Monday, February 10, 2014

Getting the Word Out: Your Blog and You

After my blog last week about paid reviews in which I looked at Clarion Reviews and San Francisco Book Review, I'd intended to go on to other venues in which you might be able to get your book reviewed.  It's worth looking at the blog from last week, however, because the CEO from San Francisco Book Review weighed in on my post. Take a couple moments to read her comments and my response--and pay attention to what I focused on, i.e., that a consumer wants and needs certain information in order to make a decision about whether to go with a particular service or not.

Her comments got me to thinking, too.  No, not about my job as an investigative journalist: I don't even pretend to that.  But what I am and continue to be, first and foremost, is a customer, and in that case, a potential consumer for the services the SFBR would like to offer.

Readers are consumers/customers, too.  So it stands to reason that when a reader comes to your blog, she's looking for information.  She's coming there as a consumer/customer.  The question is, what kind of information is that reader looking for? 

I'll be honest: I think that books direct readers to blogs, not that blogs direct readers to your books (unless there's a specific post about you as part of a blog tour).  Blogs can help readers find your other books, but the reason that any reader bothers to Google your name is because she's read your book and is interested in knowing more about you. 

Not convinced?  Want to test this out?  Easy.  Look at the number of entries I've had for the MONSTERS audiobook giveaway, one that has relied solely upon Facebook, Twitter, and traffic to my blog; and then go look at the Goodreads giveaway for WHITE SPACE.  There's no comparison.  I've had a very small number of entries for the MONSTERS Rafflecopter giveaway.  Yet, for WHITE SPACE on Goodreads . . . there are over 2400 entries--and that's because people have a reason to be on Goodreads.  Goodreads is a community.  By contrast, there is no community organized about Ilsa J. Bick.

So it's clear that my blog--just me and my vanilla random thoughts--doesn't generate much traffic.  Yes, I have fans, and yeah, I get a fair number of comments and fan mail.  But it's not me that makes people come to the blog.  What makes them come there, if they come at all, is that I've written a book they like.

So when they come to the blog, what should they find?  What is it that you want your blog to reflect about you and your work?  Is there some hook you can use to keep a random consumer--someone who's read one of your books and decided to look you up--coming back?

Remember, I said that the Internet is nothing but a vast marketing tool.   Blogs and every aspect of social media is/are marketing tools.  In her blog last week, Kris Rusch mentioned a few things the standard blog ought to provide a consumer in terms of basic information about you and your work, past and current.  Take a few minutes to read her blog; it's well worth your time, although I'm not sure that I agree that your blog needs to be genre specific.  For me and most people I know, a blog needs to be clean and easy to navigate.    I used to have a different theme for my blog,  one that I thought was very spooky and kind of cool. But I also found that that particular theme got to be too cluttered, busy  and difficult to read.  At the time, I'd been influenced by other folks' blogs--no, I won't tell you who--that had all kinds of bells and whistles.  I mean, navigating their blogs was like playing a video game.  Roll over this, something would happen; click this, something else would blow up.  All very nifty.  But also very pricey--and not easily transferrable to things like iPads and iPhones, which don't use Flash (and something I discovered to my chagrin after shelling out a fair amount of cash for an animated sequence for ASHES that relied on Flash.  All that money for nothing.).

So, recently, I switched, going for a blog format that I think is clean and easy on the eyes.  Is it as spooky and creepazoid as I would like?  No, but it's easy to navigate; you can find out all you want to find out about me (or, as much as I'll let you find out) and you can also read about my upcoming releases and where to find them. That's really all the information that a blog needs to provide the average consumer. 

But once you've enticed a consumer to your blog--to that bit of advertising about you--do you want to keep them coming back?  If so, what can or do you offer?  Some writers give out free fiction; others just post their opinions about this, that, or the other; some folks talk about what recipe they're trying out that week.

