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Consider a Series. Seriously.

A guest post by Larry Brooks of Storyfix.com

In the recycled litany of advice on how to grow your blog – recycled because it’s all tried and true – there’s one effective strategy that gets too little airtime.

Perhaps that’s because it’s not for everybody.  Because it’s hard to pull off. 

That said, it almost always works.

Meanwhile, as a first line of more accessible strategy, we’re told to comment on the blogs of others.  We’re also advised to avoid overtly flogging our own agenda in the process. 

Dude, nice post!” won’t send folks to your site.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s good to dole out the atta-boys.  Just don’t expect to be rewarded with reciprocal traffic when you do.  If you comment – and this, too, is straight out of Blogging 101 – strive to add value to the online discussion, and in context to the previous paragraph.

We’re told to write killer headlines.  Snatch an edgy image from Flickr.  Never put three sentences of content into a single paragraph.  Pretend like you know Darren Rowse and Brian Clark personally. 

Which puts you in the company of thousands who lay claim to that because they’ve swapped an email or two.  They’re not two of the biggest and nicest people on the internet for nothin’.

And of course, we’re consistently told that content is king.  That this little strategy trumps everything else.  Always has, always will.

Which is precisely why the strategy I’m about to pitch works so well.

Like you, I’ve dipped my blogging toe into all of these rushing online waters, and with varying degrees of success, depending on how you define it. 

Growing a blog by the book is a bit like those sales pages that suggest you can earn five grand a month with Google ads, and then when you do everything they suggest after submitting your fifty bucks, you make about fifteen of them back over the next five months.

If you’re the exception to that generalization, then by all means, illuminate us.

But if you’re looking for something you can sink your strategic teeth into, an approach that solidly aligns with the content-is-king blogging mantra and actually results in an influx of enthusiastic new readers, then consider this:

Write a series

A sequence of posts that offer a sort of mini-symposium, an online workshop that builds upon its own content and momentum.

I’ve done it a handful of times, and each time it jacks my Feedburner number much more significantly than anything else I’ve tried.

I’m in the middle of one now, in fact, and my level of readership has gone up nearly 50 percent since it began five days ago  (that said, Darren Rowse I’m not, so this isn’t a world record).  And my subscriber base has gone up 10 percent after three months of complete flat-lining.

And – here’s the entrepreneurial payoff – I’m selling a bunch of ebooks in the process, at over twice the normal sales pace.

Claiming the Right to Write a Series

To write a successful series, you need to occupy a position of credibility within your chosen niche.  You need to have something to offer, to give away, and be able to demonstrate the chops to do so. 

Also, your series should be about something that can’t be adequately contained in a single blog post.

Sure, we can stuff anything into a single blog post if we try.  I’ve seen single blog posts on solving the problem of unhappy marriages, how to cure cancer and the ultimate answer to recovering from sex addiction, substance abuse and hair loss.

Yeah, like any of those can happen in 1000 words or less.

If you really want to cement your position as an authority on something, on anything, you need to go deeper than what readers normally encounter online.

You need to train them.

One reason this strategy can grow your readership is that it is, in essence, an event.  Which means it can be marketed as such ahead of time.

Beginning a week or two before you launch the series, start writing about it.  Define the problem or need your series will address, and the end result that will be there for those who come to the party.

Attach a tag, a notice, at the end of your otherwise unconnected posts reminding readers of the upcoming series.  Suggest they invite friends that share the same goals and concerns.

Getting the Reader Involved 

Ask for input to the series, allowing your readers to, in effect, take part in the approach and content.  Nothing makes readers love you more than the belief – based in truth – that you are writing precisely what they need to read, and that you understand both their goals and their challenges.

And then, write a killer series.  Write the hell of out.  Don’t just whip them off before bed in a stream-of-conscious psycho-babble of war stories.  Write your series as if you are preparing a masters thesis, but with a sense of style, humor and empathy.

Think of the posts as chapters in a book, with an introductory context up front, then a building series of content blocks that take the reader to the promised outcome.

