how to hook me with your author blog and make me follow you (and buy your books) with the devotion of a dachshund

There’s an article in the latest issue of Writer’s Digest that takes you through the “7 steps of starting an author blog”. It’s a helpful article and worth reading.

The problem with these articles aimed at writers — particularly fiction writers — particularly unpublished fiction writers who don’t have a following beyond their relatives (and maybe a few supportive friends) — is that they don’t really explain the point of having an author blog in the first place.

Or rather: the point of a blog is to center your author platform, attract readers, convert those readers into fans, and sell books. Sounds simple enough, in theory, but it’s easier said than done.

With an author blog, you want to showcase your work, your style, but at the same time, blogging is not about craft. It has nothing to do with craft (unless ‘craft’ happens to be what your blog is about). And if nobody cares (yet) about your work offline, what’s going to make them care about your work online?

Getting people to want to read you, instead of a zillion other things they could be reading (or doing), is hard. Attracting — and keeping — someone’s attention is both an honor and a privilege. It’s not something to be gone after lightly.

And there has to be something in it for them.

When people pick up a novel, they’re looking for a certain kind of reading experience. Emotion. Escapism. Transport. Cool fictional people to get to know. Insight into the human condition. A glimpse into the mind of a writer they admire. Etcetera.

When they’re online, they’re looking for a different kind of reading experience. Diversion, sure. Entertainment, awesome. Connection, even better. But they’re generally looking for stuff they can actually use to solve a problem or improve a skill. Stuff that will make their life better in some way.

The idea behind the promotional aspect of author blogs is content marketing. To quote Copyblogger:

Content Marketing is a broad term that relates to creating and freely sharing informative content as a means of converting prospects into customers and customers into repeat buyers. The primary goal is to obtain opt-in permission to deliver content via email or other medium over time. Repeated and regular exposure builds a relevant relationship that provides multiple opportunities for conversion, rather than a โ€œone-shotโ€ all of nothing sales approach.

In other words, give people cool information that they can use. Do this consistently over time, and they’ll keep coming back to you. That way, they get familiar with you. Your blog becomes part of their routine. They start to trust that you know what you’re talking about. Ultimately (if you’re good, or lucky, or both) they trust you, and like you, enough to buy whatever it is that you want to sell them.

And as Chris Brogan repeatedly points out, it’s good to have relationships in place before the sale.

(And this is what editors want. They want a great manuscript first and foremost, but they also want you to have some people in place who might actually buy the damn thing.)

Nonfiction writers have an advantage. Nonfiction has always been easier to promote because it has the kind of content you can discuss with people who haven’t read the book. You can educate them on your material and draw new readers that way.

But fiction?

If you’re a new fiction writer starting a blog, it’s worth asking yourself: What can I give people that will make them give a damn? What can I do for them? How can I help them?

People fall in love with certain novelists because of their characters, their plots, and voice. ‘Voice’ is kind of tricky to define, although like art — or porn — you know it when you see it. Maybe you’re a whiz with high-concept plotting, and your astute penetration into the human soul enables you to create the most memorable characters in the history of the universe, but it’s hard to demonstrate either of these in a blog. (Besides, if that’s what I’m looking for, I won’t be online. I’ll be off in the corner with a book.)

But voice. Now that’s something you can bring.

I follow most blogs for their content — for the information they give me — but there are also blogs I read for the sheer delight that I take in their voice (WHITE HOT TRUTH by Danielle LaPorte comes to mind. As does CLEAVAGE by Kelly Diels.) These voices are distinctive — you can recognize them from across the room — and they’re fun. And for whatever personal reason, they resonate with me.

These writers deliver cool content in a cool voice.

A successful author blog, in my mind, straddles the worlds of fiction-writing and blogging by offering cool, usable content delivered in a distinctive voice.

Attract me with your content, hook me with your voice, and I’ll pretty much follow you anywhere.

Which brings me to my favorite definition of ‘author brand’, delivered by the whipsmart (and young!) Ben Casanocha

someone for whom you read everything they write no matter the topic or outlet

And as he observes: “the web makes it infinitely easier to both establish a personal brand and follow one.”

Note that he said ‘easier’. He didn’t say ‘easy’.

If it was easy, then we’d all be A-list bloggers and bestselling novelists. And where’s the fun in that?

(Who are the voices, the author brands, that you would follow anywhere?)

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37 Comments

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37 responses to “how to hook me with your author blog and make me follow you (and buy your books) with the devotion of a dachshund

  1. You my dear. Currently, you give the most A+ advice, followed by http://pbackwriter.blogspot.com/ and http://wordplay-kmweiland.blogspot.com/ (she has a free e-Book that is out of this world just for joining her mailing list).

    • a free e-book — those things are cool — I want to do that. ๐Ÿ™‚ she’s new to me and i just checked out her site — she has a lot on offer — thanks for the link.

      i’ve been following paperback writer since before i sold my first book. she’s great.

      and i am highly complimented. thank you much.

  2. LPC

    Of online citizens? Penelope Trunk. Amalah. Leo Babauta. Now, were Charles Dickens to miraculously begin blogging, probably him too…

    • I took an online blogging course with Leo — the guy knows his stuff and has it down cold, no question. plus he’s a very nice guy.

      i’m a big fan of penelope.

      charles dickens would make an awesome blogger. oh, if only.

      • LPC

        I took that course with you:). Hi Justine…Penelope once told me that I had a unique voice for a blogger. Made my fricking day. Days, actually.

  3. Great post. That about sums it up. ๐Ÿ™‚ Penelope Trunk, Ben Casnocha, and Seth Godin are a few of my favorites…

  4. You do an amazing job already. I am still working on mine.

  5. Couldn’t agree more, Justine.

    Every. Word.

