I'd just finished my sixth book in May of 2005, when I was approached by Bob Burdick to create a piece for his book-lovers' website. "Just tell us about your writer's life, how you manage to work and write at the same time. Tell us about the person you are, and how it all fits together."
I'd never really written much more than fiction, emails, and tech reports at work. And I wasn't sure how to begin. So, as I normally do, I just started writing.
At the time, I didn't think of it as blogging, per se. I didn't really know what a blog was back then. So I called the torrent of mini-essays that ensued "Seedlings" columns. I thought of them as "little seeds of ideas that sprouted in my brain while driving to work or before falling asleep. Not enough to flesh out into novels, by any means, but insistent enough to require capturing, all the same."
A Blog by Any Other Name...
Since 2005, I've written over a hundred and fifty articles. These pieces range from 500 to 1500 words, and cover topics like writing tips and advice, a writer's life, book reviews, promotional tips, slices of life, etc. I keep a spreadsheet that lets me track where and when I've posted or guest-posted, and the list, in itself, has grown dramatically.
Writers need to establish personal blogs to help promote their work, network with readers and writers, and to provide a home for their articles. But that's not really enough, these days. It's also good to get on a regularly published list of literary journals, group blogs, social media sites, etc. if you can. For example, my short pieces go up monthly at sites like the Future Mystery Anthology Magazine, and The Voice in the Dark Literary Journal.
I also post weekly on my collaborative blog, Murderby4. Every Sunday, I write my piece then post it here on my personal blog, too, and copy it over to one of my favorite social media sites, Gather.com. Often I'll have the energy to do the same at some of the .ning groups, like The Book Marketing Network, or Book Blogs. There are other sites I used to frequent such as EzineArticles.com, Helium.com, etc. Lately I've had a hard time keeping up with all their requirements about so many allowed links per article, etc., so I've sort of slowed down there. But they're all good, and I'm sure you can find your own assortment of places to post your blog pieces in addition to your personal writer's blog. The message here is to take advantage of the time you spend on these articles, and post them all over the place to get more coverage.
From each of the postings, I then tweet the article by simply clicking on the small Twitter icon at the end of each piece. I add key words to the canned pretweet, and often add "Plz RT", which signals my pals on Twitter to retweet the link to their followers. In order not to overwhelm my friends on facebook, I generally post a link to that site just once, linking to Gather, where many folks add their comments and their own observations about the topic of the day.
I also keep a list of subjects I want to write about so I don't run out of ideas. Don't get me wrong - sometimes I come up empty-handed. It's hard to have a column ready every week, never mind while keeping up with the current WIP. I don't know how those newspaper columnists do it!
Why Blog? (I Just Wanna Write!)
Why do we do this? What's the benefit? And how can we justify taking time away from our "real" writing to do these short little blogs?
First of all, it's about connecting with people; connecting on a deep down, personal level. If you can relate to your readers, they might wander over to see what else you've written. Perhaps they'll check out your books. And maybe even buy some! More often than not, however, you'll find the benefit of blogging is a gateway to meeting wonderful people who often are in your boat. These writers may have their own blogs, may be looking for guest posts, just like you. Little by little, by sharing, networking, and helping each other, you can all gain more exposure to readers and blog followers by holding hands and posting each other's pieces. There's a lot of synergy in that model. And eventually, assuming your books are good, you'll start to grow a nice audience for your work.
Of course, you also want to offer something of value to your followers. In addition to hopefully entertaining them, giving them a bit of a laugh from time to time, and offering the benefit of your own observations and experience, you want to help them on their own journey. Be open to newbie writers who have never written a blog in their life. Offer to showcase their new book. Ask folks whose books you've read to guest blog for you. You'll be surprised at how many of the best selling authors actually respond and appreciate the option of reposting their blogs on your site. Always be willing to pay it forward, and offer freebies off and on like contests where folks can win a copy of your eBook(s) or print books. You can host other author's giveaways--that's always a treat for readers--but be sure you don't make the conditions for winning too hard. That never works. Usually I just ask someone to comment on the article to be eligible to win. Simple and effective!
The Rules of the Game
My version of blogging doesn't necessarily meet all the "rule of thumb" advice that I'd stumbled on over the past seven years. I've sometimes read that blogs should be "short and sweet", that you should blog every day, and that if you write something longer than 500 words, people lose interest. I'm not so sure about all that.
So, I don't follow those rules, and in the course of letting myself navigate through this mire with my own instincts, I've managed to create a pretty decent platform. The last time I googled my name, I got over 4,000 hits, mostly from the articles I've written. I've tried to help writers by sharing advice and tips, and have connected on a deep level with so many wonderful folks, not limited to writers or readers. It's been a good run, and I'm grateful for all the folks I've met through this process.
How to Get Started
Don't let all this scare you if you haven't ever blogged or are just about to release your first novel. It's a growing and learning process that comes with time.
Start with your own blog. Gather up your book cover images, a headshot if you like, and links you might like to add to the side bar. If you already have books to sell, sign up for Amazon Associates and get your product links. You can also create mini-slideshows where you feature your own book covers, and it's really easy to copy the code onto your own blog sidebar.
Blogs are fairly easy and intuitive to create, using a platform like Blogger or WordPress. Usually it's all free, too.
Once you have your template in place with photos and links, etc., then it's time to write something! There's no wrong topic with which to begin. Talk about yourself a little, if you wish. Pick a subject you're wondering about in the literary world. Or offer a chapter from your book(s). (tip - make sure you have your publisher's approval before you publish more than a blurb from your own work - check your book contract.)
How to Get Followers
Some blogs go a long time without any official followers. And that's okay. You can check your stats to see how many hits you've had. Just keep writing, check out other blogs, and comment/follow them if they suit your interests. Then you can invite folks back to read your blog, and the whole process begins!
It's really easy to get so caught up in the promotion of your work that your free writing time for your WIP almost disappears. Try to get on a schedule. You need to balance this aspect of your marketing plan with the time to actually create more products to market! It's a real challenge.
Hmm. Maybe my next blog will be about how to achieve that balance...
Best wishes and good luck to all, and remember to write like the wind!
Aaron Paul Lazar