BEFORE I GET STARTED, here are four big blogging sins to avoid:
- I know of one blog that has so many guest posts that it's losing its identity and I visit it less often than I used to. Remember -- people choose late-night TV shows because they like Dave, Jay, Conan, Craig, Jimmy or the other Jimmy, not because of the guests. Limit the number and frequency of guest posts.
- The blog of Outskirts Press boss Brent Sampson used to provide good advice for authors. Now it contains mostly puffery about Outskirts, so there is little reason to visit or read. Make your blog useful -- not just self-serving.
- Some blogs that provide useful and important information have not been updated in so long that I no longer bother with them and may miss something useful or important. Post often and on a regular schedule.
- Everything an author writes is a sample, an audition, for books. Write and edit carefully. Don't rush your blog or write while you are sleepy. Don't let potential book buyers think you are stupid or sloppy.
- Make sure that the links you publish go where they're supposed to go. Don't send visitors to the wrong place, or to oblivion.
Yesterday I discussed websites. Today's subject is the blog (“web log”). A blog is a specialized form of website. It’s like an online diary or journal, but it’s written for the world to read -- not just you and your heirs. If you are an author, you should seriously consider writing a blog, or several blogs. You are now reading my blog. Hello.
A blog usually consists of some introductory text plus multiple entries (“posts” or “postings”) displayed with the newest post on top, followed by older posts. The main page of a blog typically displays three to ten posts, and there are links to older posts that may be grouped by year, topic or both.
I (mostly) like Blogger, which hosts this blog. It's owned by Google, and it's free. The Google connection makes it easy to “monetize” a blog by carrying small "AdSense" ads on it. I like Wordpress, too.
You're not stuck with the awkward web address (URL, "Uniform Resource Locator") provided by your hosting company. This blog was originally located at http://bookmakingblog.blogspot.com. For a few bucks per year I simplified it to www.BookMakingBlog.com.
Create new posts often -- at least twice a week. Don’t be reluctant to publish reruns, particularly of popular posts, updated if possible and with a new title. You should be constantly attracting new readers, so don’t assume that someone who sees a post on 8/4/13 also saw it on 11/7/10. Some items may be tied to the calendar and deserve annual or more-frequent publication.
The blog should show your book cover(s), say something about it or them, and provide a link for ordering. You can also show and describe future books.
It’s common for an author’s blog to include full chapters or shorter book sections as previews to entice readers.
Some blogs deal with specific subjects such as politics, investing, parenting, publishing, food or travel, and others include whatever the blogger feels like writing about. Some are interesting, informative and entertaining -- and others are boring and useless.
Any news about your book -- such as awards, bestseller status, sales milestones, book signings, etc. -- should be touted in your blog. You can also conduct contests to build readership.
Make your blog as accurate and up-to-date as possible. Read, reread and re-reread to remove typing errors. Check your facts and spelling. Take past dates out of your calendar of upcoming events. Wait about an hour before you announce a new post so you can eliminate stupid errors you missed earlier.
Some blogs attract only a handful of visitors each day. Others attract hundreds or even many thousands. The more people who read your blog, the more people who may read your books. Blog traffic builds gradually. Don't expect huge numbers on your first day, or even in your first year. When this blog started in 2007 I had about 120 visitors per day. My traffic is now between 1,200 and 1,400 people on most days. That's not what the New York Times receives, but I'm not complaining.
Blogger (and presumably Wordpress and other hosts) provide analytics that will tell you about your visitors (where they come from, what browsers they use, if they are mobile, etc.). To me, the most important data is the number of readers for each post. If you know which topics are the most popular, you can choose to write more posts about that topic.
Followers can elect to be notified whenever a new post appears. Some bloggers send out notices via Twitter or email to announce new posts. It’s important to build a strong following of regular readers. You can join a “circle” or “network” of bloggers with similar interests. Their blogs may send people to you, and vice-versa. Although I’m a “he,” I am a member of She Writes.
Most blogs are interactive to some degree, allowing reader comments or even interaction between the blogger and readers, and among readers.
Some authors’ blogs deal with a book, only. Others deal with the subject of a book or books, or life in general. If you write nonfiction and you are perceived as an expert in some field, or even if you are merely entertaining, you can build a following of readers who may buy books even if your book is not the main focus of your blog. If you write a history book or how-to book about bicycles or electric trains, you probably know a lot about the topics and can churn out regular blog posts day after day, year after year.
Anyone searching for topics you’ve blogged about can find links to your blog, find your blog, and see an ad for your book and maybe buy it. Google typically indexes this blog less than an hour after I publish it.
It’s tougher for fiction. Many novelists’ blogs seem to attract only other novelists -- not readers. If you are a novelist who specializes in post-apocalyptic gay teenage albino vampire sex, how many blog posts about your novel could you come up with over the years? Three? One? Maybe a better strategy for a novelist would be to blog with news and opinions about something remotely related to the book topic -- like teenage sex, vampires or albinos -- that might catch searchers who might be interested in reading a novel.
Novelists will probably find it’s better to have a website that’s updated a few times a year instead of trying to blog hundreds of times a year. Unless you write books about writing, don't write about writing. Readers of novels probably won't care about how many words you churned out last night or if your cat dumped coffee on your keyboard.
Before you “go public,” publish five or more posts. This way, when you do go public, people who find you will spend more time on your blog, and people who are not interested in a particular topic are more likely to read your other posts than to merely dismiss you and go elsewhere.
Build up a backlog of posts (some complete, some almost complete and some that may be just concepts or titles). If you come up “dry” on a particular day, look at your pending post list.
Read, read, read and listen, listen, listen. New blog posts won’t always pop magically from your brain. You can publish your reaction (which can be praise, condemnation or amplification) of what you’ve read online or on paper, or a movie or TV show you’ve watched, even a conversation you’ve overheard.
Periodically change the way your blog looks (I redecorated this week, and I'm still fine-tuning). You can change a background color, change the title typeface, move the sidebar from one side to the other, change the sequence of items in the sidebar. Don’t let readers think, “same old same old.” This goes for websites as well as blogs.
See how your blog looks with different browsers, on a PC and Mac, tablet and smartphone, and make any needed adjustments. Colors may appear differently on different screens. Don't be too garish, or fade into oblivion.
Publish early in the day, before 9 a.m. eastern time -- or even earlier.
In your spare time, check your old posts. Fix what needs fixing and remove anything you don't feel right about.
Get known! Announce your blog and your latest post every time you can. Your blog address should be part of the signature you use in email and online. Put time and effort into Facebook, LinkedIn, maybe Twitter, and participating in appropriate online groups.
Get friendly with other complementary bloggers. Exchange links or ads and "guest-post" for each other. Limit the frequency of guest posts to maybe one or two a month.
More help in The One Buck Book Marketing Book.