Not only will they come once you build it, others will write about it on their sites – including requests for interviews and invites to guest post – creating a level of buzz you could never achieve otherwise.

Go deeper than you normally would

With a series you have the time and space to go there, and in doing so you’ll quickly differentiate yourself from other blogs in your niche.

When you write an effective series, you are actually taking blogging to another level.  What was conceived as experiential sharing and observation becomes a valuable gift to all who click on.

And speaking of chapters… I’ve turned three of my series into ebooks that are selling well, with a fourth right around the corner.  Just make sure you don’t simply slap together the eight parts of your series into an eight chapter ebook and call it original, your readers are too smart for that.  And, they deserve better.

You’ve already given it away.  You can’t sell it unless you add more value to it.

Use your posts as a foundation to build on, and expand them into a full and robust informational goldmine on the topic.  Include real life examples as a way to clarify your content. 

People who read your series will flock to it, even if they read it on your site as part of a series, and they’ll tell others.

And in the meantime, your blog and your brand will begin to grow.  Not only because of your content, but as a result of the credibility of your authoritative brand.

Larry Brooks is currently writing a series that deconstructs Dennis Lehane’s bestselling novel, Shutter Island – the book and the movie based on it – on Storyfix.com, an instructional site for novelists and screenwriters. 

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Comments

  1. Hi Larry,
    Writing a series is an awesome strategy, I’ve tried it before with decent success, but I didn’t maximize it by writing pre-series promos as you suggest. I also like the idea of asking my readers what they’d like to see come out of the series, that’s definitely a great way to approach a series.
    Thanks for the insights – I love it when I read something with such fresh perspective. :)

  2. Toya says:

    This is very timely advice for me. I am always looking for some way to not only engage readers but create more fluidity in my posts. This is definitely something I will certainly implement.

    Thank you :)

  3. Hey, dude-great post.

    Actually, this series idea is very interesting, and I think I am going to try it. Humor blogging is different from business blogging, but I think the idea has merits for both. I will let you know how it works for me. molly

  4. This is a great resource. Thanks for sharing these great tips. I have tried a series or two, but they always seemed to flop. I think that’s because they were too superficial. I will try to “go deeper” and really make the next series something unique and wonderful.

    Thanks for sharing.

  5. I’m actually in the middle of another series at the moment. I’m really enjoying writing it, and my readers seem to be enjoying it, too. Not only are they commenting well, they are coming back a second time to comment again on the same post, and talking more to each other than me.

    Don’t get me wrong, I love it when my readers and I talk to each other, but I love it more when readers interact with each other.

    I am finding the series is getting some good link love and tweet love, so that has been a pleasant surprise.

    Also, a note for Darren, and readers: there’s a new blog on the block called thinktraffic.net if you don’t already know about it, I think it’s a blog to watch. I’m enjoying it as a reader, and astounded by it’s early acheivements.

  6. Josh Garcia says:

    Hey Larry,

    Thanks for explaining why a series will put us in a position of authority. I have been thinking about putting a series together. Now, after reading this I’m going to put more emphasis on it.

    Chat with you later…
    Josh

  7. Leah MacVie says:

    This is one great post! And yes, I will pass it on. But I’m wondering, how do you go about advertising it? Can you give us some suggestions of what one might do? I’m imagining tweeting with hashtags or something. What else?

  8. I don’t write series with my non-fiction stuff, but I do write multi-part fiction stories. Typically 2 segments, but sometimes 3.

    One of my favorites was “Friends for Thanksgiving” ( http://www.observingcasually.com/friends-for-thanksgiving-part-1/ ), where the story takes a complete 180 degree turn at the breakpoint. Readers sat down on day 2 expected a happy conclusion and got something entirely different :)

  9. Chris Cobb says:

    A series also works well in your autoresponder. One downside is that different people may open your emails throughout the series and miss part of them.

    To avoid that problem, use your AR services’ archive to direct your subscribers to the prior content. For example, Aweber gives you a branded archive link with all prior content that you select to be a part of the archive.

