I’ve done a couple of days of tips on blogging, and today I’ll take a short hiatus to discuss some of the comments that have come up.
I noticed that Marcus, over at GoodWordEditing, posted a blog entry today titled “I’m not a Brand, and Neither is My Blog.” Marcus makes some excellent points, and I’ll refer you to his post to read those. Let me be the first to say that not everybody should be using their blog as a commercial venture. Blogs started out life as web diaries. Some of them morphed eventually into businesses, but that doesn’t mean every blogger should be trying to turn a buck. Most people play baseball for fun. A few play it for money. Either choice is OK, so long as you are not fooling yourself that you are doing it for Reason #2 when you are really doing it for Reason #1.
This is a problem I’m seeing with publishing houses these days. They tell their authors to blog in order to market their fiction. But they give them little guidance in how to do that effectively. I don’t know of any novelists right now who are blogging effectively. I’m sure there are some, so you should understand that I’m merely stating my ignorance here. I know of some successful novelists who are blogging, but that is not the same thing. Which came first, the blog or the success? In many cases, it’s the success. My readers will no doubt point me to effective bloggers, and then I won’t be ignorant anymore. (Post a comment here if you know of a successful novelist who is successful BECAUSE of the blogging. I have no doubt that it’s been done.)
Tom had some very good comments on how to get radio interviews. His comments are too long to repost here, but just check the comments for my post from yesterday. Tom is an announcer on a NYC radio show, so he knows what he’s talking about. My own radio interviews have always been lined up by publicists, so I have no direct experience setting them up myself.
Donna posted a comment yesterday that I want to discuss. It’s quite long, but it raises some important issues:
I did want to mention a few downsides of blogging on your own site just so those not used to ‘owning’ your own site will know what to expect. One is about the hosting. I haven’t used a free site in years but from what I remember, free sites are limited on what you can do on them, which could make it impossible to add in applications such as blog and message board programs. The best way is to go with paid hosting. Then you have to pay to register your domain name to point to it. Third is that bringing in a lot of traffic to your site runs up your bandwith, which I’m sure Randy can agree with. Hosting allows a certain amount of bandwidth to be used that is covered in the cost but if you exceed that amount for a month they most often will shut your site down, either until the beginning of the next month or until you pay extra to cover it. And lastly, which is what I really hate, is that the higher you get in the search engines, the more spammers you get hitting your site. Trust me, they love to post their ads, many obscene, on message boards, guest books and blogs. So, this means making sure to have secure scripts running and know how to set preferences to keep their posts from showing until approved. The net is a great place but….
Randy sez: I would agree that if you are going to host a blog on your own web site (which I recommend doing) you should host it on a paid site. It is dirt cheap these days to get a site hosted with mammoth amounts of memory and plenty of bandwidth. A free hosted site is generally going to have ads, and those make you look like a cheapskate. Pay the few bucks per month to host it. GoDaddy charges less than $4 per month for hosting. There are many others that are comparable. I’ve never had problems with using too much bandwidth. GoDaddy’s cheapest hosting offers 250 GB of data transfer per month. Last week, my site transferred 1.9 GB of data. For all of December, I transferred less than 9 GB.
Spam, of course, is an issue. The WordPress blogging software has an excellent spam filtering plugin called Akismet. My policies on this site are fairly tight. All first-time comments are moderated. All comments containing a link are moderated. I use the generic set of “no-no” words that Akismet came with. Posts that contain “no-no” words are considered spam. My spam filter has caught many thousands of spam messages and has never allowed a true spam to get through. It has marked a few legitimate comments as spam, and I have rescued them all.
I allow comments that make personal attacks on me, but no personal attacks on my blog readers are allowed. In one case last year, I removed a series of comments that made personal attacks on me after a few days because I concluded that they were thinly disguised commercials, and I didn’t care to provide free advertising for this person. By the time I removed the comments, my loyal blog readers had made it clear to the offender that they liked me a lot better than him. (Thanks, folks!) I believe in free speech, so attacks on me don’t much bother me. But I have to approve all commercials on this blog.
Sidenote: I’ve been on your newsletter list for a while and noticed the other day that I haven’t received one in a few months. I check Spam daily, so it hasn’t gotten caught up in that. Would you suggest signing up again?
Randy sez: My hunch is that your ISP is filtering my e-zines. ISPs can do this without your knowledge or permission. I can see from my delivery reports that certain ISPs have been filtering my e-zines lately, and there’s little I can do about it. I archive all issues on this site in the E-zine section, and I announce each issue on this blog. That’s about all I can do. 🙁
Would you advise starting with a website or a blog? I have neither. Will a blog on a free blog site be picked up by a search engine, or only a website? Sorry, but I know NOTHING about the internet — only how to ask a question.
