Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Blogging Advice for New Authors

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.
Publicizing 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!
Monitor Your Traffic
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".
That's the bare minimum. You might also want to establish Google Reader, Feedburner and Bloglines accounts (and other feed readers, if you have other favorites) to get a good idea of how many people are reading your blog feeds. Feedburner has the added benefit of allowing people to subscribe to your blog by email. Anything else?

Website Suggestions
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.
Does anyone else have any suggestions? If I can get a good collection of suggestions, I'll make this a permapage on the sidebar.

25 comments:

Lisa said...

Thanks for the all the useful information. Lisa

T.D. Newton said...

Thanks, found your link from James over at Speculative Horizons. I just signed up for Twitter though I've heard about it a bunch and I'm still not sure what exactly it does. Working on most of your recommendations already; hopefully traffic will continue to go up!

(having a tangible product might help, too)

Mulluane said...

An easy way to track your linkbacks is to set google reader up to search:

link:yourwebsitenamehere

Mine is:

link:dragonsheroesandwizards.blogspot.com

I can see at a glance exactly who has linked to my site and I immediately link back!

Manually ping after posting. I don't trust the bots to do so in any sort of a timely fashion. (Note: activate Feedburner's PingShot.) It takes less time then you think once you setup and bookmark all the ping forms.

http://www.feedburner.com/fb/a/pingSubmit

http://beta.search.msn.com/docs/submit.aspx

http://blo.gs/ping.php

http://blogsearch.google.com/ping

http://www.moreover.com/ping

supply a u= parameter with the URL of site or RSS feed

(mine looks like this, you must paste the URL into your browser address bar then just hit enter. Bookmark for later)
http://www.moreover.com/ping?u=http://dragonsheroesandwizards.blogspot.com/

and/or

http://api.moreover.com/ping?u=http://feeds.feedburner.com/DragonsHeroesAndWizards

http://technorati.com/ping

(check techorati often, pings, even manual ones, do not always work. If they aren't, go to the help section, discussions and request admin ping it for you. I just had to do this myself after 12 days of no pings)

That is all I've got!

T.D. Newton said...

Thanks Mulluane, the pings you listed are awesome.

I can't get the Google Reader search thing to work, though. Maybe it's just that no one links directly back to me in their posts (but I know a few folks have me in their blogroll on their sidebar). Pretty sure I'm doing it wrong.

Tia Nevitt said...

Mulluane, did you mean that we should set up the link: search through Google Reader or Google Alerts? It works through Google Alerts for me, but not for Reader.

Thanks for all the tips!

Mulluane said...

Sorry, I forgot that there is a trick to doing that. First pull up:

http://blogsearch.google.com/

plug your link:yourblognamehere into the search box. Once it pulls up the list (or lack of one) scroll to the bottom, there are 3 options, email, blog search gadget or subscribe in reader. pick your poison!

One more ping addy

http://www.bloglines.com/ping

Raven said...

I can see how Michelle Moran's media page would be very useful. A great template for writers' websites.

S.M.D. said...

Truly excellent advice, Tia! Pay attention all you budding authors :P. Not very often you find a good post about all the things you should be doing online...

I did a similar advice thing about audio interviews for authors (found here: http://wisb.blogspot.com/2008/07/advice-about-audio-interviews.html) (based on a load of interviews I had hear that were really killers for me in regards to getting the author's book). Thought it might be of interest to your readers or something.

Dark Wolf said...

Wow, excellent article, Tia :)

Kimber An said...

If you're published, be sure to put a Google Alert on the titles of each of your books too. That way you'll always know when a blogger reviews one and can chime in on conversations about them throughout the blogosphere. Great advice, Tia!

Tia Nevitt said...

Thanks for all the additional suggestions, everyone.

I thought of another one as well--blog regularly! You'll never get an audience if you blog only once a month. Pick a blogging schedule--once a week at a minimum--and stick to it.

Kelly Gay said...

Great advice, Tia. You rock! :)

I'm gonna link this -- I think some of my readers will find it very helpful!

Tia Nevitt said...

Thanks to everyone for all the links!

Naiyana said...

This is fantastic info!
Thank you

Lisa said...

Mulluane, Thanks for adding to the information! Tia made a wise choice when she added you to her debut team!

Dan McGirt said...

Thanks for the great checklist! As an author, I love being able to connect with my Loyal Readers online. But the sheer tidal wave of available tools, channels and social media options can make building an online presence as much work as writing a book. You identified a few basic steps I've neglected, so thanks!

Heather said...

Great resource, Tia, thank you! I'll link to this in my next round up.

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

I am so far behind, I'm only now getting to see this...

That's because Blogger's threatened to delete my blog. They claim I'm a spammer.

So I'm moving over to http://blog.westofmars.com -- come join the fun (and don't forget to update your RSS and links!).

Once this hysteria calms down (only two weeks after the book went on sale!), I'll be back...

Tia Nevitt said...

Thanks again, everyone! I see a lot of new names here, so welcome! I hope you come back again sometime!

Susan, I can't believe Blogger thinks you are a spammer! Have you no recourse? I wonder what their criteria of a "spammer" is?

SciFiGuy said...

I am so far behind on my posting this week. This is a great article Tia (and Mulluane's tips too!). Very thorough and essential stuff. Thanks so much.

Mulluane said...

All of you are very kind.

Thanks!

Lisa said...

I removed my verfication and have thus far received 2 spam post. Sigh! I'm ready to put the verification back online. I reported both of them to blogger.

Tia - you mentioned that you've never had a problem with spam post. Does that mean that they've never posted here or that there weren't very many and you deleted them?

Mulluane said...

I've been lucky I guess, I've never had a spam comment.

Tia Nevitt said...

To me a "problem" would be several a day, or even several a week. I have one every once in a while, mostly on really old posts. For some reason, certain posts seem to attract them.

So I delete them as they pop up.

SparklingBlue said...

Hm, some interesting ideas that I may consider trying