by Anne R. Allen
Do all authors have to blog?
Blogging doesn't sell books. Not directly. And it's not a particularly good way to attract an agent (agents will glance at your blog if they're considering your query, but mostly to make sure you're not wearing a tinfoil hat and advocating the invasion of Canada.)
So what is blogging good for?
It's a way to make friends. With your readers and other writers.
John Green, superstar author of The Fault in Our Stars said on NPR last week that writing books is a life "in which you're in your basement alone for years and years, saying, 'Marco. Marco. Marco. Marco. Marco. And then if you're lucky, someone writes you and says ... Polo."
A blog provides people with a place to say "Polo."
(For non US readers, "Marco Polo" is a kind of annoying game of tag American children play in backyard swimming pools. The origins are unknown, although lots of people offer inventive stories "explaining" it on the Marco Polo game Wikipedia page.)
I spent the first few years of my blogging career saying Marco, without getting many Polos in return, until I won a contest run by uberblogger and then-Curtis Brown agent, Nathan Bransford. The prize was a guest spot on his blog.
That was my first lesson in "DO" #6 below.
I recently found my old journal from the day I got that guest spot. I had also just got the 70th follower on the blog. What an exciting day!
Four years later, the blog is getting 75,000 hits a month and Nathan is going to visit HERE next week...
So if you have a new blog, hang in there. You will get a readership. But it takes time.
I got an email from a reader recently asking if I was ever going to write about blogging for authors. I thought I'd been writing about blogging entirely too much. But I realized I hadn't written much recently, and other pieces have usurped my "how to blog" posts in the Top Ten posts in the sidebar.
So I figured it might be smart to provide an index of my "How to Blog" posts. Eventually I'll put a version of this post on a separate page for easy reference.
The problem with starting an author blog is that most of the instructions on blogging come from marketers and SEO specialists—people who blog with the purpose of getting revenue from the blog itself.
But as an author, you don't need to worry about advertisers and SEO isn't your top priority. Your blog is simply a part of your social media presence—your home on the Web where folks can stop in to chat. The only thing you want to advertise is your own books (and maybe your guests' books.)
Unlike a monetized blog, an author blog shouldn't be your main focus. And it shouldn't take too much time from your WIP.
Not that there's anything wrong with deciding you prefer blogging to writing books. Last week Nina Badzin wrote an inspirational post here about what happened when she did exactly that—and turned her love of blogging into a successful freelance writing career.
If you write primarily nonfiction—as a freelance essayist, journalist, or nonfiction book author—a blog is essential. You should start one as soon as you hang out your shingle. It's your portfolio on the Web: the place where people can stop by and see what you do.
But if you're pretty sure fiction is your primary medium, when should you start a blog?
Some writers start to blog too early in their careers and find it’s a time suck that keeps them from their fiction writing goals.
I don't think you have to worry about blogging if—
That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with blogging if you’re at any of those stages. For some of us, blogging is just plain fun. Playing around with words is good at any stage of your writing career, as long as it doesn't keep you from your basic writing goals.
- You’re at a stage where you need to put 100% of your writing time into learning your craft and getting that WIP onto the page.
- You’re a student who loves your creative writing class and hopes to be a writer someday, but you’re not sure what genre you’ll want to write or if you'll want to write novels, screenplays, poetry or whatever.
- You’ve written a NaNo novel and a few short stories but you know you've got a lot to learn and you're not ready to start submitting things yet.
- You’ve been to a few writers conferences and you’re working madly on edits on your first novel and you’ve got this new idea you’re just dying to get on paper...
But don’t feel pressured to jump in before you're ready. Blogging is a commitment. Don’t start if you don’t have the time or discipline to follow through.
I suggest you write at least four blogposts (more is even better) and have them ready to go before you set up the blog.
When should you start?
It's good to have a blog going by the time you start to send out queries or self-publish your first book.
You will need a website anyway. (Sending out a query when you don’t have a website is a waste of time. Many agents and editors reject on that item alone.) A blog is a website—while a Facebook, Google +, Twitter or Pinterest page is not. Nothing that requires membership counts. And a blog hosted by Blogger or Wordpress is free as well as being interactive—as opposed to a static website. So it counts as “social media.” It’s a two-bird stone.
Blogging provides the most effective long-term strategy for writers to get their names out there into the marketplace and interact with the public, because:
- You’re a writer. Blogging uses a skill you’ve already got.
- Other social media are subject to faddism and rapid changes. (Facebook has become much less effective now that you have to pay to reach more than a handful of readers.)
- Blogging is the social medium that gives you the most control over your brand.
But author-bloggers usually make one huge mistake: we follow rules established by other types of bloggers.
I made this mistake myself.
