If you’re an aspiring author working your way through the minefield of today’s publishing environment, you’re probably looking for every way you can to stand out from the crowd and draw attention to yourself and your work. Pressure on authors to build a “platform” is higher than it’s ever been. Fortunately, your options for building that platform are more numerous than ever before as well.
Many contemporary authors use blogging as one means to build audience, and I’m no different. So I thought I’d jot down some of the basics I’ve learned over the last couple of years and save y’all the pain of learning through trial and error.
1: Your blog should be targeted to a particular market, topic, sub-culture, product, or service. Blogs that stay on target tend to build stronger, more loyal audiences over time because people come to know what to expect and recognize you as an authority on a given subject. So a writer should probably blog, first and foremost, about writing and writing related topics like the state of the publishing industry, book reviews, etc. A couple of examples of very successful blogs I follow that fit this description are author Chuck Wendig’s Terrible Minds, and John Scalzi’s Whatever.
If your experience follows mine at all, there will be a strong temptation to chase after whatever type of content drives the most traffic. Historically, my most popular posts haven’t been about my writing, but instead covered current events or political topics. But while running up the page views feels great, the analytics shows that the people who pop in for these off topic posts don’t tend to stick around. They are far less likely to peruse the rest of your site, maybe even convert into customers, because it wasn’t interest in writing or your work that brought them there in the first place.
This is not to say you can never color outside the lines. I certainly have, maybe more than I should. But try to stick to a ratio of say 3:1. For every off-topic post, you need to write three posts directly related to what you started the blog to talk about. I came up with this ratio through the time-honored tradition of totally making it up, but it feels about right, you know?
2: Your blog works in concert with all of your other social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, Google+ (if that’s still a thing) etc. Posting and tweeting whenever you have a new blog post will alert your friends and followers that it’s time to head back to your website to read it, share it with others, and expand your reach far more than simply throwing it up and hoping for the best.
3: Titles of your blog posts should be short, on target, and catchy. Short titles fit into tweets and other cross-platform promotion better and are more likely to get people to click on the link. And no puns, for God’s sake. People hate puns. They’re the death of comedy.
4: Pictures. Posts should always include an image of some kind. This way, when people are sorting through their feeds, your post isn’t just a dry title. Images draw the eye and draw interest, and drastically increase the odds someone will click on your link.
See? Caught your eye, didn’t it? No, I don’t have the first idea what’s going on here. Not the point.
5: The length of your posts are actually less important than you might think. You’ll find a lot of advice online that tells you to keep the posts themselves short, no more than 500 words or so, because people have such short attention spans these days. Ignore these twits. Personally, I think 500 words should be considered a minimum length. My most popular posts have all been in the 1,000-1,500 word range. If your writing is engaging, people will stick around to the end. And even if they don’t finish and wander off somewhere in the middle, you still got the traffic. You lose nothing by writing a post long enough to complete your thought and tell the whole story. However, if your post starts looking like a Dickens novel, you might want to rein it back a little.
6: Frequency. When your blog is updated, and how frequently, is of enormous importance to its reach. At a minimum, your blog should have new content weekly. Less than that, and there simply isn’t enough on the buffet line to keep people coming back for seconds. You need to stay fresh in people’s minds, and you do that through providing them with content to chew over.
7: Timing. There are specific days of the week, and even times of day to put up your posts to give them the best chance at the widest possible audience. Weekends are where blog traffic goes to die. Once Friday afternoon rolls around, don’t bother putting anything up until noon on Monday. If you have a great idea for a post and pound it out on Saturday night, save the draft and publish it once the work week starts. People have better things to do on the weekend.
The same is true of evenings. After around 8:00 or 9:00pm, blog traffic collapses. People are at home, relaxing, drinking, watching Netflix, doing chores, what have you. The same is true of other social media posts linking to or otherwise promoting your blog. The best time to put up your post is Monday-Friday, and Noon to just after dinner time. This is when your audience is captive to their office desks, busying themselves playing on their phones and avoiding work. They’re looking for things to waste time on. Give them something.
8: Mobile devices. Two thirds of your audience will be reading your blog on mobile devices. Probably in traffic while eating Arby’s, but that’s not your problem. Your blogging software MUST support mobile viewing, or you’re giving up the majority of your audience before you’ve even started.
9: Everything should be arranged in a goddamned list. Someone just pointed this out to me, so I remade this post into a list. Let’s watch the page counter skyrocket.
But the final question you probably have is simply, “Is a blog worth it?” And honestly, I don’t know. I don’t know of a good way to measure the cost-benefit ratio for the time and effort you’ll put into your blog. There are examples of very successful authors writing blogs with enormous reach and influence, and examples of those with none who still manage to routinely crack the NYT bestseller list. In the end, how and where you spend your finite time promoting your work is entirely up to you.
Personally, I find my blog to be rewarding and cathartic in a way. It’s a platform for me to express my thoughts on certain topics more completely than is possible in a tweet or a FB post. Maybe it’s helping, maybe it isn’t. And I’m okay with that.
Like this? Want to see more? Follow me on twitter @stealthygeek.