A Definitive Guide on How to Start Blogging as an Author 2 Comments

Most author blogs are abject failures as far as marketing and promotion are concerned. This is actually great news for you because it means, if you get the basics right, the competition will be scarce.

Why author blogs fail

As far as I can tell, there are three common reasons why author blogs fail:

  1. Lack of consistency.
  2. Failing to get the basics right when you start blogging.
  3. Only writing posts begging people to buy your book.

There are other reasons but those are the main ones that seem to be cited the most.

Do author blogs work?

For authors that fail to meet a few simple conditions, blogging is not going to work. Yet, blogging is recommended as the best tool for self-promotion. Do you know why? It is because blogging can work wonders – if you lay the right foundation.

Before you start blogging, read the rest of this guide and get ahead of your competition.

What it takes to become an effective author-blogger

If you treat your blog as some sort of afterthought you are likely to fail before you even get going. Maintaining a blog requires an investment of time and effort just like any other form of writing.

Time and effort

You are going to have to commit some regular time to your blog. Not only to updating the software (unless you have an Author Buzz UK blog, in which case we update that for you) but also writing the content, replying to comments, and removing the occasional spam.

Successful author-bloggers schedule time for these activities well in advance.

Commitment and consistency

When you start a blog, you are making a commitment to future readers to write things they will want to read. If you plan to sell a lot of books, you need to build a large family of regular readers and active commenters on your blog. That is going to take time and consistent effort.

A readiness to engage with the community

Blogging is a way to connect with a specific community. Not just of readers but of fellow writers.

Thanet Creative talk about “cooperative blogging” which is just another way of saying being sociable and engaging with others. You need to be ready and willing to be outward looking.

Do not give up after you start blogging

We are trained to expect instant results and blogging does not offer them. Not ever. The worst you can do is give up because you see a slow and steady growth in readership as a failure. Quite the opposite is true. As long as your readership base is growing you are winning.

It can take time. Month, if not years, to build up momentum on a blog. It does not take very long at all to lose it again.

Keep going.

Consistency is critical for an effective blog

There are three areas of consistency that an author needs to pay attention to:

  1. frequency
  2. subject matter
  3. quality

Consistency of frequency

Frequency is everything when it comes to blogs. You don’t need to blog every day but you do need to blog with a consistent frequency. While more frequent is usually better, so long as your readers can figure out when to come back for more, that’s good enough.

Consistency of subject matter

Readers like to know that they will get the same kind of subject matter each time they come back. A reader that has come to your blog for your deep insight into the philosophy of Star Wars is hardly likely to be pleased with a post about how to make cheese and potato pie.

Consistency of quality

This is more important for authors than any other blogger. REaders can be quite forgiving of mistakes, the odd spelling error and even questionable grammar. However, your blog posts are also a showcase of your writing. Every post needs to count.

That’s why Author Buzz blogs come with tools that help you understand how well written a post is. Like any tool, it is not perfect but it can highlight areas you might need to give more attention to.

What should authors blog about?

We’ve talked about this before – what you blog depends on what sort of writing you do.

Should authors blog? What should they blog?

Non-fiction writers and experts – write what you know

For non-fiction authors, you have a ready-made subject area to blog about. Go with that. Use it as the foundation for your content.

Many non-fiction writers use their blog to share interesting facts they uncover during research.

Fiction authors and novelists – write what you know

For fiction authors, the same rule applies. The themes, topics, eras, and issues that you address in fiction can make for ideal non-fiction posts.

If you write crime drama, blog about police procedure. Have race issues as a central theme – blog about it. In short, blog what you are writing about to start with.

Treat blog posts as early drafts for something else

If you treat your blog writing as seriously as you treat your other writing then it can yield double results. Many of the more successful; bloggers condense posts they have researched and written for their blog into books, ebooks, reports, and magazine articles.

Take, for example, an author with a novel series set in wartime Britain. All that research could be used to write factual articles about the period. Those articles could, in turn, become a non-fiction book that a very similar audience may be interested in.

Consider literary citizenship as a topic

Engage with independent booksellers, review and interview authors that write in a similar area to you. Support the market segment that you want to sell to. You can find a lot of articles online about “thought leadership” and they are basically talking about this.

We’ve covered before how book review blogs are very popular. As an author, you almost certainly have an insight into books you love that would be of interest to others. Write that.

Never blog in a vacuum

Blogs, like most life, works best when it is part of an ecosystem that can support it. That is why Author Buzz UK encourages writers to start micro-communities (we call them groups).

