Thou Shalt Blog?

by | Oct 8, 2014

By Jason Matthews

At a recent writers conference I listened to a lecture from Laurie McLean of Foreword Literary, an agent I admire. She discussed the challenges of getting published and how writers can increase their chances by building a stronger author platform using social media and other tools.

During the talk Laurie said something along the lines of, “At the very least, new authors should be blogging,” which was followed by a moment of silence from hundreds of aspiring authors seated in the auditorium.

That’s a bold statement, I thought, wondering how many throats just swallowed hard, the great majority belonging to writers who probably weren’t blogging. It’s ironic how Laurie’s comment affected me, since I’ve been recommending the same thing since 2010 while maintaining two blogs during that time. One is dedicated to things related to self-publishing, the other is for anything else in the universe that I feel like writing about.

And yet I’m still not sure how to quantify the importance of it; surely there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to whether an author should blog, how frequently to post or at what word count. These days when writers ask me for blogging advice, I revert to an “it depends” answer, although Ms. McLean may disagree and probably has ample evidence.

Of course I believe a blog boosts an author’s online presence. One that functions well can be an author’s HQ, leading to everything else the world might want to know about her/him. The social media and book links are there, the updates and events, the musings, sample chapters, maybe some photos and video.

But is a blog essential? Can one manage with just Facebook and Twitter, or perhaps by simply writing great books? If you don’t have a blog already, it’s important to know they can drain your time and energies.

For newbies, there’s a significant learning curve to make the most of the tech involved. But even after the posts start piling up, building an audience takes time, and you may be blogging to crickets for months on end while only spammers leave comments.

In worst cases, blogs can feel like a burden with no measurable reward. You may even question if the blog is helping you or hurting you as an author.

After the lecture and standing ovation, I asked Laurie if she would expand on her comment. Since she’s landed lucrative publishing contracts and has been in the writing business far longer than WordPress or Blogger, I took her reply to heart as an agent who understands many aspects of publishing that an indie author like me may never know.

She said, “I strongly believe that blogs should be a standard component of any writer’s toolkit. Not only does it get you writing on a regular schedule, it lubricates your writer’s brain, eases that fear of putting yourself out there in the world, facilitates networking with your peers and readers, and makes you focus on your author brand and how you want your work to be known.”

It’s About Writing

I have to agree because this is the crux: blogging gets you writing. Authors need that as athletes need exercise and musicians need to make music. And it doesn’t have to be the same kind of writing we do for our books. Blogging can an athlete’s cross-training or a musician’s jam session with friends, where we work on different muscles and skill sets knowing it benefits the whole and makes us better at what we do. That’s why I love my “anything in the universe” blog, where the most popular posts often have nothing to do with the subjects of my books. These cross-training posts are just stuff I find interesting and want to write about, like the life expectancy of NFL players.

It’s Visibility

Author platform boils down to online presence. Each element adds to the big picture (i.e. Facebook, Twitter, website, Amazon Author Central, Google Plus, YouTube), but having a blog is the crème de la crème if used well.

Nothing else has the same potential as a blog used consistently over time, plus all those other elements can be implemented into it. People from all over the world routinely visit my blogs from posts written years ago, and these visitors arrive from thousands of different Google subject searches.

For example, this morning someone visited my blog from a post I made in May of 2011 while plenty of others visited posts written at least two years back. Nothing else I do online has that kind of lasting power. Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus mentions come and go like paper flyers taped to street signs compared to the perpetual billboards of blog posts.

If you like the concept of more bang for your buck, then blogging will reward your cyber investment better over time.

It’s Embracing Tech

In 2009 I recoiled at the thought of having a blog, not knowing exactly what one was and dreading another thing in my life that required maintenance. It sounded like work, and I didn’t know if I had time for it.

You may feel the same way. Understandable. A Facebook friend summed it up by saying, “When I started out, I was scared of the site as I’m in my senior years and learning it nearly gave me a nervous breakdown. But now that’s a distant memory.” Like her, I also came to embrace the learning curve and even excel at it. The good news is how user-friendly these things have become.

How Frequent, How Many Words?

