Aspiring writers are told we should all be blogging. If you're willing to make the commitment, I do think it's the best way to start building platform and getting your name out there.
If you have no Web presence, agents, reviewers and readers are a lot less likely to take you seriously. The quickest, cheapest, and most reliable way to get that presence is to blog.
Before I started blogging, if you Googled my name, you'd find no mention of me until maybe page five. (I strongly suggest all authors Google themselves regularly to see what's happening to your name. It's not vain; it's more like checking in the mirror to see if there's any spinach on your teeth.) These days,If you Google "Anne R. Allen" you have to go the bottom of page 12 before you find an entry for somebody else. (Carrie-Anne R. Allen, I apologize.) Almost all those entries relate to my blog.
So blogging does work. Not as a direct sales tool, but as a way of building platform.
But you have to do it right.
That means you need to keep your goal in mind. If you are blogging to make a name for yourself as an author, then please, people, tell us what it is! I know this sounds like a no-brainer, but there are so many writers hiding behind cutsie monikers, I assume they're following somebody's bad advice. Don't listen to it! If you want to become a professional writer, DO NOT bop around the Interwebz pretending to be one of your characters, an anonymous pundit, or your dog.
Unless you're planning to publish your books under the pen name "Fido" or "Anonymous Snarkisaurus" you're going to be wasting your time.
On the other hand, if your real name is Marilyn Manson or Stephen King, choose yourself a good pseudonym NOW and blog with that name. Otherwise everything you do online is going to be promoting Mr. Manson or Mr. King and not you.
Here are some of the other ways I see new authors sabotaging themselves:
#1 NO BIO
Post a full ABOUT ME PAGE on the blog with a nice peppy bio and a good photo of yourself. Need help in writing your bio? Read my post on how to write an author bio here.
And for goodness' sake, put your name prominently on the blog, preferably in the header. I’ve visited writing blogs where I can’t even find the author’s name mentioned.
Do NOT expect people to know that “Scribblings on Sand” is written by Susie S. Sands, paranormal romance author. You're blogging to promote yourself as an author--not beach scribbling. So give the Google spiders a fighting chance at finding you.
When people want a Stephen King novel, they don't Google "horror novels set in Maine,"or "scary clowns." They Google his name.
Make your own name Googleable. That's the whole point.
REMEMBER: YOUR NAME IS YOUR BRAND!!!
#2 NO CONTACT INFO
I’d say at least 75% of writers do this. You don’t know how much time I’ve wasted combing blogs for your email address so I can contact you to ask a question about your blog, ask you to guest blog, or ask you to participate in something that might help you with book promotion.
Opportunity knocked and nobody was home.
There is no point in blogging if people can’t reach you!! If you want to be anonymous, write in your basement with a kerosene lamp and a #2 pencil. Nothing wrong with that. But if you want to be taken seriously as a professional author in the 21st century, offer your professional contact information.
The best place for your contact information is on your “ABOUT ME” PAGE.
#3 NO INFORMATION ABOUT YOUR BOOKS
Have books for sale? Tell us about them. List each book, give a synopsis, some review quotes and links so we can buy them. Your blog shouldn’t be one non-stop sales pitch for your books, but don’t go overboard the other way and neglect to mention them at all. Even if you have a separate website, you want to mention your books on your blog, too.
Contemporary consumers want things to be easy. This is why Amazon is so successful as a retailer. The one-click purchase is genius. So make it as easy as possible for people to buy your books.
I suggest all published authors have a book page on your blog or a link to your website's book page. If you want examples of book pages here's Ruth's Book Page and mine.
#4 TOO MANY BLOGS
How many is too many? For most writers, two is too many, because you end up neglecting one or the other 50% of the time. As Kristen Lamb says : "When do writers need multiple blogs? Um, never."
Unless you write erotica or extreme political stuff that’s not suitable for all readers, put all the stuff on one blog. Don’t make your readers jump through hoops to find your author blog.
If you want to blog about recipes AND zombies AND collecting floaty pens, use your pages. Blogger has 20 of them. Until you fill them all up, you do not need a second blog.
If you write books under different names, have a page for each. Ruth Harris and I share a blog. We don’t even write in the same genre. I write rom-com mysteries and she writes womens’ fiction and thrillers. But we are able to co-habit. We have a page for Ruth’s books and a page for Anne’s. We also have an About Ruth page and an About Anne page. And we still leave much of the blog unused.
If you write SciFi under the name Brad Goodyear and sweet romance under the name Beryl Goodwife, find a neutral color scheme and let Brad and Beryl share. Everybody who is trying to find you will be grateful.
#5 NOT LINKING YOUR BLOG TO YOUR WEBSITE AND OTHER PUBLISHED WORK
I don’t think most new authors actually need a separate website. If you have a professional-looking blog, it can provide all the information the media, publishers, agents and readers need. That way they don’t have to jump through extra hoops. Every time you make the reader click through to another site, you lose a goodly percentage of them.
I know not all people agree with me, but this is what I see when an author has a website as well as a blog: “Look, I have a fancy, expensive website. It duplicates all the information on my blog, but hey, I spent money on it so I’m a REAL writer.”
