Blogging as an author is an often underutilized business opportunity. As an author, you’re already well-versed on writing, so blogging is a natural next step. Essentially, it’s another avenue to market yourself and your book. It’s a great way to grow your audience, and it doesn’t cost much to get started. While you can get started for free, I don’t recommend going that route. You’ll find out why in a bit. Read on to find out how to get started and also how to effectively blog to grow your brand.
In this how-to guide on blogging for authors, you’ll learn:
- Why unbranded blogging is bad
- What domain name to use
- Where to get a web hosting service
- What are WordPress themes
- What are categories, tags, and keywords
- What to write about
- What is the valuable thing about blogging
Why unbranded blogging is bad
When you use WordPress, Typepad, Blogger, Tumblr or another free service, you are advertising their service and not your brand. In order to blog under your brand you need a domain-name hosting and website service.
For example, you need your blog to live under your own domain like carlaking.com/blog instead of with a service: carlaking.typepad.com or carlaking.blogger.com or carlaking.wordpress.com.
Again, don’t use a free hosted service. Start from the beginning with your own blog. Here’s how.
First, your domain name
Do you already own your domain name? If so, great! But if you don’t, get on over to GoDaddy.com and buy a bunch. A bunch!? you exclaim. Yes, a bunch, I repeat. Here’s why, excerpted from my guide, Self-Publishing Boot Camp Guide for Independent Authors.
You should not only buy your name (and your pen name and nicknames) but the name of your book and the name of your publishing house. You can “redirect” or “forward” all those domain names to your main website, which ideally is your author name. If your name is difficult to spell, try to buy the common misspellings as well, and forward those domains to your main site. If you have a common name, it is likely to be taken.
Always choose the .com—don’t bother with .net and .org or .biz or .tv or any of the other tags if you can get a .com tag. If you cannot get a .com tag for your author name, consider adding your middle initial (carlasking.com) or use the word “author” or “writer” (carlakingauthor.com).
If you write for a niche market, use that description (carlakingmotorcycles.com) and if have a great nickname, use that (missadventuring.com). No matter what name you choose, use keywords on your site for maximum discoverability so that search engines can find you by any of these names.
Get a web hosting service
Now go shopping for a web hosting service. Again, I prefer GoDaddy. Get their Managed Self-Hosted WordPress plan as explained in my post Website Tools to Build Your Author Email List. You can get a $2.99/mo hosting plan with a free domain, WordPress web hosting, 10 GB of storage, and an email account so you can use your site name as an email address. Using your name in your email address spreads your brand, unlike a Gmail account.
Once you purchase the hosting plan you’ll be automatically guided through the process of choosing a domain name and then choosing a theme for your site and blog (which are really the same thing).
Don’t worry too much about the theme you choose in the beginning because I want you to update it to a premium theme that you pay for. It’s totally worth investing in because it makes your website building easy (drag and drop headings, text, images, etc.) and includes landing pages, call to actions, integration with your email list, and more.
Click here to check out Thrive Themes.
See this post on 100 Ways to Grow Your Email List.
Certainly, there are other website building and blogging tools you could use. Some are great and some aren’t so great, but that’s an entirely different blog post. Here, we’re concentrating on WordPress.
Categories, Tags, and Keywords
Think of categories, tags, and keywords like this: if the chocolate cake is a category, the tags and the keywords are the frosting and the crumbs. The Google algorithm follows the frosting and the crumbs to your blog post or website. But first, before it’s going to send people to your post, it’s going to add up all the crumbs and frostings to make sure your post is really about chocolate cake.
So use categories, tags, and keywords wisely. Google need theme to help your readers find you. Google is your best marketing partner, so give the Google some love.
Now we’re getting into Search Engine Optimization (SEO) territory. This is that (yawn) metadata stuff. Not difficult, and since you’re a wordsmith, it really can be kind of fun.
See my post on Website Tools to Build Your Author Email List for information on Yoast, the best SEO tool out there. It’s kind of like artificial intelligence, really, and it will help you by making suggestions.
Here’s an example of how categories and tags work.
In my old MotoSFO (link is to Internet Archive) motorcycle travel blog for the San Francisco Bay Area , my categories were:
- North Bay
- South Bay
- Easy Bay
- Wine Country
- Farther Flung
You might actually think of these as chapters or parts of a book. In fact, my Wine Country category grew into a book. You can see it here.
My tags were:
- Fog escapes
- Local favorite
- Quaint towns
- Ride to eat
So if a site visitor wanted to ride twisty (mountainous) roads they could click on that and their results would be trips with just twisty roads. Or if they wanted to ride to a restaurant in Wine Country, they could click on that tag. You see tag clouds all the time on blogs and websites. The more often the tag (word) appears in someone’s collection of blog posts, the bigger the word.
Keywords are the third step. Some of my keywords were:
- Santa Cruz
- Lake Tahoe
- Point Richmond
- Tomalas Bay
- Hog Island Oyster Company
- Warehouse Cafe
- Alice’s Restaurant
Place names are keywords. Names of restaurants are keywords. So if I’m writing a story about riding motorcycles to Tamales Bay to visit the Hog Island Oyster Company, those are keywords.
Using keywords in the first paragraph and in images
Keywords should show up in the first 50 words of the article, and also in the ALT text of every image you include in the post. Google loves you if you think this out carefully and use them correctly. If you’ve written your blog posts already, just go back and enter categories, tags, and keywords.
