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 $4.99, 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 $4.99, Amazon UK for £1.99 or as a FREE PDF right here.

50 Responses to Blogging

  1. Pingback: Let’s Get Digital: Launches Tomorrow | David Gaughran

  2. Dave,
    reading you and Konrath, I am slowly building my website using mostly yours as a template (coming to realize how much work you (your wife) puts into it). Could quick tell me what widget did you use to display your book covers in the wordpress sidebar, then link to the sales page?

    All the best,
    Robert

    • Hi Robert,

      I’m sorry I missed your question. I just use a Text Box, and then put in the HTML for an image link. That way you can easily customize the size and appearance. You can do a lot with Text Boxes.

      Dave

  3. Building a blog allows YOU to get in touch with your audience. It allow you to be able to build and audience of people who love and respect your work. Given time, you’ll have a massive cult following and people jumping over obstacles to buy your work.

  4. Pingback: Sunday Roundup: Blog Anniversary, New Releases, and a Link Party | David Gaughran

  5. I’ve been trying for days to subscribe from your RSS feed to my Yahoo RSS reader. However, I keep getting a pop-up error window: “There were some problems while loading your page: Sorry, we were unable to add this feed. Please try again later.”

    What’s up? I subscribe to many blogs no problem (Robin Sullivan, Stephen Leather, etc), but with yours, no soap. I’m using Firefox 5 on Mac OS Snow Leopard, if that helps. Cheers, John

  6. Wonderful post and blog – I found you reading JA Konrath’s guest post (I’m envious), and we follow each other on Twitter. Your pic has that film noir feel that I love. If you ever want to guest blog for me, give me a shout.

  7. lt1dajuan says:

    wow this guy really knows his stuff excited to get my page under way and will continue to research daily. how long have you been blogging ?

  8. Pingback: Reaching for my dream scares me « Animscition

  9. Murﺗﻀﯽ says:

    Thank you for sharing your knowledge and experience. I have been silently checking out many sections of your blog and have found tons of useful information. As a first time blogger, I found this to be extremely helpful.

  10. Paul Tipple says:

    Now that I have my website up AND self published my first short e-book My Thai Eye (travel section: Thai experiences) on Smashwords – largely due your enthusiasm – I will now wade through your advice on blogging, as that’s one element missing from my site.
    Sold 2 copies first day too: such excitement!

  11. Thanks, this was very helpful. Going to be reading more of your articles. It’s appreciated!

  12. Pingback: How to Self-Publish – Phase 3: Marketing | Write Edit Seek Literary Agent

  13. Pingback: Android Apps Now on PC « Loreto Weir ( LANPCS)

  14. Julia says:

    Thank you so much for all your posts and for your advice. They have been extremely helpful.

  15. almusporter says:

    David, great article! Like the part where you said “you’ll be like the guy at the party trying to sell insurance”…LOL! Reading your article on blogging sure fed me some useful tips; also gives me a great reason to follow you on twitter.

  16. louisewise says:

    Great post, and great blog! I shall bookmark for sure.

  17. This will really help me out. Thanks! :)

  18. Pingback: Blogging–David Gaughran | renashub

  19. bubblesues says:

    Hint? But you need to post a comment on David’s blog to let him know. It’s a great contest :) I am trying to find the comment box for the eFestival of Words, 2 day promotion, August 27th and 28th, since Kristine Cayne came to the rescue and rescue my page from the evil twin in last Friday’s promo, I enjoyed helping her and your great contest and post the blogs and all the great ideas to help readers find these authors awesome books. It is a great contest https://www.facebook.com/pages/Message-To-My-Children-2-Fantasy-Escapism/103661739691732?ref=stream, especially since I refresh my eyes on all your informative blogs again and put your blog into my favourites to come back to. Do you post on Goodreads, then it would come up on Wednesday and more people would find some of the geniuses behind the Indie Revolution, and come here and others blogs and see the other promotions and vital knowledge you offer to the authors and readers. Good luck to the winners and tweeted Amazon card contest. .

  20. Hi David,

    Thanks you for your enthusiastic writing! My memoir “The Education of a Traitor” have been turned down by some 20 agents and several publishers, so I am feeling rather discouraged these days. I was glad to read your story, though. First of all, I’m always happy for people who achieve their “dreams,” and also, your story gives me a hope. I already started my own bog (although so far, I don’t have much “following” there), so it was interesting for me to read about your blogging experience.

    Thanks again,
    Svetlana

  21. redzgy says:

    Thanx David.

    Your wealth of knowledge is greatly appreciated.

  22. ymary819 says:

    David

    Thanks so much for your blog. i’m older, have always wanted to write, and a friend suggested that a novella I was writing could be an ebook. I have a writing consultant whom I’ve been working with and who–I’m pleased to say–agrees wholeheartedly. And she suggested that part of my next step (I’m still working working with an illustrator and a designer on the ebook cover) could be blogging/
    eventually setting up a website. I must admit for someone like myself–it can seem overwhelming
    and i really appreciate your blog–as a place where i can start.

    mcpiper

  23. Pingback: Blogging | Cubbys Corner

  24. David, I’m surprised you are using WordPress.com. I thought you had to go with WordPress.org in order to sell things on your blog (maybe you’re not selling here but linking to Amazon?). Do you do your own customizing of this site? This is quite impressive. I went with a template I purchased for my business blog http://www.maureenink.com and am about to do that again for my author website. But maybe that will be too glitzy and visual. Sounds like you’ve found that a very text heavy blog with just your book covers as visuals works best? I’d love your thoughts.

