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Blogging

This is an excerpt from Let’s Get Digital: How To Self-Publish, And Why You ShouldIt is available from Amazon and Smashwords for $3.99, Amazon UK for £1.99 or as a FREE PDF right here.

Step 6: Blogging and Websites

You have written your book, added your cover design, had your work edited, gone through the pain of formatting for the first time, and now everything is uploaded, priced, and available on all of the e-book sales channels. Only problem is, nobody’s buying it. Don’t worry, you haven’t told anybody about it yet, and it takes time to build an audience. Most of the e-book success stories you will read about in the final part of this book took around six months to sell in decent numbers.

The final four steps of this guide will cover your marketing options, all of which will cost nothing but time.

Websites

There are two types of websites: static and interactive. A static website is like this one.

That site was designed for me by my friends at Ambient Project. I asked them to set it up in 2009 when I was querying agents, and it hasn’t changed since. The idea was that it would act as a kind of calling card, make me look professional, and help agents visualize my manuscript as a real novel for sale. It has a brief description of my novel, thumbnail sketches of the various characters, some historical context, contact information, and a button for visitors to download the first chapter of my book for free.

It costs money to create websites like this (a few hundred dollars for a basic one), but can be a useful tool. However, I would only suggest going down this road if you have a little extra budgeted for marketing. You can achieve some of the same effects with a free page, and you can achieve better effects with a different kind of page.

Because a webpage such as that is a static page, there is no interaction between the writer and the audience. Readers can’t post comments, and you can’t post updates without getting in touch with your web designer. While a lot of people visited this page and complimented me on it, the content never changes, so there is no real reason for them ever to return. I have no opportunity to build a connection with my audience and, in the fast-moving world of the internet, a static page, however pretty, is soon forgotten.

Blogging

A blog is an interactive page, which can be a great way to connect with potential readers. If there is new content appearing regularly, readers have good reason to keep coming back. Best of all, a blog costs you nothing. I recommend every writer sets up their own blog.

I use WordPress, but some prefer Blogger, Typepad or LiveJournal; pick the one you are most comfortable with. I think WordPress looks the most professional, but Blogger has its advantages too, especially if you are overwhelmed with the functionality of WordPress.

One thing you should consider purchasing is your own domain name. It only costs around $12 a year and you can use that as the name of your blog instead of a generic WordPress name (like the one I have right now). If your desired domain name is already taken, play with a few variations on your initials, or add your middle name or “writer” to your name—anything, as long as it looks professional. While we are on the subject, if your e-mail address is something like faerygurl456@yahoo.com, jenandtimmy@gmail.com, or spankmenow@hotmail.com, I’d recommend getting a new one for business.

Layout

Ideally your blog should be clean and easy-to-read. Light text on a dark background might look stylish, but it’s awful for extended reading. Keep garish colors to a minimum and make sure any graphics you use are of good quality.

First-time visitors to your blog should be able to find the information they want quickly. You should also have buttons that allow them to share articles they like and to subscribe to your blog. Make a note of other, popular blogs you enjoy and try to replicate their layout.

Building an Audience

While there are more than 2 billion web-users worldwide, there are a trillion unique URLs out there and the number of individual web pages increases by several billion every day.

You should update your blog regularly (every day or two if you can) to give people a reason to return. However, they won’t come back if they don’t like what they see in the first place. You must have something interesting to say because you are using up people’s most valuable resource: time.

So what do you write about? Well, whatever interests you, but do try to carve out some kind of niche. If you do it right, and people are coming back to your blog on a regular basis, then you have a captive audience to sell your work to. Don’t underestimate the importance of this connection as a sales tool.

I was interested in the fast-moving changes occurring in the publishing industry, and I also wanted to document my own first steps into digital publishing, so blogging about that seemed like a natural fit. However, to be self-critical, my blog does not really reach out to my true book-buying audience, i.e. readers. A blog like mine is enjoyable to write and is great for interacting with other writers and self-publishers, and I am learning a lot from it, but I don’t think it’s going to boost my sales by much because it doesn’t target my readers as much as my colleagues.

This means I will have to compensate for that in my other marketing efforts, but that’s fine. It’s far better to blog about something you are interested in than to fake it. Readers are smart; they will see through you if you aren’t genuine.

I recommend trying to reach out to your readers. If you write cozy mysteries you could have a fan site dissecting the classics. If you are writing a non-fiction book on baseball you could host a discussion on the greatest players and the latest scandals. In truth, your attempts to attract readers don’t even have to be that direct. If you blog about great Italian recipes your audience will likely be interested in that romance novel you’ve set in Sicily. If you write about celebrity gossip, chances are your readers will like the chick-lit book you’ve written. Even if the subject of your blog is not directly related to your book, if your readers enjoy your writing, they will usually check it out anyway.

