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5 Tips From a Bestselling Author (and Former Luddite) on Overcoming Blog Phobia

drop me in the water

This is a guest contribution from author Eileen Goudge.

There’s no such term as “blog phobia” as far as I know, but the condition is very real, I assure you. I know authors who quake at the mention of blogging, as I once did before I got a handle on it. My professional writing career began in an era when authors were expected to do only one thing: write a kickass book. And maybe go on tour if there was a marketing budget for said book. My first novel, Garden of Lies, was a New York Times bestseller and my publisher sent me on a cross-country tour that was a blur of TV appearances, print and radio interviews, and book signings.  

All of which seems like a dream, looking back. 

Flash forward to present day. In traditional publishing, marketing and publicity budgets for all but a handful of top tier authors are practically nonexistent. For indie authors it’s DIY all the way. This puts enormous pressure on the author to produce more than just the requisite book a year. We not only have to write the books, we have to spread the word in a crowded market when we have something to offer. Mainly this is done through blogging and social media, which go hand in hand. Back when I was a Luddite and proud of it, I would reason that I didn’t have time for all that nonsense. Also, it goes against our nature. We writers tend to be loners. Who else would spend most of his or her waking hours holed up alone, toiling away? Finally I wised up and got with the program. I realized if you don’t make the time, you might as well not bother writing the book in the first place. Few people will read it because they won’t know it’s there.

“To blog or not to blog,” is no longer the question. It’s a matter of how often and how best to target your audience. A blog is an essential tool in every author’s tool kit.  It’s the best way I know to introduce new readers to your unique voice and engage with existing fans so they don’t forget about you or think you died. So you find the time, even if you have to pull it out of thin air.

The challenge then becomes getting those all-important views and click-throughs. 

Not long ago, I read a blog post by an author who compared her site when she first started out to a “dusty billboard on a back-roads highway.” Traffic was so thin, why bother? she bemoaned.  Her posts became more and more infrequent and traffic to her site dwindled further, a vicious cycle that had her feeling utterly defeated.  I know the feeling! I used to think it was enough just to throw a blog post into the Vast Unknown and simply hope for the best. Search Engine Optimization? I didn’t know what it meant much less what it could do for me. I still wonder sometimes if the time and effort I put into blogging is worth it, given that I don’t have millions of subscribers and I’m competing with a gazillion other author-bloggers. Then I tell myself, “One step at a time. Rome wasn’t built in a day.” 

My own page stats were downright embarrassing when I first started blogging. So I read up on what other, more successful bloggers had to say on the subject. I consulted with marketing experts. I learned some tricks that helped increase traffic to my site and learned a little about creating keyword-rich content, inbound and outbound links and search engines. My blog still isn’t where I’d like it to be, but at least it’s no longer a “dusty billboard on a back-roads highway.” 

Here are my top 5 tips to developing a successful author blog: 

Direct traffic to your site by making it a fun destination

As the author with the “dusty billboard on a back-roads highway” learned, you can’t expect to see much traffic to your site if a) people don’t know it’s there or b) it’s a snooze-fest. She solved her dilemma on both counts by making it fun for herself. She’s a history buff and she wrote historical novels, so she started doing blog posts about cool historical stuff along the lines of “Did you know…?” She built a following by reaching out to other history geeks and playing to her audience. And her specialized or themed posts also helped people more easily discover her site when searching for related keywords in Google.

For me the ticket was to write about my life experiences, which are the stuff of my novels. I come from a big, contentious Irish Catholic family in which addiction runs rampant. I was a single mom, on welfare at one point. I’ve been divorced a few times. I found my “Prince  Charming,” and present husband, Sandy Kenyon, while on book tour, fittingly enough, when he interviewed me on the radio talk show he hosted at the time. My son, Michael, is schizoaffective. The list goes on and on. If I had to sum up my life in a sentence it would be, “Never a dull moment.” From the comments I’ve gotten on my blog confidentials, it would seem viewers respond to candor, even when it portrays you in a less than flattering light or reveals a skeleton in the closet. The more approachable you seem, the more followers you’ll attract, which leads to more clicks of those all-important “buy” buttons. 