Or . . . are you targeting different consumers?  That is, if someone loved your book, will they keep coming back to your blog if you talk about writing?  Or cats?  Or what cake you baked that week?  Do you capture a different audience on Mondays--when you post a picture of your latest cake, for example (actually, Sundays are when I usually post mine--and on Facebook and Twitter because I don't think people stroll by my blog then, but I know they're on the other platforms)--and yet another on a different day when you offer advice on writing?  Or share your latest needlepoint pattern?  Or your Charger's new paint job?

There are some fans who read a book and then want to know all about you, and so they're the ones who will happily read a post about yak tea on Monday and your car's new paint job on Wednesday.  There are others--and I would say that they form the majority--who only come to find you because something you wrote touched them in some way.  They happen by your site and drop a line . . . but they don't keep coming back.

Except . . . don't we want them to keep coming back?

So that then begs the question, the very same one I had for SFBR's CEO: if I want to use a certain service, I need to understand the target audience.

It's the same for us as writers.  Who's your blog for?  Who's your target audience?  Who do you want to engage--and are those people you engage on, say, Monday, the same folks you engage on Thursday?  My guess is that you can't please everyone, and people cherry-pick.  As I've said before, I happen by a particular blog every week on the day that I know there will be information I think might be useful.  But that's all.  But if I were to offer, say, a free story on a certain day and do it reliably . . . would that increase my traffic?  Chances are good that, eventually, it would--and if a reader's read enough free fiction, he or she just might want to pony up to buy an actual novel.

I'm not suggesting that all we writers need to or can do that, but I think that a writer who provides an array of content--say, a story one day a week, advice another, a recipe a third--is one who understands a diversified market.

Anyway, I'd be interested in hearing from other writers out there, and bloggers, too: do you even think of a target audience?  If you do, do you think in terms of different audiences and different platforms for those audiences?


Jordan Dane said...

Good post, Ilsa. As to your question about target audiences & platforms, I write crime fiction and YA under Jordan Dane. So I have to think in terms of completely different audiences. I've managed to maintain my crime fiction readers while venturing into YA, but it hasn't been easy. My indy pubbed Blood Score (indy pubbed after I turned down an offer to buy from a large) has helped me keep an iron in the fire for my adult readers. My agent is peddling another potential thriller series to add to my adult offerings.

But YA is very different from my adult audience even though many of my readers like both. To toggle between YA & my crime fiction suspense books, I write suspenseful YA with elements of paranormal, so I have a shot at finding readers who may like both, or YA teens who grow into adult readers eho enjoy suspense.

As for platforms, I do all the social media you do. My KILL ZONE group blog gets huge traffic & I love it. I enjoy twitter & have built up my pinterest activity, but I get my name in front of potential readers by sharing who I am & my interests more than I do actual book promo. I do both, but less promo & more fun so I enjoy it too.

I also live tweet during TV shows I enjoy (solid well-written shows like Justified, True Detective, Hannibal, & Sleepy Hollow). I've got more people following me FOR my quirky tweets & smartassery on pop culture, while maintaining my writer community. I used to worry about my image in the YA world, but after getting back into crime fic, I don't worry about it any more. I do what I enjoy & focus on looking at the world & making observations through the eyes of a writer, because that's what makes me happy. Time will tell if my new approach will help sell books, but I'm having fun doing it.

Jordan Dane said...

Loved your spot on reply to SFBR. Many authors assume if they are reviewed anywhere, it will drive traffic to their book, but that simply isn't true. They pay for ads or buy reviews assuming the service has an audience or traffic. If for example, SFBR can't be analyzed by QUANTCAST to determine their traffic (as you'd be able to clearly see if you ran Fresh Fiction thru quantcast), then how can their effectiveness be determined when you're making your promo budget decisions? Even if they share what they THINK is their reach, that still doesn't tie well to how effective your ad or review will be. An author must first exhaust the free options to maintain a presence, which takes work & time. Throwing ad/pd review money onto a book should be the last thing considered & only after a determination of effectiveness is established. My $.02.

Jordan Dane said...

When I'm referring to free options, I mean social media, Goodreads, blogs, newsletters, etc. Paying for virtual tours on active blogs with your book's focus audience would be preferable to paying for ad/review dollars.

Ilsa said...

