Writing and Publishing

Do You Need a Blog to Build Your Author Platform?

Too many experts say writers must blog, but that may not be good advice

As writers, we’re told that if we want to be successful at publishing our work, then we need an author platform. Yes, this is true. Publishers expect writers to have a platform. In fact, it seems, the platform may supersede writing quality. After all, a publisher can fix our writing much easier than they can build up our author platform.

A common example of building an author platform is blogging. At one time blogging was held up as an essential requirement if a writer wanted to land a publishing deal. I think this has moderated somewhat in the past couple of years, but there are still many voices saying that writers need a blog if they hope to find success.

So, do you need to blog to build your author platform?

Since I am a blogger, it may surprise you to hear me say the answer is no. As a writer, you do not need a blog.

  • If logging will distract you from writing, then don’t blog.
  • If blogging is something you dread, then you shouldn’t do it.
  • If blogging will rob you of joy or suck the life out of you, then you shouldn’t do it.

Don’t let someone guilt you into blogging if you don’t want to do it. Readers will know your heart’s not in it, and they won’t follow you. When this happens your blogging accomplishes nothing. However…

  • If you like to blog, then maybe you should.
  • If blogging serves as a creative outlet, then go ahead and pursue it.
  • If you enjoy connecting with readers through your blog, then blog away.

A couple of years ago, I gave a presentation about blogging at a writer’s conference. A few months later I ran into someone who heard my presentation, and she was quick to thank me.

She said because of my talk she decided not to blog. I was devastated and felt I had failed her. But she was quick to clarify. She said that in listening to me, she realized she didn’t want to blog but felt she was supposed to. My words gave her the freedom to say, “No,” and she was grateful for it.

If blogging is a burden, you shouldn’t do it. Focus on writing first, and worry about the platform later.

Writing and Publishing

Don’t Overreact to Writing Trends

Today’s hot writing advice may prove embarrassing in a few years

I still have the mimeograph handout from high school, from oh so many years ago. The title boasts “50 Substitutes for Said.”

The opening instruction says, “Both color and drama can be added to a story by using other verbs as substitutes for said.” (A poorly written sentence, by the way.) As I recall, this teacher encouraged us to never use said in our writing.

Some of the recommended alternatives for said include blustered, bantered, challenged, directed, emphasized, giggled, implored, insinuated, mimicked, philosophized, revealed, and soothed. (By the way, I keep the list for nostalgic purposes, not for reference.)

In my writing, I can’t imagine using any of these suggestions in place of said. If I did, people would laugh at me and dismiss my work.

Now the trend is to not use alternatives for said. The extreme position is to only use said, even if it’s a question. I can’t bring myself to do that. It just seems wrong to write:

“What do you mean by that?” she said.

It makes me cringe. Plus, encountering said when I expect to read asked, is a speedbump that takes me out of the scene.

Yet, some writing experts instruct writers to do just that, to only use said, even for a question.

I think this minimalist approach is an extreme view, along with being dull. I suspect this will be a short-lived writing trend that will later be dismissed as unimaginative.

Just as we now groan at writers who would write “he blustered” instead of “he said,” we will one day groan at writers who only use said. It’s lazy writing and makes for boring reading.

In the same way that we discern which editing suggestions we need to follow from our critique partners, we need to consider which writing advice makes sense for us and which to ignore.

As for me, I will disregard the advice to only use said.

Writing and Publishing

3 Ways to Create Top of Mind Awareness

Marketing can have one of two goals: make sales or create awareness. Although any marketing effort can do both of these, it will only do one of them well.

This post will discuss ways to create awareness—and when done right, top-of-mind awareness. That is, having our author brand be what a reader first thinks of when he or she considers what book to read next. Awareness, which some would call branding, is built slowly over time. Here are three strategies to consider:

  1. Articles enhance awareness both online and in print but especially in print. Publishers appreciate a well-written article that’s interesting and provides useful information. It will establish the author as a credible source and a knowledgeable resource. It creates awareness.
  2. Blogging is a great way to develop a following and increase awareness in those who read our blog. And as a post is shared more people will be exposed to us and our writing.
  3. Online efforts including guest blogging, commenting on blogs (real comments, not “buy my book”), and interacting on social media. These take time and require effort, but when done wisely they produce great results—and backfire dramatically if done badly. Each is its own art and requires time to develop.

