Do I Really Need A Blog?

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The best way to market your books?

Yes. You do.

That was very nearly the most concise blog post in the history of blog posts. Until I decided it might be more helpful to elucidate a little…

If you aim to self-publish then absolutely yes, you should maintain a blog or a website. To be frank, even if you’re heading down the traditional publishing route, you’d be well-advised to set one up. Major publishers no longer spend the time and money promoting poor starving authors like they used to and you’ll find yourself doing much of your own audience-building. Or else standing on street corners with a sandwich board.

Now, I know many of you reading this have already carpe’d the diem and set up highly successful blogs, so please bear with me (or toddle off and entertain yourselves for a bit). If you’re amongst those, however, who are still pondering “but why do I need a blog?” I shall endeavour to explain.

Why Can’t I Just Use Facebook?
Your blog is your online home, your hub, your Moon Base Alpha if you will. It is where your content lives, where your audience will find you, where you can showcase your writing and, Heavens above, one day maybe even sell your books. It is the single destination to which you can direct anyone who may be in any way interested in what you have to offer.

All the other platforms – Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, take your pick – are the spokes which lead back to your hub. The first rungs upon your marketing ladder. They serve as vehicles to disseminate snippets, teasers, snatches of information… all of which in turn will lead people back to your blog. If you attempt to build an audience without a central focus point (that’s your blog, in case I haven’t tortured this point quite barbarously enough yet) you will end up with a loose, fragmented raggle-taggle of followers spread out across the web with no cohesion.

Of course, you could rely on a Facebook or Google+ page as your focal point. The problem here though is that they’re just not flexible enough. They each have their good points but you’ll rapidly outgrow them as places to maintain an evolving body of work, not to mention your historical archive of articles. At first, you may be perfectly content with popping up the odd status update about your work-in-progress or polling for votes on potential cover images. But have you tried to read a lengthy post on either site? It’s not the most comfortable of tasks. And the distractions… your lovingly-crafted content will instantly be vying for attention with everyone else’s status updates and posts and kitten pictures.

And you can never win against a kitten picture; it’s a law of nature.

Whereas, a short, snappy, to-the-point update or tweet can be used far more effectively to drive readers to your very own blog, where they can soak up your genius at leisure and without interruption. It’s the hub-and-spoke model again; using the spokes to drive your audience back to your hub. A tried-and-tested marketing technique that is pretty much ubiquitous in the digital era.

And It Doesn’t Stop There…
Another seismic advantage with a blog is that you have a vastly wider range of formatting, styling and presentation options to play around with in order to keep your audience engaged. Your blog is a living, evolving organism; it needs to be kept fresh, it needs to grow, it needs to change with the times and the trends.

Above all, it needs to reflect you, your personality and your writing style.

Try doing all that on a Facebook page! Not that I have anything against FB, you understand, it’s just not a blog.

As if any further motivation were needed – which, quite frankly, it shouldn’t be but here goes anyway – most blogging platforms can easily (OK, relatively easily then) be updated with eCommerce functionality. More commonly known as “being able to sell stuff“. When you’ve developed a large enough following, there’s a good chance you may want to entice them to purchase your books directly from your blog, rather than sending them off to an online retailer who’ll charge you commissions and taxes and all kinds of other bits-and-bobs which nibble away at your income like a horde of ravenous gerbils.

OK, I’m Convinced, Where Do I Sign?
Amongst the plethora of splendid reasons to crack on and build a blog, I’d say those make for a pretty compelling starting point. And if you’re now thinking “but I don’t know where to start and I’m not technical and I can’t do design and I hate computers and I wish I’d never started and I need a very stiff gin, HELP HELP!!!!” then don’t panic. Everyone thinks that before they start, it’s an entirely natural part of the process. A bit like teething pain. It seems bad at first, but once you gain the ability to eat biscuits, you understand it was all worth while.

