Blogging is a great way to build platform
by Anne R. Allen
I started this blog on March 13th, 2009. It was Friday the 13th. Obviously I have a need to tempt fate.
I knew pretty much nothing about blogging. I simply wanted a place to put the unpublished columns I had written for Inkwell Newswatch, a Canadian writers’ zine that stopped publication in January 2009.
It’s amazing what you can do when you don’t know how.
I settled on putting up weekly posts on Sunday at 10 AM. I can’t remember why. Maybe I pictured my fellow writers relaxing with a cup of coffee on Sunday mornings and surfing the writing blogs the way I did.
Later I read that “the rules” of blogging say that Sunday is the worst day to post to a blog.
But this blog has never followed the rules. And that’s probably the most important thing I’ve learned over the years: blogging has no rules; make your own.
The blog got a big “oomph” when Ruth Harris joined me in 2011. Her vast expertise in the publishing world — both as a Big 5 editor and a bestselling author — brought a whole lot more polish and knowledge to the blog. And I think she’s been as happy to break “the rules” as I have
Here are my own rules of blogging. I posted some of these on my 10th blogiversary. Not much about blogging has changed since then, except that blogging has lost its luster, and a lot of authors prefer to interact on social media.
But I think a blog still provides a writer with the best web presence. And nobody will put you in Blogging Jail if you break some unwritten rule. 🙂
1) Question Authority
“The rules” will come and go. So will gimmicks and tricks for SEO, ROI, SERP, and LMNOP 🙂 . The only thing that stays the same is the value of good content.
When I started out, “the rules” said a blogpost should be 300 words long and you should blog at least twice a day. Yeah. How many successful authors do you know who do that?
We were also told that an author blog should follow the same rules as a blog about make-up tips for teens or how to make decorative pillows out of dryer lint.
And we were supposed to run advertising all over the site. I remember reading that the #1 failure of new bloggers was “failure to monetize.” (I had to look up the word “monetize.”)
How many successful author blogs are peppered with irrelevant advertising these days?
Also, you needed a niche. You could only blog about jelly doughnuts or training your cat to use the toilet. Otherwise, readers would get confused.
Rule-makers are always underestimating readers. I slowly found out an author can blog about anything. Authors blog to attract readers who will like our books. So we can write about anything those people would like to read about.
We simply have to make sure that what we say is honest, well-written, and helpful.
2) You Get By with a Little Help from Your Friends
My blog never would have taken off without the blogfriends I made early on. A lot of them are members of the Insecure Writers Support Group, which I think is one of the most useful groups in the writing community. Do check out their blog.
Friends who Tweeted my posts and shared them on other social media made this blog. I’d be nowhere without them.
Guest blogging for my friends got my name out there and brought in more readers.
And friends I made through blogging asked me to join anthologies and group promotions that raised the profile of the blog and made me a lot of money in book sales.
Ruth and I both owe a lot to our friend Barb Drozdowich, tech guru and social media whisperer, who saved our bacon when the blog almost died in 2015 after a tough move from Blogger to WordPress. (Check out Barb’s books and services. If you need help with a website or building your platform, she’s the one to contact.)
Most of all, Ruth, Barb, and a host of blogfriends kept this blog going while I was laid low by a medical catastrophe for five months in 2020. I will always be grateful to all the people who stepped up to guest post — and of course to Barb and Ruth.
3) Commenting on Other Blogs is the Best Way to Build Your Own Blog
Reading and commenting on blogs is the best way to start building your author platform. Commenting allows you to get cozy with search engines and make blogfriends.
The first time I made it to the first page of Search Engine Results (the SERP) was with a comment on a popular blog. Search engine spiders will find you on a popular blog much more easily than they do on your own — especially if it’s brand new, or doesn’t have much traffic. Because the Google spiders go where the traffic is.
Turns out one of the most important aspects of “SEO” is getting something called “backlinks” and every comment links back to your own blog. I didn’t know that for years, but I did know my traffic grew when I took the time to read and comment on other writing blogs.
More on this in my post on How to Build Platform Without Really Trying.
And remember no blog is an island. You need to become part of the “blogosphere.” You want to reach other bloggers and blog readers. They might just check out your blog too if you have interesting things to say in your comment.