Here comes the real divide. Some advice says blog as much as you can, several times a week if possible. Others tout quality over quantity with more developed posts winning out in the long run. My belief is to blog however it fits into your schedule.

As a reader, sometimes I prefer short messages with immediate gratification while other times I’m willing to delve into a topic. It’s smart to write both ways too. For those who fear the burden of regular, well developed posts, you can allow select others to add articles in the form of guest-blogging.

“It has been said over and over that you should write every day,” Laurie added. “A twice weekly, or even once weekly blog post, can add to achieving this goal of daily writing. I advise my clients to blog 1/3 of the time about their ‘product’ (works in progress, books for sale, etc.), 1/3 about some personal aspect of their lives (make sure it is something you want to share such as a hobby or interest rather than photos of your children and your home address), and 1/3 about the craft of writing (solving plot problems, tips on pacing, character development or dialogue, etc.). Follow this formula, write a 250-500 word blog post twice a week, and by the time you have a book to sell, you’ll already have an audience to market to.”

That’s good advice though I haven’t always followed it. On one of my blogs, I post about once a week. On the other, closer to once a month. This method doesn’t cause me to stress over them, which helps stay sane.

The most blog-induced stress I’ve experienced was when I posted every day for a month as an experiment, attempting to make the posts as interesting as possible. That was a writing challenge comparable to NaNoWriMo. By the end of the month, I was spent but the results were remarkable. Visitor traffic had more than doubled as did the number of subscribers.

Do they Sell Books?

My experience has been a mixed bag: the non-fiction blog sells non-fiction books better than my anything blog sells novels. This estimate is based on the number of Amazon links that get clicked by visitors, a helpful stat to monitor. A smarter approach is to think of them for building an audience and networking, and not to value them based solely on book sales.

What I’ve Found to Work

  • blogging about topics that really interest me
  • posting frequently when possible, or as seldom as once a month with quality articles
  • doing it consistently for years
  • making it engaging, asking questions to readers
  • discussing topics that get a range of opinions, even controversial ones
  • discussing new topics that people haven’t heard much about

What Doesn’t Work

  • blogging primarily about my books or sample chapters
  • writing about my daily happenings, life or family
  • posting without much substance just to get something out there

Getting Started for Newbies

The free platforms at WordPress.com and Blogger are fine choices for authors on a budget. There’s no monthly hosting cost, but it’s wise to purchase a custom domain name at around $10 per year.

WordPress.org is an upgrade for those willing to pay for more template options and monthly hosting. Also many websites have a blog tab or function enabling you to create a blog and website in one location.

Essentials that Benefit any Blog

  • links to your social media sites, preferably easy to recognize icons
  • links to your books on Amazon and other retailers, preferably icons
  • subscription or follow links in two locations, one at the top of the page and another at the end of each post
  • social media buttons for retweeting on Twitter, sharing on Facebook, Google Plus, Pinterest, etc.
  • sharing enabled with your social media sites and Goodreads, etc. to display your latest post as they happen
  • navigation to other pages (e.g., About – Contact – Sample My Books)
  • mobile friendly features for cell phone and tablet visitors

Conclusion

Every author has different needs, time frames and skill sets. Like Laurie, I believe every author can benefit by having a blog, but I don’t think every author needs one.

If you have extra time, want to improve your writing, want to bolster your online platform and are in this for the long haul, then yes, you should be blogging.

If you’re writing to satisfy another goal and not sure how important it is to you, blogging may feel like a burden you don’t need. Or you may have limited time and the ability to write amazing books, which people read and share with others (the ultimate goal). In that case, you probably don’t need one either.

By the way, thank you to Laurie for letting me share these insights. She’s at Foreword Literary and knows her stuff.

Jason MatthewsJason-Matthews- of eBook Success 4 Free is Contributing Writer for The Book Designer. He is also a novelist, blogger and self-publishing coach. He works with writers around the world through every phase of book creation and marketing.

You can learn more about Jason here.
 
Photo: bigstockphoto.com

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34 Comments

  1. Claire Annette Noland

    I appreciate this post which I found through a link on another post. I like blogging because it helps me to be disciplined about my writing. I enjoy the blogging community that I am a part of and I always like to find new people to follow – like you!
    Thanks!

