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"Roundheads and Ramblings"

the difficulties of blogging

Second Thoughts on Marketing

We've already talked about book marketing as part of the preparation for writing  your book. Now that the book is ready to meet its public, the same social media sites will be even more important to your efforts. If  you've followed this plan, you've already started to build a platform of followers and readers. Now it's time to expand your efforts.

Once you've created a publishing company and have the books ready for purchase, a website is a prime requirement.  It should serve many functions -- introducing your area of expertise, talking about your book, providing a detailed biography so that readers feel they really know you, allowing readers to contact you, and making book ordering easy.  Articles on how to build your website are found elsewhere.  Just be sure you do it.

A word of caution about the usual social media sites may be necessary here.  Readers turn to Twitter for pithy sayings, not to be told to "Go buy my book." Facebook provides enough ads as it is.  Don't make it worse by using your status updates as just another ad. Your readers are probably interested in your signings, your awards, your public speeches -- but don't beat them over the head with flat demands for their money.
YouTube videos can reach huge audiences, but don't post something unless it makes  you look like a professional, not a silly amateur turned loose for the first time with a cellphone. And LinkedIn audiences are even tougher.  The participants there are usually serious business people.  Give them information they can use, not blatant self-promotion.

A Virtual Book Tour is a wonderful device for building your following.  Every time you visit the blog of someone new and post an interesting article, you get a chance to add that person's followers to your own. So look for people with interests similar to your own, read their blogs until you are sure you like them (and their audiences), and then ask politely if you can do a guest post for them.  If  you offer their readers some information of value. you may create a long-term relationship that works for both of  you.  As an example, just last week I made my second appearance on a blog managed by a woman who wrote an article for my own book launch. Our interests jibe, and we easily fill in for one another when we need a fresh voice.

The final item on this chart talks about press releases -- which sound serious and mysterious but are easy to do because there is a standard format. Everything must fit on a single page.  Forget about fancy fonts, pictures, clever little sketches -- just get the facts out there, with no grammatical errors or typos.

Start with the words "FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE"
Follow that with your contact information.
Write a short catchy headline.  Look at your local newspaper for examples.
Write a two-sentence description of your book.
Provide a synopsis, similar to the one on the back of the book jacket.
Include a brief biography, with pertinent qualifications, other publications, and any awards.
Add a quote or two from any reviews you may have
Provide book details -- ISBN, publisher, ordering information
Repeat author contact information
Finish with that useful printers mark --  ###

Once you have a good press release, you can send it to local news media, give it to people who will be hosting  your book signings, and use it to introduce yourself to potential customers.  Consider it your own personal Town Crier, going out ahead of you to announce your presence.

Finally, let's add one more item: PERSEVERANCE.  Success in the book publishing world does not come easily or quickly .  It just seems that way when you look at it from the outside, because readers don't see the agent turndowns, the rejections from publishing houses, the low sales figures, the negative balance in your business ledger.  Your book will not be an overnight phenomenon.  Accept that, and keep marketing, keep talking about your interests, and keep writing.  Really, which would you rather have -- a one-night stand with an Amazon "best-seller of the day" or a steady, growing relationship with your readership?

What If You Don't Want To Be in Business?

 One of my faithful readers reminded me, ever-so-gently, that I had left a whole category of writers out of yesterday’s column – those who write for the internet without thought of remuneration. It’s particularly embarrassing since I’m doing exactly that with this blog. So let’s back up a bit.

Being a writer and being in the business of writing are two different but equally viable paths. The first can lead you to all sorts of options – writing for neighborhood newsletters, creating resources for charitable organizations, adding touches of wisdom, humor, and insight to social media, and, of course, the whole blogging world. Being in the business of writing takes you down the path to publication in magazines, television, radio shows, and books. The first path repays you in all sorts of intangible ways, while the business path results (or at least you hope it results) in income.

Is one better than the other? No, of course not.  But they are different, and they place different requirements on the writer.  In many ways, I think blogging or other types of writing for the internet is the harder path because there is so much less feedback.  With my published books, I can see, day by day, how many books are selling, and the royalty checks, even if they amount to only a few dollars, are a tangible proof of successful communication.

Blogging is often a one-sided conversation.  My own blogging site reports the number of hits my website gets each day, but it does not tell me how many of those go to the blog, which is only a small part of the whole.  I often ask questions without receiving a single reply, but that does not necessarily mean no one was listening. 
So why do we blog? Well, perhaps you need to look no further than the second question I posed:
2.  Why are you writing?
·      Because I can’t help it.
·      Because I have something to say that no one else has said.
·      Because I am trying to sort out my own feelings about a problem or issue.
·      Because I want to save other people from making the same mistakes I did.
·      Because I have a skill that I want to share.
·      Because I love telling stories.
Every one of those reasons is blog-worthy.  Only the last three are commercially viable.

