Three-Part Recipe for Author-Blogging by Katie Rose Guest Pryal
Considering blogging? Read what author Katie Rose Guest Pryal has to say first.
A lot of authors, when their books are about to hit the marketplace, are told they should start blogging. That’s the sum total of the advice. “Start blogging.”
Then these poor souls send me emails or message me on Facebook and say, “What does that even MEAN.” I agree. Blogs are actually really hard to write, and they’re hard to write well. Plus blogs seem to violate my “never write for free” rule.
In order to get started as an author keeping a blog, you have to think about what the tasks are that you want your blog to accomplish.
Here are the three main tasks that any author’s blog must accomplish: (1) informing your blog readers about your books, and thereby selling your books; (2) creating relationships with your blog readers; and (3) entertaining your blog readers with your writing. All three tasks are equally important. Let’s look at each of them in turn.
- Sell Books
Number 1, selling books, seems obvious. When an author’s publisher or a friend of an indie author tell the author to start blogging, the publisher or friend usually has selling books in mind. Your blog should encourage your readers to buy books. Right?
But, as some of you are already imagining, number 1 is the most difficult task for a blog to accomplish. As a writer, you have to sell, but not be sales-y. You have to get readers excited about a product (yes, books are products), but not alienate them from your blog. You have to really, really not sound like an infomercial.
In case you haven’t figured this out yet, selling books on a blog is hard. Number 1 is why many authors never start blogging at all. The hill seems too steep.
So let’s table number 1—sell books—and look closer at number 2 and number 3. That’s where the answers for how to effectively accomplish number 1 lie.
- Create Relationships
You are not just an author. You are a person. You have a life beyond your writing. If you are a good writer, you are probably able to tell funny stories about your life beyond your writing. In fact, if you are on Facebook like 99.9999 percent of the developed world, then you already tell funny stories about your life beyond your writing. You tell about funny things your loved ones did today. About something stupid you did yesterday. About how you left your cell phone in the refrigerator. (Oh wait, that was me.)
I write things like this all the time. My preferred medium happens to be Twitter, but the idea is the same. Here are some examples. The first funny thing comes courtesy of my younger child.
Even though I keep my kid’s name and even gender masked here, people with kids can relate to the silliness that is trying to communicate with small children. Because, sometimes, it’s basically like talking to a Martian.
Then there’s my favorite topic, husbands.
My husband knows I bag on him on social media. Sometimes I actually tell him to pause mid-sentence so I can get his words right. The other thing you might notice about this tweet is that I’m blaming my husband for things in a completely irrational fashion. It is not his fault that I can’t find the remote control. It’s mine. That’s why the tweet is funny and creates opportunities for others to chime in. I’m really making fun of myself.
The sweet spot, of course, is when you can give people a glimpse of your personal life and your writing life at the same time. Again, here’s my husband, this time swooping in like superman and saving my writing butt.
Tweeting and posting on Facebook are often called “microblogging.” And if you can microblog, you can regular blog. You pick a topic that’s been going on in your life lately, and then you write about it. The secret, though, is to be approachable. Fun. And most importantly, self-deprecating.
Why? First of all, just like real-life people, stuck-up and unapproachable blog-people are a turn-off. Second of all, chances are your blog readers are already intimidated by you. After all, you are a WRITER. Writers are intimidating. Think of the first book signing you ever went to. Were you nervous when you were waiting in line to meet the author? Don’t lie.
Your blog is your chance to win your readers over. To create relationships. To make people like you.
And you know what people do for people they like? They buy their books.
(Here’s a recent example from my own blog of a post designed to give readers a glimpse into my life: http://katieroseguestpryal.com/2015/10/10/texts-from-my-husband-while-im-traveling/)
- Entertain Blog Readers
Here’s some basic math. If you can entertain readers with your blog, chances are you’ll be able to entertain them with your books. That’s one of the reasons to blog: to give readers a taste of your writing and tempt them into buying your books to get more of it.
So what should you write about to entertain your readers? Here are some ideas:
(1) Funny stories about your life, per number 2, above.
(2) Other writer’s books. This may sound crazy, but it’s actually really great. By sharing books you like with your blog readers, you are being both helpful and selfless. You can write an official book review column on your blog (be careful with this though—how to effectively bring book reviews into your blog is a column unto itself) or you can simply write a quick post when a book you love is on an eBook special through BookBub or Kindle Daily Deal. Sharing the love with other authors has the added benefit of helping you network with other authors, who will often return the favor.
(3) You can interview other authors. You can even have other authors write guest posts. Create relationships. Network. Help your readers learn about authors they might not have known about before.
(4) You can absolutely talk about your writing process. Think about all those questions you get asked at readings (if you’ve ever given a reading) or that you’ve asked other authors at readings (if you’ve ever attended a reading). Those questions are the bases for blog posts.
Remember, though: Your blog posts do not always have to be related to your writing. They just have to be related to YOU. You are the author of your books. By the transitive property, when you are writing about yourself, you are writing about your writing. Just make sure that your website is super easy to navigate and that your books are easy to find there.
And back to 1. Sell Books
Now that you have created personal relationships with your blog readers and you have entertained your blog readers with your writing, you can start to introduce your “ask.” Your ask, as an author, is to get your blog readers to buy your books.
It feels a lot less weird to ask someone to buy your books when you’ve already given them so much for free: a glimpse into your personal life, funny stories about yourself, helpful links to other books on sale, and so forth. Your blog has created the basis for a fair trade. You gave them your blog. Now you can ask them to buy your books.
Here is the golden rule of selling books on your blog: The ask must be subtle. You can put your book covers with links in your blog sidebar. (That’s what I do.) You can write posts about your readings. These should be photo-heavy and talk a lot about other people (i.e., not about yourself) and about silly things. And lastly, so long as you are self-deprecating, you can pretty much talk about you and your books all you want to without sounding like you are selling.
In this post, for example, I mocked all of the funny faces I made while giving a reading at a bookstore. I included the ridiculous pictures my husband took of me making strange gestures. Sure, the post is ostensibly about my “dragon hands,” but it is also about me giving a reading at a bookstore and talking about my novel. I’m pushing my novel and people don’t even mind because the blog post is so silly.
So that’s the three-part recipe for author-blogging: Create relationships. Entertain blog readers. Sell Books. When you take things in that order, blogging is so much easier.
Katie enjoys her three professions—novelist, freelance journalist, and lawyer—for one reason: her love of the written word. Fiction or nonfiction, Katie thrives on putting thoughts to paper and sharing them with the world. She lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, where the energy of the campus and cafes inspires her writing. She is the author of ENTANGLEMENT: A Novel (Velvet Morning Press 2015) and LOVE AND ENTROPY: A Novella (Velvet Morning Press 2015). She is also a contributor to the anthology CHRISTMAS, ACTUALLY (Velvet Morning Press 2015).
Katie contributes regularly to THE HUFFINGTON POST, THE CHRONICLE OF HIGHER EDUCATION, THE TOAST, DAME MAGAZINE and other national venues. She earned her master’s degree in creative writing from the Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins, where she attended on a fellowship. Katie has published five books on writing, the most recent with Oxford University Press, and although she has impeccable grammar, she would never correct yours. You can find Katie on Twitter at @krgpryal, on Facebook at facebook.com/katieroseguestpryal, on her blog at katieroseguestpryal.com.
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