If you didn’t know it already, being a self-published author is no easy task. Not only will you be producing all your own content, but you’ll also be promoting all that content. The independent author is a writer, editor, designer, and advertiser all in one. I imagine just thinking about it is overwhelming for many of you out there.
I won’t lie, it’s a lot of work. Day in and day out a lot of work. And it may not be work that offers significant financial rewards. But if you’re an author and you’re dedicated, there are a number of ways to promote yourself, share your work, and ultimately get more readers for your book. We’ve looked at a lot of methods in this blog, and last week I went into detail about some of the social media platforms that you can employ.
Social media alone isn’t enough though. Most importantly, you’ll need somewhere to point your social media audience – a location to buy your book and engage with your readers on a personal level. There are two primary means to achieve this: an author website and a blog. Today, we’ll look closer at the latter.
An author blog serves a couple of purposes. Primarily, it gives you a chance to capture emails through a subscription. And you can offer small bits of content to build trust with your readers. They’ll see your skills on display, and may be impressed enough to buy your book. Your author blog will be the best means of developing yourself as an authority in your genre or field of knowledge. A blog is a unique and enduring tool I encourage all authors to get familiar with and use as a part of their regular writing habits.
How? I’m glad you asked. Okay, I know I asked so I could answer my own question. But I assume you’re reading because you’re interested in blogging to develop and grow your author platform. So let’s break this down.
Elements of a Blog
A blog should have a clear header with a strong image to represent you and your author brand. Think about this like the banner image on your Facebook page. Include at least a couple of pages on the blog – a home page where your blog lives, an about page with info about you and your writing, and a page with info about buying your book(s). There’s other elements you can include with additional pages, but those three are the important ones from the get-go.
The about page can be simple with an author headshot, a little bio, and maybe a link to contact you by email if you are planning to allow that. The page featuring your book can likewise be simple, with the front cover thumbnail, your blurb about the book, and a link to buy. The home page is where most of the action will happen. Here your posts – the content of the blog – will be displayed.
These pages comprise the primary elements of your blog. Secondarily, you’ll want to make use of sidebar space to capture subscribers, show links to past posts, or any of a huge number of possible elements. How you use the sidebar space can vary, and should be dictated by the audience you are targeting. Blogging software like WordPress offers a range of plugins you can utilize to add to your reader’s experience as well.
That leads us to the last element to consider pertaining to the blog itself – your software of choice. The Lulu blog runs on WordPress, and for most WordPress will be the way to go. WordPress offers free blogging for the author just starting out, low cost domains (so your blog’s web address doesn’t show “wordpress.com” in it) and more expensive developer-friendly options for advanced users. I’m not here to promote their service though, all I can say is that it works for me in my personal blogging experience, and for Lulu in the capacity of this blog. But there are many other platforms out there, including Blogger, Weebly, and Tumblr. Specifically look at Weebly if you’re thinking of creating a full author website with a blog embedded, rather than separating the two or using a blog as your primary location.
Content Content Content
How you set up your blog is something I’m going to leave to each of you. There are tutorials across the web with advice and instructions. And each platform will offer a variety of instructions for using their software.
More important than the platform you use is the content you provide. No matter what kind of author you are, the content of your blog should reflect the interests of your readers. If you write fantasy novels, thinking about blog content focused on character development, world-building, and consistency in large novels. If you write biographies, you might focus more on content about personifying people, being accurate without sacrificing creativity, and making real-life events exciting to readers. Focus is key.
Not all content needs to be perfectly within your scope though. General writing, publishing, and promotion topics are all great too. Best of all, looking at a range of topics gives you a variety of subjects to speak toward, keeping the content fresh for your readers.
You can find a range of information about the different kinds of blogs out there, so take my list with a grain of salt. I see blogs generally fitting into four categories:
Blogs that have that “Buzzfeed style” list structure. These kinds of posts serve a few purposes; capturing attention, providing a quick read, and often times amusing readers. There are heaps of research suggesting that article titles with a number in them provide more value than other kinds of titles. For example, this post is titled “Blogging for Success” but if the content were a list I could title it “10 Ways to Blog Yourself to Success!”
Why didn’t I? Well, this format can be overused. If you look at the Lulu Blog home page you’ll see a healthy mix of content titles with numerical enticement versus more traditional titles. Use lists and list titles sparingly, and try to rely on this only when the list has real value. Don’t use a site like Buzzfeed as an example. They have built a model on this style so they can get away with list blogs like “21 Truths About Cats Only Cat Owners Really Understand.”
Even a giant like Buzzfeed uses this style with caution, as their more serious articles use the traditionally informative title structure.
A list blog for a self-published author is likely going to emphasize the writing or publishing process. This is great content, and with the list style, you can create a post with less in-depth detail than the other kinds of posts while still offering value. I love list-style blog posts and I encourage using them when the content lends itself to that style.
A How-To blog is terrific for self-published authors to use as both a promotion for their work and a contribution to the rest of the authors out there. Think about it like this: you published and are working on marketing your book. So you tried an email service and really like it. Open rates are up, sales are up, and the email provider looks like a great investment. Write a how-to about the tool you used and email marketing in general.
Blogging about your writing process also falls under the How-To category. Do you use character design templates? An editing checklist? What about routines that keep you on track and progressing toward completing your manuscript? All of this content is interesting and valuable to your readers.
Content in the How-To category will often be the most interesting and valuable kind of content, the sort of content valuable to your readers and if you write it well (which you will, because you’re a writer!) you’ll see that interest in the form of comments and increased followers.
If you look back at our blog posts from this summer about writing and marketing tools, you’ll find some great examples of Resource blogs. Similar to a How-To, a blog about resources will allow you to share resources you find useful with other readers. You can also share reader resources like book review sites.