  10. Joshua Noerr says:

    Good stuff Larry. I’m in the middle of a series right now and it has proven to be successful. I find the level of engagement to be higher as a result. Since I have recently started video blogging as well, I am experimenting with this concept in that format. Do you think it could be effective as well?

  11. kiaran says:

    ‘Dude, nice post!’ Seriously only kidding-good points-content def rules. Chasing a zillion pseudo followers without dialogue is the deluded road to self importance.

    Can’t beat a bit of engagement, humor a little provocation and something that solicits dialogue to build a community-Cheers Kiaran

  12. Jailbreak says:

    I’m working to set up a series as well..I’m really enjoying writing it, and my readers seem to be enjoying it, too. Not only are they commenting well, they are coming back a second time to comment again..great in getting return visitors

  13.  
    First of all great article, especially for bloggers looking to jump start this.  I have question for you on your statement
     
    Go deeper than you normally would
    With a series you have the time and space to go there, and in doing so you’ll quickly differentiate yourself from other blogs in your niche.
     
    Do you find bloggers that start this method tend to stop at a safe point?  As in, they tend to leave you the more in depth areas to there posts leaving there readers scratching there heads?
     
    Thanks,
     
    Chris Pontine
    http://www.workingathomeknowledge.com

  14. Larry says:

    @Joshua — as for video, haven’t done that yet myself, so I’m not the voice of experience there, but I would think a video series would be a great venue. The key in either mode is, I believe, deep and rich content that is more training-oriented that traditional single-post blogs.

    @Leah — all of the traditional promotional vehicles work for series, of course. For the series I’m doing now, I sent a “press release” to other bloggers in my niche, and several have done a pingback on their site. This is what I love about blogging, it’s less competitive and more communal that other venues, and when something valuable shows up, most bloggers are eager to share it. Tweats are great, but target the influencers with a press release when you can.

    @Chris — good question, and I don’t think I have a clear answer. There aren’t that many deep series out there, at least within my niche, to form a generalization. My rule of thumb, especially if I’m going to evolve the series into an ebook, is to cover the basics and go deep, but leave real-world example, interviews and more detail for the ebook. Blogging is notorious a venue that delivers it quick, and we still need to keep that in mind in a series. We use the multiple posts of a series to take on deep AND wide topics in a way that single posts can’t.

  15. Zannniee says:

    Amazing, just as I was planning my return to blogging, this appears. One thing I’ve always struggled with was having too many things to write about and not wanting to overwhelm. A series was in the back of my head and this puts it together well for me.

    I love the part of preparing for the launch. I was feeling like that was self promoting… however, I suppose the entire blog is about self promotion!

    Anyway, THANK YOU!

  16. Srinivas Rao says:

    Writing a series is a very powerful mechanism to keep people coming back. One of my current sites, BlogcastFM was the byproduct of a series I did called interviews with up and coming bloggers. A series is a phenomenal way to keep people coming back for more. Here’s a few things I’d add in terms of creating a series.

    1. Break up Longer Posts into a Series: One great tip I got from an interview I did with Michael Martine(@remarkablogger) was taking some of the longest posts and break them up into a 5 part series.

    2. Do Multimedia Content: Video/Audio provide another great opportunity to do a series. You could do a series of short videos like Darren recently did with getting people to submit short video clips.

    3. Getting the Reader Involved: You could actually reach out to your readers and have them contribute to the series that you are writing, which will not only produce more content, but also give different perspectives.

    MY 3 cents for today :)

  17. Chris Monty says:

    A series can work wonders. Not only does it engage your readers, but it can increase traffic as well.

    If it’s captivating enough, people will start checking back often to see if the next part of the series is up yet.

  18. Jon says:

    I’ve seen many blog series, but I actually never considered doing one until reading this post. It seems like your readers get very focused, well thought-out material, while you gain more readers.

    Can you guys recommend any good series to read? Thanks!

