The first bit of advice most writers get about book promotion is usually: “Write a blog.” And it’s great advice. Yet writers often think, “Wait…I’ve just spent six years on this novel, and now I have to write more?”
Of course, some published writers are published solely because of their blogs (there are too many success stories to name, but you’ve probably heard of Sh*t My Dad Says and Julie & Julia, to name just a couple). So if you’re writing nonfiction, you’re at an advantage; whether it’s cooking or travel or advice for moms, nonfiction lends itself well to blogging. If you’re enough of an expert in something to write a book about it, you probably already have a blog, which means you’ve got a platform and you’ve got great stuff to take to editors.
But if you’re a fiction writer or poet, you may not have considered writing a blog. You may be far more interested in writing drafts of stories and poems than in trying to create content for blog posts and worrying about building an audience. I feel your pain; I put off blogging as long as I could, until I finally gave in back in 2006. And it has turned out to be a lot more fun than I thought.
When I began my blog, I was juggling a zillion things and barely had time to write as it was — and naturally I wondered why I should write a blog when I could be writing stories. But I’m glad I did. The same way teaching helps me practice what I preach in terms of good writing, blogging is helpful in so many ways, from helping me stay on top of publishing news to getting me thinking about new writing rituals to connecting with other readers and writers. And now, I write three blogs (this one, Remembering English, and The Writer’s Block), and in addition to these enhancing my own work, they’re also really fun.
So here are a few tips for the beginning blogger:
– Start now. As in, right this second. Even if your book isn’t due out for another year (or even if you haven’t written it yet) you’ll want to get started on your blog right away. You need to build content, attract readers, and develop its voice and style.
– Write what you know. Nothing fits this adage better than blogging. This is why people blog, after all — to offer their expertise to others. And it’s the same reason people read blogs — to learn about things they want or need to know, whether it’s how to write dialogue or how to cook vegetarian. Again, if you’re writing nonfiction, you likely have a lot of knowledge to share — but even if you’re writing fiction, you can keep a blog about your writing life and process, as Shary Hover does on her lovely blog. And check out Patti Marxsen’s blog Manuscriptorium, in which she writes about the process of writing her novel.
– Post as often as you can — without making it too much of a chore. Posting frequently is great, but even more important is that the content is good and useful (see the next tip, below). If you treat blogging as a chore, your readers will probably notice that your heart’s not in it. Blogging can be a lot of work, as any blogger will tell you. I admire and envy those who blog 3-5 times a week, like the amazing and prolific Erika Dreifus. But you don’t have to post that often to have a successful blog — being interesting and relevant is more important than being frequent. That said, you’ll want to blog often enough that readers know your blog is active. Try to post from one to five times a week — but even if you can only post once or twice a month, that’s something. Keep in mind that short posts are okay — and probably much more likely to be read than longer ones.
– As mentioned above, be interesting and relevant. You’ll want your blog to have a solid focus, but one that also allows for some breathing room. For example, if you’ll look at the Categories listed on the left, you’ll see several, but you’ll also notice that they’re all somehow related to what we’re about, from new books to Ashland news to nature. You can have a broad range of topics, as long as they’re relevant to your work and your readers.
– Have daily/weekly themes, or ongoing topics. For example, we have an occasional Ask the Editor column, which gives us a chance to answer writerly questions that come our way for the benefit of all. On my other two blogs I offer a Weekly Writing column with a new writing exercise every Monday as a jump-start to the week. My friend Kelli Russell Agodon has a wonderful blog on which she posts Confession Tuesday, in which she confesses her “sins,” none of which are sinful but all of which we can relate to as humans and as writers; and Thankful Thursday, in which she writes an appreciation of someone or something she admires.
– Be yourself. Let your voice come through on your blog. You may not want to be quite as colloquial or as open as you are when chatting with your best friends (depending on what you talk about), but don’t be shy about showing your personality. That said, keep in mind that everyone from your editor to your in-laws to your next prospective employer may be reading your blog at any given time — so be yourself, but with enough restraint to keep you out of trouble.
– Be generous. Kelli’s Thankful Thursday blog is a perfect example of this: By highlighting others, you not only have material to write about but you’re paying it forward. Link to other relevant blogs often; share the love. Offer to do a guest blog for another writer’s blog, or invite a writer to be a guest on yours. It’s a great way to discover new blogs and to help others discover them as well. I’ve cross-posted my Weekly Writing blog here so that writers and readers alike have a chance to discover the works of some of my favorite writers as well as to highlight their new works in print.
– Be pretty. Make sure your blog is neat and organized, that your background colors and images are easy on the eyes, and use a normal sized, serif font. Use images and video when you can, and keep paragraphs short. Bullets and lists are handy and make for easy reading, too — remember, no one wants to get bogged down in long paragraphs of text on a computer screen. A quick note on images: Don’t go too crazy (use them only if they’re relevant), and make sure you have taken the photos yourself or have permission to use them. It may not seem like a big deal to snag a photo from somewhere else, but I know of writers who have done this and have had to pay damages (and this is not cheap) for using photos without permission.
– Invite comments — and reply to them. For the first year of my blog, I didn’t open it to comments; I was worried I’d get a lot of spam, that freaky people would make creepy comments, or that I would get so few comments that my blog would look really sad and pathetic. But after hearing nonstop that there’s no point to blogging without welcoming comments, I finally caved. And yes, all of the above did happen and still does. But I’ve found that it’s worth it — inviting feedback and creating dialogue has fostered connections and helped build an audience.
– Think of keywords and how you can use them to draw traffic to your blog — again, only if they’re relevant (if you lure readers to your site with false promises, they won’t come back). And keep headlines as simple and user-friendly as possible — like “Blogging tips for authors,” for example.
– Let people know you’re there. I usually tweet each new post, offering a newsy kernel so people will click through if they’re interested. I mention posts on Facebook as well. And we hope to gather a bunch of readers together for the upcoming Virtual Book Launch Party for Out of Breath on Halloween. We’re offering book giveaways (another good way to get people to visit your blog, by the way), and everyone is welcome (hope you’ll join us!).
– Share the love. All bloggers like comments; we like to know people are reading our blogs, and this is the best indicator. So reach out and comment on blogs that you like; this is good karma, and it’s fun. Also, keep a blogroll (we have a list going on the left), in which you link to blogs you like, and they’ll probably be glad to list you on theirs as well.