Corbett Barr has a new course out today called, “How to Start a Blog that Matters” (timely note: this course is on sale for the next few days). It struck me because I get this question from most clients when they approach me to design their new company (or individual) website, “Should I be blogging?” The answer, if you want to cut to the chase, is yes. But the real question is why you should be blogging. If you can answer that one, you might be ready for the next one: will I succeed blogging? If you care about whether or not you might succeed, you’re probably a good candidate for Corbett’s course. As he puts it, “Anyone can create a blog in 5 minutes, but very few people will create blogs that matter.”
What is blogging?
A related question, and one that often comes after the “Should I blog?” question is, “What is blogging really, anyway? I mean, I don’t want to write about the movie I saw last night with my cousin.” And no one wants to read that, either. Not even your cousin.
For those, well, new to the In-ter-net, a blog might be seen as a column in a newspaper or a magazine: Regularly published articles about a topic or range of topics.
But a blog might also be the entire newspaper or magazine, still with the same definition (articles on a topic). Let’s stick with the magazine analogy for now. You’re probably asking, “Why would I want to start a magazine? I’m in the XYZ business!” Basically, it works like this. If you publish relevant content on a regular basis that’s useful to your audience, your audience will (eventually) find you thanks to Google’s search engines. “I don’t want them to find my website, I want them to hire me to do the XYZ business. Furthermore, I don’t get business through the Internet, I get business from referrals and past clients.” Yes, yes, I see your point. But if your blog is useful and it brings traffic (visitors) to your site, Google will increase the ranking of your site and people will find you more easily–your Google page rank will increase and you’ll be higher up on the search engines’ results pages. Magazine analogy: more people will read the magazine so more people will see your article. Or let’s use a brick and mortar analogy: more people will pass by your shop and see what you have in the front windows. If it’s useful, they might come in. That would mean possible new business. With me so far?
A magazine? Do you mean I have to write?
But the success of a magazine doesn’t happen overnight. It takes consistent high quality content over time. Just because it’s online doesn’t mean it’s going to be a faster success. It takes time to build up a reputation, a following, a Google ranking, and an audience. It takes determination and persistence. It also takes quality.
High quality content over a long period of time on a regular basis. Sounds like a lot of work. It is.
Magazines come and go, only the top notch stick around for any amount of time. What is it that makes the good ones so good? Why do they have a following? Are their followers passionate? Are the followers helping the bottom line of the business?
OK, I’m determined. Now what?
If I haven’t scared you off yet, good. But now what? You’re ready to start your blog. Pen in hand, sorry, keyboard ready, set, go! What do I write about? How often do I write? How do I promote what I’m writing? Should I write what my competition is writing? Should I form alliances with them? They’re all real questions. You can find the answers scattered around the Internet, but if you’re like me, some motivation, some hand holding, and some accountability could help.
How to Start a Blog that Matters is a 90-day action plan for starting a new blog from the ground up. It includes 13 weekly lessons and step-by-step action plans.
Check out the course and see if it’s for you.
I’ve known David Henry Sterry and Arielle Eckstut for years and they are a dynamic team of writer and literary agent. They’re mid-tour (The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published) right now and if you are where they are and you have a book proposal you’ve been dying for someone to look at, this is your chance. Here’s the latest news from David.
As the aught decade fades into memory and the teens dawn, we wish for the things we always wish for. World peace, enough to eat for everyone, and book deals for all who deserve them. And we embark on the second half of our Book Doctors Rock America Pitchapalooza Tour. We will be in the Midwest, the Rocky Mountains, New Orleans and our home away from home, the Bay Area, from Stanford to our old stomping ground over the Golden Gate Bridge, Book Passage. Since we were lucky enough to land in the Sunday New York Times, Pitchapalooza has really taken off. In our last event, at the great bookstore Anderson’s, we had over 300 writers assemble on a Thursday night in Naperville to pitch their books. Already a bunch of writers now have agents as result of pitching to us, and several have interest from publishers. And since we’re giving away a free consultation to everyone who buys her book, we’ve talked to dozens and dozens and dozens of writers who dream of being successfully published. Werewolf books, mommy books, junkie books, Disneyland books, Muslim sex-in-the-city books, you name it, we’ve heard it. And we continue to be astonished by how many talented writers have great ideas for books, but have no idea how to navigate the deadly minefields of the book business. Here are our dates. And we’re just setting up the rest of our 2011 schedule, so if you know of any group of writers who would like to partake of our workshop, or participate in a Pitchapalooza, just let us know.