    Reply
  2. TraceyMarie

    Thank you Jason for this Blog. I have also read and been advised the same.

    I set up a blog, http://lovehappinessandangels three months ago and post weekly. It is great discipline and I already have 119 followers which I am quite pleased with. It is my aim to have 1000 within a year. I am also taking part in Nanowrimo in November which I think will be another great discipline and I am hoping fun.

    Thank you again for this post.

    Reply
    • Jason Matthews

      Glad to hear it, Tracey. I think the dot com got cut off your link.

      Reply
  3. Matt Hill

    A quick note about WordPress. You said that “WordPress.org is an upgrade for those willing to pay more.” That’s not quite right: WordPress.org is free and allows the technically savvy to download the WordPress software and host it on their own server.

    WordPress.com on the other hand is also free, but they offer extra features such as the domain name and templates which require payment. Most bloggers will probably want this option.

    Reply
    • Jason Matthews

      Matt, you’re right. I should have mentioned WordPress.org is a template with both free and paid versions but requires hosting somewhere that most likely will cost money. WordPress.com is hosted free of charge, and also has free and paid templates.
      Excuse me for that poor wording, and thank you for mentioning it.

      Reply
  4. Claire T

    Really useful post, thank you. I have just started a blog for all those reasons!

    Reply
  5. David Todd

    [Lost a comment; trying again]

    One blog since Dec 2007; the other since June 2011. One about my writing; the other about what interests me with a sprinkling of journaling.

    I estimate about 1200 posts total. Currently on a regular schedule of 2x per week per blog.

    Readers: 1 or 2 regulars; not sure why I should care about the non-regulars.

    Conclusion: It’s as hard, if not harder, to get a blog noticed than it is to get a book noticed.

    Reply
    • David Todd

      Oops, sorry for this duplication. I’m not used to seeing new comments on top, so thought my first didn’t go through.

      Reply
  6. David Todd

    Two blogs, one since Dec 2007, the other since June 2011. One about my writing; one about topics that interest me with a little bit of journaling.

    Somewhere around 1200 posts; currently on a regular schedule of 2x per week per blog. Readers: 1 or 2.

    I’m not convinced I’m doing any good with this. Getting a blog noticed is as hard if not harder than getting a book noticed.

    Reply
  7. helene renell

    I have been surprised every once in a while to see that something I posted made a difference. Even though not everyone decides to leave a comment, tweet, or what have you, you just never know how you are influencing others. Keeps the mystery going.

    Reply
  8. C.K. Macleod

    Jason,

    I’m so glad you addressed this topic!

    I’m a busy author and editor with three blogs (two or them are co-written). I post once a week on my own blog, once every other week on a shared blog, occasionally on the third blog, and I write guest posts, too.

    It’s a lot to keep up with (given my day job responsibilities), but I like how the practice of blogging has helped me to become a more efficient on-demand writer. By blog number 2, I discovered tech tools that can help me write smarter, and that led me to begin blog number 3: Tech Tools for Writers.

    I love to read blogs, too, but because there’s so much reading material to choose from (and my reading time is finite), I’ve become selective about the blog posts I’ll read.

    I’m curious… How are readers deciding on what they’ll read? How do they manage their reading loads? How might this information change how (and how frequently) we blog?

    So fascinating…

    Reply
    • Jason Matthews

      That is a lot, CK. I think we’ve all become selective with what we read and probably read at least a few lines of a huge volume of work out there. I don’t really know how the majority of readers manage their finite time, but I usually revert to the first 3 sentences test: if I’m still interested after 3 sentences…

      Reply
  9. Lisa Buie-Collard

    Thanks Joel and Jason, I really enjoyed this article and it gave me a lot to think about, so did the first and last comments! I subscribe to quite a few blogs and I don’t like it when they post every day because I can’t keep up. I end up deleting a lot. So my blog schedule is much less than Michael Marcus’s, plus I am a novelist, not a non-fiction writer…

    Reply
  10. Ernie Zelinski

    I agree that blogs can help certain authors market their books. I used to have two blogs but gave up on them a long time ago.

    For a blog to be effective, it must have a lot of visitors. The same applies for an Amazon page with a lot of reviews for the book. The number of reviews are irrelevant if no one ever visits the Amazon page.

