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Authors, You Need A Blog!

On Sundays, I carve out a few hours to focus on the work-related items that continuously inhabit the bottom rows of my to-do list. These items play a role within my overall marketing plan, but are not time sensitive. Most of the tasks fall into the “fun” category, which, for me, almost always involves outreach and communication.

This week, I chose to visit the websites and blogs of my Twitter community members. Easily, 75% of these tweeps are directly related to publishing, whether self-published, indie authors, or providers of one of the many professional services in the world of books.

Why was I taking the time to visit these blogs? What was I looking for? Tweetable information.

Your tweetable information.

HELP ME HELP YOU

If you follow me on Twitter, you know that I regularly share links to articles and posts about the world of self-publishing. Half of these tweets are drawn from the websites of established publications and news organizations. While certainly informative, their articles can have a corporate feel, often lacking the raw perspectives and deep truths I find in the blog posts of my fellow self-published writers.

It takes real time to search out new author blogs, to read through five or six posts, and then decide which one to share on social media. For me, getting to know my community, soaking in their school-of-life posts, is worth the investment. I always learn new things. I always come across the unexpected.

And so, on Sunday, I sat down at my computer, ready to begin the hunt. I pulled out fifty Twitter ID’s from my community, at random, and added them to a spreadsheet. Next, I visited each one of those Twitter pages. I scanned their tweets, read their profiles, clicked through their pictures, and, if available, followed links to their websites or blogs.

Turns out, over half of the writers in my Twitter community do not have blogs. This surprised me. Many of those without blogs do have websites, but their sites are just for book promotion. Not helpful. I’m not into tweeting or re-tweeting “By my book!” promos. It’s not my thing.

What I wanted to find were blog posts filled with advice, true life experiences, cautionary tales, and engaging ideas about the many facets of self-publishing. Why? So that I could introduce those writers and authors to the rest of my Twitter community. My goal? To get eyes on their pages. The more eyes on their pages, the more opportunities will arise for them.

I joined Twitter six years ago and I’ve worked hard to build my community. It is authentic, organically grown entirely by me, and exists to serve the interests and goals of self-published and indie authors.

Yes, this is part where I say, “Help me help you.”

Writers, there are many people like me out there, people looking for ways to invest in the success of our community members through cross-marketing. In order for us to do that, you need something more than a social media account and an Amazon author profile. You need a blog.

CREATE A BLOGGING PLAN

Commit. Make a plan, keep it simple, and get it in motion. Think of your blog as your online business card, only better. It does not need to be expensive. It does not need to steal writing time from your manuscripts.

What your blog does need is a strategy. Start with a 3-month plan. Here’s one method to consider:

PICK TOPICS

Get creative. Write out at least twenty potential topics for blog posts. Pay particular attention to those areas of writing, publishing, and marketing that required you to enter new learning territory. Odds are that those writers just now considering our same path to publishing will also encounter those road blocks and/or learning curves.

Pick twelve of the topics from your list, one for each week of your 3-month plan, and save the rest for next quarter’s preparations. You won’t end up using all of your ideas from that master list, though you might end up switching one or two of your topics as you work your way through the 3-month plan.

TIME BLOCK

Use time blocking to plan out the writing schedule. If you’ve never crafted a blog post, you’ll find that it takes about 2 – 3 hours of focused work for each 1200 words written. This different from novel writing, which (for me) happens at a much slower average rate, because the post contains the whole story. There is plot to reconfigure. No new character jumps out of nowhere and onto your page, forcing a (satisfying) re-write of several already-completed chapters.

We writers all have our own signature styles, our own distinct way of forming the words on the page.  This individuality will show through when blogging, too. [pullquote]You are not just driving the car, you are creating the road system upon which you travel.[/pullquote]

KEEP IT SIMPLE

Research adds time, so stick to topics you’ve already done the research on through the act of publishing your own novel. (For example, this was my first blog post. Very simple.) As your blog progresses, so will the complexity of your post structure. Give yourself time to ease into it.

BANK YOUR WORK

Complete at least six posts before officially launching your blog. Again, regular blogging needs time to become a habit. The buffer of extra blog posts, already written, will remove pressure from the process, and from your schedule. It will also create a safety net, of sorts, for vacation time, sick leave, family commitments…you get the drift.

