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Roundup: A summary of our Author Blog Success Tips

For a little more than two months, we’ve been exploring some success tips for your author blog. Today, we’re going to recap the best of these tips as we prepare to shift to discussions of other social media sites.

Our first exploration was a general overview of blogging statistics, where we learned things like:

  • The most popular time for blog reading is 10 a.m.
  • Bloggers are generally highly educated, with as many as 75 percent having college degrees.
  • As many as 83 percent of book bloggers are female.

Next we explored whether or not you should even start an author blog. Questions to explore around this include:

  • Why are you writing?
  • Do you have the time to devote to a blog?
  • How patient are you?
  • How much will you enjoy it?

Of course, I had to go on a little rant about a particular pet peeve of mine: Reposting someone else’s content is NOT blogging!

We then looked at 18 benefits of starting an author blog. The first 5 are:

  • Gives you a reason to write regularly.
  • Hones your writing skills.
  • Helps you get to the point.
  • Allows you to explore many different writing styles.
  • Bolsters your research skills.

Of course, we can’t offer benefits without giving you some specific success tips for your author blog, things like:

  • Make time to blog.
  • Decide how often you will post.
  • Calendar your blogging time.
  • Write ahead and post later.

One big boo-boo I noticed during my author blog series was a number of blogs that were very challenging to read because the background image overpowered the text. Note to self: this mistake is avoidable!

Next we posted 9 signs that you might be a great author blogger, things like:

  • Strong writing skills
  • Exceptional research and organization skills
  • SEO skills

Guest blogging is a great way to increase your author blog’s exposure. For one reason, it instantly puts your message in front of an audience it took the blog owner perhaps years to develop.

Commenting is another essential aspect of developing your author blog. This includes commenting on other relevant blogs, as well as encouraging thoughtful comments on your blog.

Though blog ideas are like soap bubbles for some people, they may be harder to come by for others. Here’s a list of 27 .ideas for your author blog.

Can your blog become a book? Is it better to have the book first, and then the blog? Chicken … egg … you decide.

Of course, one of the most important things to your author blog success is traffic. But there’s a BIG difference between general traffic – even in huge numbers – and targeted traffic.

In your zest for followers and comments, you may also notice other metrics about your blog. We like the maps that allow us see where in the world our readers are.

You work so hard to create the posts on your author blog. Here are a few thoughts on protecting your author blog content.

Some basic author blog questions – but if you’re a newbie, how will you know if you don’t ask? What’s the difference between Tags and Categories? And how important are pages?

Besides the tags and categories, another important but often underused aspect of author blogs is the sidebar. Are you using yours to your best advantage?

Then, of course, there are the ubiquitous keywords for your author blog. Choose carefully, as they make a HUGE difference in how well your blog gets ranked in the search engines.

After all that effort authors put into their blogs, an amazing number commit a huge error: failing to make their contact info readily available.

You’ve got it all set up, you’re posting regularly, and now you’re just waiting for the traffic to start pouring in. Here are 17 tips for marketing your blog. (Hint: many also work to market your website.)

But the biggest mistake of all is losing your content because you committed an unknown violation of your blog host’s rules. Best advice: migrate it to a site you own yourself. (We are taking our own medicine and are in the process of migrating the Marcie Brock blog in the next week or two.)

One additional excellent way to market your blog is by joining a blog challenge. If you’re an author who’d like to take part in one, we invite you to join the 28-day Author Blog Challenge, which will kick off June 2, 2012.

And, lastly, we offered tips from A to Z about setting up a blog tour to promote your book.

There you have it. Just about everything we know about blogging. If you follow these steps, you should see some significant success with your author blog. Make sure you ALWAYS remember that the main ingredient in social media is SOCIAL – and blogging is one of the earliest forms of social media. Also, be sure to master the four most important ingredients of a successful blog:

  1. Quality content
  2. Regular posting
  3. Always use images
  4. Comment your butt off

Happy blogging!

MARCIE

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We welcome and encourage your thoughtful, courteous comments below.

__________________

In honor of our 1-year anniversary (May 2, 2012), we’re hosting the Author Blog Challenge! It starts June 2 and is open to published authors, authors-in-progress, and would-be authors. Come check us out and register today!