  25. Great article, and very useful advice. I would also add that the development of a following and community can happen long before you’re finished with your book. I see a lot of authors try for the “step by step” approach of writing the book, then looking for a publisher or self publishing, then trying to get the word out. Having a dedicated group of readers can help with all of the other steps, and when it comes time to talk about your book there will be someone willing to listen!

  26. Rani Manicka says:

    Hi David, I bought your book Lets Get Visible at Smashwords yesterday without realising that it cannot be read online. I do not like or own kindle etc so am unable to download it.. I wonder if there is another way for me to read your book. I have proof of purchase.

  27. Thoughtlife says:

    Very informative and useful stuff for me. Would love to know what you think are the biggest no nos when it comes to blogging.

  28. Pamela Tchida says:

    David, this article was extremely helpful and informative for me. Thank you! I just self-published “Something Beautiful Happened”, a 272-page romantic suspense and am now building my blog on wordpress.com. I realize that the hard work is just beginning – not that writing and editing didn’t take effort:). Oh, it certainly did, and I had a passionate love/hate relationship over the years :) However, what I mean is that these next steps (marketing my book and myself) seems daunting and painful. I am somewhat of an extrovert, however what is blocking me is that I can’t stand the thought of being the insurance salesman at the party with too many business cards as you made reference to above. I think I need to reflect on this very carefully as I put myself out there. Thanks again, look forward to your posts. Best, Pamela

  29. Pingback: DEBUT SELF-PUBLISHERS WANTED | Novels of fantasy and flight

  30. Just found and subscribed to your site, David. Thanks for the helpful info. Like you, Pamela, I realized after completing my first novel that – while challenging – writing the book is only the beginning.

  31. So glad I’ve found your blog. This post was very helpful to me. I’ve been blogging now for about 2 years and I4m finding it difficult to get my subscribers to comment. Will try to implement some of the things you’ve said here.

  32. Bryan Koepke says:

    David, I found your blog after buying both our your ebooks. Thanks for the tips on blogging and websites. I look forward to reading many more useful articles on your site.

  33. David, You’re so very generous with your self-publishing advice. As a wannabe self-published writer (beyond blogs, that is), I really appreciate your very practical how-tos, and how candidly you share pros and cons, resources, etc. Looking forward to reading more.

  34. saramcknight says:

    Thanks for the helpful advice and guiding tips. As someone who is working her way into turning writing in a career, it’s good to know others share their knowledge about how to do that (and it’s worked for them!). I’ve started a blog to share my writing, while in the meantime writing a young adult novel. I’m really adamant about authentic, unique voices that are relevant to our modern age. Thanks again for your site. If you’d like please visit my blog at http://saramcknight.wordpress.com

  35. WordsFallFromMyEyes says:

    Excellent post. Seriously engaging, & very valid. I’m interested in you as my current blog posts tells of my first ever ebook publishing experience, & how I’ve ended up asking for a refund (got half my outlay). It wasn’t good, but I’ve learned.

    So, just to say you write very chatty and approachable, & your content is quality. Cheers!

  36. Leslie Kay says:

    Thank you and very appreciative!!

  37. Tim says:

    Thanks for this usefull post. As a startup writer, being halfway my first book, I’m starting to see if people are actually interested in what I write. The techniques you put down here might help my blog to gain more usefull traffic and by that makes me more motivated to finish my work.
    Thanks again and keep up the good work :)

    • Tim says:

      Currently reading the free pdf version you released and reblogged it on my own blog. Hope you don’t mind and thanks for sharing :)

    • Hey Tim – Before you dive headlong into the world of blogging, make sure you read this (more recent) post first: http://davidgaughran.wordpress.com/2014/01/03/if-you-dont-enjoy-marketing-youre-doing-it-wrong/

      That should help you prioritize what marketing you should be doing with whatever time is available. IMO, you should only devote time to platform building like blogging if you have any spare after doing all the other stuff. Anyway, that post goes into more detail.

      • Tim says:

        Thanks, I’ll definitely look in to it. Currently I’m not writing much but do have some time for blogging. In a couple of weeks time I’ll be back in The Netherlands from my South Africa trip and unemployed, so plenty of time to put some actual progress in my book.
        I’m reading your PDF on self publishing right now and it is a very interesting read. Thanks :)

      • Tim says:

        Hey David, I’m reading you’re book and its very fascinating and making me very excited. Currently I’m at page 81 and I have small remark on the formatting process. If you want to get rid of all the hidden code MS Word puts in a document, just press Ctrl+A copy it to a new notepad file and voilla, you have text without code :) Hope this helps

      • Hey Tim, I do exactly that. It’s v. handy. I don’t mention it in the book, but instead link to Guido Henkel’s excellent formatting guide where he does.

      • Tim says:

        Hey David, Hope you dont mind but I stole the cover of your book with a reference in one of my blog posts:
        http://timvandeleur.wordpress.com/2014/03/14/blogging-and-self-publishing/

        If you do mind please contact me and let me know what I need to change :)

        Regards

        Tim

  38. Pingback: Blogging and Self Publishing | A Startup Writer

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