This kind of blog has a lot of value, as you can share your experiences with different software and writing tools, marketing efforts, and really anything pertaining to your writing and publishing process. Just be careful to differentiate a post about resources from an opinion piece. It’s fine to offer an opinion about resources, but more important that you speak to the pros and cons of the resource with an emphasis on how they work as a writing and publishing tool.
An Opinion piece is the most open kind of blog. Other blog writers might break this category out into a few different segments, but I don’t really see the need. Anything you post that isn’t based on hard information is opinion. This can include reviews of other books you’ve read, thoughts on the publishing industry, or even a personal story about an adventure you’ve had. Remember that this blog is yours and you have to own it. Don’t make it too dry (unless that fits your audience of course) nor should you overdo it with opinion content.
For example, Lulu’s blog is entirely made up of the first three forms of blog content because it is a company blog. Your blog will be a tool for your author brand, and part of that is YOU. Use opinion blogs to reveal a little about yourself so readers can get to know you. It will make a difference as they need to see you not as a business that sells books, but as a person who creates books. The difference might seem subtle, but it’s important none-the-less.
Don’t feel constrained by my break down of content forms – your blog is for you to connect with readers, so if you know your audience likes something unique, pursue that angle! The initial goal is to get followers to convert to readers, to get an Internet surfer to actually buy a book. Once you’ve converted a reader to a buyer, you want to keep their interest so they’ll share you and your book with their friends, as well as stick around long enough to learn about your next book. Think of all your marketing efforts as community building, with the end goal of a strong, excited group of readers ready to champion you and your book(s).
Content will inspire and excite your readers, it will draw them into your work and ideally lead to sales of your book. Getting that content in front of readers is a singular challenge among many hurdles. If you’ve managed to a get a reader to click over to your blog, ensure that they stay through the entire post by employing some simple best practices.
Consider paragraph length and structure. No matter what kind of writing you do, a blog will almost always perform best with short paragraphs. If a reader scrolls down the page and sees long, blocked paragraphs dense with information, you risk losing them. Our eyes have been trained to skim – we simply have too much media to absorb in a given day. So we skim, we hop through the content looking for some nugget that prompts us to pay closer attention.
Two tried and true ways to capture a reader is with short paragraphs and strong leader sentences. Each paragraph you craft should contain all the broad information in the first sentence. This is easy to test by looking through any blog across the web. A strong leading sentence will frame the paragraph, and the two or three sentences that follow will expand or elaborate on that main sentence. You want your reader to be able to read only that first sentence and keep going or stop and finish the paragraph if they see value in the first sentence.
Alongside the structure of your paragraphs, think about how you use Heading Styles to draw attention. Above, I’ve set “Visual Appeal” in Heading 2. The text is large, bold, and framed with negative space. A reader will naturally be drawn to this line, and from those two words, will be able to surmise what I’m going to talk about with the content that follows.
There is some debate about the importance of using images in your blog. I tend to shy away from an image unless it is helpful to make a point. Like a screen capture. Others may have a more visual flair and see value in plugging in an image only loosely related to the content in order to get a reader’s attention. This can work and is largely reliant on your audience. If you’re a Young Adult author and your main audience is 13-25 year-olds, memes and images might play well with your readers. A well-placed image can break the monotony of text and provide a mental “breather” for your readers.
Just be conscious of the images you use. If the image is copyright protected, get the necessary permissions and source it accurately. If you’re creating your own images, think about the size and resolution of most reader’s screens. Mobile viewing of blogs is not as popular outside of sites like Tumblr, but RSS feed tools like Feedly are making mobile blog reading more attractive. I highly recommend testing your blog on a few platforms and devices to ensure the images display clearly and don’t take anything away from the content.
One huge exception is a photo-blog. If you’re a photographer or graphic designer, or if you sell photobooks or calendars that heavily lean on images, then, of course, your blog will reflect that.
Lists are a terrific way to break the flow of the blog, similar to an image, but without sacrificing content. Similar to the methods of employing Heading Styles to guide readers to different segments of your blog post, the list can feature bold text, numbers, bullets, or even images to denote a new list item. And with each new item in the list, the reader can quickly find the content they want. And they can even more quickly retrace their steps to re-read a section. Forgot exactly what I think about Images in your blog? You can find that list item quickly when you scan the page because I broke the content up into a list.
I won’t go too much into the lists again, as we covered them in the contents section above. The take away should be that lists are both a means to provide content and a visual element of the blog post, so take both into consideration when crafting your post.
Blog like it’s your Job
Finally, you have to be consistent. I recommend at least two posts a month, maybe even once a week if you have the content. Set a schedule, write posts in advance, proof them thoroughly, and keep posting them. Blogging software like WordPress and Blogger all have scheduling tools, making it easy to prepare a post ahead of time and set the tool to post for you. I cannot say enough how useful this is for busy writers.
Like any marketing plan, consistency will be vital. Your blog is one element of your author brand that will outlive the normal marketing push you make around a book’s release or the holidays. A blog is a multipurpose tool, a window into your writing process, your interests, and your author brand. Yes, you should use your blog to promote your brand and your books regularly. But that’s just part of the role your blog will play. More importantly, the blog is a persistent way into a reader’s inbox. Email subscriptions to your blog translate into emails for your mailing list. And if you provide useful, interesting, and exciting content on a regular basis, your readers will look forward to your blog posts and will recommend them to their friends.
Paul is the Senior Copywriter at Lulu, responsible for all the words you see on our site (misspellings included). He also manages the community site – http://connect.lulu.com/en/ – and in his free time, he’s an avid reader and short story writer.