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Monday, May 7 Blog tour tips from A to Z

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Blog tour tips from A to Z


While the old-fashioned book tour still exists, going from city to city and bookstore to bookstore, it’s certainly much rarer, and tends to be an event reserved for bigger named authors with more publishing caché. Thanks to the Internet, lesser known and self-publishing authors still have a means of “getting around” via the virtual blog tour. Those who have done it will tell you it’s still a LOT of work, but much less costly than booking plane flights and hotel stays.

The following, while not necessarily in chronological order, are tips for creating a successful blog tour.

ADVANCE. Start early. Figure out how much time it will take you to compile a list of potential participants, contact them, agree to the terms, send them  a copy of your book, and schedule your tour. You will not start a blog tour today and get it ramped up by the end of the month – or even the end of next month. Note, as per Pump Up Your Book: Be prepared to send a second copy to the contest winner once you receive their mailing info from your blog tour participant.

BIGGER BLOGGERS. Approach the bigger bloggers. Sure, they may be inundated with requests, but if you write a solid pitch and you have a good book that falls into their particular favorite genre, they may say yes. And the worst they’re going to say is no, which means you’re no further behind than you were before you asked them. You might go on a list with 20 authors ahead of you – but if exposure on their blog is worth it, you’ll agree to wait.

COMMENTS. Look for blogs that are well trafficked and receive lots of comments. One caveat, however: blogs that offer contests often use the comment section to manage contest entries. So READ the comments; don’t just look at the numbers. Look also for bloggers who are posting content from lots of different sources, as those writing only about their own books are unlikely to be good targets for your tour.

DATES. Choose the dates for your tour. Make sure to publicize them on your website calendar, blog calendar, and social media sites.

EXPECT TO SUCCEED. Attitude is half the battle in virtually every undertaking. If one blogger says no, you say, “Next!”

FOLLOW UP. Create a checklist of steps and make sure you follow it with every blogger. Remember, the bigger, better bloggers are deluged with these kinds of requests – so after they say yes, make sure to follow up to be sure you’re on target for your guest appearance.

GOOGLE BLOGSEARCH is the place to begin your research for book bloggers who read and write on your genre.

HELP. If you can’t devote the time it will take to create your own tour, you might want to think about hiring a tour organizer. Certain virtual assistants are now specializing in this type of work. (If you’re a blog tour organizer, send me you’re link and I’ll add it to my Resources section.)

INTERVIEWS. Interviews are probably the easiest way for an author to take part in a blog tour. Get a jump on this by writing some prepared questions for the blogger to ask you – and have your answers ready to go, too.

JUST ASK. No one is likely to beat your door down inviting you to guest post on their blog, so you’ve got to go after them. Get over your fear that you’re just little old you, your concern that your book’s not good enough, and your worry that you don’t know what you’re doing and JUST ASK.

KEEP THE GREMLINS IN CHECK. A lot of bloggers are reluctant to review indie books or participate in blog tours for self-published authors. This is not necessarily a reflection on you – but simply a means for the blogger to streamline his/her requests. Again, if you hear no, you say, “Next!”

LIST. Make a list of the bloggers you will approach. You might start with 25 to 30, and eventually winnow that list to about a dozen.

MESSAGING. Make sure you and your host bloggers are on the same page, in terms of the way they will present your information and what they will say about your book. If it’s a review, they may not tell you ahead of time – so be prepared for anything.

NOTES. Make sure you take good notes and keep good records. Know which bloggers you’ve contacted, and at which step you are with each of them. Record things like:

  • Contact name
  • Blog name and link
  • Genre reviewed
  • Required format (Paperback? PDF?)
  • Other promotions offered by the blogger
  • Twitter handle
  • Personal notes (how you found them)
  • Email address or link to their submission form

OFFER. With about 6 weeks’ lead time, decide what you will offer the blogger for your blog tour. You can offer to do a guest post, prepare an excerpt, or do an author Q & A

PARAMETERS. Determine what you want the blogger to do. Is your preference for the blogger to interview you? Review your book? Host a giveaway of your book? Feature your book in a post they write? All of the above? Be clear about your goals, but willing to negotiate a bit with each blogger, accordingly.

