Authors, are you making your intentions clear

With a book, readers know what to expect because the author’s intentions are clear from the title, the cover and the blurb on the back. Are you doing the same with your blog?

author typingRecently, we talked about author blogging and what authors could blog about. One thing we did not talk about was expressing your intentions and how it can help you build a solid platform.

There are a number of ways that you can make your intentions clear. The straightforward way to express your intentions is to write a blog post and tell everyone. That way is a bit like the blurb on the back of a book.

There are other ways, we will look at them shortly but first, let us consider why we might want to make our blogging intentions clear.

Five good reasons for clearly setting out your blogging intentions

The simplest way to set out your intentions for your blog is to simply write a post telling people what they are. This section of the article is inspired by Thanet based author, Matthew Munson’s recent blog post so expect a few references to Mr Munson. His recent blog post describes exactly what he intends to blog about. You should read it. This section assumes that you intend to write a blog post telling your readers what you plan to blog about.

Readers know what to expect

Creating expectations and then fulfilling them creates a good experience for users. If you go to see a movie knowing that it is really terrible then you are likely to enjoy it despite or perhaps because it is so bad. But if you went expecting a great film, you would be disappointed.

Readers who get what they were expecting have a better time. Readers who have a good time come back. This is, after all, why you started blogging, right?

Let your readers know what to expect. Readers that know what to expect and then get it tend to subscribe (or at least come back more often). If you will have provided a clear indication to potential subscribers what they are getting in to and then fulfilled that, they are so much more likely to become subscribers.

If you take on guest blog posts (a topic we are going to cover soon) then guest bloggers will know exactly what they should write about which saves you answering the same questions over and over.

Not just your guest bloggers, but you – the main blogger – will know what you are writing about. Which leads us to…

Focus begets better writing

When you already know, at least roughly, what you are going to write about, it frees up the mind to focus on the writing.

Take it from someone who used to exclusively discovery write (even with non-fiction), having some sort of plan stops you spending energy wondering where to go next.

With less need to wonder what to write about you also find that there is no need to ask “is this on topic?”

Having said it, you are more likely to do it

It is easy to have good intentions but quite another thing to follow through on them. Today, for example, I was going to spend most of my time sending out emails. Instead, I am writing blog posts. There was no cost to my change of plans because only I knew what I intended.

What would have happened if the world knew my intentions? For starters, I’d have a lot of messages saying “where is my email”. It would be very hard not to do what I said I would.

You can leverage this social pressure to help you be more productive by stating what you plan to do ahead of time. The small anxious part of your brain that worries what other people think of you will now focus on making sure you get on with your plans. For those of us who have strong social anxieties, this is one of the few ways of making sure it works for us rather than against us.

For the rest of us, it is simply a good way to stay motivated.

Planning your categories gets a whole lot easier

Most blog systems have categories. These, as we will be discussing shortly, can be useful for indicating topics but can be a pain to plan. Fail to plan your categories and you can spend a lot of time fiddling with them to get them right for you. Or worse, a few years down the line you may find that they no longer suit you.

However, if you know what your topics are from the start, you know what your categories are too.

You don’t need to feel limited to your book’s themes

Monkey at a typewriterWhen we talked about what authors should blog, we listed a lot of things that were not book related. That’s because there is no reason to limit your blogging to your book’s themes.

By setting out your topics in advance, there is little danger that you will feel you can only write about ideas raised in your books.

Matthew Munson’s post ends by declaring, in no uncertain terms, that he will be blogging about writing, disability, sexuality, religion and atheism. These, I happen to know, are issues that Munson has a strong interest in. Many of these topics come up as themes in his books but not all of them.

As writers, we often have interests that we don’t get to talk about. Without some sort of outlet, these interests either eat up writing time or wither and die. By giving voice to your interests on your blog, you get the best of both worlds.

I’ve done the same, by allowing myself to expand my author blog’s topic range to include not just the themes of my stories but my passions as a writer. Specifically, my fascination with writing and working with beta readers.

How to make your blogging intentions clear

Write a blog post and tell your readers

We’ve pretty much done this point to death already. If you have not got the message that I think a blog post setting out your intentions is a great idea by now then you’ve probably been reading a different article.

This post should act like the blurb on the back of your book but how do you make sure that people can always find it?

Most people who want to know more about a blog look for a tab, menu item, or link that says something like “About This Blog”. Your “about” page or post is where this declaration needs to be.

Now you might want to write a dedicated about page. In fact, I recommend doing so. At the very least, your intentions blog post should be prominently linked from your about page.

Demonstrate intentions with relevant images

Can and dogLike the covers on your books, the images you use on your blog say a great deal about the blog. While I encourage authors to use images of themselves prominently, I also suggest that you consider using images that strongly suggest your primary topics.

An author who wants to blog about cats and dogs but has pictures of cars is likely to give the wrong impression to potential readers. Or at least confuse the hell out of them.

I won’t trot out the old cliche of a picture and the thousand words it speaks. We authors can do better than cliches. Or if we don’t we can at least try to be clever about playing with them. Back on topic, my point is you images speak volumes about your content. Do not neglect them.

Express intentions with tags and cateogies

Remember earlier when I mentioned that knowing your topics ahead of time made planning categories so much simpler? Now we are going to talk about why that matters.

Categories and tags have three roles in a blog:

  1. SEO – search engine results
  2. Organisation
  3. Expressing intentions

It is the third point that we are interested in today. Tags and categories (and whatever other taxonomy you choose to use) give an overview of the kind of content to be found on your blog.

Categories act like chapter headings. When someone is flicking through your book those headings may be the thing to spark enough interest to sell the book. If I am unsure about a book, I look at the chapter titles. Moreso with non-fiction but sometimes with fiction too.

Take advantage of that with well-chosen category names that clearly express your blogging intentions.

Title, headlines, name, and by-line

I know it seems obvious but what you call things influences how people see them. That’s why the title of a book matters so much.

Just as you should put a lot of thought into a book’s title or a newspaper headline, so too should you put the same effort into the name of your blog.

Unlike newspapers and books, blogs often have space for a “byline” a short blub that expounds upon the title. Use it. Use it all to give a good impression of what you plan to say.

Paint a cohesive picture of your intentions

With all aspects of your blog try to paint a cohesive picture of what you plan to write about. Then delight your readers by writing about it.

As a rule, experts have found that at least 80% of your content must be on-topic. Readers may forgive you if you are sometimes somewhat off topic but I recommend that you make that as a rare a thing as possible. In fact, I’d say when you start never be off-topic.

That about wraps it up for the reasons and methods for expressing your intentions clearly to your readers. What tips do you have for being clear about your blogging intentions? Do you agree with what I have said? Is there a point you feel I missed? Let me know in the comments.

About Matthew Brown

Matthew is a writer and Geek from Kent (UK). He is the founder and current chair of Thanet Creative as well as head geek for Author Buzz. His ambitions include appearing on TableTop with Wil Wheaton and seeing a film or TV series based on something he wrote.

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