This was another big area of learning for me. When I turned my focus to a large project unrelated to publishing, I didn’t plan ahead for the care and well-being of my blog. By the time I was able to return my focus, a shocking amount of hard-earned ground had been lost. By planning ahead, and by keeping that plan simple and easily activated, I would have saved myself headaches and heartaches.

Your blog, once created, is an asset. If you have concerns about keeping to a weekly blogging schedule, then join forces with another author or two in your genre. There may be an author, right now, looking to add a co-host to his or her existing blog. If this appeals to you, send out an “in search of” message through social media. Ask your community members to RT it for you. Be easy to contact when an opportunity arises.

CONSTRUCT TWEETS IN ADVANCE

For each completed post, use Excel to prepare and store your tweets and other social media shares. This strategy is particularly useful as the number of posts on your blog increases. Every few weeks, go through and choose older posts to share with your social media communities. It’s as simple as copying and pasting the already-prepared social media share.

For Twitter, I like to select a line from the post, one that I find catchy or interesting, add the link and, if there is room left in the 140, a hashtag or two.

 

“Yes, I’m a serious reader. Yes, characters are alive to me. No, I don’t need therapy.” http://ow.ly/85XN30ccGb4 #amwriting #selfpub

 

“It’s not author vs. author. It’s authors vs. the world. However you look at it, we need each other.” http://ow.ly/wFej30bDRdu #writingadvice

 

“Could I ever write something so good yet so awful? No. Not me. But as a reader? Fantastic. More please.” http://ow.ly/9qjs30bG8yJ #bestseller

 

“I would say one of the hardest things about being an author is dealing with insecurity.” http://ow.ly/u7ai30bHcM9 #amwriting #indie #novel

 

“Still, when it came to my book, I was blind. I was unreachable. The book was perfect, I insisted.” http://ow.ly/rZXv30c3htl #amwriting #book

 

USE INDUSTRY TOOLS

I think of HootSuite as my marketing assistant and I use it to manage my social media accounts. There are many options out there for social media management tools, some of which are free. If you don’t currently use a social media manager, like HootSuite, I recommend looking into one. The ability to program tweets, Facebook posts, and most other social media communications in advance is a real help when you are wearing many hats.

Pre-programming your social media tweets and posts does not replace active, real-time communication with your community. Be present.

RESPOND ASAP TO COMMENTS

Even if you post only once a week, check your blog regularly for comments from readers. This is an area where I failed – big time – early on. [pullquote]I didn’t understand that blogging is a conversation, not a presentation. [/pullquote]If a fellow author or writer adds a comment to one of your posts, respond. Do it quickly, within a day or two. Then, find a way to show appreciation to your commenters, those that are writers, by helping them connect with new readers of their own.

INVEST IN YOUR READERS

  • Add them to your #WW (Writer Wednesday) or #FF (Follow Friday).
  • Use your social media to share the link to a post they’ve written on their own blog.
  • Help promote their newest book release. (Or buy the book!)
  • Invite them to guest post on your blog.

SEIZE THE MOMENT

As you find your blogging voice, ideas for new posts will begin to pop up while you are doing other things. If you are at your computer, immediately open Word and quickly type the idea and any keys words onto a blank page. Save it in your “future posts” folder and take satisfaction in the knowledge that you are another step ahead for next quarter’s blogging plan.

It’s true that blogging isn’t easy, but it may be a wise investment for self-published authors. If luck really is the meeting of opportunity and preparation, prepare yourself for opportunity. It will knock.

YOUR VOICE IS YOUR BRAND

Let’s revisit using your blog as a conversation starter with potential readers of your published works. Each new post you add to your blog opens the door to new ideas, discussion, communication, and readership.

It also opens the door to new networking opportunities.

Use these posts to let reader get to know you – your humor, your perspectives on life, writing, and self-publishing. Don’t cross any personal boundaries that you might later regret. Only you know where those lines are drawn. Remember that readers are landing on your blog because of a shared interest in the things about which you write. Speak to your readers, directly to them. Listen when they respond. Acknowledge that you’ve heard them.