QUERY LETTER. Draft an email invitation to the bloggers you want to participate. Make it professional, succinct, and interesting – no different than the letter you’d send to an agent or publisher. Keep it simple, something like this:

——————————————————

Hello, [BLOGGER’S NAME],

I love your blog about [SUBJECT]. I’ve recently written a book that falls into your genre of [NAME OF GENRE]. I would really appreciate it if you would consider being part of the blog tour to launch the publication of [TITLE OF YOUR BOOK]. Would you consider running either a brief review or an excerpt from the book on its publication date [INSERT DATE] or within the week thereafter? The excerpt can be of your own choosing, or I can supply you with one, and as such, be your guest blogger for that date. Or, if you prefer, I am happy to do a Q & A via e-mail.

I appreciate your consideration and hope you will participate. Please respond at your earliest convenience. If yes, please send me your mailing address so I can send a copy of the book to you. If you’d like to do a giveaway, please let me know that, as well, so I can send an extra copy.

Best regards –

[YOUR NAME]

——————————————————

REVIEWS. Request a review as part of the blogger’s participation. Ideally, the blogger will post the review on their blog, but you will also post the review (or a link to it) on your Amazon page, on other book sites, and on both of your social media sites.

SOCIAL MEDIA. Make sure the bloggers you’re considering have a good social media presence before you approach them.

THANK YOU. These bloggers usually do these reviews/blog tours for no compensation other than a free book – so if they participate in your tour, the very least you can do is say thank you publicly! A small gift card would be an even nicer gesture.

UNUSUAL GIVEAWAY. Giveaways are almost ubiquitous with participation in a blog tour. Consider giving away your book, of course, but something additional as well that’s special and perhaps unique (e.g., a PDF of your revised first chapter, so the reader can see your process as an author).

VARY IT UP. If you are providing the content for your blog tour hosts, make sure each post is a little bit different so you don’t get dinged in the search engines for too much duplicate content. Where possible, tailor the content to each blogger’s specific style or needs.

WIN-WIN. Don’t head into a blog tour with your hand out. Begin several months in advance and build relationships with the bloggers you plan to approach. Make sure that when you do approach them, you’re proposing a win-win opportunity for the blogger. One great way to do this is by offering to reciprocate by promoting them on your blog for a certain amount of time.

XTRA MILE. Go there! Reach out to book blogger groups, asking even those who aren’t part of your tour to promote it.

YOUR OWN BLOG. If you don’t already have a blog, start one now! Even if your book is just in the planning stages, it’s NEVER too early to get your blog up and running and scoring in the search engines.

ZOOM IN. Follow every blog you’re targeting every day leading up to your post. Comment, where appropriate. And once your post hits, with the blogger’s OK, respond to any comments on your post.

Best of luck with your blog tour. If you want to the Marcie Brock blog to be one of your stops, just ask!

Happy touring!

MARCIE

SOURCES:
http://www.sandragulland.com/writinglife/how-to-set-up-a-blog-tour
http://www.shewrites.com/profiles/blogs/how-to-organize-a-blog-tour
http://www.epublishabook.com/2011/11/01/how-to-organize-a-blogtour-in-6-steps/#axzz1uA4tbT2N
http://www.gabrielle-edits.com/2012/04/30/leah-blog-tour/
http://hazelmitchell.blogspot.com/2012/02/how-to-organize-blog-tour.html

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We welcome and encourage your thoughtful, courteous comments below.

__________________

In honor of our 1-year anniversary (May 2, 2012), we’re hosting the Author Blog Challenge! It starts June 2 and is open to published authors, authors-in-progress, and would-be authors. Come check us out and register today!

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4 great reasons to participate in a blog challenge

You’re an author, you already have a blog, and you post regularly. So why participate in a blog challenge? Lots of reasons, but in my opinion, the four primary ones are:

  1. Improve your traffic.
  2. Increase your subscribers.
  3. Become part of a supportive community.
  4. Make great new friends and connections.

IMPROVE YOUR TRAFFIC

A blog challenge gives you reason to post regularly, and the more often you post, the better your blog will rank in the search engines. By expanding your participation to your social networks, you can leverage the power of all the participants in the challenge to increase exposure for everyone’s blogs. Additionally, the blog host will usually create links to the home page of your blog, and possibly to certain individual posts, further helping drive traffic your way. And, according to a guest post by Michael Ooi at AllBloggingTips.com, visitors who are recommended to your blog by other bloggers generally spend twice as much time reading your posts than those who find you through search engines.

