I’ve made some spectacular blunders in my blogging career. But since we learn from our mistakes, I’ve got a boatload of information now.
As Ruth and I say: “We made the mistakes so you don’t have to.”
The worst decision I made was trying to turn this blog into a monetized business blog. That lasted about six months—until my doctor said I was going to have to choose between blogging and living to see my next birthday.
This is the second anniversary of the beginning of that failed experiment, and I’ve been thinking over what I’ve learned.
My biggest mistake was that I didn’t see that an author blog has a different purpose and goal from a business blog. Author blogs aren’t about making money directly with ads or sales.
Instead, they provide a platform for your writing and a way to communicate with readers and fellow writers. An excellent one. In fact, a blog is still the best platform-building tool for authors, according to agent Laurie McLean of Fuse Literary.
The money comes later when we sell our books. The mechanics of those sales are best left to retailers like Amazon, Kobo, iTunes, etc. unless you have a huge franchise with twenty or more titles to sell, as well as mugs, t-shirts, etc.
Does that mean we’re giving away our work for free when we write for a non-monetized blog?
When you think about how much work it takes to make the money to pay for the publicity, marketing and advertising required to make a book visible in today’s marketplace, an author blog—even if it doesn’t have any ads or affiliates—looks like a pretty good deal. A blog is the fastest way to get the attention of Google. Plus blogposts can be tweaked and recycled for guest posts and other promotions.
And an author blog doesn’t have to take much time. Because it doesn’t have to follow monetized-blog rules.
But don’t some authors monetize their blogs AND sell books?
Yes. But many of those authors started early in the blogging era so they built a big audience before there was a lot of competition. Others have a whole lot more energy and stamina than the average author.
And maybe a large staff of servants.
I’m not telling you it’s impossible to monetize an author blog and still find time to actually be an author, but I’m telling you that for me personally, it didn’t work.
Here are some other lessons I learned from my big blogging mistake:
1. Don’t Define Success with Numbers
What defines success for a business blog is irrelevant to an author.
Checking your stats or Alexa rating is fun for monitoring your progress, but those numbers mean very little for an author blog.
Superstar author Catherine Ryan Hyde sells tens of thousands of books a week, but her blog has a mediocre Alexa rating of 7 million. My blog has an excellent Alexa rating that hovers just under 300 thousand. (It’s like golf: the lower the number, the better.)
Do I sell tens of thousands of books a week? Um…not this week, anyway.
Stats and Alexa ratings are important to advertisers, but you’re not advertising anything but yourself, so it’s all good.
A small group of engaged readers can be much better for sales than a whole bunch of drive-bys. I recently visited a fellow author whose blog doesn’t even rate an Alexa rank. But she gave me a rave review and I sold nearly 40 books within hours.
2. Be True to Your Brand
Ruth and I have spent years on our blog building a reputation for being friendly, savvy, and straightforward. We alert authors about scams and expensive mistakes they can avoid.
We also both write upmarket fiction about classy women. That’s our brand.
The “blogging rules” for business blogs and online marketing often tell you to act sleazy and bully people with popups, clickbait, bribes, and other ways of “tricking” the reader.
Serious disconnect there. No amount of SEO will make up for alienating your core readership.
3. Be Generous with Content
Owners of monetized and business blogs are often worried other bloggers will steal their content. But we authors want you to “steal” quotes from our blog and spread them all over the Web. (Just link back to the blog* and spell our names right.)
However, when I told the expensive web host I wanted protection from hackers, they put some awful thing on the blog that made it impossible to copy the content and post it to other blogs. I got called on the carpet for this by some of the biggest names in the industry and I had no idea it had happened or how to stop it. (I finally did get word to the right people and that “protection” went away.)
But I ended up looking like a paranoid doofus.
*Note: If a strange blogger asks permission to link to your blog, be wary. All bloggers want “backlinks” because links boost SEO, so asking permission is overkill. These people generally want to open up a dialogue with you to perpetrate a scam.
4. Use Networking, not Gimmicks, to Build Traffic
Learning how to manipulate Google (otherwise known as “SEO”) will help you get a higher ranking in search engines. But when you’re starting out, your traffic is more likely to come from networking and social media. A new blog will get most of its traffic from posts and shares on social media or other blogs, not Google searches.
People will come back if you are engaging and fun. It’s much more important to be friendly and have something interesting to offer than it is to have the right keywords, post frequency, or word count.
Networking with other bloggers is probably the number one source of traffic for a new blog That means making friends, not tricking people.
5. Content Really is King
Some techies may have to game the system to get readers, but that’s because they don’t have the writer’s skill set. For a writer, good writing is more important than SEO.