Most of the important contacts I’ve made in my career have been through commenting on well known writing blogs. Bloggers know who their commenters are, and if you say something smart, they’ll remember you. They may even ask you to guest blog. That’s how I get most of my guest bloggers.
Author marketing guru Penny Sansevieri recommends commenting on blogs about 5 times a week. It doesn’t take much time and it pays off in a whole lot more exposure.
4) Your Commenters are Your Most Important Asset.
A blog is nothing without readers. And readers who comment are giving you a lovely gift. Even if they disagree with you. (Politely. If you’re dealing with rude or obscene comments, see the following section.)
Answering comments quickly and honestly is one of the best ways for a blogger to get commenters coming back.
Responding to comments acknowledges your readers as your equals. You’re not supposed to be sitting on a blogthrone waiting to be adored. You’re exchanging ideas with your peers.
I met Ruth Harris as well as two of my publishers when they commented on this blog. Plus I get some of my best ideas for new blogpost topics from the comments here.
5) Trolls are Everywhere. Be Vigilant, but Don’t Engage.
Trolls are like termites. Sooner or later, you’ll probably have to deal with them. Unfortunately, I had an attack early on and didn’t have a clue what to do.
A swarm of Goodreads trolls hit this blog in 2011, complete with emailed death threats. Yeah. They threatened to “take me out” and included a photo of my house. All because I said Amazon treats a 3-star review as negative (which it does.) But my post somehow triggered the Rage of the Twitterverse. And Twitter sent the trolls here.
I made the mistake of trying to defend myself. That’s when I learned you NEVER engage with trolls. We need to treat trolls like rattlesnakes. They may be blocking your path, but you need to find a way around them. Never get in a fight with a rattlesnake.
And as for Goodreads, don’t go there. Thar be dragons! Self-righteous, semi-literate dragons. I had an agent who said, “Go to Goodreads, link to your blog, and never go back.” As Buzzfeed said, they “weaponize the language of social justice” to attack pretty much everybody. I talked about this in last week’s blogpost.
6) Own Your Mistakes and Learn From Them
Remember you’re a blogger, not the Pope. Infallibility is not required.
If you’ve made a mistake, own it. Don’t get defensive. We learn from our mistakes. I’ve have learned a ton from the people who have corrected me here. And I’m so grateful for all the readers who have caught typos, so don’t hesitate to point them out.
But when somebody criticizes you — or one of your commenters — in a cruel, obscene or irrational way, don’t engage. If they’re accusing you of something you didn’t do, you’ll be tempted to defend yourself, but don’t. They usually simply want to fight. People drink and blog, unfortunately.
It’s your blog. Freedom of speech does not apply to private property. If you’ve done nothing wrong, and the commenter is throwing rage around like a monkey throwing feces, get rid of the comment. Treat it like the pile of poo it is and delete it immediately so your readers aren’t subjected to it.
7) Piracy Happens. But Don’t Be Too Paranoid.
About five years into blogging, I had a major run-in with a pirate. He scooped the content of the entire blog. retitled it, and put up the blog with a ton of advertising in Portuguese. We figured he was in Brazil. I had to find a tech guru to get it taken down.
But this happens very rarely. I think only Blogspot blogs are still so unprotected that it can happen.
When somebody steals the content of one or two blogposts, and doesn’t link back to your blog, don’t panic. Ask them firmly but politely to take it down. If they don’t, send a DMCA to their Internet provider.
If they’re in some third world backwater where they can’t be reached, let it go. Maybe they’ll make enough money off your content to feed their family today. Or pay for a bus ride somewhere with better jobs. Or maybe your words on their blog will inspire somebody who never would have seen it otherwise.
8) Guest Posting will Grow Your Blog Quickly
Guest posts–whether you post on another blog, or get somebody to guest for you — can be magic. Every guest has their own following. That guest will bring their friends over to read their post on your blog, and chances are they’ll look around a bit.
And a guest on your blog gives you a little time off. We always host at least one guest a month on the blog (two if there’s an extra Sunday.)
And when you visit another blog, you’ve got a whole new audience. Write something they like, and they’ll come over and check out your site. They may even subscribe.
