Social Media Secrets Part II: How to Blog your Way out of the Slush Pile and onto the Bestseller List

"Blogging doesn't sell books."

"Don't waste your time blogging."

"Spend more time on Facebook/Pinterest/Tumblr/Twitter/YouTube/ Goodreads/Soliciting reviews/Spamming your friends with newsletters."

You're hearing this stuff every day.

But in a survey published this week, 63% of readers said they discover books most often on author websites (a blog is a website.) Facebook nearly tied with that, but other forms of social media were also-rans, with newsletters at 36%, Goodreads at 27% and Twitter at 18%.

I think every author can benefit from a well-maintained blog. Even if you only blog once a month. (I'm a big advocate of slow blogging, but I think it's best to post on a timetable: write at your leisure, but post to a schedule.)

Why do I think authors should blog?

Because it worked for me. Let me tell you my story—

Four years ago my career was over. My publisher had gone under. My third agent had dropped me. All my freelance writing gigs had dried up or stopped paying.

I was bloodying my knuckles on the doors of agents and publishers. If I got a response at all, it was to let me know that nobody wanted a washed-up author of funny mysteries. (Humor never sells; just ask any agent.) I was advised to change my name and start writing steampunk or YA zombie romance.

If you Googled my name you'd have to go through 10 pages before you found one entry about me or my books.

On a sad Friday the 13th in the late 'oughties, I decided to start this blog as a place to post archives of my old columns from Freelance Writing Organization International.

I promptly lost the blog. Yeah. Don't do this. Remember to bookmark that baby blog!

But three months later, I went hunting and found it again. And I started blogging once a week or so. For the first year, nobody read it. Seriously. I have posts that still haven't had more than 10 hits.

But posting once a week gave me back some of the confidence I'd lost when my career fell apart. I felt like a professional again. I could communicate with other writers all over the world. (As well as close to home: a book blogger I met on an Irish site—so I thought she was Irish—turned out to be my neighbor in San Luis Obispo, CA!)

Then, in 2010, after I won a guest post spot on Nathan Bransford's blog, more people started to drift over here.

Fast forward to 2013.
All of this happened directly because of my blog.

I'm not saying all blogs will do this. But with patience, a blog can help you meet the people who can take your career to the next level.

I know many authors who, like me, have met their publishers, agents, and writing partners through blogging. (And that neighbor I met on the Irish writing site? She's now a literary agent.)

Do all authors need a blog? Maybe not, but you need to be on social media somewhere. You can't just have a launch party in your local bookstore and get a press release into your hometown newspaper and expect to make significant sales. (And don't count on your publisher for much help with marketing.)

Today, a writer's market is global. Do you know the country where people read the most? India.  Or where the 2nd biggest population of English speakers lives? India. Followed by Pakistan and Nigeria.

A blog is your home in that global marketplace. It's a place where people can drop in and get to know you and find out about your books.

NOTE: Blogging isn't for direct sales of books. No social media is about hard-selling. (See my post on Social Media Secrets from July 21.) Social media is about making friends. (With people and with search engines. You want Google to be your BFF.)

For an example of how making friends on social media can help your writing career, here's a heartwarming story of how Aussie novelist Prue Batten was able to get first-hand knowledge about a Knights Templar building in 12th century France for the next in her bestselling Guy of Gisborne series—through a social media connection.

When should you start blogging? Not when you've just started that book you’ve always wanted to write. Don't scatter your energies. If it’s either blogging or writing the book, the book should always win.

But I'd say if you don't have a blog yet, you should start one when you’re getting ready to send out queries or preparing to self-publish. (Which should probably be when you're polishing up your second book.)

Why blog?

1) You need a website anyway. Sending out a query when you don’t have a website is a waste of time. Most agents and reviewers will reject on that item alone. (And yes, if you're getting lots of form rejections on a polished query, this may be the reason. Stop revising the query and start blogging.)

2) It gets your name into the search engines faster. A static website gets less traffic, so the Google spiders don't notice it as often.

3) You’re a writer. Blogs are writing. This is your medium.

4) Other social media are subject to faddism. MySpace, anyone?

5) Other social media can kick you out any time. I get put in Facebook jail all the time, because some troll loves to mark links to this blog as spam.

6) Control. Unfortunately, the Internet is infested with trolls, rage addicts, and spammers. I know a woman whose Facebook account got hacked by some diet-drug spammer who hit all her FB peeps with insulting ads. Several promptly "defriended" her before she even knew what happened. Another friend got hit by a porn site who "tagged" a bunch of amateur porn with his name so it went all over his page. Stuff like this happens every day.

But on your own blog, there's that little trash can icon. A troll, spammer or furious fool shows up and you click it. All gone.

