I was going through old debut showcases, looking for books to read, when I came across an author's blog that had almost no comments. The author was posting regularly, but her last reader comment was back in September. Now it's possible that her web traffic is just fine, but when you have no comments for week after week after week, to the random browser--me in this case--it looks like you have no web traffic.
So I took a closer look. I noticed a few things. One was that there was no blogroll. Authors like John Scalzi can get away with not maintaining a blogroll. The rest of us need one. That's because when you drive traffic away from your blog, you are actually driving traffic to it. Counterintuitive? Sure. But most of us reciprocate when we discover ourselves blogrolled on your blog. It's called spreading the link love. Shout-outing. Showcasing.
Then it occurred to me that some newcomers probably don't know how to discover such things. So while I'm aiming this post at new authors, most of it will be useful for everyone who blogs.
Setting Up the Blog
Include the following in your blog:
- A blogroll, populated with the blogs of your favorite authors and reviewers. Odds are, they'll notice you and check you out. Use Google to search for your favorite authors, then sift through the results for their blogs and websites. They'll be close to the top.
- Comments enabled and left unfettered. Wait until spam and trolls becomes a problem before you set up verification and log-in requirements. (It has yet to become a problem for me.) Make it as easy as possible to comment on your blog.
- The archive. This is populated by default.
- A link to your author website. Better yet, embed your blog in your website. Use Lisa Shearin or David Anthony Durham as your guide. These are both Blogger blogs, but they live on the authors' websites rather than on Blogspot. But if you don't know how to do that, a link is a second-best option. You'll have to monitor the traffic separately (see below).
- A link to your profile. I think this is on by default as well. Leave your profile available for public viewing. Your profile is the best way for others to trace your comments back to your blog.
You can set all that up and still get no traffic. Here's how to help drive traffic to your site for free. Well, there is a cost, but that cost is time, rather than money. The closer you get to 40, the more you realize how very valuable time is.
- Comment on other blogs. People know you exist this way. I still check out every new commenter.
- Answer your comments. You want to appear accessible. Plus, when you answer comments, you encourage conversation.
- Thank reviewers. Even thank reviewers for bad reviews. We feel all special when authors thank us. We may not be special at all, but it is in your best interest to encourage such feelings anyway. Don't kiss our ass; we can see right through that. Just thank us. We're more likely to remember you and to blog about you when we have warm and fuzzy feelings about you.
- Consider blogging about bad reviews as well as good ones. This makes you look uber-cool, like nothing can touch you. You may be crying your eyes red, but we don't know that. We're just marveling at how awesome you are. Of course, if you're only getting bad reviews, this will simply make you look pathetic, so use some balance here.
- Shout-out other blogs that you admire, and include a link to that blog, or the particular post that caught your eye. We'll most likely notice (see below for how) and we'll appreciate it.
- Consider using Twitter. I have not taken the plunge yet. Try it and see if it's for you. If you like it, include your Twitter feed on your sidebar. Twitter should have instructions on how to do this.
- Join science fiction and fantasy forums and participate. Yeah, I know. I need to take this advice, myself.
- Ask! Email the blogger/site owner and make a request. Offer to trade links, or to do an article or guest post, or to send a review copy. The worst they can do is say no, but most of the time, bloggers are happy (read: giddy) to help authors out.
- Did I miss something? Leave a comment and share the knowledge, please!
You'll want to keep an eye on your web traffic. This helps you know who is talking about you and what they're saying. The blogosphere is a very civil place mostly because we know when someone is talking about us, therefore everyone watches their tongues. Some people like being controversial, but I haven't seen it happen much in my blog circles. Here's how you monitor your traffic:
- Establish a Technorati account and monitor the Authority. The actual number becomes meaningless over time, but when you click on Authority, you can see who linked to you from Blogger and a few other platforms. (However, it seems to be mostly blind to LiveJournal and WordPress.)
- Establish a Google Alert with the name of your blog as the search text. If the name happens to be the same as a name on your book (whether the title or your actual name), so much the better. You'll get alerts whenever Google finds the search text. Also establish alerts on your name and your book title. Set the frequency to at least one email a day.
- Establish a Google Analytics (or SiteMeter) account, and monitor the Referrals. These happen when someone clicks a link to your site. You get to see where that link came from. Sometimes the links are hard to chase down on LiveJournal due to the Friending system, but mostly it's very useful. You'll catch WordPress accounts this way, plus other blog platforms that Technorati seems to miss. You'll also know when someone emailed your site to someone else, because the referral will look something like this: "mail.bellsouth.net".
I only really have one of these, but it's a good one.
- Establish a "media" section within your site with high-resolution images of you and your unaltered covers. This page should also have your bio, including any pen names (unless you're keeping such information secret). Michelle Moran has such a page with everything I need to do a debut showcase. Even links! Make it easy on us bloggers to publicize your work. Use Michelle's site as a guide.