Loved reading all your comments, Jordan. I actually dropped by KILL ZONE not long ago in relationship to something someone had posted about Kirkus Indie, and it's a nice site. I agree, though, that audiences don't necessarily transfer so radically. I'll bet that going from an adult thriller to literary fiction--say, if you're John Grisham--is an easier sell than changing demographics altogether. Now, is there an audience that ONLY reads Grisham's literary stuff over his thrillers? Or Sandford's PREY series over the newer Flowers series? (As a die-hard Sandford for years and years--so an *n* of one, I haven't been able to make the jump. Lord knows I've tried, but Virgil Flowers is simply not as compelling a character, and the books have a jokey, good ol' boy quality that appeals to me about as much as lutefisk. As Sandford's looking to transition over to Flowers--or, even if he's not, then he can't do two quality books a year--I've also noticed that the quality of his PREY novels has fallen off, big-time. I think the last one I enjoyed was BROKEN PREY . . . and I've read them all, except the very last, SILKEN PREY, which I couldn't even finish or get into. For the first time, I'm also looking at the high probability that I will not be buying a Sandford novel of any ilk this year because of all that.

Ilsa said...

And continuing on...

But my point is that this is someone still operating within his genre . . . and he couldn't swing me over. Swinging between demographics must be doubly difficult. It's a shame I don't watch much TV [I do all my watching in the gym, so it's streaming and a year late ;-) ], but I wonder: have you ever looked at sales of your self-pubbed book or traffic to your website after a tweet session? Is the audience you attract for that translatable? Do you see a bump in traffic atterward? Or in sales? It would seem to me that those two indicators would tell you right there and then if what you're doing is actually building an audience for your books. (Don't hear that as a criticism either; it's a testable hypothesis and one that I don't have the luxury of trying. The only concrete indicator I have that no one is coming to my blog simply on the strength of me is a giveaway that's going nowhere *there* versus one going gangbusters elsewhere. Or it might also be that a lot of folks don't listen to audibooks, but that's probably wrong. When I do a CD giveaway on GOODREADS, I've had scads of entries. (Though, man, they got to change this policy of allowing for only physical objects, especially when we're talking a sister company. I can see them not allowing giveaways of self-pubbed stuff; I really can--although that doesn't preclude someone sending out a general call to Goodreads as Konrath's done in the past, and what I'll probably do in the future if AUDIBLE gives me promo codes for WHITE SPACE. Really, AUDIBLE ought to open up author-specific pages and giveaways on its site. Think of the reach. I know it worked for ASHES.)

Ilsa said...

And lastly...

I think that paying for anything only makes sense if that service translates into a traffic and bump in sales, period. Self-pubbed people can monitor that, and as I mentioned a couple blogs ago, Kris Rusch concluded--based on her limited experience of looking at sales after just such a tour--that her tour did nothing to help her. Now the question you have to ask is whether that means a blog tour only helps for the book in question; that it won't lead anyone to your backlist who doesn't know you already (which is what she was talking about). Or whether a blog tour really helps at all. (I'm doing one now for WHITE SPACE, and I don't mind so long as the bloggers put forth some effort. But out of the 15 or so blogs my publisher lined up, only 5 bloggers could be bothered to submit Q&A or suggestions for a guest post. My publisher wanted me to cherry-pick a couple questions from those people who'd turned something in and write up something for those who hadn't--that is, offer those up as guest posts. But I refused, and I did so for the reasons I've said before: people attach more value to things they actually have to work for than things that are handed to them; and bloggers supposedly know their target audience. I don't, and I'm not going to waste my time blathering on about something they're not interested in. And, frankly, if you can't be bothered to work up the energy or find the time to submit a few questions . . . your site wasn't worth my time to begin with. Your time is no more valuable than mine.

Sechin Tower said...

This is incredibly helpful analysis. Thank you, Ilsa!

