by Anne R. Allen
I’m a big fan of author blogs. I think blogging is a great way to build your platform and connect with readers.
But not all writers are cut out to blog. Author blogs don’t just take time, commitment and discipline—they require the ability to switch gears from a WIP to blog-voice on a regular basis. If you’re working on a novel, this can be a major shift.
And, unfortunately, if your blog happens to get popular, you can be targeted by hackers, as we have been several times in the past few months. Because we’ve had to move around to escape the hackers, blogging has ended up taking up much of my time, which has meant my fiction writing has suffered.
But there’s a way to take advantage of blogging even if you don’t want to go through the hassles of maintaining your own site: guest blogging.
Guest Posting Pays off, Big Time
Visiting blogs by writing a guest post is a fantastic way to improve visibility and sell your books. And it doesn’t cost a thing.
It’s useful for everybody from new writers who haven’t built much of a platform yet—to long-time pros who want to promote a new title or build their mailing list.
Most host bloggers will allow you to link to your website and to your book “buy” pages, so the post can both improve your name recognition and sell books. It’s free advertising and boosts your search engine rank. You can also offer giveaways as promos or an incentive to sign up for your list.
Some authors don’t have blogs and manage to do very well by simply guesting on other blogs several times a month. Ruth Harris did that before I talked her into joining me here.
You don’t have to be a published author to benefit from guesting on blogs. Guest blogging before you have a book out is a fantastic way to pave the way for a launch and get name recognition, and it’s also an excellent way to raise your profile if you’re a freelancer.
Don’t assume all bloggers will welcome you.
The higher ranked the blog, the more guest blog queries they’re getting—and they may be burned out on the whole process.
Here we often get ten or more queries a week, which makes me sad, because we have to turn away most of them. We host only a dozen guests per year, and book many months in advance. We don’t often find the experts we need in “cold” email queries.
Unfortunately, the one thing most requests have in common is they show the writer hasn’t visited the blog (although they always give it high, generic praise.) But they usually don’t have the slightest idea what the blog is about or who our readers are.
They usually offer content—absolutely FREE!—written about “the subject of your choice” and the only thing they seem to know about us is that our Alexa rating is low (a good thing) and our readership numbers are high (not as high as they were, but we hope to rebuild readership after all the crazy moving around.)
Visit the Blog!
Most queriers don’t have a clue this is a slow blog focused on the publishing industry, and with only 4 posts a month, each post has to offer something pretty special to keep those numbers where they are.
I usually answer each query individually (which makes me feel a lot of empathy with agents and editors.) I thank the writers and wish them all the best in their careers and then suggest that they, um, read a blog before querying.
After a morning in the guest-blog-request trenches, I decided to do some research. I discovered guest blogging is one of the most popular ways to raise SEO and get backlinks to websites.
Unfortunately, it has also become a preferred venue for dodgy marketers and spammers. Many will provide mediocre content full of links to websites unrelated to the post—sometimes ads for male enhancement pills and “adult” sites.
Yeah, I felt kinda dumb when I realized I’d been working so hard to spare the feelings of porn spammers.
Approach Bloggers with Respect
But not every potential guest is offering spammy content. Many queries come from editing professionals, designers and fellow authors who have something worthwhile to share.
Trouble is, they usually approach in an impersonal way and, although they may reference one post, they don’t have a feel for our tone or content. Often they make demands but don’t offer much in return. Yes, we know it will help your book launch to get your covers and links in front of our readers.
But if your post is simply a thinly disguised ad for your book or services, visitors will click away and we could lose the readership we’ve worked so hard to build.
Also, guest posts seldom get the hits our own posts do (readers seem to view guests like substitute teachers—not really part of the curriculum.) So a guest spot is something of a gift. You need to make bloggers want to turn their own bookselling platform over to you, either because you have a big following of your own, you offer something fresh and unique, or they like you. Preferably all of the above.
Getting your (high quality) work onto a well-known blog is still one of the best ways to raise your search engine profile. The marketers are right about getting those “backlinks” from the blog to your own website or author page. It’s a great way to get the Google spider-bots to notice you and raise your own website or blog higher on a Google search page.
But selling books isn’t the same as selling shampoo or refrigerators. With books, you’re often better off targeting lesser-known blogs. Forget the SEO and Alexa ratings.
Look for blogs that address your audience’s niche. A visit to a chick lit blog with 50 followers may sell more copies of your chick lit novel than a visit to a general interest blog with 5000.
Here are some tips for authors who want to try guest blogging:
1) Read a blog before you query, including comments.
Seems like a no-brainer, but if you visit the blog, you’re already ahead of 90% of the guest blog wannabes who query.
