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Posts Tagged blogging for authors
This time a decade ago, I was starting a blog.
I was rather surprised to be doing it.
I was not an online person. I did not tweet or Facebook. The internet hardly touched my daily life. I was fully and gainfully occupied without it. It might as well have been a separate and mythical dimension, like hyperspace.
But on a wet evening in February 2009, I was with a friend who had a worldwide reputation in his creative niche. He ran this thriving empire through the ether, from five well-visited blogs.
When he said ‘let’s make you a blog’, I said yes.
I was suspicious of the blog thing, because I am never an early adopter (see above) and also because I disliked the word ‘blog’. (Still do, if I think about it.) But I’d just come out of a mind-whirling experience (you’ll know this if you’ve read Not Quite Lost).
My blog helped complete the transformation.
Before the blog, I was an author in limbo. Skip this paragraph if you know my origin story, but in 2009 I’d just found an agent for my first novel. Before that, I’d ghostwritten novels for other people. Now I hoped I’d be published as me and start my proper career at last.
Alas, publishers wanted New Real Me to be like Old Ghostwriter Me because that was profitable. (Psst…. if you want to be like Ghostwriter Me, you might like my professional course )
And so I remained, both published and not; an author but not really – unless I denied my own creative drive.
That changed when I became a blogger.
- On my blog, I could be whoever I wanted, and I would decide who that was.
- On my blog, I did not have to wait for anybody’s permission.
- Once I had a blog, I had a place to invite people to, a room of my own, a gallery to say who I was. I could go to other blogs and chat – anyone’s I liked.
Through my blog, I made many friends. I grew confident in my own aesthetic judgement as a publisher. I gained the confidence to publish books on writing, my novels and to vary my genres because I could bring readers along on the journey. (Contemporary fiction, speculative fiction, travel diaries… what next? Whatever I like.)
Bloggers have a gung-ho have-a-go mentality.
Because of this, I discovered I could speak on podcasts without microscripting everything first. As I am a fanatical polisher and editor, speaking off the cuff was squarely in my discomfit zone. Eek! Spontaneity! But bloggers feel the fear and do it anyway. This became professional speaking and teaching gigs both in indie world and beyond. Which I discovered I rather enjoyed.
So this blogging anniversary is significant. A marker of big life changes.
Now in 2019, is blogging still as powerful for authors starting now?
Maybe, maybe not. We still need ways to gather readers and discover common ground, but I think much of this now happens in the speedy, flitty public spaces such as Twitter and Facebook. I think blogs are still read because subscriber numbers are still growing (thank you, guys!) but the commenting is no longer as fervent – if I look back at old posts I’m astonished to see hundreds of comments on one topic, which now seems inconceivable. I feel authors still need a website as a home base and a blog to show they’re alive, but the more settled communication now happens in email newsletters (psst … here’s mine).
(And is that a new book you see there? Indeed it is. Hop onto the link to find out, straight from the horse’s mouth.)
What do I expect in another ten years? I have no idea. I’m not a goal setter, except for individual projects where my goal is simply to finish them well.
I could never answer that question in job interviews. ‘Where do you see yourself in x years?’ A truthful answer would betray that I hoped to have graduated far beyond their job, doing something that was much more ME. Though I couldn’t have said for sure what that was.
Now, though, I’d say that in another x years I hope to be doing this, or something like it, and doing it better, and finding other related activities I can add around the edges.
I’ve found what I was looking for. Creative integrity, confidence and independence.
Which I think shows that 10 years of blogging has been a jolly good move.
Do you blog? How long have you blogged for? If you’ve been blogging for a while, have you noticed any general trends? What has it brought you?
Are you fed up with established, old-school-published writers complaining about self-publishing bloggers in the national press? I think it’s time we celebrated the well-informed, curious, generous, adventurous, innovative, pioneering, rule-busting community we’ve built with all our blogs, websites, podcasts, Facebook groups etc. If you think so too, come over to Authors Electric, where I’m posting today, and say ‘aye’.
(Or if that’s a click too far, say it here 🙂 )
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That was such a lovely headline I had to put it on this post too. Writer Mary Metcalfe invited me to her blog today, but we dispel the ghost stuff pretty quickly. We’re also talking about character versus plot, how author promotion is evolving, self-publishing, why my first attempts at writing were science fiction (short version: I was trying to irritate everybody).
Mary has a sweet story on her blog about the moment she first knew she had to be a writer. Do check it out – and answer the same question for yourselves here, if you feel so inclined…
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Yesterday I discussed why an author might not want to self-host their blog and how to make the best of platform-hosted blogging. But many authors strongly advocate self-hosting – so today I’m going to ask two of them why.
First up is author-entrepreneur Joanna Penn of The Creative Penn. Joanna has built a formidable following among writers who want to take charge of their publishing careers and make the best of what the internet can offer. She also develops multimedia courses and she’s hit the bestseller lists with her two thrillers.
Joanna, why did you chose self-hosting?