Thing is: as an author, you are not blogging to monetize, so a lot of the standard rules don’t apply. You're blogging to make yourself an interactive home on the Web—a place for agents/fellow writers/fellow bloggers/publishers/editors/readers to find you and communicate with you. It's a place to establish your brand.
And your brand is YOU.
Here are some basic blogging rules authors would be wise to heed:
1) DO use an uncluttered, easy-to read design
Be aware that a light font on a dark background is hard to read for most people. Plus it tends to look like a 1980s computer interface. And it can scream "amateur". Light and bright and uncluttered is appealing and gives your blog a modern look.
If you use a standard Blogger or Wordpress free blog, the templates are pretty hard to mess up as long as you don't choose one of those white-on-black ones. (pale gray on white isn't that great either.) If you go with a Web designer and a self-hosted blog, don't let them talk you into too many bells and whistles.
And remember most people find pop-ups annoying.
2) DO learn to write good headers. An intriguing header is essential!
A good header should:
- Ask a question or provide an answer.
- Attract search engines.
- Make a good Tweet (even if you aren’t on Twitter, you want somebody else to tweet it and spread the word.)
- Promise the reader something of value: information or entertainment
Note: One-word and enigmatic titles may delight your muse, but minimalism won’t attract blog readers. Also stuff that’s unfocused, doesn’t inform, and nobody’s likely to Google.
Titles like “Scribbles”, “Alone,” or “Sad Thoughts” are not going to get you many hits. These are not words or phrases people are likely to search for, and they don't entice or offer anything. Look at the titles of our top ten blogposts for ideas on what works in a blog header. Numbered lists and questions work best.
3) DO include share buttons, a "follow" widget and a way to subscribe to the blog
Hey, somebody might stop by and like what they see. You want them start spreading the news. And come back.
Those little "f" "t", "g +1" and other buttons allow people to share your brilliant words to their Facebook, Twitter and Google+ pages. They are the way you will build a following. Put them up there even if you personally don’t use those sites.
It's how people will hear about your blog.
If nobody can Tweet or share a post they like, you're relying entirely on search engines for discoverability. Trouble is, a search engine can't find you unless you have a lot of traffic. And you can't get a lot of traffic unless people Tweet you. The Catch 22 of social media. Use the buttons.
And you want people to be able to subscribe by email. It's great to get people "following," but that just means they see the blog in their RSS feed when they happen to check it. A blogpost that lands in somebody's inbox is a whole lot more likely to be read.
I use MailChimp for our subscription service here. It's great as long as you don't get more than 2000 subscribers. After that, it costs 30 bucks a month, so when your numbers get up there, you have to do periodic housecleaning of subscribers who don't actually open the email. (But hey, that's what you call a First World problem.)
I know there's a lot of pressure to get people to sign up for author newsletters rather than subscribe to a blog. But I think a blog subscription is more useful.
Newsletters were big a decade ago, but there are just too many of them. And they're mostly self-serving and spammy. But a blog generally has actual content. So most people are more likely to subscribe to your blog than a "look at how fabulous I am" newsletter. I'll be writing more about this on another post.
4) DO post a bio and contact info—and your @twitterhandle, if you have one.
You're doing all this so that people can find out about YOU. And contact you. And discover your books.
But you would be amazed how many bloggers don't even put their names on their blogs. Or let people know what genre they write. ((The shy opposites of those braggy newsletter people.)
Even if you're a newbie and haven't published anything and haven't picked a genre, you still need a bio. It's best to put a short bio on the main page with more info on an "about me" page.
Yes. Your blog has many pages. Just click "pages" on your dashboard. In Blogger, you get twenty.
Here's a piece on how to write an author bio
It's also important to put your @twitterhandle on your main page. That way, if somebody wants to Tweet the post, they can give attribution. Most share buttons only say "via @sharethis" but if you're on Twitter, you want it to say "via @yourname." Remember you're doing all this to establish that name!
5) DO ask questions, respond to comments and treat your visitors well
Be welcoming to people who visit your blog. Ask interesting questions that will get a discussion going.
You also want to respond to comments and make commenting as easy as possible.
You can’t control all the Blogger/Wordpress hoop-jumping. (I apologize to anybody with a Wordpress ID who can't comment here. I have the same problem trying to comment on a Wordpress blog, which is why I use a Gravatar ID
for Wordpress. If you have gmail or you're on Google Plus, you have a Google ID, so it's best to use that.)
If you haven’t had a barrage of spam, you can turn off the “word verification” or “CAPTCHA”. That will triple your comments. (Especially from people with older eyes who can’t read those %#*! letters to save our lives.)
I also suggest you don't moderate comments on new posts. I only moderate ones more than a week old. That allows for real conversation to happen on a new post. Older posts are the most likely to attract spam, anyway.