Create Some Excitement and Attract Followers

Here are a few more ideas from The Blogging Bookshelf.  Try these to make your blog more attractive.

Blog Design/Appearance
   •    Add or remove pages from your navigation menu(s).
    •    Update the copyright date in your footer.
    •    Add or remove other things to your footer.
    •    Do some research to see if you need a terms of service or privacy policy page.
    •    Sketch ideas for a new logo.
    •    Examine your tagline. Does it accurately convey what your blog is about? Is it ambiguous at all? Should you add some keywords to it?
    •    Find new social media icons for your blog.
    •    Rearrange the widgets in your blog’s sidebar(s), or get rid of widgets if necessary.
    •    Go and take a better avatar photo of yourself.
    •    Browse theme/skin/design directories, either to use or just to get ideas.
    •    Try out a new theme on your blog.
    •    See how your blog looks in different browsers.
    •    Spend some time just looking at the design of your favorite blogs. What are some good ideas you can steal borrow?
    •    If your theme/design allows it, try a different color scheme on your blog.

    •    Plan out what posts you’ll be writing and publishing in the next week/month.
    •    Do some keyword research using the Google AdWords Keyword Tool (free) or Market Samurai (not free). This is useful both for coming up with blog post ideas and for deciding what exact keywords to use for a topic you’re going to write about.
    •    Brainstorm a big list of something. This can be post ideas, new blog ideas, product ideas, or anything else.
    •    Plan a contest on your blog. What will you give away? How will you promote it? How will you choose the winners?
    •    Create and/or analyze your goals.
    •    Make a list of blogs you want to guest post on.
    •    Make a list of guest post ideas.
    •    Plan out what you’re going to do tomorrow.
    •    Make a list of your favorite blogs in your niche. Make it a goal to personally connect with the person behind each blog.

Baby Needs a New Pair of Shoes

   Is your blog beginning to look a bit shopworn and tattered?  Are you (and your readers!) tired of looking at the same old images?  Could the page use a new coat of paint?  Let's take the next few days to consider ways to improve your blog.  Most of these suggestions will take no more than 15 or 20 minutes, and the changes may improve your traffic flow.

    •   Find the perfect stock photo for a blog post, ebook cover, etc.
   •   Rewrite (or start rewriting) your "About" page.
   •   Look at your "Contact" page. Add a contact form if there isn’t one already. Add links your various social networking profiles. Answer any common questions.
   •   Proofread a few already-published pages or posts to make sure you didn’t miss any typos.
   •   Brainstorm blog post ideas.
   •   Write a short, non-epic blog post.
   •   Look at your most popular posts (either by page views or by comments). See if you can figure out why those posts are the most popular. What do they all have in common?
   •   Outline a “personal” post, where you talk more about yourself yet still convey useful information related to your topic. A great way to do this is to tell a story where you learned about something in your niche.
   •   Go back to older posts and create links to newer posts.
   •   Create a My Guest Posts page.
   •   Write a guest post guidelines page for your blog.
   •   Start writing a “My Story” post about how you came to be involved with whatever it is you’re blogging about.
   •   Write a blog post asking for feedback or ideas about something (blog post ideas, direction of where your blog should go, etc.).
   •   Create a poll.
   •   Make a list of general topics you haven’t covered yet. What are the “holes” in your blog content?

I am grateful to Tristan Higbee over at the Blogging Bookshelf for these suggestions.  Look him up!

The Pirates Are Back. Please welcome Helen Hollick.

Many of you will remember that Helen visited here with her favorite pirate Jesamiah Acorne back in July.  I've asked her to come back and talk a bit about how her blog tour went.

I have a vague suspicion that writing a book is the easy part. Getting sales is much harder work, especially if you are a self published author.  

You have produced a well written, entertaining novel and you are now glowing with pride as you see it appear on Amazon. Next comes the waiting patiently for Amazon to alter the pre-order here box to add to basket. This may take a while, a lot of finger-drumming, several rude words and a couple of e-mails to Amazon (if you are lucky you might even get a reply!) The big mainstream publishers do not seem to have this problem; I suppose they have the weight and power of numbers of books in print behind them, but for the small time author we are akin to a loan voice crying up the Amazon without a Paddle. 

