Blogging for Writers – What To Blog About

What should I blog about as a writer?

How can I build my online presence, accessibility, and fan base, and boost sales of my stories, my books, or my writing services?

Here’s my short list of good things to blog about for any author. While most are obvious, some are overlooked. And if methodically tackled over time, the accumulating body of posts will create a powerful element of your marketing platform. The goal: think strategically, think long-term and sustainable, and avoid letting your blog become a bottomless sinkhole of time and writing energy.

1. Posts related to the topical focus of your writing.

If you write nonfiction, then post extra tips, new developments in your field, brief case studies or profiles, feedback from readers or colleagues. If your work is fiction, there are plenty of topical connections. As an example, one pair of co-authors, Hilda and Emily Demuth, wrote a children’s chapter book called Plank Road Summer, a historical novel. It’s a story of two best friends, 19th-century rural life, the plank road that runs by their homes in southeastern Wisconsin near Lake Michigan, and a subplot about a fugitive slave trying to escape to Canada in the decade before the Civil War. Those are the topics they can write posts about: period history, Underground Railroad resources, growing up on a Midwestern farm, etc. They can offer links to regional museums, Civil War re-enactor events, other books or websites, that relate in some way to their book’s topics.

2. Posts to tell the story of researching and writing your work.

Tell how you got the initial idea for a major piece of work, researched it, wrote it. What got you going on this topic? Was it a lifelong interest or a sudden brainstorm or remarkable encounter? How did the idea get fleshed out? What was the break-through to develop something special or unique? What problems did you encounter? Why do you think the work is worth reading? People are interested in the writing process, and enjoy behind-the-scenes knowledge.

3. Posts to present your nature as a likable person.

What kind of person are you? Funny? Wry? Thoughtful? Kitchen-table friendly? People enjoy getting to know other people; blogs, with their conversational, storytelling, quirky nature, are great vehicles for this. And knowing a bit about a writer’s personality probably gives an insight into their writing.

4. Post about your own journey as a writer.

What writers inspired you (and how?) What were your early writing activities? How did you get to this point, how did you build your career? Remember, the blog format is best for short bits of story, not full-fledged biography. Keep it brief. Do you remember a teacher who inspired you? Remember writing your first story as a young writer? Not surprisingly, childhood or adolescent or early-career memories can connect deeply with readers.

5. Where do you live?

Location often informs and affects your writing. An author from the American Midwest might be different in outlook from one from the East Coast, West Coast, Deep South, Scotland, Zimbabwe, etc. Not in all ways, but in some ways. Your location also has some practical application in the publishing world; it affects conference attendance, speaking engagements, inclusion on lists of regional literature, etc. And it is a basic search tool: searching the web for Philip Martin in Wisconsin gets you closer to me than a generic search for that very common name.

6. Posts to give contact information, ordering details, book reviews.

A good blog includes some way to contact you or your agent, how to order your book or engage you on a new project. Post info about coming appearances (and brief reports afterward will help reinforce the connection). Describe any programs or workshops you offer. Post recent reviews (from periodicals) or testimonials (praise from knowledgeable individuals) for your work.

7. Posts with some brief samples of your published writing.

This should be obvious! I wouldn’t overdo it, but oddly, I see that brief excerpts of published writing are often not included on many writer blogs. It’s interesting to see which passages a writer might choose to quote, which are particularly dear to you. You can add a bit of commentary about your craft. Who’s your favorite character, and why? Why did you pick a particular structure, point of view, word choice?

8. Posts to connect with related topics of current interest.

Share news and opinions, comment on breaking trends. For instance, if you’re writing Regency romances, comment on the breaking news (as of writing the first version of this article in 2009!) of the Tiger Woods illicit-romantic-flings scandal. Marketing your work involves connecting it with anything people are interested in, reading about, talking about today. And this can create strong search-engine interest.

A blog lets you work these ideas out over time, in bits and pieces, allowing you to grow your own thoughts and expressions about your work, organically (unlike a website that tends to be more static). A blog is clearly a work-in-progress. It lets a writer try out pieces of his/her “stump speech” – stories and info-bits that might become part of the standard patter of the accomplished writer, appearing on jacket flaps or in interviews.