INCREASE YOUR SUBSCRIBERS

More traffic is good; more targeted traffic is better; additional subscribers and regular readers are like gold. Since beginning to participate in the Ultimate Blog Challenge on April 5, the Marcie Brock – Book Marketing Maven blog has seen our subscribers increase by 25 percent. According to a post by Alana Garrigues at Technorati.com, “If the quality is there, that increase [can be] sustained in the long term, and the blogger gains followers, which can translate [in]to potential friends, contacts, and buyers in the ‘real world.’”

BECOME PART OF A SUPPORTIVE COMMUNITY

Managing your own blog can be a lonely endeavor. You write, hoping people find your posts, read them, and interact via the comments section. Those comments and “likes” are a form of validation, and who can blame us for desiring some sort of confirmation that we’re on the right track with all our posts? Participating in a blog challenge gives you a built-in community of like-minded bloggers, particularly in a themed challenge like the Author Blog Challenge. While your reasons and goals for participating may differ somewhat, you all have certain things in common, and you’re in the perfect position to read, comment, and support each other.

MAKE GREAT NEW FRIENDS AND CONNECTIONS

Further to the idea of a supportive community, you may find through your blog participation significant new connections, and who knows where those connections can take you? You should not feel obligated to read every post from every participant; in fact, certain bloggers will likely resonate more with you. However, give as many blogs as possible a chance, and you may find yourself creating unlikely alliances that would never have happened under any other circumstances.

For more benefits of participating in a blog challenge, read Heather Stephens’ post at CleverMarketer.com. She offers a list of 20 personal benefits and 20 blog benefits. My favorites from each list are:

PERSONAL

  • Get noticed by industry leaders.
  • Expand your comfort zone.

BLOG

  • Create content you can turn into products, other than your book, for sale on your blog.
  • Receive suggestions for improving your blog posts, layout, SEO, etc., from more experienced bloggers who are participating in the blog challenge.

The Author Blog Challenge begins June 2, 2012. Hope to see you on our participants’ list!

Happy blogging!

MARCIE

__________________

Download your complimentary copy of the highly useful Website Design & Marketing worksheet from Write | Market | Design.

__________________

We welcome and encourage your thoughtful, courteous comments below.

__________________

If you’d like us to add a link to your writing/self-publishing/book marketing blog, please send us a note. If we think it’s a good fit, we’ll be happy to add you. Of course, we’d appreciate the reciprocity of the same!

Additionally, Marcie would be happy to make a guest appearance on your writing/self-publishing/book marketing blog. Just let us know the theme or your idea (preferably including a 6-panel concept), and we’ll see what we can draft for you.

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17 tips for marketing your author blog

Bloggers participate in an average of 5 activities
to drive traffic to their blogs.
— Adam Singer

We’ve been on this blogging topic awhile now, but it occurs to me that we haven’t given you an aggregated list of ways to publicize your blog to the world. While most of these tips would apply equally to your website, the most important tip of all is that you ACT on them!