- Mon, Jan 10th, 7:30pm DENVER, COLORADO Tattered Cover PITCHAPALOOZA
- Wed, Jan 12th, 5:30pm NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA Garden District Book Shop
- Sun, January 16, 2pm KEPLERS, MENLO PARK CALIFORNIA
- Tues, Jan 18th, 7pm LYON’S BOOKS (1078 Gallery) CHICO, CALIFORNIA
- Wed, Jan 19th,7pm CORTE MADERA, CALIFORNIA Book Passage PITCHAPALOOZA
- Thurs, Jan 20th,7:30pm SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA The Booksmith PITCHAPALOOZA
- Sat, Jan 22nd,10am STANFORD UNIVERSITY, PALO ALTO, CA WORKSHOP: How To Get Successfully Published, special all-day workshop!
- Mon, Jan 31, 7pm KANSAS CITY Rainy Day Books PITCHAPALOOZA
- Fri, Feb 11, MONTCLAIR, NJ, PUBLIC LIBRARY, w/ Watchung Booksellers
Meanwhile, here’s some articles and fun stuff.
- Nirvana in Naperville: 300 Writers Flock to Anderson’s for Pitchapalooza http://bit.ly/hVbbs1
- Publisher’s Weekly: Citizen Author: Determined, Motivated, Fed-Up Authors: Unite http://bit.ly/fVg5xr
- Don’t Jump the Gun: 10 Things To Do Before You Send Out Your Novel http://bit.ly/gbRe0h
- How To Write 60 Books in 20 Years: The Book Doctors Interview Terry Whalin–Writer, Editor and Publisher Extraordinaire http://bit.ly/ekgVYo
- Book Doctor on NPR: Books, Books, Books http://bit.ly/fiaEBh
- Shouts & Murmurs: Subject: Our Marketing Plan : The New Yorker http://bit.ly/hx6rMl
- Book Doctors on Bookbuzzr: “GET ME ON OPRAH!” When and How to Market Your Book http://bit.ly/dPUszE
- Excellent Review of The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published on Business News Online http://bit.ly/dJdFqQ
- Anderson’s Naperville Pitchapalooza Video http://bit.ly/i5N8MZ
- Happy New Year, and may all your dreams come true in 2011. See you at the bookstore!
“It’s an eye-opening, astonishing, brutally honest and frequently funny collection from those who really have lived on the edge in a parallel universe…their tales are also graphic, politically incorrect and mostly unquotable in this newspaper.” – Toni Bentley, New York Times, on Hos, Hookers, Call Girls & Rent Boys by David Henry Sterry & RJ Martin
One of the most important things you can do, if you’re any kind of novice navigating cyberspace, is find yourself a Child Mentor. Our two-and-half-year-old daughter knows how to use an iPhone better than her 60-something grandmother. No lie. Their brains are just wired differently. Your child mentor should ideally be between 14 and 21 years old. A mentor in this age range should be able to show you the basics, like how to open an account on a social networking site, how to post on a blog and, for the true Luddites, how to tame your mouse.
Bestselling author Pamela Redmond Satran, whose 20 books include How to Not Act Old, which grew out of her blog, says, “When I first started blogging, my 17-year-old son would come home and I’d pump him for information. How do I put pictures up? How do I embed something? How do I put up a link?” Child mentors are not hard to find. You might even have one living in your house. And honestly, a 14-year-old will work for a video game or a month’s supply of pizza. Heed well the famous adage: “And the children shall lead them.” Find a wise child and follow her down the rabbit hole.
From the very millisecond you decide to enter the e-world, make sure your data is squeaky clean. “Clean data” just means consistent information. David published his first book under the name David Sterry. That was in 2001, when Facebook was just a glimmer in a 13-year-old’s eyes and David didn’t have a website. Then he discovered there was an Australian pop star named David Sterry. So when his next book came out in 2002, as the World Wide Web was becoming more prominent, he very consciously changed his professional name to David Henry Sterry, which he’s meticulously stuck to ever since. Not David Sterry, not David H. Sterry, not Dave Sterry or any other variation. Same holds true for any other information that you want to follow you around. The cleanliness of your data is so important because search engines do not have brains. They simply crawl through the gazillions of characters on the web, and when they see a bunch of characters show up together in one place and then show up together in another, they lump them together. If you give mixed information, like entering David Henry Sterry in one place and David H. Sterry in another, you’re not search-friendly. And you want to be best friends with all the search engines. So you can make friends who will buy your book.
It may seem obvious, but be sure to upload a profile photo. Nothing screams “My heart isn’t in this” like a profile without a photo. Second: For goodness sake, make sure your profile photo captures you on a good day. Third: We need to see your face–not a speck of you off in the distance. Faces are important. It’s human nature to want to put a face to a name.
Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry
A dear friend mourned the recent passing of President John F. Kennedy’s close confidant and speechwriter Ted Sorensen. “He wrote my favorite book,” she said.
