14 Dos and Don'ts for Author-Bloggers

by Anne R. Allen

Everybody keeps telling authors we should blog. But for a lot of new authors, the challenge of a blog is daunting. How can we write our books if we're spending every day blogging? 

You can't. And you shouldn't. If you think you have to blog every day, or even every week, you're reading the wrong blogging advice.

There are lots of great reasons for authors to blog. Here are some from blog expert Robin Houghton, author of Blogging for Writers. For more information on author-blogs, check out Molly Greene's Blog It!: The Author's Guide to Building a Successful Online Brand.

All authors need a websiteeven if you aren't published yet. Whether you're sending out short pieces to magazines or anthologies or querying a novel, you will be Googled. If you have no online presence, or nothing but a FB page and a Twitter account (or any other social media presence that requires membership of the reader) that will work against you with agents and editors.

But a free Blogger or Wordpress blog is often the only website you need. If you establish a well-maintained blog, you can avoid the expense of web hosting and have a perfect venue for interacting with your readers and fellow writers. 

And it DOESN'T have to take all your time. One of the challenges for an author-blogger is that most of the information on  blogging is written for professional bloggers. These are people who blog to sell ads and monetize their blog content. 

But for the author-blogger, a blog is a means to an end, not the end in itself. 

This means a lot of the blog "rules" don't apply to us, and a lot of authors are jumping through hoops and wasting time that could be spent on our primary activity: writing our books.  

However, some rules do apply. There are basic things that all bloggers need to do to be successful. 

Here's a handy list of Dos and Don'ts for the new author-blogger:

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.

As Jane Friedman said in a recent interview at the Art of Commerce "Many people are confused about the role of social media or other online activity (e.g., blogging). They put it before the writing or the message. Let's be clear: the work comes first, in 90% of cases."

Always keep that in mind. Don't let the blog preempt your WIP, ever.

2) DO use an uncluttered, easy-to read design...and NO POP-UPS!

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. A light font on a dark background is hard to read for most people. Plus it tends to look like a 1980s computer interface or an old MySpace page. It tends to scream "amateur", unless your site is devoted to vampire fiction or some other "dark" subject.

I also advise against the passive-aggressive tiny pale gray font on a white background. Making your blog hard to read is counter-productive.

Light and bright and uncluttered is appealing and gives your blog a modern look.

If you go with a Web designer and a self-hosted blog, don't let them talk you into too many bells and whistles. This is about building your brand, not advertising the cute things the web designer can do to distract your reader.

And be aware that most people find pop-ups super-annoying. Yes, I know every website, including your bank, throws a pop-up at you every time you log on, wasting your valuable time to blast an ad at you, telling you to sign on with the company you already do business with. This is a great way to tell your current customers they are unimportant and does very little to entice new ones.

Greeting people with a pop-up before they're even allowed to look at your site is like giving people the finger when they come to visit a place of business. You really expect them to stick around if they don't have to?

I know you're crazy-desperate to get addresses for your mailing list because all the gurus are telling you that the author with the biggest mailing list wins.

But using pop-ups to get subscribers can backfire. Pop-ups are unfriendly. If you must, have your subscription window pop up when somebody navigates away from your blog, but don't block your own blog from your readers. You will lose more readers than you gain.

3) DON'T feel you have to keep to 300-500 words.

You don't want to address more than one subject per post, but you don't have to keep the word count under 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-sentence 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 a lot of our most popular posts come close 3000 words.

4) DO learn to write good headers. 

An intriguing header is essential. Nobody will find your blogpost if it isn't tweeted and shared and clicked upon. How do you get clicks? With an eyeball-grabbing header. A good header should:
Note: One-word and enigmatic titles may delight your muse, but minimalism won’t attract blog readers. Also avoid stuff that’s unfocused, doesn't inform, or nobody's likely to search for on Google.

Titles like "My Writing" or "Random 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 in the sidebar for ideas on what works in a blog header. Numbered lists and questions work best.

5) DON'T use a cute 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.

Just yesterday I read a hilarious post about the paleo diet. Since that diet is what caused the gout flare-up that has had me in agony for weeks, I found it especially funny. I wanted to share it everywhere. But I have no idea who wrote it. It was on some blog with a one-word, made-up name by an anonymous blogger. He mentioned a coming book, but since he keeps his name secret, what's the point?

Yes, I know you see lots of anonymous blogs. Many product reviewers prefer to keep their names private. Ditto political bloggers.

But the reason an author is 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 "Primordial Ooze", "Alas, Poor Yorick" or "Enigmatic Toadstool". A whole lot more people will find you if they can just Google "Your Name."

Every minute an author spends 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.

6) DO include share buttons, a "follow" widget and a way to subscribe to the blog

Hey, somebody might stop by your new blog 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. (In Blogger, they are available in the list of widgets on your dashboard.) 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 find out 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.

It's 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.

 7) 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 advice 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", so if you have flash fiction you don't intend to send to contests or journals, it's fine 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, regular commenter Linda Maye Adams offered this tip: there's a blog that provides daily "blog prompts", called the Daily Post. It looks like fun.

