Joel Friedlander joined us to talk about using your author blog as a social media hub to engage readers.
Joel Friedlander, book designer, blogger, and the author of A Self-Publisher’s Companion: Expert Advice for Authors Who Want to Publish, joins us to discuss how to engage readers, build a targeted list of subscribers, and blog effectively. Joel prefaced our chat with a guest post on our blog, “Blogging For Authors.”
Joel, do you include social media, forums, and engagement on other sites as part of your author platform?
I use the “hub and outpost” method to organize my social media marketing. This means you establish your blog as the “Hub” and then set up outposts on the social media sites where your readers can be found. The point of this is to attract people you meet in social media back to your blog where you can better engage with them. It all counts towards your “author platform” but the folks who visit your blog are much more likely to engage with you, sign up for your email list, or want to follow your work. Keep in mind I’m a nonfiction author, and blogging plays a different role for fiction authors. If you have a successful presence on one social media site, brainstorm ideas to attract those people back to your website or blog. If you approach book publishing as a business, your email list is paramount. On the other hand, if you are simply trying to create “buzz” or find the readers who respond to your work, they are in social media. The big difference is that on your blog, you have to do a lot of work to get people to visit. In social media, they are already there, you just have to find them.
What do authors stand to gain from promoting visitor engagement on their blog?
Engagement tactics start with writing content that compels people to engage right from the start through your comments. Further engagement is signing up for your blog articles or your email list. You can also get people to engage by running surveys, asking for feedback on specifics like a book cover, or staging live events. I’ve used an outline for a WIP to solicit opinions, for instance, and got a great response that was really helpful to me.
For those just starting to build their email list, what kinds of incentives do you recommend offering to encourage sign-ups?
This all involves understanding that you need to use a “Call to Action” even in your blog posts so people know HOW to engage. A survey might feature the characters, time period, civilization, or geographic region in which your books are set. For fiction, a survey would be more for entertainment. Best tip for beginning bloggers: work on foundation content first. That’s basic content about your field that’s not going to change. For instance, terminology, description of processes, that sort of thing. When I started my blog, I wrote a lot of these article. Some of them are huge generators of traffic through search. You definitely need an incentive for people to sign up. Your email incentive should ideally qualify the people coming into your list, so think about who those people are.
How do you find the keywords associated with your niche to use in your blog posts?
For keyword research there are a lot of tools, but my two favorites are both from Google (they should know keywords, right?) Main tool is the Google Adwords Keyword Tool. It’s inside Adwords, but it’s free to join and it can give you lots of insight. For instance, I found that the keyword “publishing a book” had 50% more volume than “publish a book.” Who knew? The other “tool” I use is Google Predictive Search. That’s what shows up when you start typing stuff into the search bar. Also, when you do a search in Google, scroll all the way to the bottom and check out the “related searches” for more keyword ideas.
Do you have any SEO tips or tools to share for those who are unfamiliar?
Twitter chats are great if you can find one that’s appropriate. I use Hootsuite to organize my Twitter streams and posting, it’s a great tool I use both AWeber and MailChimp for my email. I’ve been with AWeber for 6 years and recommend them. Many authors have no idea of SEO, consequently their articles may be great, but don’t rank well with Google. A smart approach is to first, research your keywords, then write each article around just one of those keywords. Make sure your keyword is in your headline if possible, but it should be in the first paragraph for sure. Tags are like the index to your blog: categories are like chapters in a book. Every email you send should have a call to action, and most blog posts, too. There are many ways to do this. Categories and tags also help a lot of you are using your blog to blog a book, they make the organization rational.
Why shouldn’t authors blog about their book? What do you recommend instead?
Another good question, and one we’ve touched on. Write about your subject, don’t write about your book. For instance, I started my blog writing about how to create and publish books. Now, I can easily publish books on this subject. Related posts plugins make sense, and I’ve used them in the past. If you gather a readership on the subject, people will be very happy when you tell them you’re publishing a book on the subject. The aim is to establish your authority, trust, and likability, and a blog is perfect for that. There’s lots of overlap since you’re writing about one topic often. I have 1500+ articles on my blog. Lots of overlap!
Do you recommending doing guest posting on other blogs related to your niche? What are the benefits of doing so?
Guest posting is a terrific way to grow the readership on your blog, but it does take work. If your blog is new, research the top 10 blogs in your field, the people who have the readership you want. These top blogs have already done what you are trying to do, and in the right circumstances will “loan you the microphone.” Start with bloggers who are your peers, and as you get better at it, keep aiming higher. Bloggers love guest articles that appeal to their readers, and make sure to stick around to respond to reader comments. When I started, I did a ton of guest blogging to stimulate traffic to my blog. Guess what? It worked!
What kinds of content/stories perform best in blog form, in your experience?
I’ve seen some people get good results by posting the beginning of an article on Facebook, with a link to the entire article. Still the most popular type of article is a list like “The top 7 things you need to know about . . . ” Part of growing a successful blog is learning how to present your content to the best effect. For instance, you might need to go back and add bullet lists, numbered lists, block quotes, and subheads to make it more attractive. Other popular post types are Q & A posts, product / book reviews, news about new products, and services. Also, controversy will stimulate traffic. Boldly state an unpopular position, for instance, and watch what happens. Link posts, where you curate content for your readers, are also very popular since they save readers the time doing it themselves. Social media sites like Facebook are great for finding your readers: bring them to your blog to engage with them.
Everyone is short on time, so how many words per day/week do you recommend writing?
This is a tough one. Some blog posts are short, like 200-300 words (product reviews, for instance). Mine tend to run 1,000 words. Why do I write posts that are 1,000 words? I don’t know, but that’s where the articles seem to want to end. You need to find out what’s right for you and your subject and your readers. If you want to really grow your readership, I recommend you publish at least twice a week. Three times a week is better. Basically, the more you post the more traffic you will attract, but with one condition: the condition is that you have to market your blog. Most authors are completely unaware of this, sadly. Maybe find a weekend where you can write a few, then schedule them in the future. Set up your hub and outpost so that your blog feed (RSS) populates the sites you use most. My blog feed goes to Twitter, Facebook, my Amazon Author Page.
What are some ways to beat writer’s block and speed up the content writing process?
Okay, this question is right up my alley, and the answer for me was free-writing. Do you know what that is? Free-writing is writing fast, to a prompt, for a set period of time. You don’t stop writing until the bell goes off. Free-writing will build your writing muscles faster than anything else I know. Write faster than you think. In free-writing we give ourselves permission to write junk because it’s all first draft material. I spent 2 years free-writing every day before I started my blog. In the first 2 years, I published 6 times a week! I’m working on a course on free-writing for authors right now, and I hope to have it out by the end of the year. Keep in mind that a blog is a media site: you can release news, do interviews, and provide lots of other content for your readers. If you think about it, blogging and self-publishing are really two sides of the same coin. In both blogging and self-publishing, we take over the publishing process on our own with no gatekeepers. That’s one of the reasons I think self-publishers should naturally take to blogging, particularly nonfiction authors. In fact, at this point it seems that almost every nonfiction author really needs to have a blog. Fiction authors might be able to just use an author page or some book landing pages for their books. Don’t forget the Call to Action! For every action, there should be a response.
BookBaby’s marketing manager Lucy Briggs conducted this interview with Joel Friedlander.
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