Editor: This is the first in a series of articles charting the founding, successes, failures, and lessons learned from 7 years of blogging. Authors ask me all the time about how to build a blog that will help their book marketing, and I’ve often recommended—especially to nonfiction authors—that building a blog and a community is actually a more pressing task than publishing the book they’ve been working on. I hope that you’ll be able to profit from the lessons I’ve learned along the way, and maybe you’ll make fewer mistakes than I have. Enjoy!
You may not know this, but I was completely out of book publishing for a few years early in the 2000s. After working in graphic design, advertising, and book publishing, and owning and operating my own publishing company, I had taken time off to help Jill in her business.
So coming back to book publishing in 2009, I found there had been lots of changes. The biggest, of course, were two technological leaps that would shake the industry and continue to disrupt it today:
- the development of affordable print on demand for print books, and
- Amazon’s breakthrough ebook reader, the Kindle.
Fascinating! I’ve been making books for decades, had published my own book in 1986, but this was a whole new world full of amazing opportunities for authors. I was reading articles and catching up on all these new developments.
At the same time, as many will remember, we were only beginning to come to terms with the economic freefall that started at the end of 2007. I needed to get back to work, and was looking for ways to re-start my book design business at Marin Bookworks.
Writing Practice Actually Works
Luckily I had spent the previous two years practicing free-writing, and I don’t think there’s a better preparation for becoming a blogger.
In free-writing, you learn to write faster than you can think, without stopping, to a specific prompt, and for a set amount of time.
Due to all that free-writing practice, I knew I could write articles quite quickly, and that was the basis for my original blogging plan: to write about the best practices for book design, production, distribution, and marketing.
From my reading online, it didn’t look like anyone else had taken on this important subject area. Tens of thousands of new authors were kicking aside the gatekeepers and going straight into book production once they had finished their manuscripts. This is probably why many of the early self-published books in the print on demand era were poorly published, and embarrassing, when you look back at them from today’s perspective.
This represented a great opportunity, because designing and producing books had been my life for many years. Although book typography and indie publishing was very much a niche field, I was excited to rejoin the industry.
Can Online Training Really Work? It Did For Me.
This concentration on a niche subject area perfectly matched the advice I had found on the whole subject of blogging.
After all, I was reading many blogs and learning a lot, but I was on the public side of all these blogs. The whole world of blogging seemed mysterious.
- How did these blogs actually work? What was happening behind the scenes?
- Why did some bloggers have dozens or hundreds of people reading and commenting on their articles, while others—whose content was just as good—had no one but the crickets keeping them company?
- And were any of them getting the kind of business or monetary success that would actually make all the work worth it?
Those are the questions that were running around my head when I ran into the Blog Profits Blueprint, a free guide from a young fellow named Yaro Starak. Since he had it in both PDF and audio format, I downloaded both and dug into it.
This was a very extensive look at how to create and profit from a blog. It was the clearest explanation I had seen anywhere. I listened to the audio over and over, trying to work out if this was something that I could do. Sure, it worked for Yaro, but would it work for me?
I decided, with some prodding by Jill, to take the leap and sign up for Yaro’s blogging course, Blog Mastermind. This turned out to be a key decision that would continue to have an impact for years to come.
Over most of 2010, I studied the lessons in Blog Mastermind and attempted, as best I could, to put them into practice by doing all the suggested exercises in the program.
A lot of the curriculum in Blog Mastermind was devoted to understanding how to create content that would attract readers and allow me to demonstrate the expertise I had acquired in all those years I spent in book publishing.
So I learned how to create lots of blog content, like:
- Foundation posts that are evergreen
- List articles, like “Top 10 …”
- Interviews with other experts
- Controversial articles, which drive traffic
- Link bait article, that attract lots of links
- Search engine optimized posts, to attract search traffic
- Product reviews, also great for search
and many more.