OK, now I'm going to tell you my #1 big, huge secret that nobody will tell you about how to have a successful blog:

1) Visit and comment on other blogs!!!

Even if you don't have your own blog, you can start building your online presence by commenting on popular blogs. Check the list of great blogs to follow on our new "HOW TO GET A BOOK PUBLISHED" page.

A comment right here can put your name in front of 10,000 people in a week. It could take years to reach that many people with a new blog.

But for a newbie, commenting can be a daunting task. They ask you for some kind of ID and you've got no idea what that *&%# is about, right? You may be allowed to comment as "anonymous"—but that doesn't get your name out there, and you can't comment on blogs like this one where anon comments are disabled (because of spam and trolls, alas.)

So here's my #2 secret: if you're not commenting on blogs because you don't have a blog ID—

2) Join Google+ 

It's an easy, no-strings social site where you can participate or not (just unclick "email me" functions if you want to keep participation to a minimum.) It gives you a "user ID" that allows you to comment on most blogs without jumping through all those hoops.

Once  you join, Google knows who you are, and that profile not only allows easier blog commenting, but it comes up when you're Googled, with your photo and contact info. If you have gmail, it's super easy to sign up, and it's not hard for anybody, even a confirmed Luddite.

And you'll be in a position to get more involved when you're ready. Google + is considered the up-and-coming social media site by most top social media experts. Guy Kawasaki says it's what Twitter was in 2008.

Google+ doesn't charge you for reaching more than a handful of readers the way Facebook does, and it doesn't invade your privacy or target you with ads. Right now, it's not as active as Facebook, but with 400 million users, it's a growing force.

You can also join Wordpress without having a Wordpress blog. You can sign up for a username only account.

Here are some more "secrets" I learned by trial and error

3)  Put links in each post.

I happened to have done this right by mistake. (It's my academic training. Write those footnotes! Cite your source!) I always link to my source material, so people don't think I'm making stuff up.

Turns out those hyperlinks are how Google finds you. That's the bait that lures their robo-spiders to your site. That's what they mean by "SEO—search engine optimization"—three words that usually make my eyes glaze over.

Another way to "optimize" those search engines: don't get thesaurus-happy. That means avoid using what grammarian H.W. Fowler called "elegant variation."

Normal sentence: "It was a good bull, a strong bull, a bull bred to fight to the death."

Elegant variation: "It was a good bull, a strong animal, a male creature of the bovine persuasion bred to do battle..."

But search engines who are looking for something about bulls will be drawn to that repetition you're trying to avoid. So go ahead and repeat yourself. (But not so much that you look like you're gaming the spiders.)

4) Write Tweetable titles.

I often find a blogpost I want to Tweet about, but the title says nothing, so I have to make one up, and often I don't have time.

So make it easier for people to tweet you:  No one-word titles. Nothing generic or enigmatic. This is one place to be a salesperson rather than a poet. You want stuff like "How to's", lists, and questions. Think magazine cover teasers: stuff like "What Your Teacher Won't Tell You About the Oxford Comma!" or "Does Chocolate Make You a Better Writer?"

Look at what you click on when you're skimming the web. Are you going to click through to read something titled "Alone" or "Scribblings" or "Sad Thoughts"?

5) Don't try to maintain more than one blog. 

If you write in very different genres under several names, you may need more blogs, but do NOT have a blog for every book or every character. You can't keep them all up, and readers who are looking for you do not appreciate having to click all over the cyberverse looking for your current blog.

Note: the Internet is littered with abandoned blogs. Unfortunately, the old ones will show up higher in the search engines than a new one. So if you want to start a new direction with your blogging, use the old url, or at least leave a forwarding address on the old one. If an agent or reader Googles you and finds a blog that hasn't been updated since your rant about the cancelling of Boston Legal, they're not going to be impressed.

And unless you write erotica and keep your identity a secret, be wary of having a "personal" blog (or FB page) and a "professional" one. Nothing is secret in social media and everything you do online needs to be professional. (I strongly advise a "closed group" family Facebook page for family photos and news.)

6)  Put share buttons on your blog

Those are those little "f" "t", "g +1" and other buttons that allow people to share your brilliant words to their Facebook, Twitter and Google+ accounts. They are the way you will build a following. Even if you don't use Twitter, Facebook, etc, you want people to spread the word.

7) Write a friendly, informative "About Me" page.

Have any awards, publications, etc? Have a claim to fame outside of writing—like winning the state chili cook-off or raising exotic gerbils? Have any online publications you can link to? This is where you crow about it. Here's more on how to write an author bio.

8) Invite comments.

Ask a question at the end of the post—a call to action.

And turn off the "prove you're not a robot" CAPTCHA. A new blog doesn't get much spam, so it doesn’t need protection from spambots. But it does need comments, so don't make people jump through hoops. Also, I think it's best not to moderate comments on your most recent post. I only moderate posts a week old or more. (Older posts attract the most spam.)

