Monday, 14 March 2016

To Blog or Not to Blog

By Iola Goulton

I hope after reading last week's post that you’re all convinced that yes, you need an author website. You need a central online home where readers can find out more about you and your books.

What about a blog?

The idea of blogging causes a lot of anxiety among authors, so I'm going to tell you something not many people know: you can be a successful fiction author without blogging.

Thriller author Nick Stephenson earned a six-figure income last year off his novels, and his website doesn't have a blog. What it does have is a prominent email sign-up list, and Nick uses his email newsletter to build relationships with his readers in the same way that other authors use a blog.

If you’re a non-fiction author, then I'm sorry, but you do need to blog. It establishes your expertise in your specialist area, which will build credibility.

Fiction authors may still need to blog.

If you’re aiming for a publishing contract with a major traditional publisher, then you almost certainly need to have an author blog and post regularly. Social media expert Edie Melson points out that regular blogging shows industry professionals you can write to a deadline and produce quality work. Melson does point out that blogging isn’t a way to sell books, but does provide a way of connecting with readers.

What if you’re aiming to self-publish?

Then it depends. Self-published authors need a website and an email list, but blogging? It’s not the most important part of a website—that would be your About page, and your Books page, because those are the pages readers are most likely to be looking for.

Do you enjoy blogging? 

No? Then don’t start a blog. You want your blog to show readers an interesting person they want to know better. That's not going to come through if you think blogging is a chore on a par with (pick the household task you loathe most).

Can you commit to regular blogging? Will you?

Will you commit to a regular blogging schedule, including writing, editing and publishing a new blog post at least once per week for at least the next six months? No? Then don’t start a blog.

Don't I have to blog to sell books?

No—even a strong blog might not help you sell books. Think of Mike Duran. I often link to his posts in the Australiasian Christian Writers Facebook group, because they are thought-provoking and relevant and he's not afraid to ask the hard questions about Christianity and literature. But he writes Christian horror, and while I think his blog is great, I'm not interested in his fiction (sorry, Mike).

Anyway, no one is going to be interested in your blog if it's a constant infomercial (let your Home and Books pages do the selling).

Okay. I’m going to blog.

If you enjoy blogging and can commit to a regular schedule, then maybe blogging is for you. Now your choice is between blogging on your website, or blogging as part of a group blog (such as Australasian Christian Writers or Christian Writers Downunder).

If you choose to blog on your own website:
  • Be regular. Blog at least once a week, at the same time and on the same day each week. Announce this on your About page. Don’t overcommit yourself: if one good post each week is all you can manage, then blog once a week. If you can’t commit to posting weekly, you might be better concentrating on an author newsletter (which we’ll discuss next week).
  • Be intentional. Choose a topic or theme, and stick to it. If you don’t know what your theme might be, Jeff Goins has a 12-part free email course that might help you.
  • Don’t put blogging ahead of writing your book. If blogging is taking over your writing time, you might need to reconsider how regularly you blog.

If you post on a group blog:
  • Get your post up early. The earlier, the better. It saves the blog organiser the last-minute stress of wondering whether they need to find a filler post if you miss your slot.
  • Ensure your posts fit the blog. Some group blogs (like Australasian Christian Writers) have different themes for different days. I actually find a set theme makes it easier to write a post. And ensure your posts are consistent in length and style with those of the other contributors. This doesn't mean letting go of your unique author voice, but making sure you're not posting deep theological treatises when everyone else is posting about their cute pets (or vice versa).
  • Put blogging ahead ahead of writing your book. You've made a commitment. Keep it. If you need to step back from contributing, contact the blog organiser and work out a mutually agreeable schedule. Don't leave your blogmates in the lurch. 

What do you blog about? 

This is the more difficult question.

If you write non-fiction, blog about subjects related to your book (or even blog your book).

It’s not so cut and dried if you write fiction. You want to your blog to appeal to your target reader—it’s a place for your potential audience to get to know you better, so write to appeal to that audience. What else can you post?
  • Character information, maps or related plot information
  • Questions for book clubs
  • Outtakes or deleted scenes (maybe)
  • Short stories
  • Reviews for books you’ve enjoyed in a similar genre

Make sure your topic or theme is related to your book topic in some way. For example, I don’t see the point in blogging about home redecoration if you write romance novels, unless your heroine is a DIY enthusiast or flips houses to make money. Work out what your target reader is interested in, and blog about that. (Yes, easier said than done, especially for fiction authors.) The Novel Marketing Podcast has an episode on what novelists can blog about.

Whatever you choose to blog about, here are a couple of don’ts:
  • Don’t blog about writing unless you’re writing for writers.
  • Don’t always blog about yourself. It’s a blog, not an infomercial.

One last tip . . .

If you do choose to blog, ensure your blog integrated into your website (so your blog is a page on your website, not a completely separate site). Your blog is where you'll start connecting with readers, through regular blog posts.


Do you blog? How often? And what do you blog about? What hints to you have for your fellow authors?