I have control over everything – including affiliate sales and plugins that you can’t use on free blogs. Google takes you more seriously so you get better SEO results and rank better on Google.
You use a paid-for theme, don’t you? Why?
I use Thesis, which has SEO design in the back end and is very easy to customise so it looks professional. I model success and all the top blogs are self-hosted and use premium or custom design themes. Why look like a second-rate blog?
Is self-hosting and/or using a paid-for theme more hassle? Do you need to be more tech literate?
I have Joel the Blog Tech guy as help but once the site is set up, the back end is the same as WordPress. So no, you don’t have to be tech literate.
How much does this all cost you?
My hosting is less than USD $10 per month, my premium theme was USD $70.
How much do novel-writers need to worry about search engine optimisation (SEO) and what key things should they do?
You need basic SEO – good site design, so that spiders can crawl you. Free themes have a particular SEO rating and my first blog was really crappy for this until I learned about it. Then you should use an SEO plugin. I use All-in-One SEO. Also you should use consistent keywords for your niche and have a lot of relevant content.
My second self-hosted blogger is Jane Friedman, web editor for the Virginia Quarterly Review. Jane is a former publisher at Writer’s Digest and a prolific and respected speaker on writing, publishing, and the future of media. Her expertise has been featured by sources such as NPR’s Morning Edition, Publishers Weekly, GalleyCat, PBS, The Huffington Post, and Mr. Media. She has consulted with a range of nonprofits, businesses, and creative professionals, including the National Endowment for the Arts, the Creative Work Fund, and the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati.
Jane, prevailing wisdom seems to be that self-hosted is always better. Why is this?
Because not self-hosting means:
- You’ll have a weaker functioning site overall (customisation is usually quite limited)
- You rarely have access to advanced analytics unless you’re allowed to install Google Analytics (which can be important, see below)
- You’re not fully in control of what happens to your site. Over time, services ARE discontinued, bought, changed, etc.
Whether self-hosted or not, why might authors use a paid-for or upgraded theme – apart from being able to look distinctive? How much does it generally cost?
The cost is very little (generally less than USD $100), given that a premium theme offers robust or improved functionality, as well as better looks (and often better readability). Also, premium themes generally have better SEO tools.
How much do novelists need to worry about SEO? Do readers really find them through Google searches?
If readers buy your book, or hear about your book through any medium, they might be likely to google your name – in which case, your site should be easily found. Often, you don’t have to ‘worry’ about SEO for this to happen as long as your site meets basic standards (usually the case with any premium-theme sites) and you don’t have an exceptionally common name.
I like to say that if no one can find you through Google, it’s like you don’t exist.
Is Google all there is to SEO? What key things should writers do to increase visibility?
Not exactly, but Google is 70% of the search market. The best thing to do is to use a premium theme that focuses on SEO, which will help ensure your site is looking its best when search engine crawlers visit.
This is my SEO strategy – how does it look to you? I write attention-grabbing headlines with key words, and use plenty of tags, including my name, my book titles and keywords for my subject area (in this case ‘writing a novel’).
This looks fine! There are other steps, such as making sure your site’s meta title, meta description, and meta tags are appropriate for the type of reader you’re trying to attract. These things are also adjustable on a post-by-post basis if you’re blogging. When you get a premium theme focused on SEO, generally these fields are available for you to adjust as needed. It helps you customise what exactly appears when your single posts (or when your site) comes up in Google search (site title, site description, brief description of post, etc).
How can writers check how well their measures are working?
You can tell whether your efforts are working if you improve your search ranking for your name or book titles (how high in the listings you appear), and/or if you see your organic search results increase—something you can watch, over time, in Google Analytics.
Thanks Joanna and Jane – and thanks also to Catherine Ryan Howard for helping me argue for platform-hosted blogs yesterday.
Anything to add? Cautionary tales, theories…. has your mind been changed by anything you’ve read here? I’m sticking with WordPress hosting for now, but Jane’s suggestions have sent me back to my site descriptions to make them work harder at grabbing readers. If you’re going to do anything new, tell me in the comments!
If you are thinking of upgrading to a bespoke theme, you might like this by Dan Blank – How I redesigned my website.
Joanna has scores of helpful posts about blogging – starting here. (And we’ve joined forces to create a multimedia course How To Write A Novel. More than 4 hours of video and audio with 86-page transcription and slides)
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- Power stations of the mind – a piece of Not Quite Lost at the Liminal Residency February 21, 2020
- ‘More life is lived in a service station than in a castle…’ – discussing the wonder of abandoned spaces with Krishan Coupland of The Liminal Residency February 16, 2020
- Hit the ground running with your first pages – 5 book openings critiqued by a literary agent (and me!) at Litopia January 19, 2020
- Story as metaphor – talking to Ann Napolitano, author of Dear Edward January 14, 2020
- Is it cheating to use a ghostwriter? January 12, 2020
- Finished Nanowrimo? 5 ways to use the holidays to keep your new writing habits… without revising too early December 8, 2019
- Writers – how to find the editor that’s right for you November 10, 2019