    The problem with any marketing technique is that when practically everyone starts using that technique, it becomes rather ineffective, particularly for 95 percent of the people using that technique.

    Here is the bottom line: Not every author needs a blog. I certainly don’t. I will do better at marketing my books than 95 percent of writers willl do with their books who use blogs. In September, my US distributor National Book Network sent our over 7,500 copies of the print edition of my self-published “How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free”. I had 15,000 copies of the book printed in June and thought that this would last until February or March. But with the great month in Sepember, I have ordered another print run of 15,000 copies to be deliverd by November 7.

    What is the reason for the great sales of my book in September? It certainly has nothing to do with a blog. And it has virtually nothing to do with social media. It has everything to do with “creative marketing”. I have 50 to 100 original creative techniques that I have used over the years that are more effective than having a blog or social media.

    Here are three reasons via quotations why I make a great living as a self-publisher today by working one or two hours a day:

    “The amount of money you make will always be in direct proportion
    to the demand for what you do, your ability to do it, and the difficulty of replacing you.”
    — Earl Nightingale

    “The great creative individual is capable of more wisdom and virtue than collective man ever can be.”
    — John Stuart Mill

    “The good ideas are all hammered out in agony by individuals, not spewed out by groups.”
    — Charles Bower

    Back to creative marketing. I like this quip by an author whose nickname is “The Name Tag Guy”:

    “I once saw my book for sale on Ebay. For two dollars. (sniff) So, do you know what I did? I bid $250 on it. Then bought it. That’s marketing baby!”
    — Scott Ginsberg (The Name Tag Guy)

    In short, I suggest that authors who want to be much more effective than 99 percent of authors in promoting their books go against conventional wisdom. As Scott Ginsberg says, “That’s marketing baby.”

    Ernie J. Zelinski
    The Prosperity Guy
    “Helping Adventurous Souls Live Prosperous and Free”
    Author of the Bestseller “How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free”
    (Over 225,000 copies sold and published in 9 languages)
    and the International Bestseller “The Joy of Not Working’
    (Over 275,000 copies sold and published in 17 languages)

    Reply
    • Jason Matthews

      What you’re doing is really impressive, Ernie. Thank you for the marketing ideas.

      Reply
  11. A.K. Andrew

    Excellent post, and very informative. I’ve been blogging for a couple of years, but am still not in print, so I’m in it for the long haul. It is an infringement on writing time, even at only posting twice a month, but I found this article reassuring as I sometimes question whether I’m just spinning my wheels. It does limber up different writing muscles too which you mention, and that’s certainly one aspect I do enjoy. Thanks so much.

    Reply
    • Jason Matthews

      My pleasure, AK. Always nice to hear feedback like yours, and I feel the same way about spinning wheels sometimes.

      Reply
  12. Ken Talley

    Very interesting post, Jason, especially since I’m on the fence about blogging. My big question, being a fiction writer, is how to engage readers on a blog. So many novelists, as one commenter noted, spend a great deal of time chronicling their writing experiences and/or giving writing advice. All of that I find worthwhile because I’m a writer. But what about readers? They won’t be interested in that, I don’t think. Coming up with reader-centered topics remains the biggest challenge for writers of fiction. At least for this one. So Laurie McLean’s suggestion to spend one-third of your blogs on writing seems off the mark. Am I missing something?

    Reply
    • Jason Matthews

      I tend to agree with everything you said, Ken. My “everything” blog, which is essentially my fiction blog, seems like loads more work to engage readers than my non-fiction blog. As I mentioned, I’ve had more success there writing on a myriad of topics that interest me, but it might be wiser to stick with a tighter range of subject matter. Who knows, why limit myself to interesting spiritual stuff when posts about the NFL and industrial hemp have generated as many or more views and comments?

      Reply
  13. Sharla Rae

    Great blog. I just separated from a group blog and “finally” created my own author website. Mind you, I’ve been published but … long story. Any way, I loved your idea about dividing the type of blogs into 3rds. It makes sense and covers all the bases. On the group blog I wrote strictly for writers but I knew on my author blog I needed to present a bigger picture. Thanks writing this.

