Wow, a lot of LONG comments today! I will get to all of them eventually, but not today.
Today, I’d like to talk about branding your blog. This is critical, because people need to know what your blog is “about” or they’ll find a reason to visit one of the other 60 million blogs and skip yours.
This blog has a pretty simple brand. It’s the Advanced Fiction Writing Blog, and it’s about fiction writing. But there are plenty of blogs about fiction writing. What’s different about mine? Several things:
First, it’s well integrated in with my web site, which already had a strong brand as a quirky, high-content site with a sharp focus on “how-to”. The look and feel is almost identical. Gerhi noticed this today and asked the obvious question:
One question for you Randy. Your blog and site match in design. Obviously its not a standard WordPress theme. Who made up your template for the WordPress side of your site?
Randy sez: I took the default WordPress theme and modified it by going into the PHP code and editing it directly to look as much like my own site as possible. This is easy if you are familiar with the usual suspects: HTML, PHP, and CSS. If you aren’t, you can always pay somebody to do it. It took me about an hour to tweak things the way I wanted them, starting from a cold start with the default WordPress theme. That was because I had already created the template for my web site first. (Gerhi asked if Arteculation Designs did that for me. The answer is no. They created the graphic design and sent me an image file, with color codes for all the colors, and the names of the fonts. Then I turned that into HTML, PHP, and CSS. I like this kind of geek-work.)
Second, near the top of the blog is my “success formula,” (which is on almost every page of my site). This formula is:
Successful Fiction Writing = Organizing + Creating + Marketing
I developed this “success formula” last summer because I realized that those three elements were the main categories that I’ve been teaching in the last year, and they are the main foundation of my own efforts as a writer. Everything I do falls into one of those categories. My e-zine has three major columns per month, each focusing on one of those topics.
Third, I resolutely resist all attempts by people to talk about anything else or get off track on nonfiction or politics or religion or even my own fiction. I get emails from people all the time who want to advertise on my site. I tell them that my policy is not to accept ads. I only recommend products that I have created myself and which I can feel proud of, or products that I use myself, or products that are very similar to ones I use myself.
Fourth, I have a particular style of writing. It’s quirky (even a little crazy at times) and sometimes opinionated. It’s me. I don’t claim it’s the best style. But it’s my style and it’s consistent. If I were ever to hire a ghostwriter to write my blogs (I can’t imagine doing that), it would be obvious to everyone right away, because my goofball style is hard to copy. The important thing is that it’s consistent. You know what you’re going to get. That’s an important part of branding. And it’s authentic. I don’t have to pretend to be anyone else.
But to be very honest, there are tons of writing blogs that review books and interview authors, and while I’m interested in hearing and learning about them, there is a glut of the same info out there. I don’t want to glut, so I’ll keep marinading until I come up with that special something that will make a must read for someone besides my mother.
I think it is a mistake for a novelist to write a blog about “fiction writing” or “author interviews” if your goal is to promote your novels. You will note that I almost never blog about my fiction. The reason is simple. The purpose of this blog is NOT to promote my fiction. (I will have a different blog for that when the time is right.) The purpose of this blog is to promote myself as a teacher of “how to write fiction.” This makes sense for me because I do a lot of teaching. For several years, I’ve routinely taught at 4, 5, or 6 conferences per year. And for the last three years, I’ve had various teaching products for sale. This blog helps me with that business, because it draws traffic. (The more traffic, the more sales.) And this blog gives me a great chance to interact directly with you, my loyal blog readers. I listen to you, and that tells me what I should be teaching about, what products I should be creating. Finally, this blog gives me a chance to hang out with writers that I may never meet in person, because some of you are a long way off. Writers are fun people.
What content can an author blog or write about that would really sell potential readers of one’s fiction books?
This problem has consumed my thinking for ~six months.
Not to put Randy on the spot, but I wonder what the conversion rate of readers of Randy’s blog (RORBs) or non-fiction products buy his fiction?
Not that there should be any percentage as Randy’s blog/website are not setup to do this converting but how would one go about getting non-fiction writing to sell one’s fiction books?
Randy sez: I don’t know how many of the readers of this blog buy my fiction. I know that some do, because I sometimes get emails from folks who found this web site and wound up buying my novels. But that was never the purpose of this site, and it would not bother me if the conversion rate were zero.
But the question remains: How can a novelist use a blog to help sell his fiction? The answer is, I believe, that you use a blog the exact same way you use ordinary publicity to sell your fiction. The only difference is that you are in control of your blog, while you are not in control of the usual publicity channels (TV, radio, newspaper feature articles, magazine feature articles). If you’ve ever worked with a publicist, you’ll know that they try very hard to get you on radio interviews. (You can do a radio interview over the phone at home in your pajamas. I did one once where I had been asleep until 90 seconds before the interview–one of those scheduling surprises that you learn to live with.)
And how do you get on radio? You figure out a way to connect your novel to one of the following:
1) Current events
2) Topics of general interest
3) Topics of special interest to certain groups
Then you approach radio station programming directors and pitch them with an idea. A few years ago, I wrote a suspense novel (DOUBLE VISION) in which quantum encryption played a major role. My publicist got me some radio interviews in which the “hook” was identity theft. So I’d go on a radio show, answer some questions on ID theft and what you can do to protect yourself, and then the host would ask about my book.
Publicity is publicity. If your book is “about” something, then you can blog about it, probably indefinitely.
Is your book “about” something? I’ll bet it is. Romance novels are “about” relationships, and dating, and love, the meaning of life, and a zillion other things. Suspense novels are “about” legal issues or politics or big science run amok or military hardware or a zillion other things. Fantasy novels are “about” the endless battle between Good and Evil or the human need to go on a quest or the longing for medieval chivalry or a zillion other things.
Your mission as a publicity-hungry novelist is to FIND A WAY to connect your fiction to the NONFICTION topic that your novel is “about”. Then you can talk about that forever.
A personal note to show you that I “eat my own dog food” on this issue: I am working on a novel now set in ancient Jerusalem during the first century. The series I envision is “about” Jesus in his social/political/economic/religious setting. It is “about” the history of Jewish people in a cataclysmic time. It is “about” archaeology, cultural anthropology, religion, and much more. It is “about” how we in the 21st century can read and understand a set of documents (the New Testament) that was written for people we barely understand, and how that set of documents might be relevant (or irrelevant) to our life today. It’s about a zillion other things. When I launch my blog, it will be “about” all those (nonfiction) topics. Some folks will be interested (they’ll find me via the search engines) and many more people will NOT be interested. All that matters is that my natural audience will find me. Those are the only people that I can effectively market my books to. The purpose of my blog will be to help those people find me long before my next book comes out.
To summarize: Branding is about making a promise of consistent quality. Your blog does that by defining itself sharply and then delivering consistently. You’re a writer! You have something to say! Make that the focus of your blog, and you will draw all the readers that you deserve.