There are other creative tactics that authors can do to increase brand awareness, but these are some of the top ones. Just remember, branding is building for the future. For the most part, it’s not going to immediately sell books, but if it does that’s just a pleasant bonus. Book sales require a different approach.6


Writing and Publishing

Five Book Marketing Ideas

Strategic marketing can improve book sales. However, it can quickly waste a lot of money with little return when done haphazardly. Review each advertising option carefully before committing money to it. Here are five ideas to consider:

  • Print Ads: Unless you find the ideal publication, print media is an expensive option and seldom generates enough book sales to make it worthwhile. However, the right targeted publication can pay off in a big way.
  • Newsletter Ads: Buying ads in newsletters your readers read is another option to consider. Again, the cost may be a limiting factor, but finding the right newsletter can result in a cost-effective promotion that moves books.
  • Banner Ads: Have your message displayed on strategically aligned websites, but seek pay-per-click options, not flat-rate programs or per impression schemes.
  • Social Media Ads: To promote books some authors score big with Facebook ads; others prefer Twitter. The main thing is to start slow and test your message on a carefully selected target audience.
  • Email: Send out an email blast to your mailing list. You do have a mailing list, right? This is the best form of book promotion and sending the email costs next to nothing. If you don’t have an email list, start building one right away. Then, as you wait, tap a friend who is willing to send your message to his or her list.



Writing and Publishing

Six Things to Check on Your Website

As authors, our websites are our home base, the destination all of our online activity points to. We need to make sure our sites are up at all times and working correctly. When there is a problem, we limit our ability to connect with others about our writing.

Here are six things to check:

  1. That it is running: A down site helps no one. Make sure it is working.
  2. That all links work: Broken links are a disservice to our audience and cause Google to devalue our site. Regularly search for and fix broken links
  3. That there are no spam comments: Quickly remove spam. Spam in the comment section clutters the site and reflects badly on its owner.
  4. That there is no malware: Malware that infiltrates a site can potentially infect computers that visit it. No one wants to cause problems on other people’s computers.
  5. That it properly displays on mobile devices: More people access websites from smartphones and mobile devices than from computers. To display properly on a smaller screen, use a “responsive” theme. If your site is not responsive, view it on a mobile device to see how it looks.
  6. That all forms work: Periodically test forms to make sure they work. A broken form is a missed opportunity.

The good news is that the first four of these items can be automated. That leaves only two items needing direct attention – and only one when using a mobile responsive theme.



Writing and Publishing

Three Tips to Increase Email Success

As part of my publishing business, I send email messages to magazine subscribers on behalf of our advertisers. This is one of the services we provide. It’s commonly called e-blasts, but it’s just a different twist on email marketing.

I’ve done this for several years and have tracked vastly different response rates depending on the type and tone of the message. Consider:

1) Offer a Free Resource: An email for a free whitepaper enjoys a 20 percent higher open rate and a 400 percent greater click rate than does a straight ad. The lesson is to give people something of value. Help them; don’t sell them.

2) Invite Them to a Free Webinar: Emails promoting free webinars also enjoy higher open rates and much higher click rates. However, these are usually not as good as emails offering a free resource. If you’ve ever watched a free webinar, you’re conditioned to expect a sales pitch at the end, but you also know you will learn valuable information before they try to sell you something.

3) Avoid Straight Ads: Emails that try to sell something are the worst-performing of all, sometimes earning only single-digit open rates. If you must send this type of email, spend a great deal of time on your message and even more on your subject line. Though this is critical for every email message, it is even more important when doing straight marketing.

The subject line is key, affecting open rates by as much as 30 percent. In writing your subject line, remember that to meet CAN-SPAM regulations, the subject line must not be deceptive or misleading. I have also heard that the ideal subject line length is six to nine words.

Consider these factors when designing a message for maximum effectiveness. If you’re doing email marketing to communicate with your followers or to promote your books but not getting the reaction you desire, it might be that your message is getting in the way of their response.

What is your experience in doing email marketing? What do you think about attending free webinars? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.



Writing and Publishing

Three Reasons to Comment on Blog Posts – and One Reason Not To

There are several blogs I follow; I read them whenever I can. Sometimes I just read, and other times I read and comment. Only a small percent of blog readers take time to comment. The reasons are many: too busy, a lack of confidence, not knowing what to say, fear, and so forth. There are, however, some reasons why we should comment. Here are three:

1) To Interact With Others: The biggest reason to comment is to connect with other likeminded readers. Some do more than just comment on the post, they also comment on other comments. Just remember to keep things positive and civil. Don’t say something online you wouldn’t say in person to your closest friends.

2) To Connect With The Author: As we read blogs, we get to know the author, but the author doesn’t know us at all, though most want to. Adding relevant comments, with appropriate self-disclosure allows the author (and other readers) to get to know us. And don’t we all want to be known?

3) A Link to Our Site: Though it’s secondary, most commenting programs allows us to include a link to our website when we comment. This is good for search engine optimization (SEO), and it provides a means for others to learn more about us if they wish.