If you do this with skill and aplomb, with a fresh twist, you can develop a great resource that shows you off in a positive light, that pumps up the search engines, that develops a growing audience, that shows you off to influential people in the business (agents, editors, reviewers, interviewers) in the best ways.

Just keep your eyes on the prize. Consider the needs of your reader. Always remember it’s a marketing tool, albeit one that will grow in bits and pieces.

Blog Post by Philip Martin, director of Blue Zoo Writers and Great Lakes Literary (www.GreatLakesLit.com) and author of How To Write Your Best Story and A Guide to Fantasy Literature.

Blogging for Writers – Beginning Principles

As you consider launching a blog as a writer to feature your work, I suggest you start with these three simple principles.

Plan for Longevity

Many blogs start with a great flurry of activity, then fade away after an initial burst of energy in the first months. So it’s very important to find a frequency that you can sustain.

In my experience, the key is to find a pace that you can keep going for a long time – a year and beyond. This will yield better results.

Therefore, your core commitment should be for less frequent, rather than more frequent posts. Consider: if you write a good post at least once a month, then your oldest post won’t be more than a month old! Write more frequently if you can, as long as you maintain your minimum commitment.

Too often, you’ll hear that you must post wildly often, in a frenzy of blogification! You’ll hear that you must post at least twice a week. Nice idea, but do you have the time to do that? And shouldn’t you be writing other things . . . working on that novel, that article, that white paper, the poem, that short story . . .?

To keep it under control, but yet develop a real consistency, plan to blog less frequently. Keep track of all those ideas, but when it’s time to post, choose the best one!

Clearly, I’m not a fan of blog blather. Quality often will prevail over quantity in the literary business.

Show Your Personality

The more personal, the better the blog.

Good writing starts with an abiding and sincere passion: yours! What gets you charged up enough to write about?

Your blog is your voice, your personality, your best ideas and experiences.

Someone said that while a website is like a brochure, a blog is like a conversation. You don’t want to sound like a generic announcer (boring) . . . or like an implausible carnival pitchman (over-the-top).

Talk like you really talk – especially when you’re excited about something and want to share it with a friend.

Write with a Spirit of Giving

This is the real magnet for readers – and the heart of the whole concept of blogging. Start with your own experiences and passions and personality, but consider what is most valuable to others. And give it away. Generously.

People aren’t coming to your blog to hear every thought you have or recent occurrence in your life. They are coming to read something useful.

And they aren’t trapped in an elevator with you.

So keep it short.

That’s All!

In the end, the success of your blog will be based on the solid foundation of those three principles. It’s simple.

Happy blogging!

Blog Post by Philip Martin, director of Blue Zoo Writers and Great Lakes Literary (www.GreatLakesLit.com) and author of How To Write Your Best Story and A Guide to Fantasy Literature.

Author Website or Blog – Which is Best?

Q: Should I do an author website or a blog?
A: Blog!

I could equivocate and say, sure, you can do a website if (a) you know how to do them yourself, or (b) you’re willing to throw some money at someone else to develop and maintain a traditional website. Yes, a good website can be very artistic, powerful, brand-focused, etc. It can also, unfortunately, be complex, confusing, time- and money-sucking, or just downright intimidating to even think about planning it.

Instead, a simple blog can definitely serve as an author’s main online presence. No problem!

And it’s free. (Just create it on Blogger.com or WordPress.com, as many authors do.)

And it’s easy.

The enormous advantage (besides the free part!): you can easily create your blog today. Then, it’s easy to learn to update it with news, comments, small excerpts from your brilliant writing, etc.

(If you need help, you can hire me for a pittance, or you can get a lot of what you need from books like WordPress for Dummies or Google Blogger for Dummies.)

Whereas for a website, unless you know how to access it yourself (also, CMS or Content Management System sites can be set up to allow multiple contributors), you’ll incur small but constant costs by going through a web manager. And too often, you spent a lot of time to set it up, believe it’s perfect, and leave it unchanged . . . and it soon becomes slightly out-of-date. Then more so. And more so.