Lately, I've been wondering if blogs are worth doing at all. I know it's a sacred cow for writers, but I'm starting to doubt. A few years ago, it was really wildly exciting to think that your favorite author (or even the person next door) was writing something new you could read every week, but now there are so many words added to the web every second of every day it's tough to make them count. The web stuff that excites people these days (especially YA people) are web comics and video casts. I don't know about you, but those things are far enough out of my skill set that going in that direction would take up all my writing time so that's not much of an option.

The old saying with blogs is that "content is king." I think that's why Killzone is so popular-- it's got solid, regular content on writing advice from writers for writers. Awareness of audience + useful content, just like Ilsa is describing here.

Should we all quit blogging, then? (Call it a Blogcot?) Personally, I'm not ready to go that far because I still have a few ideas to try. But I think it's time to consider the possibility. The real question is how much time to spend creating content. Your post has been food for thought. Thank you!

Ilsa said...

Thanks, Sechin. I think about this a lot because every moment I spend trying to come up with content for my blog is time I'm not spending on writing a book. Again, I think it helps if you look at blogging as marketing, period. Writers have always had to promote themselves; Dickens figured that out a long time ago and he put a lot of energy and time into it. (Having read a lot about the guy, I don't think it killed him per se; he was under a lot of self-imposed stress. OTOH, his writing suffered tremendously as a result of all his marketing activity. If you're on an endless performance tour, you're not writing--at least, he wasn't--and I think part of his emphasis on touring so much was not only because he needed money: he was running away from the fact that, creatively, he was starting to run a little dry. Yes, yes, he kept up his editorial work and his shorter pieces, but he didn't attempt another novel for five years after the Staplehurst train crash that really was the beginning of the end for him.

Ilsa said...

And continuing on, Sechin:

But we're not talking Dickens. We're talking writers and marketing. In the past, writers had fewer venues--cocktail parties, tours, book signings--but they were still expected to show themselves (provided that they were people a publisher wanted to show off . . . that's a whole other post). Nowadays, rock star tours are few and far between because they're very expensive, and it's not at all clear that they accomplish what you want: discovery by word of mouth and a bump in sales (and we writers have had no way of measuring that until self-pubbing came along).

Blogs are not sacred cows in the sense that you absolutely MUST blog. Stephen King doesn't blog at all. Yes, I know what you'll say: "That's because he's Stephen King." That doesn't mean he doesn't have a website, but he virtually never generates content for it, last I checked. His time is being spent generating books we want to read.

Ilsa said...

And continuing on (for the last time; wish these comments could take more characters):

That's what every writer has to decide when it comes to a blog. Blogs are something publishers want because that's how your fans find and then let you know how they feel about this, that, and the other. As I said in my post, I seriously doubt that any reader stumbles on your books because you have a blog. It's the other way around. So, if you think of the blog as content for your fans and consumers, then maybe that helps you decide what to put up there (if much of anything). I know a writer who puts up a lot of different content every day: a picture gallery; a post about his cancer; a post about life. If you wanted to spend the time diversifying like that, you could. OTOH, I look at Facebook and Twitter as extensions of a blog platform (and much more effective, too): bite-sized snippets people can easily digest. So, through those social media, people know I'm interested in cooking, the environment, interesting science, stuff like that, and all content they can't get on the blog.

Which begs the question of cross-platform posting: do you give a variety of content every day, say, a thought for the day, a picture, a nifty article, with certain days set aside for longer content directed at, say, other writers?

It comes down to time. Every writer has to decide how much effort and time to put into marketing. It's like deciding if going to that book festival is worth taking two or three days during which you probably won't be writing much, if at all, no matter what your good intentions. If you can look at blogging or any other social media marketing or going to a book festival or convention and say, categorically, you're better off doing that at the moment than writing (or vice versa), then you've got your answer.

Jordan Dane said...

Omg, loved Broken Prey. One of my favs in structure & twists. I stopped reading him when Lucas became older & domesticated. Sometimes a reader falls in love with a character & wants to know he/she is frozen in time forever & still feels like your fav sweats or jeans.

Jordan Dane said...

I definitely see spikes in sales when I tweet & blog. That's real. Only Amazon mind you, because of how they update their ranks, but it's gpod to see results when with ads, you have nothing but conjecture.