    Reply
  14. Anne R. Allen

    Great post, Jason, and I like your balanced approach.

    I have a pretty popular blog (closing in on 100K hits for the month) but I only post four times a month. Two of those are usually guests. I find this “slow blog” approach really works for me.

    I recently spotlighted a boxed set I was launching with five other authors. We used ENT, KND and a number of other advertisers. The biggest spike in sales came on the day the box was featured on my blog.

    So for me, blogging sells books. And slow blog can work as well as a daily one.

    But as you say, what doesn’t work is a blog that takes over your life. If your main goal is to write fiction, that has to come first. I think you can have a nice blog presence even if you only blog once a month, as long as you stay active in the blogosphere in other ways. (Comment on other blog and do some guest blogging.)

    For nonfic writers, I think a blog is much more of a requirement. I like Nina Amir’s approach of essentially “blogging your book.”

    Reply
    • Jason Matthews

      Hi Anne. Really glad to hear how successful a slow approach can be! Makes it easier on everyone, imo.

      Reply
  15. Marquita Herald

    Hey Jason nice to catch up with you! Well you know I’m a big believer in blogging for authors but only if they’re willing to put in the effort. It introduces potential readers to you and shows them you can in fact write, and it is the best way to grow a list which is a key component to building a platform. You can grow followers on social media, but not a list of avid fans you can communicate with on a much more personal level.

    Reply
    • Jason Matthews

      Always a pleasure, Marquita! I’m a fan of yours.

      Reply
  16. Jo Michaels

    I agree that every author needs a blog. Not only does it get you writing every day (so your muse knows just when to drop by), search engines love the constant new content.

    I’ve found a nice mix of how to editing and writing posts, and posts with book reviews goes a long way toward attracting both readers and writers. Those are my passions, and I can never say enough about them.

    Like the article says, I think folks should blog about what they love, because that guarantees a ton of writing fodder.

    Good for you, Joel, for sharing such an inspiring post that’s so full of truth.

    WRITE ON!

    Reply
  17. Ron Estrada

    This has been a topic of debate lately, Jason. Some are saying that blogs are becoming unproductive because of the sheer volume available out there. I’ve gone in long spurts of regular blogging. I got a little tired of seeing 100 visits per day, 98 of them spambots. I think I will try a new tact, though. I may start posting some of my research, especially the interesting stuff like the loss of the USS Scorpion in 1968, the setting for my current middle grade wip. I’m not sure if 12 year-olds are reading blogs, but anything is worth a try. I will say that, if you have one hour a day to write, skip the blog and write the novel. Thanks for the post.

    Reply
    • David Baird

      I’m sure that all Jason Matthews says about blogging is true. But it also depresses and horrifies me. The world is already overwhelmed with bloggers, spouting opinions, criticism, prejudices. Expending hours of one’s valuable time pumping out more crap (and let’s face it, most blogs are crap) in the hope that eventually it will lead to somebody somewhere buying one of your books…well, it makes no sense to me. How many bloggers actually have anything worthwhile to say? We only have one life to lead. Time is limited. Surely what the world needs is fewer bloggers and more attention to writing skills! I am just picturing the most depressing epitaph for a budding writer: “His blogs were brilliant — too bad his books weren’t worth reading.”

      Reply
      • Jason Matthews

        That’s a good line, David! It might be on my tombstone, with proper crediting of course.

        Reply
      • Jennifer Mattern

        What you deem “crap,” others might find valuable. Blogging isn’t one thing with one purpose. Some blogs exist as marketing or PR tools (how they can be most effective for authors). Others exist as personal journals designed to satisfy the author more than anyone else. And some blogs exist as business models in their own right. All have a place. And the beauty of it is that we can all choose to read the blogs we want to and ignore the ones we don’t care for.

        If a writer has any intention of “pumping out more crap,” then they really have no business blogging. It says they either don’t understand it or they’re not ready for it.

        Unfortunately that’s common. Authors sometimes mistake blogs-as-personal-journals as marketing-oriented blogs when the two styles rarely fit together. If you want a blog to help sell books, your blog needs to satisfy a need of your target readers — educate, inform, or entertain. That doesn’t mean pushing people to buy your book all the time. It doesn’t mean sharing random thoughts about what’s going on in the world, unless it somehow relates to your books or you have a strong reason to believe most of your readers will care.

