are in your writing career, is to be likable and helpful. You don’t have to be chirpy. Just don’t project a phony or selfish tone. Kristen Lamb has a great post this week on how to be liked in the blogosphere.
More blog advice in my blogpost How To Blog: A Beginner’s Guide for Authors.
What about you, scriveners? Do you have a blog? Does it suit your stage of writing? Are you going to be able to give up those six semi-neglected blogs and concentrate on one great one? What advice would you give a new blogger?
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