Groups provide a place for you to socialise with readers.

Of course, you’d be a fool to rely just on us for the connectivity you need. Identify the key influencers – active voices in the area you want to enter – and connect with them. Follow them. If you can guest blog for them.

The existing blogs in your topic area show that it is a topic that has a large enough readership to support your blog. Rather than seeing these blogs as competition – view them as a wider part of the community that you need to engage with.

Assuming that your blog is high quality and you engage in the conversation, they will respond in kind and that will earn you traffic. Traffic is good.

Social media – such as Twitter and Facebook – can be a good way to extend your reach into a community. Here at Author Buzz UK, we’ve written quite a bit about social media (in case all the links in this paragraph did not give that away).

Choose the right blogging platform

InternetA blogging platform is the software you use to build your blog. Not to be confused with your author platform which is probably going to consist of social media and your blog.

Here at Author Buzz, we use WordPress. Not because our tech guys (me) think it is perfect (I know it has limits) but because it is really easy to use and lends itself very well to author blogging. We can even set you up with a free blog if that helps. If you just want to dip your toes in the water, many of our bloggers accept contributions. Check out our list of groups and see if one takes your fancy.

At the end of the day, you are going to have to decide for yourself what works best for you. However, feel free to ask in our blogs and blogging forum for advice if you want to.

Choose the right skin or theme

Almost all blogging systems allow you to chose from various designs. WordPress suffers from perhaps too many themes so you could spend forever picking one.

Whatever you settle for should be clean, logically laid out, work well on mobile, and use a font that is easy to read.

It is possible to spend the GDP of a small country on theme design (if you are a mug) but there are enough free themes that you really are just wasting your money most of the time. Most systems allow you to change theme later so you can always pick a new one each year.

Be mobile friendly

A huge mistake that many people make when they start blogging is not checking that their blog looks nice on a mobile. With more and more people reading content on mobiles being mobile friendly matters.

When you have a short list of skins, themes, or whatever your blog system call the presentation style you are choosing – make sure it looks good on a mobile screen. If you don’t, you could miss out on a lot of readers. And readers can mean book sales.

Before you start blogging

You are going to run into all sorts of advice about what you need to have in place before you go and announce your blog. Most of it is wrong.

You need three things in place:

  1. At least three posts
  2. A “why I am wonderful” page
  3. Some sort of policy for comments and so forth

Never launch naked

naked feetIt is a huge mistake to launch a blog without some content up there. If people like what they read they are going to look to see if there is more that is just as good. Make sure they find it by writing it.

Should you fail to have more than a skimpy covering of text, your blog is basically naked. You can recover from a mistake like that but you will never get a second chance to make that first impression again.

Many a successful blog has launched with three blog posts and three more each day for a few weeks. That is not to say that you need to do that but you do need something more to read when you start making a noise.

Why I am wonderful

blow your own trumpetAlso known as an “about me” page, the Why I Am Wonderful is the page that tells potential readers what makes you, the author, worth investing any time in to start with.

Reader time is scarce and evidence strongly supports the idea that readers are infrequently willing to spend any time with a writer they do not know. Your Why I Am Wonderful page could be the only chance to convince a reader otherwise.

So make it a good one.

We have a guide to writing yours.

Why I am wonderful

Comment policy and so forth

ContractIt might not be nice to think about but sooner or later you will be faced with a situation where someone leaves the sort of comment you do not want to keep. It sucks but start blogging and it will happen.

Having a clearly worded page that states what you will and will not accept as a comment can save a lot of headaches should the author choose to object to having their carefully composed trolling removed.

As we live in the UK and lawmakers don’t really understand technology, it can be worth having a well-formed cookie policy, data retention policy, and acceptable use policy. You don’t need to make them prominent – in fact, don’t promote them at all – they are just something you need.

Policies are something you can set up on a page and forget about. We hope they will never be needed but if they are, you may be glad you had them.

Other things to think about

There are other things to consider such as the title and tagline of the blog.

With your tagline and title there are no hard and fast rules – choose something that fits well with you and that you can live with for the next ten years.

Another consideration is spam. I’m sorry to say comment spam is a big problem but there are some very robust plugins and modules for dealing with it. Or, if you are feeling brave, you could make a conscious choice to go no comments at all. No comments on the blog worked for Seth Godin.

Craft quality posts that get read, liked, and shared.

Now that you are set up with a nice looking blog, it is time to write great content. Quality is a bit of a relative term. The best way to gauge what readers in your area of interest consider quality is to look at the popular and rising blogs and try to get a feel for the level of writing you find. If production values are very high, try to match them. If they are very low, try to beat them.