About Iola Goulton

I am a freelance editor specialising in Christian fiction, and you can find out more about my services at my website (www.christianediting.co.nz), or follow me on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/christianediting), Twitter (@IolaGoulton) or Pinterest (http://pinterest.com/iolasreads).

15 comments:

  1. Great tips, as always! Thanks, Iola.

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    1. Thanks for your kind words, Carolyn.

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  2. Iola, excellent post. Yes, I thinking blogging for fiction authors isn't necessary. Very few of the authors I follow blog regularly. And as you say an email newsletter can serve the same purpose and be more effective. If there is one 'must have' other than a website, an email newsletter seems to be it.

    Looking forward to next week's post.

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    1. Authors don't necessarily blog on their own website, but there is a lot to be said for guest blogging on group sites (such as this one). It gives additional exposure, and something to add to their newsletter.

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    2. Yes, yes, Iola. Good point of clarification. Hey I blog regularly on 5 sites but not my own.

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  3. Thanks, Iola. I think the question you ask re enjoying blogging or not is a key one. I honestly do enjoy it and post a new personal blog each week, something I have been doing for a few years now (I'm up to Blog No 350!). I also enjoy being a contributor on the Australasian Christian Writers and Christian Writers Downunder blogs, where of course my blogs are always writing related in some way. On my own personal blog, I write about a variety of things--lessons learnt from daily life, experiences from my writing and speaking journey, insights from something I have read etc and almost always tie in some part of Scripture. I guess I see these personal blogs as an opportunity not only to connect with readers of my books but also hopefully to say something encouraging and uplifting to others, whether they read my books or not. One thing I have found important in writing these blogs is to listen to God and pray about what to write. And even in those weeks when I feel I have nothing to say, God always seems to give me an idea.

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    1. 350 blog posts - I'm impressed!

      It sounds as though your blog is an opportunity for readers to get to know the real you, which is great.

      And thank you for that valuable reminder: to pray about what we write. It's (mostly) easy to write to a topic. It's (mostly) easy to write when we have something to say. But those weeks when the topic won't come could well be those weeks God wants the opportunity to speak to us and through us.

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  4. Hi Iola, I genuinely enjoy blogging too, although I've made some of the mistakes you've touched on. A couple of years ago, I felt burned out because I was a regular contributor to 3 group blogs as well as trying to keep up 2 different themed blogs of my own. My diary was so full of blog posts due, that I realised keeping on top of them all really eating into time for other writing. And on top of that, another point you've mentioned became clear. None of the prolific activity was helping me sell books. Things have become more sane since I took a few steps to reduce it. I cut down on the group blogs, asking for less frequent spots, and also combined my personal two into just one. It's made a big difference, freeing up time to begin writing projects again.

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    1. Thanks for that advice, Paula. I've faced the same issue, and am deliberately cutting back on the number of books I review so I can focus on my other websites. I'm also reusing posts, which means I'm posting twice a week but only having to write one post. But I do need to be careful not to overcommit myself!

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  5. Hi Iola - some great tips. I agree that writing about writing doesn't usually connect with readers (though I will say I've bought fiction by both Katy Weiland and Mike Duran - haven't read Katy's yet, but actually really enjoyed Mike's Ghost Box - a funky paranormal meets hard boiled crime).

    I guest blog regularly and have a couple of my own. I definitely should blog more regularly on my own blogs (the guest blogs tend to get precedence), and I can see where the advice to blog weekly is coming from (ie to build up an audience). Still, that's not achievable for me, yet I still think it's worthwhile for me to have a blog. For instance, Jenny's Thread has been going since 2011 and showcases my writing (poems, devotionals, how-tos etc). And I actually find I'm less likely to read blogs that are weekly - or I only dip into them every so often if the topic is of particular interest to me.

    One thing I like about Goodreads is that author's can connect their blogs to their page, and then the blog comes up in the newsfeed :).

    I did find it interesting that you said fiction writers (especially Indie fiction writers) need a website & email list but not a blog. If that's the case, then maybe a fiction writer can have something in between nothing at all and a religious weekly post :)

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    1. whoops - sorry about the typo - that should be authors :)

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    2. One of the reasons the experts advise bloggers to post at least once a week is for the SEO rankings - apparently that helps show Google the website is active. Of course, that's another plus for group blogs - they can have new posts multiple times a week, without all the burden falling on one person.

      In terms of building an audience, having a blog is one way to do that, but you're right in that not everyone will read every post. I follow dozens of blogs through Feedly, but don't read every post. That's partly because of time, but more that many simply don't interest me. But seeing what they've posted still lets me feel connected.

      Yes, Goodreads has many excellent features, and the ability to easily link a blog is one of them.

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  6. Fabulous and informative as always. Thanks Iola :)

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  7. Iola, great post and series! Group blogs are a great way to get your name 'out there' without needing to post weekly or more often.

    I have three group blogs and the commitment on each blog is different. Inspy Romance - monthly post. International Christian Fiction Writers - one post every 6-7 weeks. Our ACW blog - the reviewers post once every 8 weeks, and the regular contributors on Wednesdays and Fridays post once every 2 months.

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