5 Blogging Rules Authors Can Ignore…and 5 You Can’t

Do all aspiring authors need to blog?

The answer used to be: Only the ones who want to get published.

Now, agents and publishers are letting up on the requirement.

Recently, agent Rachelle Gardner changed her stance on blogs.“A few years ago, the standard wisdom was that authors, both fiction and non-fiction, should have blogs in order to gather an audience and build relationships with readers. Now, not so much. As social media and online marketing have evolved, my thoughts on blogging have changed. I think each author needs to carefully consider whether blogging is an appropriate vehicle for them.”

But she added that you need to be on social media somewhere. She says Goodreads, Facebook, Pinterest, LinkedIn, or Google +  can help you establish yourself if you find blogging too daunting.

But if you’re a Boomer like me, you may find those other platforms MORE daunting. For the non-tech-savvy, blogging is the easiest to master. It’s also the social media platform that gives you the most control.

This week social media guru diva Kristen Lamb devoted a whole week of blogposts to explaining the reasons why “blogs are probably THE BEST use of an author’s time when it comes to building an author platform using social media.”

But some writers start to blog too early in their careers and find it’s a time suck that keeps them from their primary writing goals.

So when should you start blogging? 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 fun. Having fun with words is good at any stage of your writing career, as long as it doesn't keep you from your primary writing goals.

But don’t feel pressured to jump in yet. Blogging is a commitment. Don’t start if you don’t have the time or discipline to follow through.

When should you definitely think about a blog? When you’re sending out queries or getting ready to self-publish.

You will need a website anyway. (Sending out a query when you don’t have a website is shooting yourself in the font. 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.

I agree with Kristen Lamb. I think blogging provides the most effective long-term strategy for writers to get their names out there into the marketplace and interact with the public.Why?
But blogger-authors 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 those 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.

This means:

1) You don’t 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 readership.) But it’s all good. For more on this, read my post on The Slow Blog Manifesto.

2) You don’t have to keep to 300-500 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, but Porter Anderson writes more than that in every one of his posts at Writing on the Ether and he's one of the most respected bloggers in the business

3) You don’t want a cutsie title that masks your identity.

The number one reason for an author to have a blog is to get name recognition, so for heaven’s sake, PUT YOUR NAME ON THE BLOG. I know I hammer away at this, but still 70% of the writing blogs I visit don’t have the author's name in the header—and almost that many don’t have an “about me” bio page to give us any idea of who heck they are.

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 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.

And ALWAYS put your contact information prominently on the blog. If you’re selling a product, it’s just plain dumb not to tell people where to find it.

4) You don’t have to blog about any one subject. Your product is YOU.

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. We may try branching out into other territory in the coming months. Notice the new "Opportunity Alerts" at the end of the post.

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 out in your own honest, unique voice. (But I generally advise against fictional yarns—see below.)

A great example of a highly successful blogger is Nina Badzin, who blogs about books, parenting, religion, career choices, and so much more. Her posts are engaging and charming and often get picked up by the Huffington Post. Why? She’s smart, funny, honest, and totally herself.

One 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’re a writer, so they want your well-written observations on things: 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/PTA president.

NOTE: If you’re not a published author writing for an established fan base, DO NOT post bits of your WIP hoping to get praise or critique. That’s because:
5) You don’t need a lot of images.

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. You’re a WRITER. 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

But there are some blogging rules you'd be wise to heed:

1) Learn to write good headers. A “good” header does a number of things:
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.

2) Always include share buttons Those little "f" "t", "g +1" and other buttons that allow people to share your brilliant words to their Facebook, Twitter and Google+ accounts are the way you will build a following. Put them up there even if you personally don’t use that kind of social media.

3) Always post a bio and contact info—and your @twitterhandle, if you have one. Also include a way for people to follow the blog as a “follower” or by email and rss feed. (All this stuff is available in your "gadgets" menu on your dashboard if you use Blogger.)

4) Remember social media is SOCIAL. Be welcoming to your visitors and visit other blogs. Respond to comments. Make commenting as easy as possible. You can’t control all the Blogger/Wordpress hoop-jumping, but 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.)

And don't neglect your neighbors. Nobody’s going to know you’re there if you stay home all the time. Get out and visit. Social media is about networking. Choose a few high profile blogs to visit regularly and notice whose comments interest you. Go to their blogs. Eventually you’ll make some friends. Who knows—it could be a potential collaborator, blog partner, or somebody who’ll recommend you to a publisher or agent. Or just a great friend who can support you through the tough times.

5) Learn to write 21st century prose. People skim on the Internet. You need short paragraphs, bullet points, lists, bolding, and lots of white space. Draw the reader's eye through the piece.

What about you, Scriveners? Do you have a blog yet? When did you start to blog? Can you think of any other “conventional blogger wisdom” that’s not true for author-bloggers? 

We have 5 Opportunity Alerts this week:

#1 Tech-Savvy Author Workshop: If you live on the Central Coast of California and you’re interested in learning more about blogging, building platform and everything a 21st Century author needs to know, I’ll be teaching at a seminar called THE TECH SAVVY AUTHOR with Catherine Ryan Hyde, screenwriter and radio personality Dave Congalton and a whole crew of smart techie folks on March 2nd.

#2 Interested in having your short fiction on a weekly podcast? There’s no pay, but it’s fantastic publicity if your story is accepted by SMOKE AND MIRRORS. They broadcast about three stories a week. Spooky, dark tales preferred. No previous publication necessary. They judge on the story alone.

#3 Cash prizes for flash fiction. The San Luis Obispo NIGHTWRITERS are holding their annual 500-word story contest. Anybody from anywhere in the world is welcome to enter. Prizes are $200, $150 and $75. This is a fantastic organization that boasts a number of bestselling authors among their members, including Jay Asher, Jeff Carlson, and moi. (Well, some sell better than others :-) ) Deadline is March 31st.

#4 Want to find out about the latest ebooks? TODAY'S E-READER BUZZ is a new way to read about the latest releases. When you subscribe, you could win a gift card or a copy of my new Camilla mystery, No Place Like Home. 

#5 A Blog for the Multi-Talented. An interactive blog for your photos and stories. Different themes each month. STORIED IMPRESSIONS. In intriguing new blog from Gretchen Fogelstrom. (although I've told her she needs to make her name bigger!)

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