Monday, February 4, 2008

Ten Things a Tart Learned About Blogging

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.

9 comments:

Susan S. said...

Great post, Nancy! I love TLC, and never realized how much informaiton you could get out of it...not to mention the amount of work it was to keep on top of things. All of you Tarts make it look so easy!
Thank you!
Susan S.

Joyce said...

Excellent tips, Nancy! I've taken many of them to heart as the administrator of Working Stiffs (http://workingstiffs.blogspot.com)
Our hits are growing and writers are even seeking us out now to do guest blogs.

Keeping a blog is hard work and I've found my personal blog suffers as a result. I don't post there much at all anymore, unless there's a topic that's not really suited to the group blog.

Do you think it's necessary for writers to have their own blogs too, if they are already in a group blog?

Nancy Martin said...

Thanks for the kind words, Susan.

As for keeping up with a personal blog as well as a group blog, Joyce---I can't imagine trying to do both and still have a life, let alone write, too! I think each of us can examine what we want to accomplish from blogging and decide if a group or a solo blog will achieve your goal. For me--a slug when it comes to PR while trying to write books, too--a team effort was the way to go.

Anonymous said...

Nancy,
What a great post. I'm a long time reader of TLC and I think one of the most interesting points you make is deciding on your audience. Most of the blogs I go to nowadays are geared towards writers because that's what interests me. However, if the purpose of your blog is to reach readers rather than fellow writers then I think the content does need to be different.

Have you found that there are any particular challenges to being part of a group blog? Are there any guidelines regarding content that you have agreed upon. If problems arise how do you guys (tarts) handle them.

Thanks!
Mary-Frances

Nancy martin said...

Mary-Frances, how nice to see you here! (How's the book, girl??)

Yes, the Tarts discuss content all the time. We're always evaluating what topics work best, and we often toss ideas around behind the scenes. And even though we've agreed basically not to write about writing, we always see the world through the perspective of writers.

Although we would never tell a fellow Tart *not* to write a blog about a subject that really grabs her, we do share editorial opinions. (We try really, really hard not to blog about politics. But it's so damn hard!) The key, I think, is to put yourself in the reader's--uh, desk chair. We think a lot about what would best entertain our regulars and attract new eyeballs before we post a blog. Or write a book.

As for challenges, I think any group of people who work together can have conflict. We're not any different, and we often disagree. But we've been able to disagree articulately (we have 2 lawyers among us) and with civility (How could anybody get mad at the likes of Harley?) and emerge adoring each other even more than before.

The best part of my TLC experience has been behind the blog---with my blog sisters. We've become incredibly close. If I were starting out a blog today, I'd pay more attention to choosing my blog mates than just about anything else. Together, you become one voice, so you need to hash out a lot of stuff before you actually begin posting. (Our blog was blank for nearly 3 months while we contemplated what we wanted to achieve.) But having such close writer friends is a gift I didn't expect out of the blog experience.

Janet Grace Riehl said...

"...blog sisters. We've become incredibly close. If I were starting out a blog today, I'd pay more attention to choosing my blog mates than just about anything else. Together, you become one voice, so you need to hash out a lot of stuff before you actually begin posting."

This is so wise. It takes no money and 5 minutes to start a blog on many of the blogging platforms. The real issue is keeping it going. For that, you have to have a strong purpose and some enjoyment.

Your platform is highly focused with clear goals that you can measure. That fits in neatly with my "Back of the Envelope Book Marketing Plan" which I presented at the Story Circles conference in Austin. You will inspire and help many blogging authors with these tips.

Best of luck as you continue connecting with your readers and passing on your wisdome on the science of blogging.

Janet Riehl
www.riehlife.com

Nancy said...

How nice to be validated by an expert! Thank you, Janet.

When I give up reading a blog, I often blame myself for having a short attention span. But as you noticed, it's really the obligation of the blogger to be focused and entertaining on an ongoing basis in order to earn my hit.

Tangent: You'd be surprised by how often I hear from bloggers who are dismayed or disappointed by their blog mates and would like to change the line-up. One partner who doesn't pull his weight or doesn't target his writing to the audience can really be a rotten apple in the barrel. I wonder if it's better to toss the rotten one or bail out and try to start another blog entirely? Staying in a slowly spoiling situation can be a terrible time drain and a marketing setback.

Janet Grace Riehl said...

Q: "I wonder if it's better to toss the rotten one or bail out and try to start another blog entirely?"

Hmmm...aren't human relationships such an ongoing revelation? How do we connect? How do we disconnect? That's one of my fascinations.

What you are describing is a collaborative structure...really, a blogging collective. Baby Boomers explored collectives big-time in the 1960s and since then collaboration and community structures have become documented and turned into a science as well.

A friend told me about a field of knowledge called, "Collaborative Engineering...all about ‘knowledge workers’ who work together on projects while based on different, remote locations." I think this work could be transferred to blogespherians and blog collaboratives.

Janet Riehl
www.riehlife.com

Nancy said...

Janet, does the sentence, "Resistance is futile" ring any bells with you?

You're absolutely right, though. This week my biggest frustration was that I couldn't have a Super Tuesday party and watch the primary coverage with my blog sisters. We all live at the four corners of the nation!