Monday, July 19, 2010

Michael: A Wide Net, Full of Snakes and Caterpillars

As a debut author, you’re expected to do whatever you can to help promote your book. That means, when you’re not updating your Facebook status or tweeting, you should probably be blogging. The posts should be interesting, original, and farm fresh, all of which raises some big questions.

What on Earth Am I Going to Blog About?
The conventional wisdom is basically this: The more you blog, the better. A steady stream of fresh content keeps people coming back, helps build a community, earns you more links, increases your search engine visibility, and all of that good stuff.

But how are you going to find enough motivation and material to blog, if not daily, then at least several days a week? And, even if you do, how are you going to stand out from tens of thousands of other authors doing basically the same thing? For me the answer is this: I write about what interests me.

Three of my last five posts, for example, have involved things with tentacles: the Syfy original movie Sharktopus, Cthulhu, and Paul the World Cup-picking octopus. Every day, the top search terms leading people to my site include one or more of the following: “anacondas,” “assassin caterpillars,” and “animals with big ears.” And that’s just the A’s. Which leads to the next question…

Does It Make a Darn Bit of Difference?
I think so. Some days I’ll get a few hundred visitors to my site, only a handful of whom arrived looking for information about me or my books. And yet, there they are. I am not really competing with other authors for this traffic. In fact, when it comes to my posts about, say, cone snails, I don’t seem to be competing with anyone at all.

Nonetheless, a decent chunk of those visitors end up clicking on the pages about my book, bio, events, and upcoming titles. And whether they’re buying them for themselves, their nephews, or their pet snails, on the heaviest traffic days, a few of these visitors seem to click all the way through and buy books from the Amazon, B&N, or IndieBound links in the sidebar.

Now, a book or three is not all that much, in the grand scheme of things, but it has helped to keep my sales ranks from falling too low, and to keep the online discounts maxed out, for almost a year and a half now. And frankly, who knows how it works, that strange combination of word of mouth, sales algorithms, and general momentum that keeps a book relevant? When I found out that Scholastic was keeping Gentlemen in hardcover for an extra six months, one of my first thoughts was: Thank you, assassin caterpillar of Brazil.

And, of course, when the people who are actually searching for info about my book land on the site, they find a mix of fresh material, new comments, and fun (or at least unusual) posts.

So What Are You Saying?
I am neither a font of wisdom nor a runaway success (having quit my day job, I may in fact be running away from success). But I have been blogging regularly for a few years now, I still enjoy it, and I think it helps, so there is one piece of advice that I feel comfortable giving: Allow yourself to write about whatever interests you, not only regardless of how weird or idiosyncratic the subject may be, but because of it. It allows you to cast a wide net online, and to fill that net with whatever you like.

8 comments:

  1. Just started my blog this year and all those questions you asked above, I have asked too and I'm sure countless authors, writers and novelists have asked themselves. There is so much out there on writing already that you do feel like the tiniest voice in a crack that no one can see or hear. But like you said, you've got to start somewhere. Thanks for an inspiring post, Michael. It made me think what other things I could write about.

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  2. I am coming up on a year of blogging. I need it for theraputic purposes. If others enjoy my information, Great!

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  3. Jessie: Thanks! I hope it helps. Blogging about writing is *tough* so allowing yourself to write about other topics now and then could be a fun break for you, and a way to let readers see more of your personality and interests.

    Kristi: That sounds like a good situation, and if you enjoy writing it, I'm sure they'll enjoy reading it.

    Sumpin': Thanks! \m/

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  4. "Thank you assassin caterpillar of Brazil." Michael, you crack me up! I think you're also very wise to blog about topics that might interest your book's readers. There's a very decent chance that someone searching for giant anacondas or assassin caterpillars will be intrigued by that Gentlemen cover and want to know more.

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  5. Thanks, Tonya! Yes, my book and my blog have a lot of the same ingredients. The book is creepier and the blog is crawlier, but both have some humor, a lot of random guy stuff, and so on.

    And I think my blog readers will really like the sequel: The Very Giant Gentlepillar!

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  6. Hi there!

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    “Then what are you waiting for? …put on your thinking cap and get writing. For registration and other information check - http://bit.ly/short-story-contest-2010

    Happy writing!

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  7. I've been thinking about this a lot lately, and am about to start my blog. Thanks for helping with the motivation! And dude, I want to know about the assassin caterpillar of Brazil! My 10-year-old son and I MUST know, in fact. Off to find out...

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