6) DO visit other blogs: comment and guest post
Reciprocate those visits. Nobody’s going to know you’re there if you stay home all the time. Get out and socialize! Social media is about networking.
The single best thing you can do to raise your search engine profile is comment on high profile blogs that are already on Google's radar.
Once you make friends with other bloggers, ask if you can guest post. And do invite other bloggers to guest for you. Guest posting is one of the best ways to increase your reach and your readership.
7) DO learn to write for the 21st century reader.
People skim on the Internet. You need short paragraphs, subheaders, bullet points, lists, bolding, and lots of white space. Draw the reader's eye through the piece.
More in my post on How to Write Blog Content.
And some things author-bloggers DON'T have to worry about:
1) DON'T feel you have to blog every day.
Or even every week. Or on a schedule. (Although a schedule will give you a better chance of building a solid readership.) But it’s all good. For more on this, read my post on The Slow Blog Manifesto
2) DON'T feel you have to keep to 300-500 words.
That's an old rule from the early days of blogging, when it was all about frequency of posts, not content. Google's algos have changed since then. They discovered people can feel cheated when they click through to a 3-paragraph post. The current ideal now is at about 1000-1500 words.
Make your post as long as it needs to be to cover the subject. If you go over 3000 words, you’ll probably lose some readers before the end, but some of our most popular posts come close 3000 words.
3) DON’T use a cutsie title that masks your identity.
The number one reason for an author to use social media is to get name recognition, so for heaven’s sake, PUT YOUR NAME ON THE BLOG.
Yes, a lot of blogs have cutsie names and the bloggers are anonymous. Many product reviewers prefer to remain anonymous. Ditto political bloggers.
But the reason you’re blogging is the opposite of anonymity. You want people to be able to put your name (or pen name) into a search engine and find you. Don’t make them rummage in their memory banks trying to remember if your blog is called “Songs from the Zombiepocalypse”, “Lost Marbles” or “MommiePornCentral". A whole lot more people will find you if they can just Google "Your Name."
Every minute you spend blogging anonymously is a minute wasted. Let the public know who you are and where you are and why we should be reading your stuff instead of the other 10 billion blogs out there.
4) DON'T limit yourself with a restrictive niche
For product bloggers and reviewers, niche is important. It's better to be the #1 blogger for jelly doughnut reviews or vegan baby food recipes than the 10 millionth blogger "musing about stuff".
But you're an author. Your product is YOU. Don't keep yourself hemmed in by a limited niche.
For a long time, I believed all the stuff about how you have to have a niche. So this is a niche blog. It's serving us well, but it hems us in.
Remember people surf the Web looking for two things: information and entertainment. Your blog can spin a good yarn, make people laugh, provide information, or all three, as long as you are putting it all in your own honest, unique voice.
I used to caution writers against putting fiction on blogs. It is still less likely to be read, because people are mostly skimming blogs for information, but there's been growth in the "story blog" recently, so if you have flash fiction you don't intend to send to contests or journals, it's okay to put it on your blog. But do realize it will be officially "published" so you have given away first rights.
NOTE: It's still not smart to post raw bits of a novel in progress. Agents and publishers won't consider that book because it's now published (unless you're getting 100,000 hits a post.) Also, readers respond much better to self-contained short fiction than unedited bits of novels. And remember your job is to entertain, not seek free editorial advice.
Another caveat: one of the least interesting topics to readers is your writing process. Hardly any potential reader wants to know your daily word count or your rejection sorrows. Other writers may stop by to commiserate, and you do want to network with other authors, but don’t make your writer’s block or attempts to get published the main focus of your blog.
You simply want to offer your unique voice talking about the things you feel passionate about: the research you’re doing on medieval armor; your theories on why raccoons are going to take over the planet; the hilarious adventures of an erotica writer running for PTA president. Anything that will draw in readers will work.
If you have "blogger's block", or are brainstorming for fresh content, author Linda Maye Adams
offered this tip in the comments: there's a blog that provides daily "blog prompts", called the Daily Post
. It looks like fun.
5) DON'T put a lot of energy into images.
(Unless you're a photojournalist, of course.)
You're showing off your WRITING SKILLS, remember?
Bloggers with monetized blogs need to spend a lot of time on images, and visuals do draw people in, but do you want people to notice somebody else'e photography or YOUR writing?
Don’t waste lots of time looking for the right photo (or risk getting sued
for using copyrighted material.)