A friend once told me about an impressive guy who was going to dominate the book world because he was a major expert in SEO and had bought up a whole lot of book related domain names. So I went to Impressive Guy’s website, which had the great domain name of books dot com or something like that.
There was nothing on the site but about 300 clunky, repetitive words about how to choose a good book. It boiled down to: read the New York Times Book Review.
In other words, the site was worthless. Nobody was going to visit it twice. Manipulating the algorithms may get short-term results, but it’s not helpful in the long run.
Good writers don’t need gimmicks. We only need to entertain and inform: content really is king. Be accessible and be yourself. Nothing else matters. (Well, correct spelling and grammar help too.)
6. Keep Control of Your Blog
Simple, low-tech blogging is better than fancy tech-heavy stuff you can’t do yourself. Your blog is the face you show to the world. You’ll be held responsible for whatever happens there.
I should have taken at least three months to learn to use WordPress dot org before we moved from Blogger, but I let fear and tech experts talk me out of my comfort zone.
My expert help almost immediately became unavailable due to a family tragedy. And I almost ended up as a tragedy myself.
None of that would have happened if I’d insisted on keeping more control.
7. Never Sacrifice Your WIP for Your Blog
I listened to business blog gurus who called me a slacker because I couldn’t spend eighteen hours a day blogging. Novels meant nothing to them. Publishers’ deadlines meant nothing to them. Nothing mattered but blog stats and subscriber numbers.
When it was finally over, I realized all the advice I was getting was irrelevant to my needs and just plain wrong for an author.
An author doesn’t have to post more than once a week. (Some bloggers call this “slow blogging.”) You can post less when you’re on a tear with your WIP.
8. Use Your Author Blog to Make Friends, Not Sales
The sales will come. The more friends you have, the more sales in the long run. But treating a friend as nothing but a sales target is always going to backfire.
9. When You Need Help, Ask for It
A number of readers offered to help me early on during the disastrous monetizing experiment, but I was afraid to admit defeat.
Our blog only exists because of the wonderful people who stepped up and made the offer again. We are now at a different self-hosted WordPress dot org site, with a simpler template, and we are not monetized.
Our generous host is Bakerview Consulting. I will forever be grateful to tech-wizard Barb Drozdowich, the owner of Bakerview. Barb believes authors shouldn’t monetize, and now I realize she’s right. Do check out her books on blogging and social media.
I also need to give a shout-out to the knights in shining armor at TechSurgeons, who came through with an emergency rescue in my hour of need.
10. The Most Important Marketing Rule is the Golden One
A whole lot of contemporary internet marketing is based on a false premise: the idea that a marketer’s job is to bully and trick customers into giving up their privacy and personal information so they can browbeat them into buying. (Some of my most relentless email spammers now have my Facebook address and DM their spam to me on Facebook, too. Grrrr.)
I don’t know if they sell more vitamins or underwear that way, but it sure doesn’t work for books.
A book is a world. It’s something you’re going to spend time with. If the author makes a reader feel bullied or stalked, they won’t want to go there. A reader needs to be enticed, not pushed.
You’ll have a much more successful blog—and writing career—if you put the customer first and ignore all the other “rules” of marketing.
I know blogging isn’t for everybody. But it can be a fantastic marketing tool and it’s the best way to get Google’s attention. So ignore most of what you’ve read about blogging and consider starting an easy, friendly, low-stress author blog. My book The Author Blog: Easy Blogging for Busy Authors will tell you exactly how to do that.
In the long run, a relaxed author blog will sell your books better than all the aggressive, money-making blogging tactics in the world. Plus it cuts way down on your advertising expenses.
An author blog will give you a secure place to interact with your fans and draw new readers. And for a lot of us, it’s just plain fun.
Anne R. Allen writes romantic-comedy/mysteries. Maybe a little more comic than romantic. She is the the author of eight comic mysteries and a collection of short stories and poems. Her work has been published in Mosaic Minds, Prose Toad, Dispatch Literareview, Chick Flicks, Rogue Voice, and the Women’s Press. Her first mystery novel, Coming Up for Air, was run as a serial by the California entertainment weekly, New Times. She has published nonfiction in The Coast News, Bay News, SLO City Press, SLO County Journal, Information Press, HopeDance, Women’s Press, and New Times, and she was a columnist from 2002 to 2008 for the Toronto-based Freelance Writers Organization International, named one of Writer’s Digest Top 101 Websites for those years. Her most recent book, The Author Blog: Easy Blogging for Busy Authors, is available on Amazon.
Originally published at annerallen.com
Photo by Jürg Stuker
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