  19. Jodith says:

    I’ve written several series on my blog, some with just 2 or 3 posts, but my “So You’ve Been Laid Off” series has about 10 or 12 posts in it so far.

    I target my series at things people ask questions about. While my “Travel Arrangement” series has 3 posts in it, I’ve continued to write other posts about it because it’s something admins have a lot of questions about. I made it one of the categories on my blog because of that.

    I also get ideas about series based on keywords people use to find my blog. I review my keywords about once a month and always find a number of items that led people to my blog, but whose questions I didn’t quite answer. If I find several related ones, then I know I need to write a series.

    I like doing series because it lets me go much more in depth into a topic than I could with just one post on the topic, and the posts get more attention than if I had the topic scattered around my blog.

    My series posts get more search engine hits that any of my others, for the most part, anyway.

  20. Jodith says:

    Oops, forgot to mention, be sure and link between your series posts. I’ve read series on a number of blogs that fail to link the series, and they aren’t always immediately following the predecessor, so it was difficult finding all the posts in the series. If you’re like me, if it takes more than a few seconds to figure out, I give up and go to the next blog in my list.

    Always put links to your previous and next blogs in your series, even if you have to go back and edit to get them in there.

  21. David says:

    and the most important is to keep linking to older and previous posts!

    thank you dude ;)

  22. BrandonBurgh says:

    Larry,

    Dare I start off with “Great Post”…but, it was. I’m pretty new to “good” blogging. I had a blog that I half-heartedly put efforts into, but have found what I’m really loving now, and first…I like the idea of the series and then converting it into a product.

    I also like the idea of maybe doing it backwards of creating a product, and then providing smaller snipets back to the readers in posts.

    I also liked Chris’s idea above about email autoresponders…adding series to them. good idea.

    BrandonBurgh

  23. wannabe says:

    Writing a series is a very interesting idea.

    i tried it before and had some successes and failures. i wonder who else inhere failed with writing a series?

  24. Matt Maresca says:

    This is an awesome idea! I’m just starting out my blog and have very little credibility right now. I’m guessing I need to build it by guest blogging the traditional way first and build up a decent subscribership before I go the series route, correct me if I’m wrong. Are there other ways to gain credibility?

  25. G-lish says:

    Dude, nice post! Just kidding. Great post! Seriously, series are excellent. I’ve done it several times and one very long one ended up constituting the content of a fully fledged travel guide. Yay. We’re in the middle of one on how to start a non-profit and it’s getting nice feedback (at least by email). We’ll make it a PDF when done and give-away. I like writing the whole thing and then editing and tweaking and interlinking. So many benefits to a series. Thank you!

  26. Excellent post. I’ve also found that writing a series is great because when people find your post on a search engine, they are automatically looking at more pages to view.

    Plus you link the series on each page which boosts SEO. I’m running this series ( http://oriolesprospects.com/2010/04/20/2010-mlb-draft-preview/ ) and when readers find one of the posts via google, I get a lot of ad clicks. Works really nicely.

  27. Larry says:

    @Matt — you ask The Big Question regarding credibility. The only credibility is great content, and the more you can back your authoritative perspective through personal experience, the better. After good content, it’s a matter of staying the course, being aggressive, continuing to give it away without a lot of self-serving stuff, and slowlly building your readership through trust and staying on top of your quality, anticipating reader needs and being a part of the community. No magic pills in this game, and like art, you have to do it for the love first, then the money.

  28. John says:

    Hey Larry,
    Great post, reading your post has inspired me to write a series, this will be my first attempt at this, so I hope it goes well. I hope to get the first post of the series published tonight. Thanks for your inspiring and interesting post.

    John

  29. Wayne Tully says:

    I’ve always planned to write a blog series and one that shows a good lead into each part of the series is what I really need to understand more and get to grips with.

    The thought of treating it like book chapters is really useful to me and a simple thought that has inspired me to actually plan a series that I can follow through with.