Don’t fear long posts

Despite what some experts claim, long posts are not all bad. You are reading this post right now and it is huge by most standards. It often helps to break a post up with good subheadings so that people can get a feel for how you have organised your post and skip to any parts that particularly interest them. (People skip content, sad but true).

Google (and other search engines) have a marked preference for longer posts as longer tends to indicate quality.

Don’t fear short posts

Got to three hundred words and feel you’ve said what needs to be said? Don’t stress it; 300 is fine too.

Not all posts need to be long ones.

Understand the long tail

long tailIn an ideal world, all of your posts would be front page stuff and get loads of traction on social media. That is never going to happen. However, even the posts that don’t explode can do a lot of good over a long period of time.

About 90% of traffic comes from maybe 5% of keywords and topics. But there are a lot (and I do mean a massive amount) of topics that produce a little traffic consistently. As competition for these topics is much lighter, it is possible to build up a range of topics that drip feed your traffic from search. Over the course of a few years, this can really start to mount up.

If the theory behind long tail traffic is interesting Wikipedia has a huge article on the subject.

Use good headlines

Sometimes headlines (and then headings) are all you have to sell a person on the idea of reading your post. There are many schools of thought as to what makes a good headline. Generally, it should tell a person what the benefits to them are of reading the content.

Just do a search for “writing great headlines”. I found so many that I lost about an hour just reading them.

Your headlines should:

  • Be clear and specific – they tell you what the post is about and why it is interesting.
  • Provoke or intrigue – they should draw a person into wanting to read more.
  • Demonstrate the benefit – they must answer the question “what’s in it for me?”
  • Use the keywords of the content – that is the word or phrase most key to the subject.
  • Be like Goldilocks – not too long, nor too short, but just right.

Use headlines as headings

Apply that same headline summary technique to your headings. Headings break up a post and make it easy to scan. They also signal to a reader that you have written something coherent and well organised.

Headings matter.

Your blog is not about you (or your books)

When you start blogging, you may be tempted to write just about yourself and your books. No one cares. Best to rip that one off quickly and get the pain over with – no one else finds you as fascinating as you do. Not yet anyway.

Your blog needs to satisfy the needs of your readers. What they want from a blog is what matters. Change the “I” focus to a “you” focus. Trust me, I’ve screwed up many a good blog in my early days as a blogger by forgetting this one point.

Shorter sentences are nice.

I like long sentences. Most people don’t. Sometimes shorter is better. Of course, a varied rhythm is good. However, short and easy to read is good stuff. I forget that sometimes. You can be better than me by not forgetting

Pictures are good

goldfishGenerally, you will want at least one relevant image so that your link looks pretty on social media. However, do not make the mistake of thinking you can help yourself to anything you find online. That is just a good way to get into hot water.

Google is still a great source of images but you have to know how to find the free to use ones. First, do a search on the topic and switch to the image results. Now hit “tools” and select “labelled for reuse with modification” in the usage rights box. What you will find are a lot of public domain or creative commons images that you can freely use with the owners blessing.

End your post the right way

Some people (wrongly) claim that you must end each post with a question. Questions do work but they are not the only way to end a post.

Questions work because they are a call to action – the action being “leave a comment”. Comments are good (if you use them) because they show that people are engaging with your content.

A call to action is simply something that tells the reader what you would like them to do in response to the post.

Other calls to action include “sign up to my list”, “join my Author Buzz UK group”, “share this on Facebook”, “tweet me” and “buy my book”. End with some sort of call to action, even if it is just a question.

Create cornerstone content

Cornerstone content is that content which continues to be relevant and interesting for a long time. For example, I write a blog post for a geek blog called “CPanel Alternatives (Both Free and Non-Free)“. Over time I have re-written this and the most up to date version is version 3 and even that one is quite old. Despite the age, those posts have earned me some amazing links in places I have never heard of and, to this day, drive traffic to the blog.

Like this site’s detox Facebook post, it is content that can be shared over and over again.

I plan to write some posts about how to curate your work into cornerstone content – also known as pillar or tent pole content. Until then here are three techniques that might work for you:

  1. Write a definitive guide to something
  2. Put together the most comprehensive list there is on one niche topic
  3. Write something that is “more” something in some way than anything else (funny, helpful, thought-provoking…)

As novelists, this does not always come naturally to us. With practice, it will get easier. I often start by asking myself what would be the most insanely useful thing I could say about a topic or theme related to my writing.