Totally agree on the goodreads giveaways. They need to extend to digital. I don't use them much because of it. My publishers do their own giveaways, but I would promo my indy pub if they allowed digital. To me, their policy doesn't make sense. If I have intention to defraud a winner by not getting them their prize, why would it make a diff what format? Plus digital is instantaneous & no shipping. With 60% of books being digital now, GR is completely out of step.

Jordan Dane said...

It's difficult to attribute specific promo efforts to a bump in sales. I contend that it takes a foundation of varied efforts to keep your name out there. I read somewhere that a reader needs to see an author's name several times before they recognize it, then they might try a book if they see it online or in a store, however they buy.

So for me, maximize your free teach before you pay for an add. Vtours are just another promo op targeting readers on blogs that reach the audience you hope to target. But no one way will be a hit out of the park generally. Good discussion.

Jordan Dane said...

My blog content gets fed thru RSS feed to facebook & other sites, so one post expands my reach with little effort. Grp blogs spread the work.

Kill Zone is easy to track traffic & feel you have visibilty, but keep in mind how best you can use RSS feeds to broaden your online footprint, Sechin. When people query your name, they should get pages of content on you and once you're posted, it doesn't go away. It builds and there's a perception about that.

Sechin Tower said...

I read somewhere (and thoroughly believe) that the average book buyer has to hear/see the title an average of 7 times before making a purchase. That would certainly support the "as many avenues as possible" approach.

Thank you both-- this is good stuff. You could take the comments here and make a whole post of them. Or combine them and your other posts into a book and sell them!

Ilsa said...

Whoa, Sechin. Really? Find me that stat; that's both astonishing and troubling. :<P That has to refer to new purchases of authors you've never read.

Sechin Tower said...

It was in a "how to build your platform" kind of book I checked out from the library. I'll see if I can dig it up, but it was a few years ago and I don't remember which book. However, it was certainly to do with unfamiliar books/authors. If a reader has read one of your books before, they have already seen your name more than that (I wonder if that's why the author's name usually appears on the top of even-numbered pages?)

I remember that the stat was presented as the result of a special analysis of book sales, but who knows how scientific it was (I'm a nerd, so I don't fully trust a study unless I hear the study details).

However, there is an old axiom in the advertising industry that seems to corroborate the stat, and that's the "Rule of 7" that states a consumer needs to see or hear an ad 7 times to remember it. This, too, may be more an assumption than a research-driven analysis. Here's more on that:

Donna said...

This is something that I've thought about quite a bit, especially as I move more towards being in more of a writer mode than a reader mode. At the end of the day I'm not very interactive on any social media platform I use. That's just how I function. I'm a private person and if I don't have anything to add to any particular conversation I won't add anything. Or if I feel something has been beaten beyond death, I won't say anything. Or if I think it'll be too much effort, I won't say anything. And I think if people understand who you are up front that won't come to your social networking platform, whatever that is, and expect one thing and get another.

Should the publishing gods grant me the blessing of being published I do plan on having a writing blog, mainly because I don't personally like reading blocks of text in posts on tumblr and organizing is much easier on something like a Wordpress platform. Posts would be sporadic, maybe once a week, they'd be longer and more detailed. My main social networking took would be tumblr. It's more personal (without being too personal), I'm far more active on it and it's more interactive than a blog post but not running on anxiety levels like Twitter is (for me). I'd still keep my Twitter account but it does have its uses and I'd make a Facebook because because one can't ignore the literal billions of users on that site.

I don't think a site has to be genre-specific although it does help targeting an audience and I don't think it has to target any one thing. In terms of social media I think an author does need to get themselves out there but they don't have to be everywhere all the time. Just thinking about that gives me palpitations. But you need to be working in this century. I'm crossing potential agents off my list because they still only accept snail mail queries. Sorry, no. Since they're not working in the current century the insinuated expectations I have of them doing with my career what I would want with it are very low because they are so technologically behind. I'll need someone that isn't going to run me ragged on social media but who at least knows what email is.

I think it's all about middle ground.