8) 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.  Some don't even 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 as a brand!

9) DON'T put too much 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

10) 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.

11) DON'T obsess about SEO (Search Engine Optimization), but be aware of it.

Using keywords in your headers is vital. Those are words that define the subject matter of your post. Being murky and ambiguous will not work in your favor.

Understanding SEO means you don't title your post "My Thoughts on an Important Subject". Instead you say, "Why Justin Bieber Should Be Deported". "Justin Bieber" and "Deported" are keywords. If you use them, people interested in your subject matter will find your post. If you don't, they won't.

Marketing people love to use jargon that makes this stuff sound complicated. But now you know it isn't.

And as for the rest of the marketing jargon you hear, it's mostly not important to you. Yes, you want to be picked up by the search engines, but your primary concern is entertaining your readers, not optimizing keywords in your text. New blogs are more likely to get discovered by word of mouth, so it's more important to be networking with other bloggers than trying to game the search engines.

12) DO learn to write for the 21st century reader. 

People skim on the Internet. You need short paragraphs, sub-headers, 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.

13) 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.

14) 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.

But 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 Dinosaur erotica, you only need one blog. Blogs take time. And you have books to write, remember?

Also, Google rewards authors who have only one website. For a great piece on the subject, check out Lisa Tenner's post, How Many Websites Should An Author Have? She says " If you have two websites, Google doesn't like duplicate content so you really need to write different articles for each site. So now, in order to have the same amount of content on a site, you actually have to write twice as much."

So 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, or leave them up with a link to your main blog.

Then go work on that WIP!

What about you, Scriveners? Do you blog? How often do you post? Have you found a happy medium between blogging and working on your WIP? What kind of blogs are you most likely to follow? Have you tried a blog and given it up? Do you find a static website works just as well for you?


The first book in the Camilla comedy series is only 99c!
Start reading the Camilla Randall Mysteries to be ready for #5 in July! Ghostwriters in the Sky is a spoof of writers conferences, full of funny situations most writers will identify with.

Ghostwriters in the Sky is available in e-book at all the Amazons,iTunes, Kobo, Inktera, Scribd and at Barnes and Noble for NOOK.

It is available in Paper (regular and large print) at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

It's #1 in the Camilla Randall comedy-mysteries: a wild comic romp set at writers’ conference in the wine-and-cowboy town of Santa Ynez, California. When a ghostwriter’s plot to blackmail celebrities with faked evidence leads to murder, Camilla must team up with a cross-dressing dominatrix to stop the killerwho may be a ghostfrom striking again. 
Meanwhile, a hot LA cop named Maverick Jesus Zukowski just may steal her heart.

Here's a review from award-winning author Sandy Nathan 

"Ghost Writers is set in a writers' conference in Santa Ynez Valley, where I've lived for twenty years...This book is hysterically funny AND accurately depicts the Valley. Anne Allen gets it right, down to the dollar bills stuck on the ceiling of the Maverick Saloon. It was so fun to read as she called out one Valley landmark after another. Allen got the local denizens right, too, the crazy characters that roam our streets.

Speaking of which, Ms. Allen's literary characters are pretty crazy/zany by themselves. I love Camilla Randall, her ditzy, former debutante heroine, and all the rest. The action gets pretty frenetic when dead bodies start showing up. I heartily recommend this book..."


Golden Quill Awards Writing Contest: Flash, Poetry, and Short fiction categories. Entry fee $20 for stories and poetry, $15 for flash fiction. The theme is TRANSFORMATION. Deadline July 15.

The Masters Review Short Story Award is open from May 15 – July 15 and will pay $2000 (YES! You read that right) plus publication for the best short story. Second and third place stories will be paid $200 and $100 respectively and considered for publication. All stories will be sent to Curtis Brown Literary for consideration. Just your best piece of fiction under 6000 words. If you haven’t published a novel, you qualify. Deadline July 15th.

MARK TWAIN HUMOR CONTEST  Entry fees: $12 Young Author or $22 Adult. 7,000 words (or fewer) of any original work of humor writing. Submissions must be in English. Submissions are not required to be in the style of Mark Twain or about Mark Twain. 1st Prize: $1,000 (Adult), $600 (Young Author). Other cash prizes! Deadline July 10, 2015

Saturday Evening Post Great American Fiction Contest. Entry fee $10. Your story should in some way touch upon the publication's mission: Celebrating America — past, present, and future. Think Norman Rockwell. No profanity or graphic sex. Any genre. No previously published stories, but they can have appeared on your blog. Between 1,500 and 5,000 words. Deadline July 1, 2015

Big Beautiful Wellness Creative Writing Contest. NO FEE Poems up to 30 lines Fiction or Nonfic between 1000 and 2000 words. $100 first prize. Theme: Body-positive living. Looking for inspirational, positive stories. Deadline July 1.

Writer's Village International Short Fiction Contest Prizes totalling $3200! And every entrant gets a critique. (which makes this a great deal.) Any genre of fiction up to 3000 words. Entry fee $24. Deadline June 30th.

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