A particularly touching, or interesting, or creative post from your blog may serve as the opening a potential reader needs to take a chance on your published work(s).

Creating blog posts can also be a solution for writer’s block. When your muse is unhappy with the latest twist in your plot, or is simply unwilling to bring out the magic, take a fifteen minute break and work on a blog post. Start a new one. Finish up an in-progress one.

Crafting blog posts is much like writing very short stories.

There is also a real element of self-discovery to blogging, especially in the beginning. It’s therapeutic. Post by post, you are painting a self-portrait. You are revealing those small details about yourself, your personality, your life, that your readers and fans find interesting.

After all, we readers do like our pictures to be painted with words.

Please remember that these posts will always be available on the Internet, in some form, for as long as there is an Internet. Make yourself a list of rules and stick to them. More on that in this post about the potential perils of sharing too much information.

REFERRALS

Reviews aren’t the only form of online referrals for authors. When you write a blog post, you are, essentially, writing a referral for your own books and stories. Mentioning your book in every post is fine, just make certain it is relevant to the central theme of that post. Include it, but use a light touch. Saturating every new blog post with the words “buy my book” is a real turn-off. At least, to this reader.

However, there are certain reasons to make your book the center point of a new post. For example, the release of a new novel, updates on a series, or awards and special recognition. If you somehow convince yourself that you should be hawking your book on your blog 24/7, drop that thought and don’t pick it back up.

Instead, talk about your path to finishing your first novel, or to becoming published, or about an experience in your past that shaped a key element in your latest book’s plot.

  • You started with a blank page.
  • You wrote tens of thousands of words.
  • You figured how to handle editing the drafts, choosing a book cover, formatting the manuscript.
  • You followed the path all the way from blank page to a published novel now available on the shelves and e-shelves of booksellers.
  • And then, likely, you opened a new blank page and started the journey all over again.

Those five bullet points represent a lot of miles traveled. A lot of learning. Are you changed from the writer who sat down in front of that very first blank page? How? Why? Has becoming a published author impacted other aspects of your life? Which ones?

Honesty counts. Don’t fib and tell everyone that your journey to becoming a self-published author has been roses every step of the way. People will think you are a Bot, or AI, neither of which is helpful to building a readership base.

If you really are that rarest of individuals, that one-in-a-billion with a perfect path, go find yourself a thorn. Make a mistake, just to see how it feels, then write about the whole experience on your blog. By year’s end, it will probably be the post with the greatest number of hits.

INSPIRE

Remember back when you were testing the waters, thinking about self-publishing that novel no one knew you were actually writing? How many articles and blog posts did you devour while trying to learn the Industry, the language, the process? You’ve since birthed a book. You earned the secret knowledge that the new generation of dreamers are seeking. Pay it forward. Do it with a smile.

PLAN YOUR BLOGGING SCHEDULE

Time blocking is a useful tool for planning your writing schedule, uploading posts, responding to comments, and using your social media scheduler.

If you are just getting started with blogging, commit to writing one new post per week. Later, you may choose to increase the amount of posts you produce per month. Or, you may choose to add a Vlog post feature, or to start a special series on, for example, finding the perfect book cover for your upcoming novel. Maybe you’ll even decide to share for “outtakes” from your published novels.

It’s your blog, run with it.

Getting creative is easy for writers and your blog will be a direct beneficiary of this natural inclination. What’s important is to always add a minimum of one new blog post a week.

Respect your readers with a dependable, reliable schedule. (Another area where I’ve made mistakes.) Keep readers in the loop. “Every Tuesday is new blog post day!” Add that information to your all of your social media profiles. Make it part of the signature tag of your personal and professional (if appropriate) emails.

Your goal? To maximize the number of eyes on each blog post you write. To maximize the number of places where you can re-post, seeking connection with readers you might now otherwise encounter.

The result is an increase in the return on investment (ROI) of the time, thought, and opportunity cost of creating that post. Readers who become fans of your blog, of your writing style, may soon become readers and fans of your published works, too.

GUEST POSTING IS YOUR FRIEND

Along those lines, actively seek opportunities to guest post on the blogs of fellow writers. They need content; you have content. (I have no idea if a semi-colon goes there, but I love the way it looks. Form before function!)

