Blogging for Authors: Must We?

Blogging for Authors: Must We?

Guest blogger: Kimberly Moynahan

Back in January, this article came through my Twitter stream: Blogging for Authors: Why You Need a Blog and How to Get Started, posted on the Nonfiction Authors Association website. In that article, e-book author Stephanie Chandler recommends that every author have a blog.

She advises you “contact your webmaster” to add a blog to your site; she talks about “keyword concentration”, how blogs are good for SEO and how content is king; she explains how to choose a blogging platform, why you shouldn’t host on a secondary domain and…well…are your eyes glazing over yet?

Here’s the thing: Starting a blog is like joining a gym. Eighty percent of people who begin will not last three months. Okay, I made that number up. But in fact, the realty for bloggers is probably worse. In 2008, a blog search engine company found that of 133 million blogs only 7.4 million had been updated in the last 120 days.

That translates to 95 percent of blogs being essentially abandoned, left to lie fallow on the Web, where they become public remnants of a dream — or at least an ambition — unfulfilled. — Douglas Quenqua, New York Times, June 5, 2009

So before you jump onto the “every author needs a blog” bandwagon, ask yourself if blogging is really for you. Because frankly, having a sad neglected blog is probably worse than not starting one at all.

Here is what you need to be a blogger—

 

A Bit of Technical Abilitycrow with tools

Even if you have a webmaster, she’s only going to set up your site. You still have to put up your own post, format it, add graphics and tags, and publish the thing. It’s not difficult, but if you are the kind of person who gets faint at the idea of formatting an Excel column, you might want to think twice about blogging.

Lion sleepingTime. Lots of it.

Stephanie, in her article, advises that you blog five times a week. It’s good writing practice she says.

First off, no, it’s not. You know as well as I do, if you are dashing off five quick posts a week, you are not practicing good writing. You’re just adding “content” which is great for attracting search engines bots and random strangers, but not so much for engaging readers and impressing publishers.

Blogging five times a week is a herculean task. Even filler posts – YouTube videos and “Wordless Wednesday” images – take effort to pull together. Recruiting guest bloggers helps, but there is work around that as well. And these stopgaps will only entertain your readers for so long. Your audience wants to hear from you.

How much time does blogging take?

My advice to potential bloggers is this: Write your first five posts before you commit. Time yourself from the moment you start thinking about what you’re going to write, to the moment all five are written, formatted for the web, proofed, have catchy titles, and have legal-to-use images with credits and captions.

Now add an hour a week for site maintenance and improvement, another hour for responding to commenters, and fifteen minutes a day (at the very least) for promoting your blog on social media. Now how’s your week shaping up?

Social Media SavvyBees

Blogs cannot live in a vacuum. It will be up to you to find your audience and make them aware of your blog. Sure search engines will find your blog so people will stumble upon it, but you will have to do the real work of alerting your followers and attracting new readers every time you post. This means mastering and diligently usingTwitter, Facebook, and other forms of social media.

Herd sheepSomething Unique to Say

What are you going to blog about? Here’s a subject that could take up a whole post. But in short, if your blog is to rise above the babble of a million author bloggers all doing the exact same thing, you are going to have to deliver something unique.

Rule #1 is reward the faithful for showing up. Your readers are your most valuable promoters. Feed and nurture them accordingly. Talk to them. Give them something they can’t get anywhere else. What that is depends on your target audience – readers, writers, or both.

Rule #2 is that blogging is not all about you, The Author. If you want to connect with your readers, you must show a bit of you, The Person.  No need to throw your entire personal life onto the screen (please), but talking about your passion for 1940s jazz, your daytime job as a dog trainer or the crazy thing that happened at the grocery store this morning goes a long way towards making your readers feel special and welcome.

Thick Skinwalruses

You’re a writer. You’re used to editors pointing out flaws in your manuscripts. You’re used to rejection. You might even be used to negative book reviews (if one ever gets used to that). So already you are stronger than most.

But how are you when your ideas are attacked? How will you respond when your credibility is challenged? When a reader comments (shouts!) in UPPER CASE that you are not worthy of the pixels you are printed on?

If you blog well, your comment section is going to be more than just people heaping praise and thanks upon you. It can become the lifeblood of your blog, an exciting place where people debate and discuss ideas. It can also become a place where people criticize, even attack you.

For instance, these are actual comments from my blog:

Are you on drugs? You clearly lack journalistic skills on top of empathy for life… 

This article is the biggest piece of SHIT I’ve read so far …

I leave them on my site for my own amusement and also so I have great examples for posts like this.

KittensYou have many choices in how to handle individual commenters and your comment sections as a whole – another topic that could fill a post. But the two choices you don’t have if you want to build a vibrant community on your blog, are turning off the comment sections and screaming back in UPPER CASE. (This never goes well.)