If your blog is about travel, or fishing, or antiquing, yes, take lots of photos, but if the post is about books or ideas—don’t sweat it. The blog is going to be a showcase for what you can do with the written word. We’ve never used images on this blog, and we’re doing pretty well. If you do use images, make sure they are in the public domain. Try Wiki Commons
or WANA Commons
6) DON'T obsess about SEO (Search Engine Optimization)
Yes, you want to be picked up by the search engines, but your primary concern is entertaining your readers, not optimizing keywords for search engines. Early on a blog gets discovered by word of mouth, so it's more important to be networking with other bloggers than getting the attention of Google.
So that marketing jargon that goes over your head? Let it keep sailing by. It's not a priority for you.
7) DON'T start multiple blogs
Professional bloggers sometimes have dozens. They have a Cupcake Recipe Blog and a Mommy Blog and a Support Blog for Persons who Suffer from Chronic Dandruff. All fine and dandy. They run ads for kitchenware on one and Pampers on the second and homeopathic shampoo on a third. And they aren't writing novels.
And you aren't running ads. So unless you write in wildly conflicting genres, like Christian Middle Grade fiction and Bigfoot erotica, you only need one blog. Blogs take time. And you have books to write, remember?
If you've started 15 blogs, go back to the first one, put all your best content on it (you can change the header, but the oldest one is the one Google knows best, so keep it.) Then delete the others.
Then go work on that WIP!
Here are a few examples of great author blogs
Some are superstars, some are midlisters, and some are pre-published, but they all do blogging right.
Here is an index of my posts on how to blog
How to Blog: A Beginner's Guide for Authors
(Also this information and a whole lot more is available in the book I wrote with superstar author Catherine Ryan Hyde, HOW TO BE A WRITER IN THE E-AGE: A Self-help Guide
. Only $2.99. And yes, the paper version of the second edition will be available very soon.)
What about you, Scriveners? Do you have a blog? Have you been resisting blogging? What do you find are the best ways to get traffic? Do you have any tips for the new blogger? What general blogging rules do you find don't apply to an author blog?
BOOK OF THE WEEK
This week I'm doing a cover reveal: new cover by Keri Knutson of Alchemy Book Covers I love the exploding cupcake!
Food of Love: a Comedy about Friendship, Chocolate, and a Small Nuclear Bomb.
Two sisters: one white, one black. Two world views: one liberal, one conservative. But these two women have one goal in common—one they share with most women in modern society: the urge to diminish themselves by dieting. Food of Love is a comedy that carries a powerful message. It offers some of life’s darker truths—told with a punchline.
After Princess Regina, a former supermodel, is ridiculed in the tabloids for gaining weight, someone tries to kill her. She suspects her royal husband wants to be rid of her, now she’s no longer model-thin. As she flees the mysterious assassin, she discovers the world thinks she is dead, and seeks refuge with the only person she can trust: her long-estranged foster sister, Rev. Cady Stanton, a right-wing talk show host who has romantic and weight issues of her own. Cady delves into Regina’s past and discovers Regina’s long-lost love, as well as dark secrets that connect them all.
"I loved everything about this novel, the quirky humor and larger than life characters above all. The plot took me in unexpected directions and I could not guess what would happen next. This is a delightful surprise package skillfully bound by the author's immaculate writing. And like all stories involving a princess, it has a happy ending. HIGHLY recommended!"
Short Romance stories with holiday themes: Crimson Romance Ebooks
(A division of F & W, publisher of Writer's Digest Books) is looking for holiday themed shorts (10K-20K words) Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa 2014, New Year's Even 2015, Deadline: August 15th
BLUE EARTH REVIEW FLASH FICTION CONTEST
$2 ENTRY FEE. 750 words or less. Limit two stories per entry. First place $500. Second place $250. Third place $100. Winners will be published in the Blue Earth Review, the literary magazine of Minnesota State University. Deadline August 1.
The Saturday Evening Post "Celebrate America"
Short fiction contest. $10 ENTRY FEE. The winning story will be published in the Jan/Feb 2015 edition of The Saturday Evening Post, and the author will receive a $500 payment. Five runners-up will each receive a $100 cash payment and will also have their stories published online. Stories must be between 1,500 and 5,000 words in. All stories must be previously unpublished (excluding personal websites and blogs). Deadline July 1.
MARK TWAIN HOUSE HUMOR WRITING CONTEST
ENTRY FEE $12 or $22. First prize $1000. Other cash prizes. Celebrity judges. Two age categories: Adult (18 and over) and Young Author (17 and under). Submit 10,000 words (or fewer) of any original work of humor writing. Submissions are not required to be in the style of Mark Twain or about Mark Twain. They want you to make them laugh! Deadline June 30, 2014.
The Golden Quill Awards are no longer recommended.
Labels: blogging for authors, blogging rules, Blogging tips for writers, Catherine Ryan Hyde, Donna Fasano, Donna Hole, Elizabeth S. Craig, Food of Love, how to blog, John Green, The Fault in Our Stars