Editor: You can cut short this part of your blog training with some of the excellent tools we have today. If you’re starting your blog journey, or looking to improve your results, have a look at Joan Stewart’s outstanding Quick & Easy Blog Post Templates. These templates teach you how to create 19 different kinds of blog content, and they couldn’t be easier to use.
More importantly, I learned how to market my blog. Amazingly, this is a step that most bloggers completely miss, and that’s too bad. A blog without traffic will face an existential dilemma, because eventually the blogger will quit.
Blog First Steps
To get started, I took the advice of established bloggers and decided to use WordPress as my blogging platform.
WordPress is widely used and supported by a huge developer community, and there are ways to madify a WordPress site to make it into a product showcase, a membership site, a media center, or just about anything else you can do with a website. Plus, the software is free, which made the choice easier.
I was reading Copyblogger quite a bit at the time, a site that’s endlessly useful for anyone trying to make an impact online. They used and recommended the WordPress theme Thesis, so I shelled out the money for it. Looking at WordPress.org, I found the internet service provider Bluehost.com was recommended, so I set up an account there.
Installing WordPress on my site was easy: you just had to click 1 button and wait about 30 seconds. Over the next few weeks I would wrestle with WordPress and Thesis trying to figure out how it all worked. Luckily, WordPress is very simple to use and I quickly had my site up and running.
It was pretty simple to create an image for the header at the top of the blog so my site wouldn’t look like it was “right out of the box” and I was ready to go. Here’s what it looked like:
Not too impressive, eh?
Remember, this was a business proposition. I wasn’t blogging as an author, but to build my book design and consulting business. I decided to spend the absolute minimum amount of money and work hard at the Blog Mastermind lessons for 6 months. At the end of that time, I would decide whether to go forward or chuck the whole enterprise.
2010: The Varieties of the Content Experience
For the first six months of 2010 I continued working through my blogging lessons and establishing traffic channels by leaving comments on other blogs and starting to post guest articles on other blogs.
My traffic, which had started at 1 visitor per day (me) had gradually grown, along with my small Twitter following. The biggest traffic event of this period happened when Dave Blatner at InDesign Secrets linked to one of my articles: I had over 50 visitors in one day, a record for me.
My first link from the indie publishing community came from Henry Baum at Self-Publishing Review, when he asked to link to an article I had written in ISBNs.
I felt like I was off and running, so I hired Matt Chevy, now of Proof Branding, to give the blog a more professional look. He’s the one who came up with the iconic branding I now use through most of my sites:
I felt like I finally had a professional blog, the beginnings of an audience, and some idea of what I was doing.
Throughout 2009 and 2010 I published 5 or 6 times per week. This is a brutal schedule for anyone, and coming up with new articles almost every day of the week really did take a big sacrifice on my part.
But I suspected that the more I posted the faster my traffic would grown, and that proved to be true in my case. Visitors taught me how to relate to both good comments and bad ones, and how to handle the offers that started coming my way as well as the occasional troll who wanted to pick fights in the comments.
Blogging is a very rewarding activity, but only if you get to share it with others. That was my entire goal in learning blogging that first year, that and learning how to produce content.
It was amazing when I realized the lessons in the blog training program actually worked just as Yaro predicted. Getting that kind of feedback, and watching my “numbers” gradually grow is what kept me going.
On the other hand, I did absolutely nothing to monetize the work I was putting in, and I never seriously addressed the need to build a mail list.
At this point The Book Designer was fulfilling a role for me as a way to express and pass on the knowledge I had from a life in publishing and graphic arts. And it was beginning to show that it would be an asset to my business, as well.
Traffic: During the last four months of 2009 there were 2,610 users on the blog generating 11,847 pageviews, for an average monthly traffic volume of 652 visitors, or about 22 per day.
During 2010 there were 94,313 users on the blog, generating 272,363 pageviews, for an average monthly traffic volume of 7,859 visitors, or 261 per day.
Post contains affiliate links to training products that have helped me establish my online platform, and which I highly recomment.