Come up with provocative blog headings

You have all of a nanosecond to grab someone’s interest. Use it wisely. Ann R. Allen, in her successful blog, named by Writer’s Digest as one of the top 101 most influential blogs, uses “Is Your Office Cubicle Haunted?” as one example of a provocative blog heading that poses a question. Providing answers is another way to go. “Spend Ten Minutes Doing This Every Day And You Could Transform Your Blogging” is the title of a recent post on this site. That is definitely one I want to read!

The heading of my most recent blog post is “The Nitty Gritty on Beach Reads, in which I tell of the life-altering, real-life stories behind my women’s fiction novels that are often billed as “beach reads.” I got close to a thousand Facebook views and a flurry of retweets on that one. I think the title had something to do with it. 

Choose headings with social media in mind. I was recently hooked by the heading of a post written by bestselling author Claire Cook for the popular Jane Friedman site.Why I Left My Mighty Agency and New York Publishers (for now),” not only sparked my interest, it generated over a hundred comments and a gazillion retweets as well as posts on Google Plus and Facebook. 

Don’t neglect to add links

I used to think—naively—that since any information relevant to my books was easily obtainable on my website, two or three clicks away, why bother adding links to my blog posts? Well, guess what? Two clicks is one too many for the majority of people reading your blog. In today’s digital-driven world I’m amazed by the number of authors whose blog posts contain not one single link, much less a buy button or clickable book cover image! Why bother if you don’t make it easy—as in a single mouse click—for a potential customer to sample your wares? Be sure to include the link to your website, and whenever you mention a particular title, link to that title’s book page on your site or, better yet, directly to a retailer page. I also recommend incorporating outbound links and linking to the sites of other authors mentioned in your blog post. The same goes for major products, places, or attractions related to your subject matter. I find that this is helpful for my readers and easily provides them with a richer experience when reading my story. 

Keep it fast-paced

Studies show the average blog viewer tends to skim rather than read every word. A snappy hook, short sentences, short paragraphs, bullets, and images are your best defense against short attention spans. Luckily I learned this early on in my career when I wrote for tabloids (anything for a buck!). If I didn’t keep it short and punchy, I didn’t make the sale. This doesn’t mean you can’t write a lengthy post. As long as it’s engaging and easy to understand (as in not wordy or too many big words) it will hold the reader’s interest.

Comment on other blogs and offer to do guest blog posts

I’m not ashamed to admit it: I’m a mere piker compared to veteran bloggers like Anne R. Allen, Jane Friedman, and my friend and fellow author, Julie Valerie. They have huge subscriber lists that dwarf my own. And rightfully so—they offer good content, and I always learn something from reading their posts. I make a habit of always commenting on the blogs I follow. Oftentimes this sparks a dialogue. The blogger remembers and appreciates your participation, and some of his or her fans may trickle over to your site. Once I get to know a blogger, I offer to do a guest blog post. Usually they take me up on it. Content is king, and when the burden is on the blogger to keep up a steady supply, it’s nice to take a break once in a while.

These are just a few basic guidelines. If you’re smart you won’t make the same mistake I did, which was to blunder through initially without doing my homework. Better to learn from other people’s mistakes. (Lucky for you there’s a ton of information on the Internet on how to do it right.) Pay attention. Revisit the resources here on Problogger, such as this useful round-up of tips and tutorials for beginners 7 Strategies for Growing Community on Your Blog. Bone up on the use of SEO keywords and the like. Be smart. Don’t be a dusty billboard on a back-roads highway. Be the neon sign that beckons from the four-lane freeway.   

New York Times bestselling novelist Eileen Goudge wrote her first mystery, Secret of the Mossy Cave, at he age of eleven, and went on to pen the perennially popular Garden of Lies, which was published in 22 languages around the world, and numerous other women’s fiction tiles. Bones and Roses is the first book in her Cypress Bay Mysteries series. She lives in New York City with her husband, television film critic and entertainment reporter Sandy Kenyon. Keep connected with Eileen at her website, www.eileengoudge.com

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Comments

  1. Sushain says:

    Thanks for sharing such a great post.
    All the above mentioned tips were to the point and helped me to learn a lot.
    Thanks for the share.

  2. Wayne says:

    Thank you for the insights… particularly about incorporating links in your posts.

    • If you look at some of my earlier (Luddite) posts, you might think I was full of S#$%T. I learned as I went along. I was smart enough to hire someone to teach me, otherwise I’d still be in the Dark Ages.

  3. Elke Feuer says:

    Great stuff, Eileen! I’m still working on your first point, making it fun. I tend to sound too formal and business like. The trouble with writing business documents for so many years. :-)

    Congrats on your latest book release!

