Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.
If you’re a self-published author, in addition to writing and producing your books, you must take on the responsibility of marketing them. The most successful author-marketers foster strong relationships with their audiences. Blogging, whether through written weblogs or verbal audio blogs (podcasts) is one of the best ways to build and maintain a fan base of interested readers.
The problem, however, is that there are thousands of blogs and podcasts out there. In order to build a following, it’s important to create a resource that’s both valuable and interesting enough for your readers or listeners to come back to again and again.
Concerning the technical aspects of podcasting, there are many resources available online. But you are the only person who can create the strategy behind your blog.
So how do you determine what’s valuable and interesting? Here’s a four-step process to guide your thinking.
Step 1: Know What Else Is Out There—and What’s Not
Before you determine the subject matter of your own blog or podcast, spend some time—at least a month, maybe longer—subscribing to a whole bunch of blogs or podcasts in your genre. Get a feel for what’s being said and what the audience seems to be responding to. Ask yourself what is not being said that should be. What unique point of view is missing?
It’s extremely important to give yourself a little time to understand the overall ecology of your genre. Your listeners have expectations and biases. For example, if you’re a children’s book author and your market is composed of teachers and librarians, be sensitive to the fact that there’s a range of opinions about whether or not ebooks and screen time are appropriate for young readers. If you’re a fantasy writer, understand that cosplay and reader participation is a big part of the experience.
Ask yourself what the topics of conversation are that you seem to hear frequently. For example, these days the concept of cultural appropriation is an important issue. Do you want to contribute to this discussion or avoid it? What ideas do the people in your ideal audience have about the topic? Once you feel that you have a good sense for the market you’re participating in, you can move on to the next question.
Step 2: Define What Your Books Are Really About
Sometimes it’s difficult to define the things that are closest to us, especially our own artistic output. After all, many writers say their books come from a place we’re not fully conscious of. The reality is, no matter where your writing comes from, if you’re an author-marketer, you need to be able to define them specifically.
Try to see your books with fresh eyes, the way your audience sees them. Take an objective look at your work. Of course your books are part of a genre (or a couple of genres). But beyond those overall categories, take a moment to determine the following:
● What do people get out of your books? This can be a specific lesson or set of facts (in the case of non-fiction), or a feeling or emotional response (in the case of fiction.)
● Can you define what your writing stands for? What values are implied in your storyline or message?
● Are there any “lessons learned” in your books? What are they?
● What does your audience love about your book? What complaints have you heard?
● If you have a series or more than one book, in what ways are each of your titles similar or different?
These questions may seem daunting to answer on your own. If so, ask a trusted friend to interview you. Have that person read the list above, or genially ask you about your books’ themes. Think about the questions as if you’re being interviewed by a reporter and answer as honestly as possible. Write down your answers. On another day, after taking a bit of a break, go back and look at your answers. They will contain words that represent what your books are really about.
Step 3: Determine What Fascinates You as a Person
Popular blogs don’t happen overnight. Successful blogs start small, gain momentum and endure. That’s why it’s important that you find a niche that you can stick with. The area you blog about must be intriguing enough that it can generate a range of discussion topics, and fascinating enough to you personally that you won’t get bored. You need to find something you’ll be able to talk about over the long haul.
To do this, you must turn your vision inward. Take a look at yourself. What topics captivate you? Which ones anger you? It matters less whether the ideas are old or new, or popular or narrow—what matters most is that you have a passion for topic.
Here are some questions to consider at this stage:
● Are there ideas in your books that are conflicting with each other? For example, does your book include a character who mistrusts authority yet is in a position of authority? Is your book both funny and heartbreaking? Do your characters have a love-hate relationship? Or, for example, if you’re a chick-lit writer who writes about young singles in the city, but you really live on a farm and have been married for 20 years, this could be a really fun theme for a blog. In the case of non-fiction, does your book bring up an irony or paradox? Conflict offers a wellspring of ideas to talk about.
● Is there a philosophy in your books that’s controversial in today’s culture? For example, do your books take a contrarian view of an established opinion? If so, your blog may generate excitement from both supporters and detractors. Hey, visitors are visitors, right? (If you choose a controversial topic, be sure the have a thick skin!)
When it comes to the “voice” of your blog, take a look at the tone of your books. Do you tend to communicate using a particular quality or tone. For example do you have a snarky, wry, serious or highly literary spirit? Funny, thoughtful, intellectual, sensual or suspenseful? There’s no correct answer here, other than being faithful to your own true voice. Again, a blog is a long-term commitment, so select the tone that feels right to you so that you can ease into it week after week.
Step 4: Brainstorm the Intersection of the Above Three Steps
If you’ve taken the above steps, you now know a little bit about the three factors that go into any author’s blog: the audience, the books and the author’s own passions. A blog that’s sustainable resides at the intersection of those three elements. Your blog’s concept must be appealing to the audience, but unique enough that it’s not already covered by someone else; it must be faithful to the true experience that arises from the books themselves; and finally, it must be interesting enough for you to generate new ideas again and again.
Finding this sweet spot is a creative step and should be fun for you. Toss around a bunch of ideas until you find the one that makes you laugh, makes you angry or makes you excited. Remember, it’s got to have a connection to your book and your own life experiences, and be a unique beacon on the horizon compared to the current the blog- or pod-o-sphere.
Oh, and start narrow! Do not try to go broad—that is, don’t try to be everything to everyone. Choose a niche element that combines your books, your own experiences, and your audience’s needs. If your interest is World War II submarines, for example perhaps your blog should just talk about the living conditions on submarines, or the weapons systems, or select only one country’s submarines and stay focused on that. Eventually your postings can get broader, but if you try to tackle a broad or general topic at first, you may risk sounding like other, more established blogs. Being narrow gives you a point of differentiation.
When it comes to blogging and podcasting, your goal is to gain superfans in a very specific area. Then those superfans will use their network to help you grow to a wider audience. Also, narrow blogs are easier to advertise.
Go for It—Start Your Blog or Podcast
Take the time to do the four steps of this strategic exercise before you begin your blog, but don’t let this work paralyze you. Just pick what feels good and go for it.
Just start. Don’t worry about messing up. Your audience will be really small at first, so only a few people will cringe! You can always course-correct along the way.
Ask for responses from your audience (even if your audience is tiny at first). Be sure to build into your blog or podcast a method that allows people to easily respond. Read or listen to their comments, respond, and adjust your content to their input.
A Way to Connect Between Books
The most successful self-published authors build strong relationships with their audience. Your blog or podcast can be a great way to offer valuable information in the months (or years) between your book launches. They are also a great way to get to know what excites your fans. If you’ve been thinking about creating a blog but don’t know where to start, follow these steps then dive into your first post!
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