Which one? I asked.
She couldn’t remember the title. But I was missing the point – it wasn’t a book she actually read. It was simply a large hardcover of size and heft that had become a useful blunt instrument around the house when she needed to bash something and a hammer wasn’t available or appropriate.
Books, I was reminded, are quite solid objects.
Not so with digital books. In the emerging e-books world, books and the stories they contain aren’t even static – the text can be changed or updated in an instant. When my latest novel, The Sower, was published last year, the first release was as a digital book, and at the time I made the point of saying how this created a new possibility for authors. Once committed to the printed page, our words were locked. Digital books offered a key to get back inside.
Now I’ve done exactly that with a new digital edition of my novel, The Sower 2.0. I’m told it’s the first version 2 of a novel.
It’s not that I’ve had second thoughts about the first time I wrote the book. The message of the novel is the same, as are the characters, the themes, and the overall story arc. These took years to conceive, and I have not changed my mind.
But the novel has always been set in an alternative version of the present day. It’s a thriller about a manmade supervirus. Instead of killing people, the virus cures all diseases. But there’s a hitch. The only way the virus cure can be passed to others is through sex.
This sets off the ultimate battle of the current culture wars. That’s what drove me to release the first edition last year as an e-book. Digital publishing meant I could work on the novel right up until the hour of publication, making it as topical as the day’s news. With print publishing, a book must typically be completed two years before it reaches readers.
So nearly 18 months after The Sower was first released, my intention was to go into the novel and update all those references to current events so they would be refreshed for late 2010.
Once I got back inside the book, however, I let my imagination run a little wild. I began looking and scenes and wondering – what if I played one crisis a bit differently? What if I moved a different confrontation elsewhere?
These “what if?” questions quickly led me to realize that I wasn’t dealing in a scenario where any change would require a costly new print run. I had the freedom to do anything I desired.
So I ended up reimagining the entire novel, similar to how a film might be re-released in a “director’s cut” edition. There’s a new opening, and what was originally a 30 chapter novel is now 40 chapters – and yet the book overall is shorter.
The new edition of The Sower also allowed me a coming out of sorts. Version 2.0 notes both my pen name, Kemble Scott, and my real name, Scott James. Although not a secret identity, I’ve always written fiction under the pseudonym. But since the first edition was released, I’ve started contributing a weekly column to The New York Times and The Bay Citizen. In the spirit of transparency, which is important in the world of journalism, I’ve now put it all out there.
And for The Sower 2.0’s initial release on Scribd, the book is enhanced with a true advanced web experience – the new reading technology Apture. This allows readers to learn more about aspects of the novel by highlighting a word or phrase. Pop-up windows bring in videos, photos, maps and articles with additional information, all without leaving the text of the novel. It’s an opportunity for a deeper reading experience, while remaining in the story.
Should novels be treated this way?
In a time when audiences have taken the creativity of others for sampling, mash-ups, and reinvention, there’s no reason why authors can’t take some of the same liberties with their own work. This digital era makes this remarkably easy to do.
Of course, there are those of us who still love printed books. So the hardcover edition of The Sower from Numina Press remains for sale for those who prefer to read the book in printed form. It is available in stores in the San Francisco Bay Area, including The Booksmith, Books Inc., A Great Good Place for Books, and A Different Light…plus online everywhere else in the world.
And having the hardcover is important for folks like my friend – she wouldn’t dare hammer anything around the house with a Kindle!
David Henry Sterry, of The Book Doctors, is currently touring the country promoting their latest book, “The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published.” Here’s the first in a series of observations they made after researching many authors and their websites.
Figure out what you want your site to be before you start laying out cash. The more precedents you assemble, and the more concrete examples of details you like, the cheaper and easier it will be for you to design a successful site. And the more chance it will have of showing you off in your Sunday best all over the e-universe.
As you surf around, it’s easy to be charmed or even blown away by the bells and whistles you see along the way. But don’t be fooled. Sites don’t have to be fancy to do their jobs. In fact, very often the fancy ones are confusing and overdone, unless they’re constructed by a top-notch designer. Sometimes people let the visuals take over the site architecture, making it hard to navigate and get around. And as Lori Culwell, author of Million Dollar Website, says, “What makes a good website is the million-dollar question and it has a relatively simple answer. It all boils down to a concept called the ‘user experience,’ which is basically Internet jargon for ‘How easy is the website to use?’”
The good thing about a simple site is you can pay a professional as little as $250 for one. Of course you can spend $1 million on a site as well. But no matter how much you spend or don’t spend, heed this advice from Fauzia Burke: “The most important aspect of an author website is the quality of its design and content. Authors need to understand that a website is their resumé to their readers. An immature site reflects poorly on the author’s style and the quality of his or her work.”