Or, as is the case with many writers, you just never get around to doing a website because you think it’s complicated or confusing . . . and just go around saying, “I know I should have a website . . .”

A better approach is to say, “I know I should have my own online presence . . . a place where people who are interested in me can find out more about me in the way I want to present myself. Hey, I know! I’ll create a blog.”

Why dawdle or dither? Create a blog site. There’s virtually no downside.

If nothing else, view it as an online business card. You have a printed business card, right? Why not have an online version? And over time, with a few posts, your simple and easy blog can grow organically (and as slow as you wish) into a place visitors can get to know a little about you . . . how you think, what you care about, what your writing is like, what your involvement in the literary world is all about . . . with far more insight than they will get from your typical website.

I recommend blogs as “author mini-websites” or “online business cards” for three reasons:

  1. They are cheap (free at Blogger.com or WordPress.com).
  2. They are easy to create, use, and maintain.
  3. They focus on content more than design.

On Point #3 in that list, a key reason I recommend blogs for authors is that, as they are mostly standardized templates, they encourage you to focus more on content . . . and to worry less about design.

Ultimately, content is far more important!

You don’t have to blog daily about what you had for breakfast. Instead, just commit to posting any real news about what you’re doing as a writer. In a pinch, post a brief excerpt from your writing and tell us something about it – its genesis, its challenges, the choices you made, why it’s important to you or to your story . . .

MY RECOMMENDATION
Go cheap, do a WordPress blog hosted on the WordPress.com site. It’s free. You can always bite the bullet and upgrade later to a website approach if you’ve figured out what you want that a blog can’t do and why.

If you need help, drop me a line. (Contact me at Great Lakes Literary.)

Blogs for Writers: The FAQ Post

A great use of a blog is to answer an FAQ . . . a Frequently Asked Question.

Hey, this is one way a blog can actually save you time! (As opposed to sucking it away from you!)

Start by considering: what common questions do I get? (This works well for any profession, whether you’re a writer or running a plumbing business or a repairing computers or . . .)

Let’s face it. You get the same questions over and over. Not a bad thing, but think how a blog can make your response simpler. Someone asks you a question about a common problem or concern. Perhaps it’s a question about how to do something very basic . . . let’s say . . .

How do I find a literary agent for my novel?

In the old days, I’d dig around in my resources and write a brief response (often, copying and pasting from previous emails). So it was standardized, but wasn’t the most efficient way to respond. It might end up with this info:

I like to recommend AgentQuery as a starting point. A good database of agents, searchable by genre, name of agent, title of books represented, etc. Also has good online articles on how to write a query, how to submit your work to an agent, and so on.

I also recommend Jeff Herman’s Guide as a printed resource. I like his profiles of individual agents, with the standard contact info, genre interests and specialties, books represented.

Other tips: Ask published friends about their agents. Go to conferences to meet agents in person (one of the most effective strategies). Remember: the members of the Association of Authors’ Representatives (AAR) must have done deals for 10 literary properties during a 18-month period to become a member, so they have a track record of success. Don’t pay a reading fee. [Etc.]

Maybe I’d also include a link to further info: “For more, here’s a great article (or book). . . . ”

Anyhow . . . the point is . . . why not post that on your blog as a type of FAQ answer?

Be sure to highlight your personal experience, or points where you differ in your advice from others. Maybe you have a point-of-view: your advice advocates low-cost techniques, pros vs. cons, out-of-the box ideas, guerrilla tactics, or whatever.

Keep it short.

Then, when someone down the line asks the same question, just you can email them a link to that specific blog post (instead of taking the time to re-create that answer). Others will stumble upon that FAQ answer post on their own, by visiting your blog or doing a web search.

Eventually, if you create enough of these answers to standard questions, you might consider a page on your blog or site devoted to FAQs.