Stephanie Chandler is right. Blogging can help you connect with your readers. It can be a way to increase your following and possibly book sales. But so can meeting with book clubs, starting a newsletter, giving workshops, having a Facebook page, engaging on Twitter, posting on Instagram and doing the most important thing of all – finishing your book.

In the end, the answer to “Should I blog” is, it depends.
But the answer to “Must I blog?” is, no.
Read More:

L.L. Barkett: It’s Time for (Many) Experienced Writers to Stop Blogging

Jane Friedman: Reasons to Keep Blogging

Kidlit.com: Do Unpublished Writers Have to Blog?

Huffington Post: 5 Reasons Authors Should Blog

Joe Bunting: What Fiction Authors Really Need to Know About Their Platform

 

All images CC0 Public Domain via Pixabay

BIO

 

Kimberly MoynahanKimberly Moynahan is a freelance science, nature, and interpretive writer. She blogs on the natural sciences, animals, and the writing life on her site Endless Forms Most Beautiful. She has been published in Scientific American’s Best Science Writing Online and WOLVES Magazine. Kim serves on the Leadership Team for Science Borealis, the Canadian science blog network and is a regular blogger for the Canadian Science Writers Association. Find her on Twitter and LinkedIn.

 

 

A Newbie’s Guide to Book Conferences

A Newbie’s Guide to Book Conferences

Heather M. O’Connor. My publisher Orca Books recently invited me to sign copies of Betting Game at the Ontario Library Association (OLA) Super Conference.

“Me? Sign books at the OLA? Sure!” It’s the largest library conference and trade show in Canada.

A day or two before the big day, I felt like a preteen going to her first boy-girl party. What should I wear and bring? What are the signings like? What do I say?

I’ve gathered some super tips for preparing for and attending the OLA Super Conference. You can also use this advice to get the most out of other major book events, trade shows and conferences.

Be prepared

Check out the event website. You never know what you’ll find. (The OLA provided a cool photo frame for my pics.) Identify and use the conference hashtag, and add the conference app to your phone.

Read the program, even if you’re not attending the panels. Who is signing? Who is speaking? Maybe you’ll “bump into” that editor you want to meet.

Shout out on social media that you’re going, and ask who else is attending. If you’re signing books, announce the time and your publisher’s booth. Share news about other signings and events. If the conference has a Facebook group or event, join it.

What to wear

The default attire is business casual.

However, some authors add a little cosplay flair to their signings. Lena Coakley donned a prim Brontë-style bonnet to sign Worlds of Ink and Shadow at the OLA. Kari-Lynn Winters signed Bad Pirate in ARRR-some pirate gear at Reading for the Love of It, a big Toronto teachers’ conference.

Skip the high heels and opt for comfortable shoes. You’ll be on your feet for hours.

What to bring

A phone for taking and posting pics, following the program and connecting with friends. A watch. Business cards. A strong bag for carrying all the book loot.

Two reliable pens or Sharpie markers for signing, if you’re picky about your writing implements. (What writer isn’t?) Book swag, like bookmarks or buttons. My time slot was at the end of the day, so I offered a free draw to entice people to stick around.

Coffee for your publishing team—they can’t always get a break.

Meet the people

Conferences are the perfect place to network, do market research, and connect with writers and book-lovers. Strike up a conversation with your neighbour. Browse for books. Share a lunch table.

Librarians and teachers:

  • find out what their kids like to read and what they ask for
  • mention you do classroom visits, book clubs and programs
  • tell them about funding for author visits (more about that in a future post)
  • swap book recommendations

Publishers:

  • study the books they showcase at the booth–what are they selling?
  • find out which books they’re excited about and why
  • identify trends and ask market-related questions (when they’re not busy)
  • pick up catalogues and take advantage of a live peek at their books

Authors:

  • hang out with other writers and expand your tribe
  • observe experienced writers in action and ask their advice
  • promote other authors and their events–what goes around comes around
  • check out the event before you’re published so you come prepared
Schmooze dos and don’ts

DO take lots of pictures. Selfies. Signings. Capture the excitement, then share your pics on social media and your blog.

DON’T accept book giveaways or enter the free draws at conferences for librarians or teachers, no matter how tempting they look. You’ll take those resources away from classrooms and libraries.

Book signing tips

Check in with your publisher when you arrive, and return to the booth 10-15 minutes before your signing. It gives you time to stow your bag, straighten your clothes and thoughts, and think about what you want to write. Ask someone to take pictures.

Librarians and teachers are book people. They’re your fans. When they ask you to sign their book “For the students of XXX School,” you feel like a million bucks. I add a personal line, like “Always count on your team” or “Keep kicking!”

Make small talk. Find connections—a student who likes soccer books, a familiar school. If they seem interested, share interesting facts and valuable resources for your book, like extras on your website or an online teachers’ guide. Or mention you do school and library visits.

You feel like a rock star while you’re signing, but it’s over before you know it. Enjoy!

What are your tips for getting the most out of a big book event like the OLA Super Conference? Share them below.