  1. Post Regularly. Yes, I am aware that I sound like a broken record, but you’ve got to post regularly if you want people to find and read your author blog.
  2. Stand Out with a Unique Look. You don’t have to spend a ton of money on it, but make sure your blog has a great look that is unique from all the other author blogs out there. This means, more than just adding your book cover and/or head shot. At the very least, use a custom header that reflects your colors, fonts, and brand. If you can do your own graphics, great. If you can’t – it will be worth it to find a professional to help you create a finished look that is different and eye-catching.
  3. Write a Clever Tagline. Most blog platforms have a place for you to create a tagline. Use this to share a short, keyword-rich description of your author blog.
  4. Proper SEO. Much like your website, your blog needs you to tend to it and manicure it in order for you to see real SEO results. This means proper tagging, intermittent use of bold and italics within your posts, good titles, and a dazzling resource box, at minimum.
  5. Link to Other Bloggers. A great way to boost your own blog traffic is by linking to other blogs you like that are relevant to your book/topic. You may love your friend’s gourmet cooking blog, but unless she’s written a cookbook, linking to her is going to be much less effective for the SEO on your dog obedience training blog than to other animal-themed blogs.
  6. Comment, Comment, Comment. Regularly write smart, relevant comments on other people’s blogs and be sure to include a link back to your own blog.
  7. Reward Your Readers. Our blog does a pretty good job of filtering out the spam comments. That means we can see all the legitimate comments in one spot. Make sure to note, respond to, and take the time to thank those who stopped by to spend some time on your blog.
  8. Write Articles. Submit articles on your topic to directories like EZineArticles.com and IdeaMarketers.com. In the resource boxes for your articles, place links to your blog, to specific posts in particular if they are relevant to your article topic.
  9. Write Guest Posts: Invite others to write guest posts for your author blog, and take any opportunities to write guest posts for other author/writer blogs. This expands your audience and exposes you to other readers who might not normally find/read your blog.
  10. Post Links to Your Blog on Your Social Networking Sites. Linking to Facebook and Twitter and LinkedIn is so ubiquitous that most blogs have an almost-automatic function set up to allow these kinds of links. Whether you automate it or not, make sure you routinely place links to your posts on all of them.
  11. Create a Specific Pinterest Board and Pin Images from Your Blog to It. Rather than grouping them in with a catch-all board, create a specific board on Pinterest dedicated to your blog. Make sure to use good keywords when describing the image – and links back to your blog.
  12. Bookmark Your Favorite Posts. Use social bookmarking Sites like Digg, StumbleUpon, etc. to share your posts.
  13. Add a Link to Your Website. If your blog domain is separate from your main website, make sure the two are linked.
  14. Add a Link to Your Email Signature. Don’t overlook these seemingly obvious places to let new people know about your blog.
  15. Make It Easy for People to Subscribe. Your subscription field should be displayed prominently at the TOP of your sidebar. If people can’t find your subscription link, they’re not nearly as likely to come back.
  16. Make It Easy for People to Share Your Posts. Again, most blog platforms make this almost automatic. Make sure your sharing buttons are enabled.
  17. Enter a Blog Challenge! This is one of the fastest ways to meet other like-minded bloggers, increase your traffic, and grow your subscribers.

You’d think these steps would be common sense, especially after nearly two dozen posts about blogging, but you might be surprised how many people skip these easy, necessary steps and then wonder why no one visits their blogs.

Attracting targeted readers to your blog isn’t rocket science, but it does take a time and energy investment. Make sure you don’t cut corners or skip steps in the interest of time if you have any sincere desire to grow your blog subscribers and sell more books.

Happy marketing!

MARCIE

SOURCES:

http://www.pronetadvertising.com/articles/four-ways-to-market-your-blog.html

http://www.youngprepro.com/how-to-market-your-blog/

http://www.ricardobueno.com/ways-to-market-your-blog/

http://www.dailyblogtips.com/3-new-ways-to-market-your-blog/

http://www.dailyblogscoop.com/2011/10/11/how-to-market-your-blog/

__________________

Download your complimentary copy of the highly useful Website Design & Marketing worksheet from Write | Market | Design.

__________________

We welcome and encourage your thoughtful, courteous comments below.

__________________

If you’d like us to add a link to your writing/self-publishing/book marketing blog, please send us a note. If we think it’s a good fit, we’ll be happy to add you. Of course, we’d appreciate the reciprocity of the same!

Additionally, Marcie would be happy to make a guest appearance on your writing/self-publishing/book marketing blog. Just let us know the theme or your idea (preferably including a 6-panel concept), and we’ll see what we can draft for you.

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One of the BIGGEST oversights (aka blunders) bloggers commit

OK – if you’re writing anonymously, this doesn’t apply to you. However, most of this audience is made up of authors who are looking to make a name, brand themselves, and SELL their books. So please, go check now to make sure your contact info is (a) ON YOUR BLOG and (b) EASY TO FIND.

Yes, this may seem obvious, and though I haven’t said it for a while, it’s often just when you think you shouldn’t have to point things out that you need to … Point. Things. Out.

On a handful of occasions in the last week, I tried to get a hold of particular bloggers through their blogs with no success. Fortunately, my first job was as a research librarian, and I’m tenacious, so I was able to find all of them, mostly through that ubiquity known as Facebook.

Yes, with social media, we’re using e-mail less often. However, if I’m not your friend on Facebook and you’ve got filters set up so that only friends can message you, guess what you just did? Made yourself UNAVAILABLE to people who want to contact you. This is a cardinal sin for someone looking to build their brand and platform.

What’s more, if your blog doesn’t identify you by the same name you use on Facebook or Twitter (e.g., Dr. Sally on the blog but Sally Smartypants on Facebook), that avenue is now closed off, as well.

In two cases, I was trying to reach people who write on multi-author blogs. They have links to their archives – but NO contact info, including e-mail addresses. While this may be a policy of the blog owners, it’s a poor one. I would think long and hard before becoming a regular contributor to a blog that didn’t allow me to tell people how to contact me.