9) Keep to a Blogging Schedule.
People like to plan. It’s in our nature. Let people know when you’re going to post and they’ll show up at that time to enjoy your company again.
That doesn’t mean you can’t write blogposts when you feel inspired. Just post them at the same time every week or month or whatever. It’s better to let them rest a couple of days and proof them again anyway. You’ll catch a lot more of your typos.
Keep posting to a schedule because the blog isn’t about your needs: it’s about your readers’ needs.
10) An Author Blog is Not a Business Blog.
Business blogs are for selling stuff. Author blogs are for communication. They’re simply a place for you to get in touch with other writers, readers and potential readers and exchange ideas.
So the most important thing is to be real and entertaining, not hype-y. A blog is a place on the Web where people can come and hang out with you.
Pushy, “buy my book” posts don’t get traffic. And following all those complicated business blog rules will exhaust you and drive away readers. You don’t sell books like cat-carriers or Ginsu knives. Hammering readers by endlessly screaming your title at them does not make people want to relax and hang out with your work. It makes them want to block you.
I’ve watched a lot of author-bloggers give up because they tried to blog so often it became drudgery. An author doesn’t need to blog more than once a week. You want people to read your books, not daily reports of what you had for lunch.
Have fun with your blog. and when it isn’t fun anymore, take a break.
11) Don’t Badmouth Fellow Writers.
And remember reviewers are writers too.
Dissing celebrities is a fun game people love to play. Hey, they’re celebrities. They’re crying all the way to the bank, right?
But writers, even famous ones, are your colleagues. You may not be an unknown forever. What if you get a big book deal and meet Famous Author at a party and you’re the one who made that Facebook meme, showing him as a chimpanzee pooping out a book. Do you want to spend your first big publishing soiree hiding in the bathroom to avoid Mr. Famous?
Plus you never know when you might be invited to participate in a joint marketing event or anthology edited by Publishing Superstar. Yes, it happens.
Do you want to be the one who Tweeted “@PublishingSuperstar is a talentless has-been. Who will stop him before he writes again?”
Good luck getting into that anthology.
If you’re a book blogger, I’m not saying you shouldn’t give negative reviews. But personal insults always backfire. I’ve watched it happen to some snarky authors (who have since disappeared from the scene.)
12) The Most Important Blogging Rule is the Golden One.
Be nice. Be positive. You catch more flies with honey. Yeah, all the things your grandma taught you are true.
Okay, I’m not going to pretend a little negativity in the header won’t boost traffic. We usually get more clicks on our “How Not to Write…” posts than ones labeled “How to Write….”
But you need to make the overall message of the post positive. Always add a strong dose of hope to anything you blog about. Whining about how the publishing industry is “rigged” or how all agents are scammers will not win friends or influence readers. And dwelling on bad reviews and rejections makes you look like a loser. Do your mourning offline.
13) We’re all Bozos on the Blogging Bus.
Probably only my fellow Boomers will get that reference to a comedy album from the Firesign Theater circa 1971. (Further made famous by Wavy Gravy, who said: “We’re all Bozos on the bus, so might as well sit back and enjoy the ride.”
But what I mean about us all being Bozos is that we’re all winging it out here. There are no hard and fast rules. What works for one author won’t work for another. Chuck Wendig uses foul language and talks politics and does all the things you’re not supposed to do — and he has one of the most popular and effective author blogs around. Nathan Bransford neglected his blog for several years. But he jumped back into blogging several times a week and his audience returned.
Remember nothing is set in stone. What works today may not work tomorrow. If what you’re doing isn’t working, do something else. Blogging is always growing and changing.
Follow your own red nose, drive your own clown car, and do something screamingly different. It just might work.
by Anne R. Allen (@annerallen) March 13, 2022
What about you, scriveners? Do you blog? How long have you been blogging? What have you learned from blogging? Do you think a blog has helped your career?
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“This was a wonderful an instructive book written in a casual, conversational style easy for authors new to blogging to comprehend and digest. Anne R. Allen offers many tips on what to do and, perhaps more importantly, what not to do. I definitely recommend this book to any new writers looking for resources on starting a blog!” Holland Kirbo
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