What to write about?
Every author will write about different things of course. If I were a fiction writer, I might write about the places where the stories take place. I’m a travel writer, so this is pretty easy.
When I travel, I post blogs about my day. I post microblogs (tweets, on Twitter) about 10 times a day. When I was in Morocco I posted “I’m in the Sahara Desert, look, here’s a photo of a Kasbah!” and “Enjoying an avocado banana mango almond smoothie, here’s a pic.”
I cross-posted these Tweets to Facebook, maybe adding a few lines because it let me write more than 280 characters, or I might choose to use Instagram, instead.
Every few days I posted a longer piece on my blog summarizing the last few days, or relating an experience.
When I’m not traveling, I post excerpts from my upcoming book. I comment on gear and gadgets, and review motorcycles, and interesting motorcycle travel websites and events. Or, I post stuff about women in motorcycling.
One year for international women in motorcycling month, I posted a profile of a woman in motorcycling for every day of the month. I also post information about events I’ll be attending, online and in person, or events that I think are interesting, even if I can’t get to them. Sometimes I find fun stuff from my trips while I’m organizing my notes and media files.
And then there’s this blog post, the one you’re reading right now. It’s a perfect example because you’re reading it because you really need the information. You probably didn’t like all that stuff above on domain names and web hosting, categories, tags, and keywords. But you need it. Desperately. Voila. What non-fiction wisdom do your readers need?
After my workshop, one guy came up and told me he had been hoping it was easier. He was simply too busy producing podcasts and he just couldn’t find time to write blog posts.
“Do you write descriptions of your podcasts for iTunes?” I asked him? “Yep,” he said. “So… why not just take that description, and an excerpt from the podcast, along with a related photo and, voila! Blog post.” I hope he did it.
People don’t follow blogs, they follow people
But here’s possibly the most interesting and valuable thing I have discovered about blogging. People don’t follow blogs, they follow people. The more personal you get the more universal the message. It doesn’t always have to be nice. Once, in China, I just exploded on my blog. I was waaaay back in the countryside in every village I rode into. I was surrounded by uncommunicative people and it was frustrating.
Be a real person
I got more comments on that post than any other – because I’d let my emotion, my frustration loose. I was experiencing a series of very difficult “moments” in a four-month journey. And as it turned out, an expert informed me that because the government does not allow people to move out of their villages, there is inbreeding, and on top of that, iodine deficiency, which actually retards brain development. So I was likely surrounded by not only curious people who had never, ever seen a foreigner, and uneducated, but who were also mentally challenged.
Many of us introverted authors are too shy and so we get boring. But take a look at some popular blogs and you’ll realize that they either impart essential information (non-fiction business, health, etc.) or are so shockingly personal that you can’t look away. A good example of a train-wreck-about-to-happen is Penelope Trunk’s blog. A Gen-Y business blogger, she has Aspergers syndrome and no boundaries. (And if you’re still skeptical about self-publishing, take a look at the post titled How I got a big advance from a big publisher and self-published anyway.)
Examples of great blogs
Penelope Trunk is a Gen-Y business author/blogger with Aspergers Syndrome.
“I read Penelope’s blog posts about abuse and bulimia and failure and oral sex and I wondered if I could ever be that brave.” –Cassie Boon
Seth Godin is an entrepreneur, author and public speaker, and popularized permission marketing. He uses Typepad. I wonder if he would, if he started now.
Kristen Lamb is author of the best-selling books We Are Not Alone—The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer. She answers the question When do writers need multiple blogs. Never! I don’t think I agree, since I have three – Motorcycle Misadventures, Self-Publishing Boot Camp, and MotoSFO.
Cara Black, mystery writer specializing in Paris.
Neil Gaiman is a popular writer of sci-fi and other prose, poetry, film, journalism, comics, song lyrics, and drama.
Rules for My Unborn Son Walker Lamond’s collection of fatherly advice on how to be a good man on tumbler.com, which attracted a publishing house.
Motorcycle Misadventures (me) Carla King’s motorcycle travel writings, readings, journeys, gear, gadgets, and recommendations. I also have a Self-Pub Boot Camp blog.
Catch my interview on the Nonfiction Authors Podcast with Jenny Levine Finke, who talks about the importance of blogging in cultivating your email subscribers and community.
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If you plan to blog several times a week, or blogging for advertising income is the “raison d’etre” of your writing business , then I agree that WordPress is your best choice.
However, if you will only blog once a week or less often, then, if you don’t yet have a website, there are other platforms you may find easier for getting going. For example, if you choose Squarespace, you can skip the steps for choosing hosting and a theme, and you won’t need to buy a plugin for SEO either. Optionally, you can buy your domain direct from Squarespace, too. It costs a little more than GoDaddy (or my preferred supplier, Google Domains), but it’s just one click to get everything connected.
I don’t have expertise with tools like Wix or Weebly, but these are alternative “all in one” solutions that you could consider so that you don’t get tangled up in the tech.
Many of my clients struggle like crazy with WordPress, because there is so much to configure. On WordPress, it’s vital that you understand that you (or someone you hire) needs to take responsibility for backing it up and installing security updates.
Several years ago, WordPress really was the only viable choice for your author website, but today, there are other strong options available. I’m happy to point to “pros and cons” articles to help you choose what’s best for you.