It’s an efficiency measure. It’s good marketing. It reinforces your image as an expert. Then, you can spend your time giving more specific (and valuable) answers to the unique portion of any customer’s query. And the customer knows you’re interested in serving them well: not making your living by answering routine questions, but by helping them in more substantial, personal ways.

And . . . generosity is good for business. What goes around comes around. So think about creating FAQ posts. Help people get answers to their common questions.

It can be the start of a great and mutually beneficial relationship.

Quick Blogging Tips for Writers and Professionals

Quick Blogging Tips

Do you have a blog? If the answer is no, why not?

A blog is a free website. You can go to Blogger or WordPress (my favorite, it has options for multiple pages and tabs that make it look website-like). If nothing else, why not create a blog as an online business card? Forget the blog blather, just describe your services, bio, published clips or testimonials, contact info . . . .

It doesn’t have to be more.

Of course, it can grow (and probably will) . . . because you’ll find out how easy and fun it is! You’ll discover the professional blog is the perfect place to announce news (conferences you’ll attend, new products or services, FAQs, etc.). Or a place to comment when you really have something you want to say.

1. BASICS

  • Plan short posts, 300-700 words.
  • Don’t overdo it at first, then lose interest. Start slow (some short welcome posts to kick it off) and keep it going. (How often to post? Minimum of once a month. Twice a month is fine. Write more if you feel inspired.)
  • Check your work. Spellcheck!
  • It helps to write a post, save as a draft, and wait to post a day later. Too often, small annoying mistakes are made by rushing & posting at the end of a day. Try a quick, clear-headed check the next day before posting.

2. DEVELOP “TEMPLATES”
Develop easy standard formats for posts, such as end-of-project announcements, or a “quick update” about your business (what’s new, any current products or service you’re most excited to talk about). Share your excitement. Share your satisfaction with helping your clients solve their problems.

  • Thank-yous are great to post at the completion of a project. Compliment the client, say what you did (and be sure to use good search-terms to describe the service you provided, terms that others might search for online).
  • Answer an FAQ. If you answer a common question for one client, you can often generalize it, and post it in a standardized version on your blog. Later, if someone else asks the same question . . . you can just send them the direct URL to that post.

3. USE KEYWORDS

  • Sprinkle your post with terms that resonate with the audience. What are they looking for? (I’ve sometimes written a post and, when checking it before posting, realized that I forgot to use the mainstream term that summarizes the topic.)
  • Just think of the common terms that someone using a search engine might use in looking for that service. (For instance: Is this post about how to use a blog to market your business? Online visibility? Branding? Yes!)

4. ADD A WEE BIT OF PERSONALITY

  • A blog is more like a conversation, like having lunch with a client. While a website is more like a corporate brochure. (So I prefer to make a blog a bit chatty, more colloquial than formal. Yes, I write in complete sentences. Mostly.)
  • Do a “fun” post now and then: interview yourself, or office colleagues, with interesting questions: “Five things you probably didn’t know about (x) person.” “Best single tip.” “Favorite movie.” “Five toys for a desert island.” Etc.
  • Look at blogs outside of your field for fresh ideas.

5. LINK GENEROUSLY

  • If you mention clients or significant websites in your field, add a link to them (it’s very easy).
  • The more links, the better. A blog is all about making connections.

6. HAVE FUN!

  • Your enjoyment of the process is key to keeping your blog fun, lively, and ongoing. Keep it light. Keep it short. Keep it interesting . . . to you, the blog writer!
  • Over time, the posts mount up. It gets easier . . . and you’ll get feedback about what kind of posts are most popular with readers.

It takes 6–9 months for a blog to start to have any organic growth. That’s when there’s enough body of content to draw people. But in the short term, a quick blog can be a simple way to create content you can use to market your business.

If nothing else, it’s an online business card. And with a few posts, it becomes a place visitors can get to know a little about you . . . how you think and what you care about . . . often, with more insight than they will get from your typical website.

So, why not? Plunge in. Create a super-simple blog with your contact info.
And then . . . add a little bit at a time!

Tell the Story Behind the Story

Every book has a story about itself.

