Thursday, May 3, 2012

Should Authors Blog or Not?

Should the modern-day author blog or not?

Though that seems like a straightforward question, it really isn't. Some say authors should be on every social media site possible, pimping their book out for sales—and, to be fair, trade-published authors often do have a limited amount of time to make the majority of their sales. Some say authors should just spend their time writing the next book, not worrying about marketing.

And some of us just shrug, pick a few social media techniques we enjoy, and work on our next stories. *twiddles thumbs*

That said, I've kept an eye on online media and publishing information and all that jazz for… well, at least 7 years. I've seen very few folks (other than John Locke in his much-debated How I Sold 1 Million Ebooks in 5 Months) say that blogging nets them a worthwhile number of sales for the time spent.

Even if I speak as a blog reader or commenter, I haven't actually bought many books by folks whose blogs I've read. I could count on my fingers the folks for whom appreciation for their blog (or helpful online presence) led to me buying books I wouldn't have otherwise. I'd need more than one hand, granted, but we're talking over 7 years' time, here.

So, since I know it's usually ineffective marketing, why do I blog?

Short answer: I enjoy it.

Long answer: I have a big mouth and like having a place where I can share what I know (or think) and folks can listen (or not) as they prefer. I'm the type of person who will be shopping for a cupcake, hear the person behind me cough, and offer them a horehound candy, after checking if they're allergic to corn, fish, or mint.

(Horehound candies make fantastic cough drops, by the way, and they don't close your throat up like menthol. And genetically modified corn has a fish gene in it, so corn and corn syrup can trigger some folks' fish allergies.)

Back on topic…

Should an author blog?

Before I answer this question, I have a definition to share, as well as a small confession.

writing that seeks to trigger a particular action in the target reader
(That's why ad text is called ad copy.)

Blurbs are copy. Queries are copy. Blog posts meant to trigger a comment or a sale are copy.

And that is the difference between a blog that successfully leads to sales and one that… doesn't. Its copy.

Some blogs are all information, no copy. Some have little (or downright bad) copy. In fact, my guess is that most blogs neglect to actually encourage their readership to take the action that the blog owner wants them to take.

Now, here's a secret to effective copy: It manipulates the reader's emotions to make them want to act immediately.

That's why radio ads tend to yell at you. They want you to get caught up in the emotion, the panic, and to buy Now—now—now! before you stop and realize, "Hey, I don't really need a new car…"

On a less obnoxious note, that's why some blogs (like mine) ask 1+ questions at the bottom of the post. The questions encourage you, the reader, to come up with an answer and to go ahead and share your thoughts with that "Comment" button. That's technically manipulation.

(Yes, my "small confession" is that I'm technically manipulating you into leaving that comment. But it's a kinder, more encouraging type of manipulation. Like when you're trying to get that quiet friend of yours to contribute to the conversation so you're not holding a monologue.)

Copy that produces sales is harder to write, particularly for things that are commodities, not necessities. A manual on how to efficiently write an essay, a guide on self-editing, a gas furnace—each of those is needed by someone, somewhere. Put your sales copy in front of one such person, demonstrate that they can afford it—and need it—now, and viola! Sale made. Probably. And the buyer will even be happy that they spent that money.

A novel about a runaway slave girl who's trying to avoid triggering World War III or a paranoid royal bastard who's heiress to a prophecy?

Who on earth needs that?

Add the detail that the more obnoxious and obvious your marketing tactics, the less effective they'll likely be, and I decided before I even started this blog that I would seek to build informational discussions here, not sales. Sales would be nice, but they aren't my purpose with this blog.

Discussion, commentary is. And I'm happy for all you who join in and make that a success. ^_^


Should an author have a blog?

Depends on what you think the blog will do for you.

If you write fiction and your goal is to earn a bunch of sales, no. The learning curves for writing effective blog copy (and attracting an audience for it) will probably overwhelm you. Don't blog, not unless your background is in marketing. (Which is, not coincidentally, John Locke's background. Which is why his techniques worked so well for him—he jumped in already knowing how to gather an audience and how to write effective copy.)

If you write non-fiction, or if you write fiction and want discussion rather than sales, go for it.

But bear in mind that you'll start out in obscurity. A 2% action rate is often considered good. Most blogs only get comments from 1–5% of visitors, just like most books only get reviews from about 1% of readers.

No, those numbers aren't typos.

Your first goal will have to be to increase your readership, so that your primary goal (be that discussion or sales) will be successful.

Notice that my own blog doesn't have all that many followers. (Yet.) Are there things I could do to raise those numbers? Sure. Could I do more SEO than I am already? Sure, even if search engine algorithms have gotten good enough that specific keyword phrasing doesn't matter as much as it used to.

But honestly, I had a hard time even convincing myself to put the questions on the bottom of my posts. Because it's manipulation. So I feel guilty about it.

Folks tell me I shouldn't feel guilty. I'm polite and don't pressure them.

But I do feel guilty.

And that is something else to bear in mind if you blog: Would (or does) it bother you to write copy?

If so, you might be better off not blogging. Depends on whether or not your blog's primary purpose is to trigger a response in readers.

Do you blog? If so, for what purpose? If not, why not?

…And now that you know these questions at the end of my posts are technically manipulation, are you upset with or mad at me? *looks worried*


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