The first two posts in this mini-series discuss how to create a functioning website, and how to connect with people more influential than you who might share stuff on your behalf to their larger audiences.
Now, let’s look at how to create good content on your website: posts that readers will want to read and share with others.
Why Blogging for Writers is Helpful
There’s a clear set of reasons why you should blog on your own website:
- You’re a writer. You have the skill to write engaging content.
- Writing engaging content can impress key people: editors & agents if you’re pitching a manuscript; readers and reviewers if you’re promoting a book.
- Your own website is the only place you control fully, over time, where you can present your ideas, yourself, and your literary products to the fullest.
The challenges: 1) how to do this well, and 2) how to do it in a way that won’t be a sinkhole of time and creative energy.
How To Keep your Blogging under Control and Make Your Posts Effective
Keeping your blogging strategically productive is crucial. Without some focus and a plan, you’ll flounder and fail, or just never know if what you’re doing is working, or what to do next.
Start with a minimum level of activity you can maintain for years. I recommend a minimum of a good post per month. That’s not a lot, but start with that. If you can, increase that to two per month. But I’d rather see one good post than lots of poorly-done bits of content.
How to be effective? Ask what visitors to your website/blog might want to do or know. A short list will include how to buy your book. But first they’ll probably want to discover more about it and about you. Visitors probably would like to:
- See a couple of reviews from respected third-party reviewers.
- Read a sample of your writing. Or see a table of contents (for nonfiction).
- Discover more about you: why you’re writing what you’re writing, what inspires you, what were the creative moments when the story emerged or changed, why you chose a certain path and not others.
- Discover how to buy your book (in the simplest, least expensive way).
- Get some bonus materials: teacher’s guides, book club questions, bonus stories, fun activities, etc.
- See bits of news & contact info: where will you be appearing next if they want to meet you? How can they contact you to invite you to an event?
You’ll do best if you plan your website to serve these most frequent needs of your visitors – clearly, thoroughly, efficiently. This means clear headings, direct links, easy-to-find pathways in and out of parts of your site, and well-written content.
The simplest way to think about this is the concept of FAQ: Frequently Asked Questions. If you’ve done any live talks, these are the questions people always ask writers. Where did you get the idea? How did you do the research? Did anything surprise you or change drastically as you wrote the book? What other writers/great books influenced you or do you recommend? Etc.
The content can be created as “pages” (more static, structural info about your work: About the Author, About My Book, Sample Content, Contact Form, etc.) or as “posts” (journal-like sequential posts, many possible categories, sorted and discovered in various ways).
Pillar Posts on Your Blog (What & Why)
First, a quick blog primer: a “blog” is a running set of “posts.” The blog is like a magazine; the posts are like articles or smaller bits.
Each post has its own URL, so you can direct someone right to that post. Or you can send someone to the whole blog, or to a category, which pulls up only a subset of posts for a given topic.
Each post is a potential entry point. For instance, on my site, most people enter not through the home page but land first on a particular post (especially one of roughly ten or so of my most popular posts). So most of my traffic enters through a side-door (you probably arrived that way yourself!), rather than through the front door, the home page.
(I use a widget that lists the top 10 posts and pages in my site’s sidebar. It’s a clear indicator of what people are reading.)
Each post has a sequential place on your overall blog, which makes your blog like a journal or diary. So your most recent post shows up at the top of the blog page, followed in turn by each older post. But few visitors go through a lot of sequential posts. More often they jump around, using the search tool, or the top navigational tabs, or clicking on links within a post, or visiting something interesting seen on a sidebar.
You can also create categories, which pulls sub-topics into mini-selections. For instance, I divide my Great Lakes Literary posts into either Advice for Writers or News. I’ve got navigation tabs at the top on my website for each of those. That way, each tab is more focused; less cluttered, for the reader.
(On the sidebar, I have also list lots of subcategories that offer other ways to view groupings of my posts.)
Back to the “pillar post” idea. It’s a good word for a simple concept. These are the posts that are truly substantial, with a long-interest lifespan. These are the one that you invested a bit more time in crafting. They are the pillars that hold up the roof of your literary temple (!).
What makes a pillar post? It focuses on visitor value – substantial “evergreen” content, likely to be of interest to readers over time.
A good goal is to write a pillar post about once a month. A good length (currently, in search-engine terms) is 1,000–1,500 words.
These substantial pieces are different from a briefer “what I’m doing or thinking or feeling” post. A brief filler post might mention you’re going to attend a writers conference: what sessions you’re excited about, someone you’re planning to meet, etc.
A pillar post on that same topic– about the same conference – would be of practical use to a person attending that conference (or a similar one): why you think it’s a worthwhile event, how to make your attendance most useful, perhaps a review afterwards of that conference, with enough substance that it would be of real value to someone who is considering attending, now or in a future year. People might find that interesting on an ongoing basis.
Likewise, you might do a brief mention of a good book you’ve read . . . or you might create a more substantial pillar post that offers a thoughtful review.