The story of the writing of a book-length work (or a substantial article) – how the work came to be – is grist for your publicity mill. It’s an effective and easy-to-use tool in your efforts to establish Brand You, your personal brand.

Why? Because it tells two stories: one about the work itself, and one about you as a person writing the work. Hearing why an author picked a given topic, how he/she researched it, designed its telling, and populated it with happenings and ideas and and characters . . . is of great interest to many readers.

Here’s a great example:
Clues in the Shadows (A Molly Mystery): The Story Behind the Story

Here, author Kathleen Ernst uses a wonderful batch of photos from the Library of Congress to illustrate and talk (on a page on her excellent, content-rich website) about the research she did in writing this middle-grade reader, Clues in the Shadows, a mystery in the immensely popular American Girl line of books, doll, and zillions of accessories.

In this piece, Ernst shares how she came upon ideas that she incorporated into the story:

Many of the programs urged children to compete against each other, seeing who could collect the most paper or scrap metal.  Sometimes children struggled to meet expectations.  When I read about that, I decided that was an important idea to introduce in Clues in the Shadows.

Well-researched background like this impresses educators and reviewers. And readers themselves (in this case, kids) always like to see “behind the scenes” . . . to peek behind the curtain, to feel that special sense of privilege when someone takes you backstage and gives you a personal tour.

Of course, this is great stuff for any published (or soon-to-be-published) writer’s blog. Here’s another example (from a project I’m working with), the story of writing a historical novel for young readers, by two sisters, Hilda and Emily Demuth, centered around a historic plank road that ran by their childhood home in southern Wisconsin:

Plank Road Summer blog

Why does this behind-the-scenes storytelling work so well?

Because at the core of storytelling is the desire to be connected with each other. This goes back to the roots of oral storytelling, where the story never existed without the teller.

So take the time to create and share the story behind your major pieces of writing. It will draw in the reader and extend your personal brand, presenting you in a most-favorable light: how you (as a skilled, thoughtful pro writer) take raw ideas and turn them into literature.

Don’t just serve the dish. Let them see and appreciate the making of the dish. As brand-meister Martha Stewart would say . . . “And that’s a good thing.”

Blogs for Writers: Simple Thank-You Posts

(This is part of a mini-series for writers, with marketing value to almost any small business. For related posts, click here: “blogging for writers.”)

In the last post, I talked about the benefits of a low-key, minimalist blog: one that functions as a mini-website, an online business card or directory listing. You post your contact info, bio, and services, and be done with it.

Except . . . hey, now your blog exists . . . and can be used for a couple of easy online marketing applications!

One is to post a public thank-you note, as a simple blog post, at the end of a project completed.

Here’s an example of a company that has a website-like blog that mostly is just that: Juxtaprose.

It doesn’t take long to write a short paragraph or two about a project, thanking the principal players and mentioning what was done.

But note: there are a couple of real benefits to you in that brief post that go far beyond what a traditional thank-you note would do.

1. You create a link to that company’s site.
This creates a little permanent linkage, for political benefit. If you praise the company or someone in it, you are doing that publicly. (And that person can share it by sending the link for that blog post to others in their company, which they probably will . . . if it speaks well of their company . . . and of that person in it . . showing them . . . and you . . . in a good and generous light.)

2. You get get to tell others specifics of services you offer.
By describing a bit of what you did for that company, you create search-engine terms in your thank-you post that highlight your services. It’s good to be both specific and general, so both types of terms appear.

In other words, you created a “press release for online use” (general service) and it was about the “independent bookstore scene in Milwaukee, and the economic challenge of running a small storefront business in the recession, and the growing awareness of the Buy Local / Shop Indie campaign” (which is in your area of expertise . . . or is now if it wasn’t before). Now you’ve created helpful key words to encourage search engines to notice your blog when someone is searching for info about that topic down the line.)

3. You get to reveal a little about how you work.
Are you cheery, experienced, detail-oriented? That can come through in your blog entry. What sort of tools are you in command of? How do you approach problems or concerns within a project (at the start or as things pop up). If you talk about those – briefly, positively, with pizzazz – you begin to build a better image of your business and its brand (what distinguishes it from the next shop down the Internet road.)