Randy sez: I would get a website with my name as the domain and then put a blog there. You might want to start small by first just reserving your domain. (I’ll talk about this tomorrow, since it clearly needs to be addressed.)
Several other readers asked about how to attract traffic to a blog. This is an Xtremely important question and I’ll have a lot to say on this next week. But first things first. Tomorrow, we’ll back up and talk about some of the annoying administrative things you need to do to get a domain and host your site. See ya then!
Security is critical. But Randy, I do wish you had a handy, dandy post preview option for idiots, then maybe I would have caught the typos in my OWN NAME in yesterday’s post, which placed me on moderation. Sheesh. Tossed out the cookies & too tired to type straight.
I want to let Sylvia know that I have a free blog (blogger) and if you google my name, either version, my blog (Extreme Keyboarding) comes up #1. But that may have something to do with the fact that blogger is a google product, hmm.
So you’re saying forget about blogging as a means to become a successful novelist. Drat. Now I’ll have to crack down and learn to write really, really well.
But what a relief; I think I’d blog more often if I thought I could just have some FUN, and not Thinly Veiled Sales Pitch.
But we ARE talking about blogging as it relates to marketing. I’d like to know more about what that looks like. How does a chatty ‘web log’ turn into effective marketing for a novelist?
Kristi Holl says
Randy, if we’re new to blogging (I only have a month’s worth of posts up), would it be smart NOW to move to GoDaddy or something similar? If so, do we just copy/paste our current blog entries, move the blog, and then dismantle the other freebie blog?
Whew. What a relief. Permission to blog for fun. 🙂 I love to blog!
Thanks, Randy. I’ll start paying attn to the archives.
Huh. Who knew my email could do things without my permission?
Mark Goodyear says
Thanks for the link, Randy. I read Oxygen until way too late last night.
I like Camille’s question. How can a chatty web blog turn into an effective marketing tool. I think it works the same way any author appearance works.
When I meet authors I like in person, I want to buy their books. Sometimes I actually do. The converse is true too, though. When I meet authors I don’t like personally, I usually stop reading them. (This happened when I went to a Margaret Atwood workshop. I can’t read her books anymore.)
A blog is a way for people to meet us virtually. You’re doing it right now. It doesn’t matter that this conversation has nothing to do with the Mars book I’m reading. What matters is that when I get to read more tonight, I’ll think, Hey, Randy is a good guy. He commented on my blog. He listens. I like him.
What’s more powerful than that?
Marcus Brotherton says
I don’t quite agree with this Marcus’ comments, so mostly I just wanted to clarify that this Marcus is not me, Marcus Brotherton. I can’t read this Marcus’ bio and get his last name because it flashes up on his webpage then disappears too quickly.
Anyway, folks in the CBA know me, I’ve been to Mt. Hermon Writer’s Conference, and I do a fair bit of editing and book collaborations–all similarities, so I just wanted to make the distinction clear.
Using your name for your website is fine unless someone else already has that name. I googled my name and found an author in my state with the exact same name.
Since I use my full name in my writing, I’m concerned that using a variation will confuse readers. Any suggestions?
Interesting post. You bring up some good points.
I think many times writers think they MUST have a book published before they start a blog or website. But I think just the opposite is true.
If you use a blog to attract readers who will later want to purchase the types of books you hope to write and sell, then it will be that much easier to find a publisher for your book because you’ll already have established a “platform” for yourself with built in buyers.
But I also think a blog is a great way to market your work once you’ve published it.
Just my two cents.
The Working Writer’s Coach
L.L. Barkat says
To: Marcus B…
The Marcus of whom you speak is Marcus Goodyear. How wonderful that you two share this good name. He (Marcus G.) and I are presenting about blogging at Mount Hermon this year. For this reason, I would LOVE to know what you disagree with. Even better, if you’re going to be at MH, it would be great if you bring your comments to the session. We’re presenting, but we also believe that participants will bring some really good perspectives worth hearing.
L.L. Barkat says
I think success can come from blogging. There are examples out there.
Also, there are some options that writers haven’t quite considered yet. For instance, I plan to share about my book club blog at MH; this is a blog that has a set number of posts but an unlimited amount of possibility for reader/author interaction.
To my (like your admittedly) limited knowledge, no other writer is doing a blog like this one. (Please point me to some if you know differently; it would be better if I don’t use myself for presentation examples.)