Not just one post. Read several—and make sure you check the comments. That’s how you can tell if the audience is right for the topic you’re pitching. You don’t want to pitch a “how to send your first query letter” article to an audience of published authors or a technical post on SEO to a poetry circle.
In fact, you can get great ideas for topics to write about by reading what people are asking questions about in the comments.
2) Comment on the blog.
If bloggers have seen your name before, they’re going to pay more attention to your query. The best way to break in is to get to know other bloggers and the blog community.
If you show your expertise in a certain subject in a blog comment, the blogger may even seek you out and ask you to be a guest.
That’s how we find most of our guests: in the comment threads. NOT a query in a comment thread (don’t do this), but with a useful comment that shows expertise and good writing skills.
It’s how I connected with Ruth Harris. She commented several times on this blog and I remembered reading her books when they were on the NYT bestseller list, and when I saw she had no blog of her own…the rest is history. (Ruth does have her own blog now at Ruth Harris’s Blog.)
3) Learn how to write blog content.
That means using sub-headers, lists, bullet points, bolding, and lots of white space. Older writers like me have a lot of re-learning to do when we start to blog.
Here’s my post on How To Write for a Blog. If you’re new to blogging, do take a look. Whether you’re writing fiction, essays or blogposts, you attract more readers these days if you can write concise, skimmable copy.
Writing in the digital age means forgetting a lot of those writing rules you learned in high school.
4) Be real and use a friendly, personal tone.
A blogpost is not a news article, college thesis, or tech manual. Offer information in an entertaining, non-condescending way. Keep things light and encouraging.
If you have a tale of woe, make sure the ending is hopeful and upbeat. (And be careful of language. Make sure it’s appropriate for the blog. If you want to guest for somebody like Chuck Wendig, it’s fine to go all four-letter in the text. On this blog, not so much.)
5) Target more than book blogs.
Think about where your readers might hang out. Google your subject matter and read some of the blogs that come up.
Don’t wait until your book is finished. Reading those blogs can be a great source of information and inspiration for your story, too.
Visiting non-writing blogs is also a great way to ask for reviews. There will be no conflict with Amazon’s murky rules that exclude some authors from writing book reviews.
Write crafting cozies? Try a blog that talks about selling crafts on Etsy. Google “quilting blogs”, “knitting blogs” or “craft blogs” and you’ll come up with lists of 1000s.
Check out a few in your field and comment. These people are your audience. Find out what they’re interested in and pitch a post to the blogger.
Crafters are going to be more excited about a new mystery about a crocheting sleuth than a bunch of writers whose Kindles are already loaded with more books than they can read in the next five years.
Food is huge on the Interwebz. Half of Pinterest seems to be food photos and recipes, and there may be more blogs devoted to food than any subject other than politics. You’ve got vast untapped markets here.
Have a historical or regional novel where food plays a role? Approach a blogger who blogs about food in that area. Write bakery mysteries? Pitch a blogger your heroine’s secret cupcake recipe.
Food and fiction go hand in hand. You can usually find a tie-in with some kind of food. Bloggers may find your approach refreshing.
Military History Blogs (updated)
Have a war memoir? Find some blogs that discuss the war you were involved in. Start commenting. (But pay attention to the other comments: a veteran has warned me in the comments these blogs can get argumentative and political, so stay clear of the political ones.)
Those blogs can be great for research, too. Let the blogger know you’re working on a book about this or that battle or campaign. They might like to have a guest post that contains a bit of your memoir that relates to their subject matter.
The average visitor to a non-writing blog might only buy two or three books a year, but if they “know” you through that post, one of those books might be yours.
Set your thriller in an exotic local? Look to travel blogs for possible guest spots (and they’re great for research, too.)
Travelers love to read books set in a country they’re planning to visit—or would like to revisit via armchair.
You can pretty much find a blog on any subject you can name. Blogs are one of the best resources for writers both for research and finding readers…and they’re FREE!
6) Read the guidelines.
You may think I mention this too often, but most of the queries we get don’t follow our guidelines.
If a blog doesn’t have a separate “guest blog guidelines” page, it may be because they don’t take many guests. But there will usually be a “contact us” page, so check it out.
Almost all bloggers will want you to include a short bio, a head-shot and links to your website, author page and social media. They may also ask you to include images. (Make sure they are not under copyright.) If the guidelines don’t spell out exactly what they need, ask the blogger.
Some bloggers may prefer to give you a topic, or may offer questions so the post can be in an interview format. They may have specific requirements for number and size of photos and/or word count. They may suggest you offer a book give-away. Don’t assume you “know the ropes”. Guidelines are there for a reason.
7) Check out other guest posts.