Setting up your first blog is vastly easier than you think it’s going to be, believe me. And just like a chocolate digestive, it’s worth the small amount of effort involved.

That, however, is a post for another day…

Abracadabra!

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The magic trick of self-marketing for writers.

There is one magic trick for marketing your books (or blog or brand or self)…

What’s that you protest? Everyone else tells you “there’s no magic trick to successful marketing?” Yep, I’ve heard that too. Don’t believe them, they’re wrong. 

There is one magic trick to marketing and it is this…

Don’t spread yourself too thinly.

Right, off you trot and get on with it.

Actually, woah, hang on… before you go, allow me to explain a little further.

You Don’t Eat An Elephant In One Sitting
You’ve taken all this time to write a book, you’ve sweated blood drafting and revising and honing and polishing and ensuring every single word is just as good as it could possibly be. So, quite naturally, you want to shout out to the whole world about your amazing achievement and have them all (hopefully) clamour to read it and (even more hopefully) shell out a few shiny coins for the privilege.

The problem is, you simply can’t reach everyone all at once. And if you try, you will dissolve into a rather messy-looking puddle of frustration, irritation, exasperation, desperation and a whole bundle of other -ations which I’ll let you dream up for yourselves.

No. The simple truth is, if you try and do everything at once, you’ll fail. Guaranteed.

Facebook, Twitter, blog, LinkedIn, Goodreads, Google+, Wattpad, the list goes on and on and on seemingly endlessly, much like Big Brother.

Take it from a grizzled, campaign-hardened (campaign, it’s a pun, geddit??) marketing veteran – you choose your battles and fight them one at a time. The order in which you tackle your battlefields is largely irrelevant and completely of your choosing.

If you attempt to develop an audience and grow your following across multiple platforms at once, you will go utterly out of your mind and give up probably within a month. And that’s if you’re dedicated. Most last a couple of weeks.

Know What You Like And Like What You Know
Find the platform you are most drawn to and start there. Some like Twitter for its brevity: fine. Others prefer the chatty loquaciousness afforded by Facebook: equally fine. If you find yourself drawn to the Communities of Google+: fine as well.

Just pick the one you like and focus on getting to understand that really really well. Know the types of users, experiment with different post types, use pictures, words, links, whatever you fancy. But don’t try and run before you can walk.

I’ve been blogging for a couple of years now and I’m a big fan of G+ and Twitter, but don’t do so well on LinkedIn. I’ll experiment with it again at some point, but right now I’m developing my audience on my blog and my favoured channels. And it’s working.

In time, you’ll find the audience you develop on your Number One Platform will keep ticking over when you wander off to test out another for a bit. It’s like spinning plates.

So, if the sheer effort and commitment involved in marketing your books seems daunting – overwhelming even – take a breath and a step back (watch out for that coffee table…) and set your sights on one particular target.

Then launch yourself headlong at it.

So tell me, which platforms work best for you and why?

 

 

Testing, testing…

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Been busy writing

Hello? Is this thing on…?

It’s been a while hasn’t it? Quite a long while in fact. I have been hiding away and have neglected you all, for which I offer my most sincere apologies.

I’ve been busy. Yes, OK, I know how often I use that phrase and I know you’re all frantically busy too and still find time to blog. I really have no excuse. Oh hang on… yes I do…

I have been beavering away at the novel, cracking on with the final (I do so hope) round of edits and using the gruelling opportunity of Camp NaNo to really push toward the finish line. So there, that’s kind of a good excuse no? I dropped the blog about the writing to focus on the writing. Am I forgiven?

Anyway… thought I’d just pop by to assure you all that I haven’t succumbed to a surfeit of lampreys and I’m still extraordinarily fond of each and every one of you. I shall endeavour, in my best boy scout manner, to become a better blogger again.

And – big fanfare please (ta-da-da-da-da-da-DAAAAAAA!!) – in response to some absolutely delightful comments on my previous post (a snippet of the infamous first novel, Dark Energies) I might even pop up a few more excerpts to whet your collective whistles!