Here’s the thing… I hope we writers keep looking beyond the supposed ONE WAY formulas to find more and more effective ways to reach and show gratitude to our readers. For that, I appreciate forums like this one that you’re providing.
ML Eqatin says
This medium is all so new, its going to be a lot of guesswork as to what works. Anyway, whatever grabs attention today will likely change or be gone by tomorrow. That’s how fast things go.
As far as my early experiences marketing on the web, many things have changed. Back then, we were one of three websites on our topic. Now there are over 2K. Email was how you contacted people– nobody had thought of e-zines or blogs yet. And not very many people were online in the ’90’s.
That has changed. And what I am selling has changed. What excites me is that now I have a product I can ship at a reasonable cost, even send digitally in some cases. Boy that is a lot easier than a live animal. And although the packtrips we used to sell were vaguely in the entertainment category, they cost much more than my books and required a large commitment of time and some risk. If a book doesn’t please, the buyer can simply stop reading.
The lesson for me that retains its relevance re my earlier attempts to use the net for marketing is that you have to be careful not to let it drag you off-course. Educating people out in webland is not what should take up your time if that’s the only time you have to educate your kids. Kind of like anything else that might be more fun than the dull everyday tasks we put off.
On the other hand, if income is the justification for engaging in an activity, if it doesn’t produce then you should try something else. It’s considered crass to say you’re in something for the money, as though that automatically implied that you didn’t care about people, or quality, or more ‘noble’ things. And fun is a very valid reason to do something. It’s just a lot less frustrating to be clear about what the motivation is.
Because writing can be an expensive endeavor and like all the arts, rarely makes even minimum hourly wage, I had to wait until a time when I could afford it. All the marketing, to me, is about getting read by the audience for whom I am writing. When I earn some, that’s nice.
Marcus Brotherton says
TO L.L. Barkat,
Okay, I’ll bite…
Marcus G. is saying that a person needs to be authentic in his or her personhood, first and foremost, and then blog as a means of genuine self-expression and for the purpose of authentically connecting with others. I agree with this.
I think the problem comes when we try to set up a dichotomy between authenticity and branding.
As far as being a book writer goes, I know that you absolutely must write with an audience in mind these days–you can’t simply write for the joy of self-expression and leave it at that–not if you want to be published anyway. You absolutely have to focus on your readers’ needs and start there in the process.
So maybe the question to toss around is how a writer can create a brand and still be authentic to him or herself.
With this in mind, instead of Marcus G’s title “I’m not a brand and neither is my blog…” I’d say, well yes, actually you are a brand whether you like it or not–or, if you’re aiming to be a published writer, you SHOULD be a brand, an authentic brand, because the brand you create will be the result of focusing on what your readers need.
To put it another way, if a person is a writer seeking to get published, he or she does need to have “an agenda”–even if the agenda is only to authentically connect with his or her readers. The “agenda” isn’t the enemy. The “agenda” is the necessary vehicle that allows for the craft to happen.
The huge challenge for all writers seeking to be published is to develop an authentic “agenda”.
Joanna Mallory says
Hi Randy, thanks for all the helpful information (and the quirky humour). And thanks for putting your blog through FeedBlitz because if I don’t get an email notification I don’t remember to check the website. I’m curious about FeedBlitz and other options where blog readers can sign up for notification. I’m also curious about privacy. I haven’t set up a blog yet (still identifying who I’m writing to and why) so I don’t know how much personal information one has to give out. Could you talk a bit about that, and the same for registering web addresses? I’m a happy Canadian, but if I register a .ca name I have to let my name, phone number and address be listed in the host’s “WhoIs” section for all to see. This is changing in a few months, and I’m waiting for that. Do .com addresses have the same issue? I want to set up both. Call me paranoid, but if I’m blogging and anyone in the world can read it, odds are there might be someone out there I might rather not hear from. (And if you do call me paranoid, it’s thanks to your e-zine a few years ago when you pointed out that it’s too late to protect one’s privacy once it’s become necessary.)
L.L. Barkat says
Hi there, M.B. So good to hear back from you. It is definitely hard to untangle these things. I’m going to keep your thoughts in mind.
Somehow part of your comment reminded me of Scot McKnight. I once had the pleasure of interviewing him (and embarrassed myself by asking about his “book” when he actually had 25 books to his credit!).
Anyway, Scot said this marvelous, freeing thing. Instead of trying to find the elusive reader and target him, Scot writes for himself. He writes to answer his questions. And because he is human, and honest in his answering, he naturally finds an audience. Or, perhaps it is the audience that finds him.