    • I hear you! Striking the right tone is easier said than done. One trick I use is to write it as an email to a friend. Use the same breezy language you would use in an email, then copy and post into a post. Works like a charm. You don’t want to over think. Then go over it afterwards and add the hyperlinks.

  4. This is so helpful, Eileen! I learned a lot. I think I’ll have to read this again every time I’m about to write a blog post! Loving your new book, Bones and Roses, by the way! :-)

    • Thank you, Patricia! I feel as if I know you personally, and that’s because YOU are such a wonderful communicator. It’s a gift :)

  5. Leanne Dyck says:

    Thank you for writing this article. Unlike yourself, I loved to blog from the beginning. I began to blog back in 2005. I wanted to learn how to write and looked at the blog as a way to write daily–which I did for a couple of years. I cut my teeth on that early blog and my readers were very generous with their time. I created my current blog on October 10, 2010 (10, 10, 10, I had to do something special) and it currently has over 224,000 page views. My blog has given me so much–its an opportunity to network with other authors, through it I can share my favourite books and it continues to be a way to improve my writing.
    Happy blogging

    • You’re so right, Leanne. Writing is writing, whether it’s a blog or a novel. When I used to teach writing I had students who were disappointed that I didn’t have a bag of magic tricks. I would tell them the only way to learn to write is by doing it. Every day. A diary, a journal, a book, whatever. And blogging has been the road to fame for at least one writer I know of. The author of “Julie and Julia,” for instance.

  6. Hi Eileen,

    Wonderful. All tips are gold but #5 resonates with me. My eBook was endorsed by a New York Times best selling author because I commented on his blog for months. Sure, I have a neat story to tell, blogging from paradise, but outreach makes your blogging campaign.

    Whether you want to sell a book or offer some service blogging is about the best way to do it. For many folks they publish a post and wait. No good. Diary time.

    Publish a post, then post 10 helpful, in-depth comments on authority blogs. Build friendships with authority bloggers. Promote pros from your niche. If you want traffic, or wish to increase your book sales, generate traffic or increase book sales for fellow authors by promoting the stuffing out of them.

    My twitter feed is full of retweets. Sure I promote my own stuff but here in Fiji, I’d rather enjoy my spare time swimming, or snorkeling, so I promote other folks most of the time. Some people return the kind act, leveraging my presence and exposing me to brand new audiences, which has increased my eBook sales and blog traffic.

    Whatever you want, give it away. The concept has served me well. Comment, and as you noted write guest posts too, to build bonds, establish your authority and to drum in book sales in the short and near term.

    Thanks Eileen, super post. I’ll tweet in a bit.

    Ryan

    • Good stuff, Ryan. And I envy you living in Fiji. Sounds like a writer’s dream. You’re so right about engaging with other bloggers; that was the most important thing I did to raise to my profile. One expert compares SEO to ants crawling from one picnic blanket to another–an apt analogy. No man is an island on the Internet!

  7. Superb advice. And thanks much for the shout-out. #5 is so important, and it’s the step so many authors skip. They think they just need to sit on their blog and wait, like patient spiders (with dusty billboards.)

    But social media is social. We all need to interact. Stop by and talk to us about a guest post. We’re booked through January, but we’d love to have you guest at some point. Love your work! (and not just in the “kiss-kiss” Hollywood way. :-) )

    • Thank you, Anne! Much of what I learned I got from you. I subscribed to your blog after my friend Julie Valerie raved about you, and I read each new post avidly. Yours is the gold standard of blogs. You were the first person to clue me in to the importance of commenting on other people’s blogs. And look what came of it! I’ve never had so much connectivity on the Internet. Goes to show even us old-school writers can learn something new.

      I would love to do a guest blog post for you! Just name the date. It would be an honor. And thank you for your kind words about BONES AND ROSES. It was a labor of love, and I had no idea how it would be received given that it’s a genre switch. I’m totally blown away by the positive response. I’m glad I kept the faith.

  8. I so appreciate your brutal honesty as I too have a blog that does not even deserve the description of a ‘dusty billboard on a back-roads highway”, but it could well be described as one of the specks of said dust (haha)!

    But seriously, I have learned from your post that it really is okay to let readers know that all experts are not ‘born experts’.