Now there’s a promise for a sunny Friday morning eh?

Must dash, the peacocks are nibbling at the peonies again, but watch this space my friends…

Dark Energies

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Writing

It’s been a rather hectic week here at JFC, which unfortunately means I haven’t had the opportunity to conjure up a proper post, far less the two I was aiming for.

Every cloud, however, has a silver lining and this particular batch of cumulo-nimbus is no exception. It’s all very well me banging on about writing and marketing and suchlike, but the proof of the pudding is in the reading, if you’ll excuse the mangling of a metaphor. It’s time to put my money where my mouth is and offer up a snippet of my own writing.

So, without further ado, allow me to introduce the beginning of Chapter 1 from Dark Energies – my soon-to-be-self-published first novel:

Why am I writing this? An excellent question. Maybe to try and make sense of the events of the past few months by putting them in some kind of order. Maybe to diminish the fear and confusion by sharing them with someone else. Or maybe just to convince myself that there is still a real, mundane world out there somewhere, by picturing you, my friends, sitting with a cup of coffee or a glass of wine on a comforting sofa, calmly and rationally reading this account. By the way, I hope you’ll allow me the indulgence of calling you friends. Because, right at the moment, I need all the friends I can get.

Another question: How did this start? Before we’re through, there will be a whole lot more. This is where I could opt for the classic opening territory of “Once upon a time…” or “In a land far far way…” If only both of those were true, then my situation would be a lot easier to deal with. Knowing how this all ends would also comfort me greatly. But it isn’t once upon a time, it’s not far away and it certainly hasn’t ended yet. So I’ll go back to where it did begin and ask you to stick with me through this.

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A Place To Belong

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Google Plus for writers

It is time for me to confess. I can hide my guilty secret behind a curtain of self-denial no longer.

I am enamoured with Google Plus. In fact, I may go out and get drunk and have “I heart Google+” tattooed on my bicep.

Now settle down, calm yourselves, please don’t carry on so! Allow me to explain before judging me, if you would.

Don’t Believe The Rumours
For a long time I, like many others, avoided Google+, believing the rumours that its user base consisted entirely of Google employees, a handful of early adopters and several sociopathically vain bon-vivants who could no more let a new social media vehicle pass untested than permit a bandwagon to roll by un-jumped-upon.

Then I saw the light…

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Breaking The Silence

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Superhero

Well hello there Internet, how splendid to be back! Please say you missed me, or there may be the most frightful scene.

I have, as the more eagle-eyed amongst you will have observed, been away. I could spin you a sordid yarn of diamond-smuggling and a brief sojourn in a hellish Peruvian jail, but the truth is far more prosaic. I lost my voice. Not in a “warm brandy, kitten round the neck” sort of a way. No, that would have been far more enjoyable.

The Blogger’s Worst Nightmare
In what must surely be the worst professional catastrophe which can befall writers and bloggers, I found myself with nothing to say and no means of saying it. Inspiration dried up so entirely that even the trusty old standby methods of finding post inspiration failed. Moreover, whenever I attempted to write, the words came out flatter than a Friday-night karaoke bar. No fun, no lightness, no substance, no purpose. None of that which regular readers have been kind enough to say they enjoy in my writing. Which led me to thinking…

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35 Million Ways to Brighten Your Blog

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Those very generous people at Getty Images have just done us bloggers a massive favour.

Now, we all know that adding images to a blog post increases engagement. What’s that? You didn’t? There’s always one. OK, let’s backtrack to step one for any latecomers – adding images to a blog post increases engagement.

As a species, we’re pre-conditioned to respond to visual stimuli which help us add context to our environment. If those visual stimuli include kittens, our responsiveness increases dramatically. There’s almost certainly some research which bears that out but, to be honest, I was too busy going “awwwww” at pictures of kittens to hunt it down.

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