Write out a marketing pitch geared for the authors you plan to contact about becoming guest posters on your blog. It is an invitation, of sorts, so keep it upbeat and short. Have a scheduled date in mind and clearly communicate the focus of your blog. If you are new to blogging, give information on yourself, such as, your writing genre, how many books you have published, what’s in the pipeline, etc.

Let the guest poster know how you will bring attention to his or her article. Plan to use all your social media tools and accounts. Be specific. Set a schedule. Decide to tweet or post the link, say, six times a week, then choose the dates and times in advance. Ask the other author to invest the same energy when marketing your guest post to his or her social media communities.

Create templates and a structure for your blogging life. Plan out all items that can be decided in advance (writing topics, when to post, who to invite to guest post, all post-related social media shares, etc). Efficiency is critical for self-published authors, who are responsible for all aspects of a book’s “life.”

As for the content of the other writer’s post, if you find one you like that he or she has already written, ask to add it your blog in exchange for one of your posts. If the author wants to write a brand-new post for that guest opportunity, be clear to him or her about the focus and style of your blog.

For example, I use a P-closer-to-the-G rating as my guide. If it is clearly relevant, then the very occasional curse word may find its way into an IndieBookWeek guest post or article, but no graphic sex or violence will be posted, even in book excerpts.

This is because IndieBookWeek is not genre specific, so the rules need to suit all categories of writers and readers. Here, you’ll find posts and articles on genres that range from thrillers, non-fiction, romance, sci-fi, children’s books, to erotica and horror. That’s a lot of literary territory, so I keep it simple and let IndieBookWeek focus on the author’s voice.

In contrast, your blog would (theoretically) be based on the genre in which you write. If your genre typically includes a healthy dose of elements that place it firmly within the parameters of an R rating, or beyond, then your readers will expect to find some or all of those elements within your blogging brand, too.

Know your readers. Pay attention to what they want to read about – and the language and imagery they want to experience – when on your site. Make it happen.

When guest posting on another blog, make certain to choose (or write) a post that honors the expectations of its readers, whatever those expectations are. You can get a good feel for this (before reaching out to the blog owner) by reading through several of the current posts. It is always helpful to ask these questions at the time the agreement to cross-market is made.

Naturally, not all blogs will be a match for your guest posting goals. Cross-marketing is very successful when applied to compatible, but not identical, genres. Ask the members of your various social media communities to share the top three genres they read. Ask them to be specific. Their answers will provide you with the initial direction in which to invest your cross-marketing resources.

Keep in mind, when asked to post on a blog that seems much different from your own style, that many readers don’t divulge all of the genres in which they make book purchases. Branch out through guest posting. Meet potential new readers by start a conversation everywhere you go. Engage them. Draw their attention to your writing voice as much as to the subject matter discussed in your post.

Once you start writing a blog, you’ll find there are seemingly endless free opportunities for marketing your blog posts, and your brand. For example, IndieBookWeek invites writers and authors to share posts from their own blogs. Take a look at our contributor form. Use it to share a post you are really proud of with other IndieBookWeek readers. A twenty minute investment, and you will have opened a new pathway for potential fans to find you.

AUTHORS, YOU NEED A BLOG

You can’t follow a path you’re not on. Start making your plan and prepare to spend about a month learning, organizing, and writing before officially launching your blog.

Have you put off creating a blog because you don’t know where to start, or what to expect? There is a wealth of information available through the Internet. The next time you come across a blog that really resonates with you, use the Contact Me page or social media links to connect with that blog’s author.

There are many members of the writing community that are open to answering questions about their own blogging journey. Ask them about it. Remember, one day you’ll be the one receiving the questions. When it’s your turn, answer them.

Personally, I’ve been blogging for six years now and I think I’ve made just about every mistake out there.  I’m not an expert in any one category, but I do have experience (or a good referral) in most areas of blogging. I’m happy to share with you what I’ve learned. I invite you to tweet me, email me, or post a question in the comments section below.

Are you ready to begin blogging about the writing, publishing, and marketing books? Is this the day?

 

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