        For nonfiction authors, it’s easy. You use your blog to further your authority status in your niche. Reporting, interviews, and how-tos are all good blog post formats in that case.

        The authors I’ve seen struggle the most are authors of fiction. They often aren’t sure how to tie a blog to their books in a way that actually helps. But there are plenty of options:

        Character blogs
        Sharing short stories and flash fiction set in the world of your novel(s)
        Sharing reviews of similar books you think readers of your titles might enjoy
        Answering reader questions about yourself and your books
        Sharing background on an upcoming book (such as photos from the setting of your next story if it takes place in a real location)

        That list is just a start.

        Your blog is also a good place to share supplemental material like:

        Excerpts
        A sneak peak of an upcoming book cover
        Book trailers
        Video interviews (or answering reader questions in short videos)
        Original artwork appearing in your books (great for children’s authors and illustrators)

        If you genuinely believe that you have nothing worthwhile to say, then you aren’t in a position to blog yet (and maybe you never will be). That’s okay. Blogs are what you make of them, and they’ll only help if you treat them, and your readers, with respect.

        While blogging can help every author sell books, there’s much more to it than slapping some posts on the web. If you, or any other author, doesn’t want to put the work in (and all good marketing involves work), then there’s nothing wrong with you choosing to sit it out.

        If you don’t like most blogs you read, that’s okay too. You won’t always be the blogger’s target reader. By their very nature they write for people who like to read blogs, and they can reach other groups of book buyers in other ways.

        Reply
        • Jason Matthews

          Great comments. Thank you for adding that, Jennifer.

          Reply
    • Jason Matthews

      I feel ya, Ron. Been there done that and still doing that to a degree. I think the key concept is limiting the time a blog takes away from other writing.

      Reply
  18. Henry Hyde

    That’s a really useful post, and comes at the very moment I’m considering the best way forward online. I recently realised that I had just too many blog projects on the go, so I’ve culled several and am consolidating. The older I get, the busier I seem to be, so I feel it’s important to concentrate on the things that really matter to me and blog about that, regardless of regularity.

    To some extent, it feels like starting over — but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Your post is very reassuring that I’ve probably made the right decision.

    Reply
  19. Michael N. Marcus

    Readers find blogs in several ways including links from websites and other social media, referrals from friends and business associates, mentions on business cards and other printed items, and search engines.

    Bloggers naturally hope that people who discover a blog will like it and return again and again to see what else the blogger has to say.

    The best way to lose these new “customers” is to have nothing new to say.

    If you blog just once a month or once a week, you may as well not bother.

    You can’t expect people to remember that you post on Tuesdays, or the tenth of the month.

    Five (or even seven) times a week is the right schedule. I once produced five daily blogs — it was a killer schedule.

    My primary blog is published five times a week. I typically get between 3,000 and 3,500 readers per day. That’s much less than what HuffPost gets, but much more than most blogs.

    If I blogged less often, I’m sure I’d have fewer blog readers, and probably fewer book readers.

    Some important tips:

    (1) You don’t have to post new material every day. Just as TV networks post reruns, bloggers can do the same thing, with updates if necessary. You should be getting new visitors all the time, so don’t assume that today’s visitors have read what you published six months ago or three years ago.

    (2) Novelists, memoirists and poets may be better served by a website and Facebook page rather than a blog. If you write novels about post-apocalypse lesbian vegetarians, it will be tough to find much to say about the book every day.

    (3) Your blog doesn’t have to focus on your books. You can blog about various interesting things. Establish yourself as an interesting personality who happens to write books. Football games on TV include commercials for cars and pizza — not just helmets and jock straps. If your books are about food, an occasional post about travel or politics can help, not hurt.

    (4) Many novelists’ blogs end up discussing the novelists’ writing experiences. Too many novelists’ blogs seem to be aimed at future novelists. There is already more than enough information online about writing books. Find something else to talk about.

    Reply
    • Jason Matthews

      Wow, Michael, I knew you were good but that’s seriously impressive! Thank you for sharing–always appreciate your advice.

      Reply

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