Step into my author blog. It is a holodeck for my brain.
Today, it is a tiny library lit by the amber glow of a banker’s light atop a heavy, burled walnut desk. The bookshelves stretch from floor to ceiling; there is a trap door with a spiral staircase, just behind the desk, that leads to an underground network of caves that are well stocked with French wine and cheese made from unicorns’ and dragons’ milk. The caves are curiously silent; stone walls, carved by the relentless flow of hot magma, are covered in tapestries with scenes that appear to move in the flickering torch light. This tunnel, to the right, is where story ideas go to die. The one on your left is where they go to give birth to new adventures. Beware the river of poison ink that flows from the one on the right. A sip may result in a murder mystery; a cupful leads to a graveyard full of ghost tales.
Tomorrow, it may be a kitchen, warm with the scent of brownies and freshly-ground Sumatra coffee gurgling through the pot. You’re welcome to bring a mug and help yourself.
Or it may be an office, full of hustle and bustle and – stop rifling through the pages, that’s top secret!
Anyway, this is my space, and it is something like a holodeck programmed by my brain. Venture in, but watch your step. It only looks neat; truth is, it’s a pretty chaotic place, sometimes.
Why Authors Should Blog
You may be wondering, “Why would I need a blog?” or thinking, “I have a blog, but I haven’t kept it up to date.” Perhaps you’ve been looking at it as a chore – one of those shamelessly self-promotional things authors and bloggers are obliged to do, regardless of whether they see any return on the investment. “Someone said I should have a blog, so by God, I have a blog. Now what?”
Since writing is wordplay, blogging shouldn’t be seen as a chore. It’s a natural playground for any writer. It is self-publishing without a net. Okay, maybe that’s a good reason to burn down your blog right now and forget the whole thing. Don’t make typos. Agents may be watching.
Wait – come back here. I’m kidding. While no writer wants to be caught dead making typos, there’s no harm in readers knowing that you’re human! Newsflash: They’ve figured that out, already. Might as well admit that we sometimes make mistakes in spelling, punctuation, and grammar. Just not too often, and never carelessly or thoughtlessly. A real writer knows how to use the tools of the trade, and takes pride in their craftsmanship.
Having said that, a blog can serve as both playground and portfolio.
A blog is both static and dynamic. You can create pages and widgets to hold important information in a way that makes it easy to find. For example:
About Me – your blog should have at least one page to tell readers who you are, what you do, and what you’re interested in. Why should anyone follow us on social media or subscribe to our blogs? Not because we’re so gosh-darn special, but because they feel a connection with us through the stories we tell, the things that we know and do, and the stuff that interests us. Your blog should also include links to all your other sites on the Web – something like this Where to Find Me page, or a set of social profile sharing buttons in your sidebar. All of your other sites should link back to your own website or blog, because this tells people and search engines that you are you – and establishes you as the authority on you.
This is a basic step in reputation management – claiming your own space on the Web, and establishing the authenticity of your other spaces. Too bad Ted Cruz didn’t.
You can add Follow Me! or Let’s Connect widget to your blog – icons with links to all your other social media profiles that encourage visitors to check out the other stuff you’re up to online. One word of caution: It’s great to invite people to connect, but unless you are more famous than Stephen King, think twice before flippantly saying “Feel free to connect with me on” other social media platforms. It seems nice, but when you hear it 5000 times from strangers who’ve presumed to fill your private messaging inbox with their spam – you don’t want to invite people to mutter, “I’d rather not, thanks.” I’ve called my widget, “Come Play!” because that seems a little more inviting – to me – than “follow me.” As if I’m the Pied Piper… I see myself more as the goofy kid hanging upside down by her knees from the monkey bars. Whatever you do, be true to yourself and not a forced imitation of someone else.
Your blog is a great place to provide readers with links to your books:
It’s also a great way to build that all-important mailing list, though unless you plan to offer exclusive benefits or subscriber-only content to readers who sign up, you might just as well ask everyone to simply subscribe to your blog – rather than a separate newsletter. That way they’ll get your latest news in email. Wondering why I have two Subscribe links on my blog?