The ability to describe what you did in a positive, appealing way will help attract new potential clients who check out your blog. (They see it because you mention it to them; more about very simple ways to get the right people to read your blog in a later post in this series.)

Thank-you posts are similar in structure, which makes them easy to write. Just personalize them, add a couple of interesting details, and link to the client.

You may also want to send a hand-written note to the client . . . but the online blog post is a nice touch and doesn’t take long.

Let see now, did I put the right key words in this post? I’m saying this out loud for your benefit, to encourage you to realize that it’s a useful part of blogging. Business blogs, blogging, writers, small business, online marketing, branding, Litwave (my affordable coaching service to help writers, authors, and consultants set up effective, low-key, market-savvy blogs) . . . yes, I think I’ve hit the right notes.

(Next post: using blog posts as FAQ material.)

Blogs for Writers: The Benefits of a Low-Key Approach

You’re a writer (or run a small business).
Do you have a blog?
No?

Really? Why not?

I recently gave a talk (on story structure and practice) for the Independent Writers of Chicago (IWOC, excellent networking for freelance writers . . . thanks Dave Epstein for arranging it!). At one point, I asked how many had blogs (as a good place to develop their own business stories).

I was amazed at the small percentage, given the high level of experience and skills of that group. But I find this is true when I ask the question elsewhere.

My question stands: No blog? Why not? What’s the down side?

The answer, of course, is an impression that having a blog means (a) a requirement to post frequently,  (b) resulting in a blog that is useless unless hyper-active . . . and is doomed to soon be abandoned, due to a lack of time.

Plus, it’s not clear to many professional writers where to draw the line between the online journal of blog blather (what I had for breakfast . . .) and the glib, personable, über-blogger whose business success is related to the gift of gab. You know who I mean, those who were born to blog.

Let’s tackle those concerns.

1. Does it take a lot of time?
No. You can easily limit the time. In fact, you can put up a totally static, minimal blog (like a mini-website) in a few minutes, post a description of your services and contact info, and then walk away.

2. Cost?
Free, if you do it on a public-platform site like Blogger or (the one I use) WordPress. (I like WordPress for its multiple page options, making it look like a mini-site.)

3. Does it take long to put up a basic blog?
Maybe 15–30 minutes. Create an account, pick a blog name, register it, then take your contact info, bio, and services description . . . and dump that into an “About Me” page or post (or two).

4. But don’t you have to blog a lot to get attention?
You’ll hear about the search-engine attention you’ll get if you do a lot of short posts: 3 per week, or something like that. Yes, that’s true. But who’s got that kind of time? (Unless this is a major focus of your service.)

But you don’t have to do that. You don’t have to do anything. Think of it as a mini-website. You can put it up and walk away. It’s there, online . . .  and just might help someone find you if they search for your name, business name, city, specific products, publications, etc.

The hyper-active blogging is important only if you’re trying to move high in an topic that’s very popular. But if you want to start a blog about your services in your particular city . . . there’s a lot less competition.

Then, the nice thing about a blog is if you want to add something, it’s there and easy to access. You can do it remotely, at home or in the office or on the road. So if something good does happen (an article is published or you get an award) . . . or something newsworthy happens for you or a good client . . . or you stumble on an interesting professional thought or resource that you’d like to record and share . . . you can post a note in a minute. Without any need to go through a web master, without cash expense!

5. What the minimum I should post?
Hey, there’s no minimum! For a very low-key approach, just commit to one good, helpful, or interesting post a month. Seems like so little. But at the end of a year, you’ve got 12 posts. Twelve points of online contact. And they stay up and accumulate.

6. So what’s the cost/benefit?
Cost in dollars: nil. Time: not much for a minimalist business blog. Benefits: a bit of extra online exposure. It’s a versatile, extra directory listing, leading to you, without a drain on your checkbook.

In the next post, I’ll address some specifics ideas for a few good things that might be good to blog about, once you have that business blog set up.