    Thank you for your willingness to be transparent for bloggers like me as well as all of the helpful tips…I will always keep them in mind!

    • Thank you, Charlene. The mere fact that you commented on this blog tells me you’re not destined for “dusty billboard” status for long. It’s a work in progress, this blogging business, but if you “get it” you’re getting there. My own page stats are far from brag-worthy, but I’m seeing a steady upward climb. Keep at it.

  9. Bengt says:

    Hello from Sweden! To be honest, Eileen, I had before I read this post never heard of you. But after a little research online, I came to the conclusion that you have received at least two books translated and published in Swedish. I read your posting with great interest. Great post! I am a trained journalist with author ambitions (not that unusual) and I have in addition to this in a few years had a personal blog. Before that I also had “blog phobia”. It is very tough also in Sweden in the book market, while now it is the economists who control. I have noticed a clear trend also in my country that authors indeed also are investing in social media. I would like to emphasize two things in blogging. The importance of images and the importance of a little humor. In our “World of ADHD”, everywhere, there are often only a limited number of seconds to capture the reader’s interest, at least on the net. (This written with the help of Google Translate. So therefore …).

    • Hello from Wisconsin! (Where I’m vacationing). Many of the original settlers here were Swedish, so it feels like a bit like being in Scandinavia. In response to your comment, yes, images are great in a blog post. I wouldn’t let it stop me from blogging, though, if I didn’t have images to go with the post (yes, you can choose from Google Images, but I prefer to keep it personal). I use my old journalist technique for the writing style. Short sentences, a hook in the first paragraph. Good luck with your book! There are so many great Swedish writers. You’re in good company.

  10. DNN says:

    One thing DrewryNewsNetwork had to overcome in the beginning of blogging is not sounding so boring with the blog posts. There would be short blogs followed by one or 2 dull looking images. Then, after looking at a few blogs and sites around the web, it was determined that the blogging style had to be changed. Through personal discovery, it was noticed that talking personal in blogs and videos with links to specific pages in blog posts are a great way to engage readers and keep them retained.

    • You got it. That’s definitely the way to go. I was surprised to learn, from one pro blogger, that the average person merely skims a blog (I’m guess I’m guilty of that). So we have to work that much harder (while making it look simple) to grab that elusive attention.

  11. appreciate your brutal honesty as I too have a blog that does not even deserve what you have here :)

  12. Thanks for the tips. I think it is a rite of passage for most bloggers to go through I am not getting any traffic so why should I keep going. It is hard to stick out and keep people coming back to a blog in today’s day and age. I think it is absolutely crucial though to market your book. I agree that slow paced blog post tend to have higher bounce rates.

    • Another beginner mistake I made was not paying attention to SEO key words. It’s a pain in the butt, I know, but you gotta do it or no one will find you. Now I make a habit of filling in all the fields for key words, tags, metadata and such.

  13. Every single one of your points is exactly what i’ve been doing as of late, which makes me believe that your advice is spot-on.

    I’m picking up on the fun factor with my blog, as well as engagement and catchy headlines, all while keeping in mind that Rome was not built in one day, as you said yourself.

    Also, i’d like to mention that (in this day of age) people cannot expect to build a blog and expect others to find it. The days of “if you build it, they will come” are long gone.

    Instead, people should spend about 20% building each article (a kick-ass article, mind you, packed with facts and statistics and useful information) followed by 80% of the time promoting it and connecting with other influencers.

    Sadly, many people do it the other way around and quickly move from one blog post to the next, thinking that the work is now over when in fact, publishing is only half the battle.

    Anyway, thanks for an amazing article.

    • Thank you! Who knew I’d ever be in a position to give advice on the subject? I think it’s pretty amusing, actually, considering where I started. I still have lots to learn. But at least I now have a solid foundation. What you wrote about the time spent building and promoting is so true. If you don’t invite people to your party no one will come.

  14. Michael says:

    Thank you for the amazing article.. I did not know that how much info to put into blogs. I actually thought your advice is very valuable.. thanks again!

  15. I’m so glad you found it helpful!

  16. Great post, Eileen! Everything you said was spot on. And I can’t tell you enough how very much I appreciate the shoutout to my blog in this post. Truly honored. With you – my cup runneth over. I’m drinking from the saucer. You’re the bestest and I’ve learned so much from you.

  17. A lot of what I know about blogging I learned from you, Julie. You’re still the queen.