I like to give my readers choices. Some people prefer to read posts in WordPress Reader, some prefer not to sign up for a WordPress account at all. I highly recommend signing up for a WordPress.com account, even if you don’t use it as your blogging platform – you’ll need one in order to get a Gravatar. And you’ll need a Gravatar on many blogs – including mine – to avoid having your comments go straight into the moderation queue – a sort of Limbo caught between instant publication and the spam bucket. Gravatar helps to establish your humanity, since bots find it challenging to sign up for one. It also puts a personal touch – your face – next to your comments.
Google Feedburner lets you create a feed and a subscription link, and provides some metrics. If you use the Feedburner option, be sure to tell readers to whitelist firstname.lastname@example.org in their email program. One option isn’t necessarily better than the other, but for most people either of them are better than a little RSS “subscribe to posts” or “subscribe to comments” button with no instructions on what to do with it after you click it.
Do you need a separate newsletter? I’d add a subscriber newsletter if I had “exclusive, subscriber-only content” to offer. MailChimp is a pretty robust freebie you can try, if you want to set up a subscriber newsletter. I’d suggest reading the documentation and setting up a mailing for five good friends just to test it out. Right now, I don’t have any special, subscriber-only content to entice people to sign up for my mailing list. But believe it or not, the only complaint I’ve ever had on sending a newsletter to my mailing list is that I didn’t send out enough of them. People don’t report you for being a spammer if you don’t repeat yourself ad nauseum, but they may get bored and unsubscribe if you don’t send them anything for 12 months or so.
Share news. Announce upcoming book launches, signing events, and promotions. Share your thoughts and creative process. Share your writing. It gives potential book buyers a taste of what you can do.
Strengthen networks through link exchanges. Be generous – in addition to sharing your favorite bloggers’ and authors’ posts, link to them in your own blog. If they return the favor, do it more often. If they don’t, it shouldn’t matter – you linked to their content because it was good and relevant, and possibly interesting to your readers – not just to be “nice” and obligate them to do the same for you, right?
TIP: Inlinkz is an easy way to host a “blog hop” or link exchange. Here’s an example:
Linky Tools is a similar, popular option – you can see it in action on my Blogging A to Z Challenge 2016 Participants page (you may have to reload the page – there are over 1500 blogs participating, and this will display a link list of all of them!).
Follow the 90/10 rule, and keep the social in “social media.” 80-90% of what you share should be entertaining, helpful, conversational, and focused on others. 10-20% of what you share can be shamelessly self-promotional, but who wants to “play” on a playground full of ads and commercials? We get enough of that in-your-face marketing through unwanted phone calls, aggressive infomercials, and junk mail. Commerce, advertising, and premium content support the “free” Internet we all love; driving people to block out and avoid those things because they are obnoxious and anxiety-inducing doesn’t serve anyone well, in the long run. New and midlist authors sometimes make the mistake, though, of thinking they’re being overly promotional, when in fact, even some of their closest friends haven’t yet figured out (despite being told several times) that they are published authors with books to sell. Don’t be reluctant to tell people what you do, and don’t think they’re tired of hearing about it unless they’re sending out clear “I’m tired of hearing about it” signals, like rolling their eyes or holding out the palm of their hand or running away when they see you coming. Odds are, you’re not as loud as you think you are.
Have fun or take a break. You can hire someone if need be, but people can tell if your heart’s not in it. Might as well have a little social media “vacation” for a week and not feel guilty about it – it’s better than forcing three posts in a week that bore you to tears just writing them. Social media was meant to be fun for everyone, and too many marketers forget that – they act like bullies on the playground and run everyone else off (or bore them to tears).
It can also easily become an exercise in running everyone else’s rat maze, trying to copy someone else’s successful “secret formula for success.” There are some proven methods to increase “engagement” (the number of people who will play with you on your playgrounds and maybe go on to buy your books), but few of the honest ones are 100% foolproof recipes for success. Always be skeptical of “foolproof,” because sure as you think you’ve found it, God builds a better fool. Experiment a little, have fun, find out what works for you.
End with a call to action. What do you want readers to do, once they’ve read your post? Wander off forever, thinking, “Well, that was interesting”? Here’s what I’d like for you to do:
- Read and comment on this post!
- Use the sharing buttons (you can’t miss them, can you?!) to share this post on one or more of your favorite social media sites.
- Subscribe by email (see the right-hand sidebar for options) so you know when I publish the next post.
- Buy my books! (Had to slip that one in there, now, didn’t I?)
- Review my books and tell your friends about them.
- Come back, kick off your shoes, repeat (1) and (2) often.
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