9) Don't forget social media is SOCIAL.

Reply to comments!

Full disclosure: I didn't do that for an entire year. I was totally clueless.

Oh, yeah, and visit your followers' blogs—especially when you're starting out. We don't have time to visit all 1475 of our followers, but I drop in on several each week. I always learn something.

10) Learn to write 21st century prose.

People skim on the Interwebz. Don't post big hunks of text. White space is your friend. So are numbered lists, bullet points, bolding, etc. Anything over 2000 words is off-putting. (I know. Sorry. I sometimes go over the limit myself.)

11) Make your blog easy on the eyes. 

No light text on black background, please. Besides looking like an interface from 1987, it's hard on the eyeballs. Ditto tiny fonts and images behind the text. Anything too busy will drive people away.

12) Put your name on the blog.

Resist the urge to use a cutsie title.  People will Google your name, not "Scribbles on Sunday" If you haven't got your name on your blog, just change the header to "Susie Scrivener's Scribbles on Sunday," (but keep your old URL, or you'll have to start from scratch with the search engines.)


And here's my personal #1 reason for blogging: It's the only form of social media (except maybe Google +) where you don't have to act all "OMG I'm totally still in high school!"

In TWO WEEKS, I'll devote a post to the biggest question I get from new bloggers: WHAT SHOULD I BLOG ABOUT?

What about you, scriveners? Do you blog? Have you found it helpful in your career? A total waste of time? Tell us your stories!

Next week: we'll have a fascinating post from the director of a writers conference on what she herself has learned from the conferences she's directed. Plus we'll have 10 must-read tips for anybody planning to go to a conference.


This month, Sherwood, Ltd is 99c for Kindle US, UK, Nook, and FREE on Smashwords and  on Kobo. And for book-sniffers (I have to admit to some closet book-sniffing myself) it is available in paper for the marked-down price of $8.54. (regularly $8.99 on Amazon and $12.99 in stores.)  It's also on sale in paper in the in the UK for £6.81.

"It's not yer typical whodunnit, nor is the protagonist anything like a cop. Ms. Allen has crafted a wily tale of murder, deceit, and intrigue that can stand with the best of them. Her characters are all too real and her dialogue took me from laughter to chills to suspicion of everybody in the book. Good on her!

Editorially, the book is also refreshingly well-done and all but devoid of grammatical or other such gaffes. This was obviously written by an intelligent woman who is also a fine story-teller. My congratulations to her.

My suggestion? Read this book. It will be well worth the time.
"...David Keith

Special note to Camilla fans: If you've enjoyed any of the Camilla books, I hope you'll consider writing a review here. Once a book makes the bestseller lists, the trolls come out. And of course, comedy is always subjective. Genuine reviews from Camilla fans would be a huge help right now.


1) SMOKE AND MIRRORS podcasts. Get your short story recorded FREE for an online podcast! 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.

2) Cash prizes for memoir. Poetry or prose. NO entry fee. Memoir Journal A prize of $500 and publication in Memoir Journal is given twice yearly for a memoir in the form of a poem or an essay. The editors will judge. Using the online submission system, submit up to five poems or up to 10,000 words of prose. Visit the website for complete guidelines. Deadline August 16th.

3) Authors: advertise to international readers with EbookBargainsUK. Yes, I keep pushing these guys, but they are growing like mad. I heard they've recently been contacted by Apple, so their newsletters should be great for reaching iPad readers. And their prices are amazingly reasonable.

Listings will be half-price through July and August and anyone listing then will get a credit for a free listing for September onwards (excluding the Holiday period December 20 – January 10). ALSO: They are launching Ebook Bargains Australia, Ebook Bargains New Zealand, Ebook Bargains Canada and Ebook Bargains India, offering authors a chance to target their ebooks at readers through local stores in those countries. Inclusion in these international email newsletters will not cost you anything extra! The one small listing fee will get your ebooks in all five newsletters, reaching five of the biggest English-speaking markets outside the USA.

Readers outside the US who want great deals—sign up here

4) FAMILY CIRCLE FICTION CONTEST NO ENTRY FEE  Submit an original fictional story of no more than 2,500 words. Three (3) Entries per person and per household throughout the Contest Period. Grand Prize: A prize package including $1,000; a gift certificate to one Mediabistro online course of winner's choice, one year Mediabistro AvantGuild membership; and a one year Mediabistro Freelance Marketplace membership. Second Place Prize: $500; one year Mediabistro AvantGuild membership; and a one year Mediabistro Freelance Marketplace membership. Third Place Prize: $250; and a one year Mediabistro AvantGuild membership. Deadline September 16, 2013.

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