Make your content easy to browse and easy to share

Easy to share

We provide the Jetpack plugin for our bloggers which creates social sharing links for all posts. Whatever platform you are using, make sure readers can share within seconds of reading your post. Wait any longer and most of them will forget and move on.

Easy to browse

Tricks like related posts, lists of popular posts, and links to related content all serve to keep people reading. Some people have a calendar so you can browse by date. If your content is timely then this may work for you.

If your system allows you to tag or categorise posts make careful and deliberate use of this feature so people can discover content that interests them.

Search function

If you can have a search box for your blog (and all our themes support them) then you should have one. When you start blogging this might seem pointless but you will soon have a good back catalogue of posts and a search box is a good tool for finding things.

Learn basic SEO

Monkey at a typewriterSEO or search engine optimisation is a large field. Too large if you have just started blogging. For the most part, as authors, your focus will be well-structured links (which WordPress does for you), sensible categories and tags, and quality content.

Beyond that, a little keyword research can be helpful. Keywords are search terms that people might type in to find something like what you have written.

Surprisingly, being deliberate with keywords helps you craft better content because it keeps you focused on the subject at hand.

You will know what is working with some sort of traffic stats. That’s another feature of Jetpack which we provide for free. It may also be worth using Google Analytics which is a free traffic stats package from Google. so long as you know where your traffic is coming from and what content is drawing the traffic, you can make more of the most successful types of content.

If posts about life in wartime Britain get a lot of attention but posts about tanks from the same era do not, you may want more “life” and less “tanks”.

In short, be a little targeted with what you write.

Link to older content

You cannot do this when you start blogging but you should as soon as you have a few posts. When you write a post about a topic that is unlikely to be the last time you write about it. three to six months later you could probably write pretty much the same information in a new way and please your readers all over again.

That does not mean that older content needs to gather dust. By approaching the topic from a different perspective you can link back to the older content. Those links are good SEO and interested readers may well click through to read more. This is particularly true of your cornerstone content.

As a rule of thumb, I always try to link to at least one post I have already published in each new post.

Show the link love to the community

Remember we talked about cooperative blogging earlier? When we talked about how you should never start blogging in a vacuum I mentioned being part of the wider community. Sharing a little link love with other blogs – especially links that are useful and interesting to your readers – is a great way to show friendliness.

A well-chosen link will be of huge value to your readers who will thank you for showing them good content. It can also be a real encouragement to the blogger that receives the link too. A careful link to a less well known or more obscure blog can go a long way.

Links are a good way to join in with your community.

Keep list posts to a minimum

List posts and round up posts are nice but they are like snacks – too many and your blog becomes flabby. Lists of links send readers away and can become out of date (and turn into dead links) over time.

There is nothing wrong with that type of post but also write something with a bit more substance too.

Write guest posts for others

A very easy way to get links, new readers, and gratitude from other bloggers is to write for other bloggers. Many of the Author Buzz UK blogs are actively looking for contributors.

Not only is a guest post a perfect way to build relationships but readership too.

The blogger will be pleased because that’s one less post they have to write butt he readers will be pleased because you are a fresh voice for them to read. When you start blogging it can be hard to pick up guest blogging gigs but if you foster a reputation as someone that writes high-quality posts, you will soon have lots of guest posting gigs.

As an author, you are already qualified to contribute to Author Buzz UK (this blog).

Try to bring something fresh to the scene

When you start blogging, you are joining a scene. One way to make a big splash is to try and find something fresh or interesting to bring. Not only will you enrich the scene (which is good for everyone) but you will stand out and be interesting.

For example:

  • Could you create insightful interviews?
  • Do you possess specialist experience or insight?
  • Are you able to write an insiders guide to a locality?
  • Maybe you could write reviews.
  • Do you have a shocking or controversial opinion on something?

Don’t forget why you blog

It is easy to drift off topic and forget why you are blogging. When you start blogging, you will probably be hyper-focused (and that is no bad thing) but remind yourself from time to time why you are making this effort.

As authors and writers, we have a limited amount of time for putting words down. If your aim is to get a conversation going around an issue that you address in your novels, stay on that.

Whatever your reason for blogging is, never stray too far away from it.

Be patient

Above all, be patient. When you start blogging, do not expect to burst onto the scene and take the world by storm. It does happen but not nearly as often as you might hope.

Slow and steady wins this race.

If this post has helped you please share it with other writers. I am sure they will thank you.

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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