Pillars posts offer real value to the reader. Length is less the point; substance and ongoing value is the key. These are the posts that will gain you the most readers over time (and are most likely to be shared, and discovered on search engines).
As I see it, a reasonable, sustainable approach to blogging is to do a pillar post, of any length, but something well-crafted, once a month. This is the heart of your social media life. It’s a realistic target, and puts your focus on delivering content of value.
I do not recommend that you try to conquer the social-media world with volume. Some social-media “experts” recommend lots of activity as the secret to success. I say “rubbish!” That’s the path to total distraction. As a writer, you’re supposed to be writing other stuff: books, articles, poems. Focus on that, and keep your social-media posting under control.
So start with a plan to post something of value and substance, once a month.
Then, once you have the discipline to do monthly blog post, look to fill in the cracks . . . as time permits.
Here you have many choices. You can post short filler items on your blog. Or you can post on Facebook. Or on Pinterest, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, or other channels.
Here, my suggestion is to pick one or two channels at first, and learn what actually works. Don’t just post, but pay attention to the posts that get the most views, likes, shares, and clicks. What are the best formats? Questions, or bold provocative statements, or sharing other peoples’ good news . . . what works for you? With or without photos? When is it best to post? Weekends, afternoons, evenings? (Remember, you can write anytime, and save the drafts to post when it’s best.)
You might plan to do a short filler post once a week. Or as often as you wish.
The ideal use of this is to include links back to your main pillar posts or web pages. The next best thing is to post stuff likely to build an audience – friends and followers – that you can, now and then, engage in your core content.
As always, be generous. Share and care about the stuff that others post. Like and retweet liberally. Be positive and supportive. You’ll get more support being light-hearted, fun of fun and humor and sympathy, than being a grumpy troll under the social-media bridge.
Simple Editorial Calendar
To improve your social-media work, create an Editorial Calendar.
This is just any organized way to a) generate ideas for posts, b) research and collect tidbits of good stuff to include, c) create a rough schedule for when you’ll write & post the best ideas, d) draft the actual content, revise, and post, and e) promote your posts once they are live.
It’s not that hard. You can keep the notes for a post on a single page. I like to keep a medium-sized notebook, devoting a page to each post idea. That gives me a place to jot down ideas, points to include, maybe start to list keywords and related links to share, and to remind myself of people to inform or places to share that post when it’s done.
(For instance, to promote this post you’re reading, I’ll share a link with some groups on Facebook. I’ll do a couple of tweets. And I’ll send emails directly to a couple of writers I think would appreciate the advice (and might share it with their networks).
I also use an app on my computer for random ideas and packrat-style notes. Mine is MacJournal. Some use Evernote or other apps. This is where I dump lots of quotes, links, bookmarked web-pages, etc.
I also keep a related calendar of key dates throughout the year: these range from NaNoWriMo to Children’s Book Week, from Endangered Species Day to Halloween, and so on. I’ll plan posts to tie into those annual events (both writing new contents and resharing some older posts that I think are still worth reading).
(I’ve tried online project-management approaches, from Workflowy to Trello. But I keep coming back to my own notes and worklists on MacJournal, and some old-fashioned paper to scribble ideas on.)
Once you have an editorial calendar process, It’s helpful to prioritize your ideas. This where limiting your blogging is a good thing; it helps you decide what’s most worth writing about (it’s better to write less and promote it more!).
What to blog about? Here’s are a few short posts I’ve done separately to help with that:
Checklist for a Good Blog Post
- Does it serve a reader’s real need or interest? How significant an interest? How high would it rank in the concerns of your target reader?
- Does it contribute something specific of value? (Can you name what that is? Is it good enough that a reader might want to share it with friends?)
- Is the post tight and well-written, so as not to waste a reader’s time?
- Does it have a clear title that makes you want to click on it? (Not “Stuff to Share with You” but “10 Tips for Developing a Great Blog as a Writer.”)
- Does it include a few subheads (to help the reader and search engines like Google know what the post is about)?
- Does it use the reader’s language & keywords? (Use the actual vocabulary of your readers; name the things they are interested in.)
- Does it have a bit of passion? Have you communicated why you want to share your thoughts with the world? (Again, love is the best thing, but, as someone said, we are perhaps best known by the things we despise. It you choose the latter, it’s probably still better to speak to the people who share your views, rather than arguing with those who disagree with you.)
- Does the piece have your voice? (Speak from the heart; look for ways to make your post unique to you.)
- Does it have a short bio paragraph at the end?
That pretty much what I look for in a blog post.
You don’t need a lot of them. You need a few good ones. While others are churning out blog blather, you’ll be writing a post that friends old and new will actually discover, enjoy, use, and share.
Philip Martin is an author, editor, and indie-book publisher with many years of experience in the book trade. He is the author of several books on writing and literature, including How To Write Your Best Story, A Guide to Fantasy Literature, and The Purpose of Fantasy.
Director of Great Lakes Literary (Milwaukee, Wisconsin), he creates WordPress-driven websites for book authors, provides editorial services to make book projects better, and speaks at writer conferences to help emerging writers develop their craft and career.