How to start Blogging: A guide for Authors
This will be a strange way to begin a guide to blogging, but we want to save you time, trouble, and heartache: The average author does not benefit much from blogging.
Yet blogging is still recommended to authors as a way to market and promote. Why? Because blogging does work, if certain conditions are met. The problem is that few authors meet those conditions. This post will delve into what it means to blog successfully and in a meaningful way for an author’s long-term platform and book marketing efforts.
What it takes to become an effective blogger
First things first: I define “blogging” as publishing material to a site that you own and control—such as your author website. Blogging is sometimes conflated with online writing for other websites or blogs, but that’s not what’s being discussed in this post.
Blogging is an art form
If you approach blogging as something “lesser than” your other writing, you’re more likely to fail at it. While blogging can be less formal, less researched, and more geared for online reading or social sharing, to do it well requires the same kind of practice and skill as crafting a novel. You get better at it the more you do it, but I see many authors give up before they’ve put in enough hours to understand the medium. Furthermore, to stick with blogging for long enough for it to pay off, you have to actually enjoy what it means to blog, and how online writing can be different from print.
The good news is that if you treat blogging seriously, all the writing or content that you generate for your blog can have another life, in another format or within another publication. For example, the best of my blog content over the past 8 years is condensed into a book. That required a lot of editing and reformulation (online writing can’t be dumped into print without a lot of revision), but it reflects the value and depth of what appears on my blog.
Blogging is often straightforward for nonfiction writers, less so for novelists
Nonfiction how-to authors have it the easiest of all, because likely your subject matter lends itself to blogging, especially if you’re teaching workshops or regularly interacting with your target audience. You probably know off the top of your head the questions that get asked most frequently, the topics that are most popular, and the problems that surface again and again. This is invaluable starting fodder for a successful blog.
However, with a little creativity and imagination, fiction writers can have successful blogs as well. In the literary community, there’s a concept known as literary citizenship, which I like to describe as marketing and promotion “lite.” It involves talking about books, writers, and things that surround the literary community that you want to see flourish. It could mean interviewing other authors, reviewing or talking about books that you’ve read lately, or otherwise featuring or focusing on other people in the community.
Consistency is critical—you need to make a commitment
There are two types of consistency: frequency and subject matter.
Frequency: To gain any kind of momentum, you should commit to two posts a week. Some people may be able to get by on one post a week, but you’ll struggle to gain traction. Ideally, starting out, you should post 3-5x per week. The longer you blog, and the more of an audience you build up, the more you can ease back on frequency.
Subject matter: Think about this in terms of your headlines for your blog posts. If you look at a month’s worth of your blog headlines, they should convey a strong message about what you cover on your blog and who it’s for. A potential reader should be able to easily tell if they’re going to benefit from reading your posts on an ongoing basis. Authors can have trouble staying focused and disciplined on one topic or subject matter, often because they get bored or they think readers will get bored. But again, it’s hard to gain traction if you’re switching it up all the time and not consistent in your coverage.
If you’re interested in blogging, but worry about the time commitment, then consider creating a multi-contributor blog, where several authors in the same genre (or targeting similar audiences) band together. That helps reduce the burden as well as increase the size of your audience starting out—since more people will be marketing and promoting the blog.
It takes patience to build a readership unless you’re already well-known
People may have to see links to your blog posts for months before they actually click through to read one—or before they even become aware that your blog exists. This isn’t necessarily through any fault of your own; there’s an incredible amount of noise around us, and enormous demands on everybody’s attention. If you make a continual series of impressions over a long period of time on the same topic, then it starts to click: “Oh, this person is blogging, and they’re regularly covering this topic.” Some writers assume “Oh, everybody knows I’m blogging because I posted about it,” but no. That’s not the case, and that’s why consistency is so important.
The more time you spend blogging, the more value you build for readers over time and the more they find you. Your efforts will snowball.
Also realize that only about 10% of your readers (or even fewer) will make themselves known to you or engage with you on your blog, so it takes a while before you reach a tipping point, where there’s a concrete indication of growing activity or interest.
What should you blog about?
If you’re at a complete loss when faced with this question, maybe you shouldn’t blog; Sometimes I’ve told authors that the best bloggers are those who weren’t told to go do it. This is a little harsh—I think people can learn to love it—but blogging isn’t an activity authors should be dragged into, kicking and screaming. Nor should you feel like it’s a burden to come up with ideas; ideally, your problem is too many ideas.
However, it is important to think through how can you bring your own voice or perspective to a topic, theme, or subject matter without repeating what’s already out there. This is easier said than done. It took me 18 months to find the right angle—to realize I do best when I focus on publishing industry trends and digital media topics for authors.
The most successful blogs have a very focused angle and appeal to a very specific audience. This makes it easier to attract attention and build a community around common interests or perspectives.
No one should blog in a vacuum
Before you start a blog, it’s best to identify the other key people already blogging in your area—the influencers. Start reading and sharing their content, and comment at their blog. Eventually, if possible, you should guest blog for them. See the other bloggers not as competitors, but as community members who may eventually become supporters of your work. If your blog is high-quality, and generates conversation, they’ll be likely to recommend you or send you traffic. So identify the notable community players, or the people who you’ll want to build relationships with over time.
Lets Start writing…