By Nancy Martin (SinC member at large)
Three years ago, some author friends and I decided to call ourselves the Book Tarts and start a blog (insert www.thelipstickchronicles.typepad.com ) in order to reduce our PR travel and help sell our books. Our success has come as a result of a lot of vigilant, ongoing work. (Our only motto? Never blog about diets.) If you're reading this, chances are you also blog yourself. Or if you don't blog, there's a part of you that's wondering if you've missed the boat. Am I right?
If so, maybe you're interested in what some blogging veterans have learned after three years of posting blogs while writing and selling books. And I'm very interested in your conclusions, too. Here goes:
1. It didn't take long to learn that building an audience depended upon posting new content every day. Without fresh material, our readers quickly found other blogs to procrast---er, spend their leisure time.
2. Because blogging every day soon becomes a terrible chore and prevents writers from writing books that actually pay the mortgage, a successful blog needs more than one writer at work. (Unless you're a regular on the NYT list, which probably exempts you from a lot of grunt work except the really, really hard stuff-writing books worthy of the NYT list.) In our case, we tried to find like-minded authors who wrote books for the same target audience. But we keep to a regular schedule so our readers know who to expect on each day of the week. To avoid diluting our "brand," we limit guest bloggers to weekends when---with apologies to our many delightful and insightful guests-hits are about half what they are on weekdays.
3. By writing posts aimed to entertain the readers who buy our books (instead of blogging for an audience other writers) we quadrupled our daily hits. Mind you, that quadrupling took a year, but it's still growing.
4. Content is Queen. The Tarts think a lot about who our audience is and what material will best keep them coming back. First, the people who read our books want to be entertained. Second, to laugh. But subject matter is especially vital in the mystery community because the best mystery novels are not just a story, but a story about something. The good ones feature new ideas, fresh takes on current issues or trends in popular culture. Yes, the Tarts sometimes blog about the mundane details of our lives, but only as a metaphor for something thought-provoking.
5. By extension: Advertising is not blogging. Posting nothing but tour schedules and release dates is a surefire way to lose our audience. That kind of info goes on our websites. Blog readers get bored with obvious self-promotion faster than anything else.
6. We track our hits. And this is worth repeating. Track the hits! We count our hits every day, notice what our best referrals are, and sometimes watch ISP addresses. We count the number of daily comments and note when and how many first-time commenters come out of lurkdom. Then we compare that data to our content. We notice which posts are winners with readers and which are duds. If our hits aren't growing, we know it's time to re-think and/or re-invent and go find more eyeballs. (You can do this by posting on some big listserves, by emailing alerts to your friends, by inviting guest bloggers who bring an audience with them. If you write about cats or knitting, join some related listserves and alert your listmates about your blog. And I'm sure many of you have even better ideas you could share here. Please do!) Only if we continue to grow our audience can we hope that our blog is helping our sales numbers.
7. Comments are an indication of how large and interactive our online ommunity is. And that's what you're trying to do with a blog, right?--To build a community of readers who will become so loyal that they'll be moved to buy your books when they're released. To attract comments, I must pose a subtle question in the text of my blog. Not an obvious question, because readers are turned off by such pathetically clumsy efforts.
8. The employees of NYC publishing houses read blogs. Therefore, if you want to keep your reputation as a team-playing author, don't post anything stupid or insulting about your publisher, your agent, your publicist, the buyers for major chains or your friends. On the other hand, if you want to get 1000 hits in a single afternoon, say something insulting or stupid, because other writers enjoy watching their colleagues crash and burn. Human nature.
9. Here's our big conclusion: Blogs do sell books. In the last year, we've seen quantifiable evidence of that during the health crises of two authors whose friends volunteered to blog on their behalf. Resulting book sales have been documented. The rest of us have to study our royalty statements to puzzle out whether or not blogging triggers specific sales. But all of us at TLC have enjoyed increased sales since starting the blog.
10. My last word of wisdom? Don't blog about diets. It's boring. And boring is the worst thing a blog can be.
For more on this subject, you can check last year's State of the Union TLC blog here: http://thelipstickchronicles.typepad.com/the_lipstick_chronicles/2007/01/2006_a_year_in_.htmlcomments
And you can bet I'll be tracking how many readers come from this blog to The Lipstick Chronicles.