If you’re a beginning freelance writer, you probably won’t land a spot on a blog where bestselling authors and movie stars go to promote their books. You also won’t benefit from guesting if the blogger has been lazy and accepts a lot of mediocre content.
Here our guests are mostly seasoned authors, award winners, or experts in their fields (and yes, we’ve hosted a movie star). They also need to be good general-interest writers who don’t use too much jargon, because tech-speak reads like Klingon to a lot of our readers (it sure does to me).
A humorous approach is a big plus.
But you don’t have to be a movie star or a bestseller to guest for us. You do need to be experienced in writing solid Web content and have something fresh and unique to say that’s of general interest to writers.
Here are some examples of guests who hit it out of the park for us:
- Boomer Lit author Michael Murphy wrote one of our most popular posts ever on how to get rights to song lyrics.
- Author Paul Alan Fahey gave us a Step by Step Guide to Writing Novellas
- Radio talk show host Dave Congalton told us how to be a good talk show guest.
- SEO specialist Johnny Base explained why Google Plus is important for writers and included a video tutorial showing how to sign up.
- CNN’s Porter Anderson told us how to get indie books into libraries.
- Creative Writing professor Dr. John Yeoman told us the secrets of successful fiction writers.
- Agent Laurie McLean has written a number of posts for us with cutting-edge info on the future of the publishing industry.
- Canada’s Queen of Comedy, Melodie Campbell told us how to write funny novels (and why we shouldn’t)
- Publisher/author Jessica Bell wrote about how to write great chapter endings.
The most important thing you can do is individualize your pitch to each specific blog. (Just the way you MUST individualize agent queries.)
We don’t post personal stories, but lots of blogs do. Most blogs love success (or failure) stories, interesting anecdotes about researching your book, posts based on your book research or funny stories about the writing life. A lot of blogs like interviews, too.
8) Don’t spam.
Make sure you’re not writing a thinly disguised advertisement for your own book or services. This is important. I see way too many guest posts that are just ad copy.
Offer new, useful, informative content that can’t be found everywhere. Cutting and pasting tired information from around the Web–or even your own blog–usually won’t cut it.
But note that if you often blog about your special field of expertise, a reblogged post may work fine. I’ve often read a great post and asked the blogger if s/he wants to do a version of the piece for us.
9) Write a professional query via email.
As I said in my post on how to query on April 10th, a blog query is very similar to an agent query.
- Open with a mention of why you’re querying this particular blogger.
- Pitch your project in a couple of sentences.
- Follow up with your credentials (choose a few of the best ones–skip that honorable mention poetry award and the penmanship prize you got in 5th grade.)
- Links to your best “clips” in online magazines, your own blog and guest posts.
Note: as I said above, DON’T request a guest spot via comment thread, tweet or direct message. When I wrote about guest blogging two years ago, somebody actually pasted a query into the comments, showing they hadn’t read a word of the post.
…so for those people, here’s a bonus tip:
10) Read the blog.
Seriously. READ. THE. BLOG!!!
Guest blogging is one of the best ways to build your platform—and it’s free advertising for your books. But remember you’re asking for a favor.
If you’re a new writer without a presence in the blogosphere, it may be worth your while to launch your book with a professional blog tour, which will involve guest blogging as well as interviews and reviews. It will cost you some money, but doesn’t have to be hugely expensive.
by Anne R. Allen (@annerallen) May 1, 2016
What about you scriveners? Do you host guests on your blog? Have you been a guest? Have you had good experiences? What tips would you give new guest bloggers?
This week Ruth has a great post on her blog about Dumb Career Moves writers can make. And on my book blog, I’m continuing my series on Poisoning People for Fun and Profit. This week is part 2: Wolfsbane.
BOOK OF THE WEEK
FOOD OF LOVE: a comedy about friendship, chocolate, and a small nuclear bomb.
Two sisters: one white, one black. Two world views: one liberal, one conservative. But these two women have one goal in common—one they share with most women in modern society: the urge to diminish themselves by dieting. Food of Love is a historical comedy-mystery-romance set in the 1990s that carries a powerful message. It offers some of life’s darker truths—told with a punchline.
After Princess Regina, a former supermodel, is ridiculed in the tabloids for gaining weight, someone tries to kill her. She suspects her royal husband wants to be rid of her, now she’s no longer model-thin. As she flees the mysterious assassin, she discovers the world thinks she is dead, and seeks refuge with the only person she can trust: her long-estranged foster sister, Rev. Cady Stanton, a right-wing talk show host who has romantic and weight issues of her own. Cady delves into Regina’s past and discovers Regina’s long-lost love, as well as dark secrets that connect them all.
Available in eBook from:
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