    How long should a series be? that’s another point I always fall down on, to try and stretch or fit everything into a blog series.

  30. Nunzio Bruno says:

    I can honestly say I never thought the benefits of a series could be capturing more readership. I’ve tried a “series” or two as well (to no real success) but that’s because I wasn’t addressing a specific problem and I probably wasn’t adding enough of my own value. That was a while back, very early in my blogging career. Since it left a bad taste in my mouth I guess I never really gave it anymore thought. You really connected with me here and I appreciate the outline you gave us, especially the comments on the mythical Google Adsense revenue (first hand experienced disappointment). I’ll def be putting in some extra hours giving a GOOD series another shot! Thanks!!

  31. Julius says:

    We’ve actually done a couple of series, but these are stand-alone posts that have one common theme. I like the idea of creating one with a certain “to be continued…” feel to it.

  32. Larry says:

    @Julius — you make a great point with that. A series can be stand-alone posts on a contining theme. Actually, your blog is probably about a high level thematic topic, so the way this becomes a series is to identify a sub-theme and write posts about it as part of “a continuing series on….”.

    There are lots of ways to spin a series effectively. Theme is always a factor-in-common, even if the posts stand alone.

    @Wayne — as for number of posts… no rule that I know of. A friend — Josh at http://www.theworldsstrongestlibrarian.com — is on part 20-something of a great series on Turret’s Syndrome. Then again, a “two-part series” is viable, too. Depends on the topic… let your inner writer be your guide on that one.

  33. Thanks Larry! The series was the only thing I knew I’d do when I started the blog. And it’s by far the most popular part of the blog.

    For anyone who wonders about the idea of starting a series, just look at the majority of popular television shows (at least here in America)–we love our cliffhangers. We love guessing what comes next. And these aren’t short series, either, an arc might span as many as ten years or more.

  34. Aaron T says:

    Haha Ironically you posted this while I’m 3/10′s done with a series. If only you had posted this four days ago XD

    Also I’m thrilled to see, Darren, that the traffic spike wasn’t temporary, I have 130 visitors today. Ironically, I acheived the 100+ visitors the day I asked you how long it would take. It’s irony. I guess I should thank you for whatever happened….

    Thanks for the guest post,Larry, and I really did get a lot out of it.

  35. This is exactly what I need to be doing. Somehow I missed this detail in all my study of marketing and blogging. Oh well, I start tomorrow.

  36. hokya says:

    yeah, i agree with on using series of posts

    but my question is : how if the first series of the post got rare comments?

  37. Larry says:

    @Hokya — in sports, the objective is to win. If you don’t win the first time you step on the field, do you quit? No. You keep at it. Work at your craft. Keep competing.

    Same with blogging, same with a series. The number of comments isn’t the metric that determines whether a blog or a series is worth your time. Not by a long shot. In fact, the more tutorial in nature, the more technical the content, the less likely (and less percentage) commenters will actually leave something.

    Rather, the point is to deliver value and reinforce your crediblity within a niche. Then, when you have something to sell, you are in a position to do so. it begins with giving it away, without regard to anything but your content.

    My opinion. Thanks for commenting here, by the way.

  38. Lakhyajyoti says:

    Thanks Larry.Still I am not writing a series in my blog.But after reading your post my mind has changed.Planning to write one.

  39. Gat says:

    Ah, I guess this is the part that I really should focus on. I still tend to write just whatever it is that comes out of my head, instead of focusing all my attention to all the details and the like. It’s quite hard to concentrate, because when it comes to research, my attention spans leave much to be desired. But I guess, writing a series will not only take quite a bit of time, particularly since we have to pay a lot of attention to detail.

    Thank you, Larry, for enlightening us. I guess we do learn something new everyday. :)

  40. Rosham Ahmed says:

    Now that’s a nice post dude! I liked that point where you mentioned those short ‘nice post’ comment doesn’t work. I was just wondering whether there is a structure for a comment to make it attractive and worth replying to it.

    Sometimes I see people who gets lots of replys to their comments, which means (most probably) people liked the comment.