One of the keys to building an audience is engagement. People don’t want someone to talk at them; if they wanted that, they would turn on the radio or watch television. They want someone to talk with them. Make sure the comments are open on all of your posts and that you respond promptly. Try to pose a question or two in your articles that will invite discussion. A blog must be an interactive experience, because that’s the advantage the web has over a traditional column or published article. If you look at the most popular blogs, the real action is in the comments, and that’s what will keep people coming back.

Sommer Leigh has a handy online guide for those taking their first blog-steps. But if blogging seems overwhelming, or if you simply have no interest in doing it, don’t worry. It’s not essential to success. It just means that you will have to compensate in other marketing areas. It’s your call.

If you set up your blog properly, you can combine interactive and static pages. I have static pages for my books and for other information (like my formatting tips) I want readers to be able to find quickly. They act as anchors for the dynamic content. Eventually, my blog will have static pages for each of my e-books as they are released. If you want to get really fancy, you can have a domain name for each book so that if someone types in that web address it will automatically jump to the static page you have set up for that book.

Driving Traffic to Your Blog

It’s all very well having the best content in the world, but if no-one sees it in the first place, it’s kind of pointless. So how do you get people to come to your blog?

Get your name out there, but be tasteful. Find other writing blogs, or blogs covering a similar subject, and engage with the readers through the comments. If someone sees something thoughtful or interesting, they might check out your blog or even buy your book. I set up a Gravatar/Open ID through WordPress, so on most blogs my picture is beside the comment and my name is a clickable link to the blog.

If you can’t interact in a genuine way and choose to self-promote very overtly, you will seem like that guy at the party everyone is avoiding because he’s trying to sell insurance. There could be ten people in the room who might be looking for a quote, but if all you talk about is insurance they will quickly tire and move on.

If you seem interesting or knowledgeable when a subject comes up naturally, your audience will be far more likely to consider using your services. Nobody likes the hard sell. Nobody likes a spammer.

Writing Forums

I get good traffic from various writing forums I frequent, but be warned that while no-one reads more than a writer, nothing pisses a writer off more than spam.

Be courteous, respectful, and restrict your marketing efforts to the appropriate sections of the forum. I’ve never checked out the work of another writer who was constantly in my face pushing their book, but I’ve checked out plenty of books written by people I met and interacted with on forums, Facebook pages or writings sites. A tasteful link in your signature and genuine interaction with others will bring you far better results. Each post will act as a permanent trail of breadcrumbs, leading readers back to your blog and to your books.

Most forums have an area where you can post brief updates from your blog from time to time. However, I have found that most of the clicks I get happen when I am commenting on another topic altogether. Again, if people consider your contributions useful, they are far more likely to visit your blog.

If you are just at the party to blanket the place with business cards, you will be a turn-off. Be a good forum citizen, nobody likes the man with the megaphone.

Google

I’m getting a growing amount of traffic from Google. It takes a while for their search engine bots to find your site and map it, although you can nudge them along by registering your blog with them.

One of the main factors in how a site ranks in Google search results is linkage. If you link to popular sites and they link back, it can have a huge boost on your ranking. The first step you should take is to put a sidebar on your site with links to the big sites/blogs in your subject area. Then, when you comment on their sites (and your name is an automatic link back to your site if you have set it up correctly), it creates pathways between your site and theirs. Google loves these pathways, but assigns more value to links that are actually within posts.

Once more, don’t be spammy. If you are visiting high traffic sites just to spread links, it will backfire. Making thoughtful, genuine contributions is what will bring readers back to your blog.

Social Media

By far the easiest and best way to drive traffic to both your blogs and your Amazon listings is by clever use of social media, which I will elaborate on in the next chapter. But you should know that by employing the tips in this chapter, and by promoting my blog through social media using the methods described in the next, I went from next to nothing to 20,000 views a month in the space of 3 months. (Measuring by unique visitors is a truer indication of traffic, but this is the only metric I get from WordPress.)

There is a lot to learn when it comes to using social media, and it’s easy to get distracted by it, but never forget the golden rule: keep writing! The most effective marketing tool for any writer is new work.

This is an excerpt from Let’s Get Digital: How To Self-Publish, And Why You ShouldIt is available from Amazon and Smashwords for $3.99, Amazon UK for £1.99 or as a FREE PDF right here.

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