4) Not to Promote Our Book: Commenting on blogs is not the place to promote ourselves or our books. Comments are for dialogue not marketing. Avoid temptation.

Writing and Publishing

Eight Advanced Book Marketing Ideas: Working with Publications

The goal of advertising is to get our name and book in front of readers. But advertising is expensive; it is a quick way to lose money if we advertise in the wrong place. However, when we find the right place to advertise—one where our audience hangs out and that provides a good return on our investment—we can do even more to maximize our paid coverage by following these eight tips.

In addition to running ads in carefully targeted publications and websites, we can take these additional steps to enhance the value of our advertising dollar:

  1. Press Releases: Submit press releases about our new books or any significant news about our brand or ourselves. Consider book signings, speaking gigs, website overhauls, updated covers, language translations, entering foreign markets, and so forth. Places, where we run paid ads are prime candidates for our news and announcements. When an ad and a press release are in the same issue, we receive double exposure and re-enforce our message. If you are not sure how to submit a press release, look on their website or just ask.
  2. Articles: If the publication accepts articles, find out what they are looking for and submit content. Although this is not the place to promote our book or ourselves, we can generally include a brief mention in our bio. If we come across as credible or interesting, prospects will seek out our book.
  3. Whitepapers: If the publication posts white papers, be sure to submit one. We should write about what we know to present ourselves as a thought leader in our field. Though this applies mainly to nonfiction authors, with some creativity, fiction authors may find an angle that works.
  4. Promote Coverage: When we receive coverage of any kind, promote it; ask for reprints of significant coverage (there may be a charge). Link to these press releases, articles, and papers. Ask them to link back.
  5. Follow Blogs: Read the publication’s blogs. Make insightful comments and ask thoughtful questions.
  6. Events: If they print or post events, we need to submit ours. Do so as soon as possible as there is a long lead-time for print, often months.
  7. Videos and Photos: If they post videos or photos, find out how to submit them.
  8. Support Them: We need to do what we can to promote the publications in which we advertise. We have a mutually beneficial relationship with them, so we need to be supportive.

While not all of these options are available with every publication, look for these opportunities and pursue them whenever possible. Doing so will amplify our advertising investment and increase book sales.

Although these tips work best when we advertise in the publication or on their website, we can consider them even when we don’t.

Writing and Publishing

Smart Book Marketing: Don’t Fall Victim to the Marketing Measurement Myth

As we consider ways to market our books, we need to be aware of the “marketing measurement myth.” This is an alarming trend with marketers, especially those with affection for the Internet. Their perspective is that if it can’t be measured, it doesn’t matter and isn’t worth pursuing.

Consider, for a moment, applying this bias to pursuing a personal relationship:

  • You can count the number of dates you go on (analogous to “page views”)
  • You can time the length of dates (“visitor engagement”)
  • You can track the number of second dates (“repeat visitors”)
  • But you can’t measure love (“loyal, dedicated readers”)

Pursuing a relationship based solely on what we can measure will result in disappointment, discouragement, and disillusionment. Though we can quantify the process, we can’t guarantee meaningful or lasting results.

In the same way, promoting our books based on the metrics we can measure may produce a lot of activity but may not do as much in the way of sales and certainly not in cultivating fans for us and our books. It’s what we can’t measure that means the most, both for personal relationships and developing a loyal fan base of committed readers. We must invest our marketing efforts and dollars accordingly.

When it comes to smart marketing of our books, what we can’t measure is even more important than what we can.

Writing and Publishing

Public Relations and Promoting Your Book

Book publishing is more than just writing and producing books; it is also about selling them. Selling books requires a host of skills, including marketing, promotion, and public relations. Yes, public relations—PR for short.

At its most basic level, public relations is managing the flow of information from an entity (a company, organization, or an individual) to the public. As in the case of authors, the goal of this flow of information is to increase awareness of a book, both published and soon to be published. The intent is to produce interest in the ultimate purpose of generating sales. In between awareness and sales, lies intermediary goals such as sparking dialogue, fueling a buzz, encouraging word-of-mouth promotion, and even the hope of the campaign going viral, all of which is publicity.

When people think of PR, they think of the time-honored press release. But a press release is just that: it’s the start; it’s not the end. There is also advertising, interviews, email marketing, influencing the influencers, networking, book signings, book tours, and so on.

Though selling books and PR is more the concern of the self-published author, it also comes into play with traditionally published books. Publishers expect authors to promote their books, and often the publisher’s PR department’s budget for the book allows little more than sending out a press release.

While most authors will not master the art of public relations, a little bit of knowledge goes a long way.