So Ruth Harris and I aren’t real writers? Neither is Nathan Bransford?
But if you do have both, for goodness' sake put a link prominently on both sites. It is amazing how many times I've read a blogpost and come to the end and discovered there's no way to find out anything about the person who wrote it except to leave the blog and Google the author's name. How many people are going to do that?
This is also true of your published work. Have you guest posted on other blogs? Give us a link. Have you published short stories, essays, or done interviews for online zines? Let us know. Don't make us go on a scavenger hunt to find out who you are.
#6 MAKING COMMENTING DIFFICULT
Moderating comments on new posts is a big barrier to commenters. So is the CAPTCHA (that word verification thing that proves you’re not a robot.)
Yes, when you’re well established, you may get a lot of trolls and spambots and have to turn on CAPTCHA and moderate more closely, but until you do, make it as easy as possible for people to comment. The CAPTCHA these days is often so difficult it can take 5 or 6 tries to get it right. Guess how many people are going to stick around that long? Three tries is my limit, people, no matter how good your post is.
I realize most new bloggers don’t even know the CAPTCHA is there, and you should be warned that even after you turn it off, the Blogger elves may turn it back on. So if your comments start falling off, ask a good friend to check for you to see if that sneaky CAPTCHA is back on your blog.
In Blogger, the place to turn off the CAPTCHA is in the “privacy” menu on the dashboard.
We're popular enough that we get a lot of spammers here, but I still have the CAPTCHA disabled and delete the spam by hand. Yes, it's a bit time consuming—but it's consuming MY time, not my readers'. I think that's one of the reasons people keep coming back.
#7 MESSY, CROWDED, UNREADABLE BLOGS
I usually won’t read a blog that’s “monetized” with a lot of flashy ads. Unless the content is spectacular and unique, it’s not worth the annoyance. And if you’re not making any money from it, why crowd your blog with a lot of detritus? Don't use loud, quarreling colors or lots of flashy graphics.
Also note that many of your readers, especially those of us over forty, find a light font on a dark background difficult to read.
(I am so grateful to my readers who pointed out that a too-light color for the links is an annoyance too. You can change the colors and fonts in the "advanced" section of your design template. I discovered it's pretty easy, and if you don't like it, you can change it back to the default design.)
Yes, I know Blogger offers that cool Goth-looking template, but realize that a dark blog with light lettering will drive away a good deal of your possible audience.
# 8 SLOW LOAD TIME
Yeah, that video of your cat trying to kill the garden hose may be really cute--but if it takes so long to load that you lose ¾ of your visitors before they read your content, it’s not going to be building platform for you.
If you're a writer, you want to showcase your writing, not your video-making skills.
Any kind of animation slows your load time. People like me who check out dozens of blogs a day are out of there before we can see all your cute stuff. I used to follow one writer’s blog regularly. He had great things to say. I’m sure he still does, but when he added animation, I had to drop him. We are all pressed for time.
Also, it’s good to be aware that Alexa rates blogs by loading time as well as number of hits.
#9 NOT BLOGGING TO A SCHEDULE
When people come back looking for a new post and don’t find one for a month, they’ll write it off as a dead blog.
But if you put a notice “Updated monthly” you eliminate the problem. You now have a schedule.
As most of you know, I advocate Slow Blogging (once a week or less: quality over quantity.) But of course daily blogs get popular faster and attract the Google spiders, so if you want to blog three days a week or more, go for it—just make sure you love blogging enough to make a long-term commitment to keep to that schedule.
The problem arises when you blog every day for a month, then leave the blog hanging for three. People stop coming back. But if you say initially that you’re going to blog once a week, nobody will be disappointed.
“No, No!” you say, raising hand to feverish forehead. “I’m not the kind of person who can be chained to an arbitrary schedule. I’m CREATIVE!”
Yeah, yeah, so are the rest of us. Write the posts when your blogmuse is in residence, and save up the posts to post on a schedule.
#10 NO TWITTER HANDLE ON YOUR BLOG
Don’t make people click through your tweety bird icon to go to Twitter and find it out. It should be right there on the page. In fact, we should all get in the habit of posting our Twitter handle along with our byline so people can tweet the post and give us credit for it. Porter Anderson wrote a great piece for Rachelle Gardner on the subject that’s a must-read.
Do I say all authors should blog? No. Some authors aren't suited to it. Writing a nonfiction piece every week can be tedious, especially when you're in the middle of writing a novel. Some people can't come up with enough ideas, or they're not quite sure what their genre or author "brand" is going to be.
That doesn't have to keep you from participating in the blogosphere. You can build a simple website landing page as your home base (which makes you searchable) and comment on other people's blogs. (Wix offers a simple free website that looks easy to use and Google-friendly.) Commenting on popular blogs is a great way to get your name known in the blogging community.
But that means you want to comment under your OWN NAME. I'm going to say it one more time: YOUR NAME IS YOUR BRAND. Anything you do on social media needs to be branded with whatever name you write under, or you might as well be in that basement with the kerosene lamp.
What about you, scriveners? What annoys you about author blogs? Do you blog under your own name? Do you have your name in your blog header? Do you think CAPTCHA is offensive to the robot community? Is your real name Marilyn Manson?