    I just think a comment is good when it contributes something (related to the blog post content). I am not sure whether this is the only thing, because I’m not a professional blogger, and I just want to become on in future.

  41. Gwen Tanner says:

    Hi Larry,

    I really appreciate the detail in this post. I was planning a “series” so to speak, but I didn’t think of it in this way. I didnt think of pre-selling it for one thing. I also wasn’t thinking of it being much different than any other post – just a bunch of posts that I didnt feel like writting all in one day LOL. But you are correct. I need to think of it as an event. An event needs planning!

    Do you recommend writing a post every day for the series – or rather every post you write should be for the series until it’s finished. Or let’s say, write one Monday, then the next one say Wednesday of the following week, then another 3 weeks later? I guess what i’m asking is should they be on a set schedule and is it OK it “interrupt” the series with other ramblings?

    Another thing – I’m glad to have found your post because I will now visit your screenwriting site. I plan to write my first screen play this year and looking for help with that LOL

    Thanks so much
    Gwen

  42. Excellent Post. It’s inspired me to start a series!.

    “7 Steps To Viral Success”… I think after 2 years and over 1 million internet views, I have earned the right to start this series!.

    Hopefully it will give me a solid readership for a future e-book launch!…

    Thanks guys!.

    David Edwards

  43. Fungeezer says:

    I think you are right about doing a series, Larry. I do them in my other job as a teacher, but as a blogger just starting out, or just starting to figure it out, I don’t feel I have the shi… ah, stuff to do one. Learning to write and communicate with my readers is hard enough at the moment. I’m sure you’ve been there, done that, and got the t-shirt!

  44. I like the idea of using a series to go deeper into a subject. So often, bloggers feel pressure to get posts out quickly and the posts ends up being only shallow explorations instead of in-depth reporting.

    But I’m even more interested in growing my subscribers, and using a series to help do that makes perfect sense.

  45. Hi Larry – loved this post. I think I would add that some people may need to write the posts for their series in advance and then schedule them to publish everyday — because earlier in my career I would take on writing a series and then miss a day of writing leaving the readers hangin’ that day or even an entire weekend. Not a good look:)

  46. Jackie says:

    A series is a GREAT idea that I hadn’t thought of….

    I agree with Zanniee and sometimes struggle with having too much to say and not wanting to overwhelm my readers. A Series is a great idea in that you can give your readers a little bit at a time….Break your information into tinier chunks for easier digestion. Especially if you are trying to educate your readers to make positive changes.

    Good Post Dud!:)

  47. Aaron B. says:

    The consistency of a series makes sense. Even though I’m not a good blogger I can still apply this same principle to any promotional endeavor. Thanks for the tips.

    Aaron B.

  48. Shane Lowry says:

    Thanks @Hear Mum Roar, thinktraffic.net looks nice and I’ve grabbed the RSS for further reading.

    Larry,

    Nice one, I’ve been doing a loose series on one of my blogs, more a theme than a formal series.

    Definitely going to put an outline together for slowry.com … got the wheels churning already.

    Thanks
    Shane

  49. I am so glad to have found your blog. I’m rather new to the drill but I do find that when I feature my client’s projects in a post I get the most hits. I guess people like to see themselves and they like others to see them too. The point is it gets the word out! Thank you

  50. T.Lee says:

    Thanks Larry! I’d like to add one more element to the idea of writing a series, and that is using a cliff-hanger. Sure, this tool is easy to adapt in a blog fiction, or a diary blog, but as I was reading your post I wondered: What would it look like for a non fiction, informative blog to use a cliff-hanger in a series post?

    Well, each post would end much like a chapter in a well written book–with the reader wanting to turn to the next chapter. This would include all the elements you listed in your post (a post with authoritative content, getting the readers involved, written in depth would hook a reader). But I think it would also include captivating statements at the beginning of the post, letting the reader know what they have to look forward to, and a strong reminder at the end of the post, a sort of cliff-hanger.