    And yeah, both Kelly and Danielle know how to kick it.

    Great job. Thanks.

  6. Great post, Justine! Of course, Your blog is always very interesting. I always feel that I take something away each time I visit.

    Here are a few more of my favorite blogs:
    http://wordplay-kmweiland.blogspot.com/
    http://www.johannaharness.com/
    http://donnacarrick.wordpress.com/

  7. I also follow KM Weiland’s Wordplay (the podcast of her weekly blog is also fabulous, on iTunes and on her blog.)

    Bigger authors I definitely follow are Lisa Lutz and Kathy Reichs, as well as Janet Evanovich, though her latest book has me waning a little in interest.

    This is the first time I’ve checked out your blog, but I’ll be back. ๐Ÿ™‚

  8. Oh! I’ve figured out now why my email to you kept bouncing! I reversed the me and the soulful for some reason. Huh. Teach me to check email addresses next time.

    I think Elizabeth Bear and Lilith Saintcrow are wonderful bloggers. The Bear has mastered the knack of showing you how her brain works with its little quirks without anything that resembles TMI, but Saintcrow kind of does it the other way around: she shows you the world she sees through her eyes. Unique content, masterfully delivered.

    I suspect that’s also one reason why it’s easier to find the right non-fiction blogger than the right Anything-I-Blog-About blogger. The criteria for the former is easier to put down (good analysis, up-to-date if not ahead of the curve etc.), and then add voice.

    The criteria for Anything-I-Blog-About blogger is a bit more complicated. It’s really the kind of thing you stumble upon, rather than the kind of thing you manage to Google up because you want ‘fun, interesting writer blogging about blogging.’ ๐Ÿ™‚

    • That’s a really good point (and the Bear is awesome — I’m not as familiar with Lilith, but I know she’s also great). And I think that’s the huge difference between writers who come to blogging with a following already in place vs new, aspiring-to-be-published writers who have to build up a following from scratch. I’ll read the Bear because she’s the Bear, I already have respect for her as a prolific, intelligent and entertaining novelist, and I enjoy those peeks inside her head (hence, she can blog about anything). Someone who’s a complete unknown to me needs to pull me in for other reasons — and generally that has to do with ‘niche content’ of some sort.

  9. I’m curious about your statement that “blogging is not about craft”. Saying this might imply that there isn’t any skill to blogging but that doesn’t seem to fit with the rest of your message. Are you saying that blogging (at least for an author) shouldn’t be about showcasing your work but showcasing you as a person? Could you expand on this a bit for me to clarify?

    • I meant that blogging is different from fiction-writing — that even if your blogging is supposed to promote your fiction, blogging itself has little to do with the craft of fiction — and being/becoming good at one doesn’t automatically make you good at the other.

      You’re right, it’s a point I need to clarify/think through a little more.

      • Ah, that makes total sense. Thanks.

      • It’s surely worth thinking about.

        Not only is the purpose of blogging different from that of fiction – with all that means for the difference of craft – but some people’s blogging personae are much more distinct from their authorial personae than others.

        For example, Charlie Stross’s blog sounds a lot more obviously like the guy who spins Charlie Stross’s yarns than my blog sounds like the one who spins mine. It isn’t even by accident – it has to do with our respective real-world and fictional interests. I do a lot of archaising fantasy and even neo-fairy-tale stuff, and almost always use an (explicitly or otherwise) in-world narrative perspective as part of the effect. If I ever start blogging like one of those guys, and it isn’t April 1st, shoot me soon!

        Which provokes a more general thought. Your author brand – the active part of which I’m identifying with your ‘voice’ – is a unitary item. An author whose – style? – is strongly consistent across context, like say Roger Zelazny’s, can quit worrying there. Those of us whose voice naturally varies its style much more across context, and whose unity isn’t so casually apparent, seem to have a separate challenge to address.

        Been considering these issues a while from my own standpoint: haven’t yet come to any really useful conclusion.

  10. It ate my comment! Trying again…

  11. It won’t take my comment. I’m freaked.

  12. This is the extensive list, now minus links to see if thatโ€™s what this thing doesnโ€™t like–not in any particular order–but I follow many other ways than just their blogs.

    Justine Musk
    Holly Lisle
    Nicola Morgan
    Natalie Whipple
    Rabia Gale
    Sarah Hina
    Marie Brennan
    Juliette Wade
    MoonRat

    I feel like I’m forgetting someone I included the first time through. Oh well.

  13. Doesn’t like my links. :frowns deeply:

  14. talktoyouniverse.blogspot.com
    tribalwriter.com
    hollylisle.com/writingdiary2
    helpineedapublisher.blogspot.com
    betweenfactandfiction.blogspot.com
    http://www.rabiagale.com
    sarahhina.blogspot.com
    swan-tower.livejournal.com
    editorialass.blogspot.com

  15. It auto puts in the http (that was the problem)

    :sighs with relief:

  16. My writerly regulars:

    Charlie Stross (hard SF and social speculation combined with tech-geekery).
    <a href="http://pcwrede.com/blog/Patricia Wrede"(a good fantasy author, a brilliant writer and teacher about the nuts and bolts of the craft).
    Lois McMaster Bujold (one of my very favourite SF and fantasy authors: I read the blog because I love the books).
    John Scalzi (strong, snarkily witty neo-trad science-fictioneer: I tried his books because I love his blog and the flourishing community that’s gathered around it).

    Interestingly, Bujold is the only one of these I didn’t first encounter online in some form. Which is points for your thesis. As a point of possible interest, they all have voices that are very clearly ‘like themselves’ across different media.

  17. Excellent post!

    Thanks for sharing ๐Ÿ™‚

  18. Lea

    Yeah, in order that our works be interesting to be read, we must gather information that would help our readers.

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