What was particularly frustrating for me, my UK publisher had closed in March and I had already planned a summer Blog Tour for my Sea Witch books. A little matter of not having a publisher, however, was not going to stop me! I terminated my contract, asked for my files back, and signed up to a reliable assisted publishing house in Bristol UK, SilverWood Books. My intention: to get back in print as soon as possible and to go ahead with the Tour. 

The files were never returned, so my old unedited copies had to be re-edited, typeset and prepared – thanks to the heroic efforts of Helen Hart and her team at SilverWood, and my wonderful graphics designer, Cathy Helms of Avalon Graphics, we made it. The Sea Witch books were in print by July 1 and a month long Blog Tour started with a bang (a broadside of cannons I suppose, seeing as the Sea Witch novels are based around pirates and nautical adventure.) On July 2 I appeared on Jessica Hasting’s Laugh, Love, Write, followed by the delightful Amy Bruno’s Passages to the Past – and then this fabulous blog of Carolyn’s I was off, hitting the ground running. 

For almost every day (except weekends) somewhere on the Internet my books were being reviewed, discussed, advertised – and marketed. I had the task of visiting each Tour Post, responding to comments and doing my bit by linking to Facebook and Twitter. It is great fun but hard, hard work.   I had completed several previous Blog Tours with my historical fiction books which are published in the US by Sourcebooks Inc – but even knowing (sort of) what I was doing, this Tour was nothing like I had expected. For one thing, the organisation involved is very demanding. You have to keep in touch with the bloggers, ensure the posts are made, follow up any comments with your own – answering questions, saying thank you. Post links, be generally present etc.  

I was lucky enough to have one of the ex-members of staff from my defunct gone-bust publisher willing to initially help me. Samantha had organised the setting up of the tour in February, neither of us aware that the company was about to go belly-up, that she was to lose her job and I was to be without a UK publisher. Sam had all the details backed up on her own computer, so I followed her initial enquiries with an explanation of what had happened and asked whether anyone would be interested in carrying on now I had decided to re-publish the Sea Witch Voyages myself.   The enthusiasm, support and eagerness I received was overwhelming. 

I have an advantage over most self published authors in that I am already well known. My Historical Fiction books have received attention on the review blogs – I even made it on to the USA Today Bestseller List with Forever Queen (US edition of A Hollow Crown) and I have quite a readership following. The Sea Witch Voyages were a different matter, however. They are a series of nautical adventures with a touch of supernatural fantasy, based around the pirate Jesamiah Acorne and his girlfriend (later his wife) the white witch, Tiola Oldstagh. By the spring of 2011, thanks to the not very impressive track record of my collapsed UK publisher, the books were on the verge of hitting the rocks and sinking without trace, as was my writing confidence. 

This Tour was to be the make or break (sink or float?) for my pirate and his adventures – and my career. If the result was not encouraging I was prepared to wind my writing up as a lost cause. Self confidence is a difficult thing to maintain.  

Some of the review blogs were keen to have an interview in the form of questions and answers, a couple wanted articles about myself or my books, all of which took time to compose. Other blogs posted a simple review – and the books had to be sent out in the first place. I had a few copies from the previous publisher, but postage – considering many of these review blogs are in the US and I am UK, was expensive. Quite a few bloggers accept PDF electronic copies now, which is a much easier way of sending novels for review purposes – but self published authors take note – many bloggers want to see the quality of the book itself, its design, layout, the general “feel” of it. Plus, several blogs offer giveaway copies as prizes, which the author is often expected to provide. In all, I reckon I have notched up at least £200 in expenses.  

Will I gain this back via sales? I have no way of knowing until the next round of royalty statements. I will need to ensure that I follow up the Tour with getting on with the next WIP (a fourth Sea Witch Novel), leave comments on the blogs where I was a welcome guest and maintain contact on various sites, including Facebook and Twitter. To sell books you have to market books, and Social Networking is an art in itself, one I find enjoyable – but it eats time like a hungry Hour Monster. 

So was my month long Virtual Book Tour worth the cost and effort? Put it like this – there is now quite a buzz on the ‘Net about a certain pirate called Jesamiah Acorne; I have a ship load of new followers and fans, and as the saying goes, ‘From little acorns mighty oak trees grow.’ All I have to do now is be vigilant, tend the seedling, and nurture the sapling…. Watch this space.

My website site: www.helenhollick.net
SilverWood Books www.silverwoodbooks.co.uk
Avalon Graphics  http://www.avalongraphics.org