Please, my SBM* darlings – make sure you are easy to find and contact!!! Connection is the lifeblood of relationship marketing.

Laura

*Savvy Book Marketer

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We welcome and encourage your thoughtful, courteous comments below.

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Visit the Write | Market | Design Facebook page to meet other authors and aspiring authors who have a sincere interest in writing, publishing, and selling the best books they can. And if you need a self-publishing consultant in your corner for anything from advice on structure to developing a marketing strategy, drop us a note at MarcieBrock@WriteMarketDesign.com or give us a call at 602.518.5376!

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Blog keyword selection: Good for rankings, research, and connections

Last week, we did a post that discussed the importance of tags, or keywords, for your blog posts. I want to explore keywords a little more closely today.

Choosing the proper keywords is essential to the success of your blog because it determines where your posts will show up in the search rankings. You want to pay attention to a few things when determining your keywords:

RELEVANCE – Make sure your keywords pertain to the topics for which you want Internet searchers to find you.

TRAFFIC – Deeper than searching, this means that once people find your link, they click on it.

COMPETITION – How many other people are using the same keywords and how well are they doing with them?

PROFITABILITY – If your goal is to enhance your book sales, you want your keywords to attract buyers, not just researchers.

You can use various keyword tools like Wordtracker, Google Adwords Keyword Tool, KeywordSpy, or Good Keywords to help determine the best keywords for your blog posts. These tools will take a word, say “vacation,” and give you the most popular variations of searches people do for that word or phrase, like vacation sweepstakes, Napa Valley vacations, Italian vacations, dog-friendly vacations, and cooking vacations, along with the number of monthly searches associated with each term. Most of the tools are fee-based but allow a free trial.

But there is another way you can use keywords. My WordPress blog tracks the terms people are using to find me.

So occasionally, I will do my own search for the same terms to see who else is writing about them.

This usually leads to a couple of things. This particular search is where I came across a treat post titled 8 Interesting Guerrilla Marketing Campaigns, which I mentioned in the comment section on my post on guerrilla/mischief marketing.

By visiting the blogs/websites that are addressing the same topics, I can:

  • Do further research on those topics
  • Find other bloggers to read and comment on, perhaps creating more new relationships
  • Stay current on those topics

Remember, blogging is definitely a place to share your knowledge, promote your book, and build your brand. But it’s also the perfect opportunity to encourage the SOCIAL aspect of social media by interacting with your readers and going out to find other bloggers with whom you can connect. Proper keyword strategies open the door to these possibilities.

Happy keywording!

MARCIE

RESOURCES:

http://sonnylanorias.com/keyword-research-tool-online-business/

http://www.steps-to-make-your-own-website.com/what-are-keywords.html

__________________

Download your complimentary copy of the highly useful Website Design & Marketing worksheet from Write | Market | Design.

__________________

We welcome and encourage your thoughtful, courteous comments below.

__________________

If you’d like us to add a link to your writing/self-publishing/book marketing blog, please send us a note. If we think it’s a good fit, we’ll be happy to add you. Of course, we’d appreciate the reciprocity of the same!

Additionally, Marcie would be happy to make a guest appearance on your writing/self-publishing/book marketing blog. Just let us know the theme or your idea (preferably including a 6-panel concept), and we’ll see what we can draft for you.

__________________

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Are you making the best use of your author blog’s sidebars?

When we think of blogging, generally speaking, we think of the content: the text, the images, perhaps the comments. However, most blog platforms (even the free ones) give you lots of selection in terms of the templates you can choose – and many of those templates include sidebars. Those sidebars are an incredible opportunity for you to take your blog deeper – to grow roots, if you will. How are you using that space?

On the free WordPress.com platform, you access the sidebars through your Dashboard, under the Appearance menu. Look for the Widgets button. Widget is a gimmicky name for all the different kinds of things you can place on your sidebar. But the widgets you see there are only the tip of the iceberg, so to speak. Do a Google search for “WordPress widgets” and an entire universe of widgets will open up to you. Granted, some are plug-ins that will only work on a standalone WordPress.org blog. Many, however, are things you can use on your free WordPress.com blog.

Take, for example, the flag program I mentioned in a previous post. That’s a third-party widget I installed on my WordPress.com sidebar. OK – here’s the BIG caveat. To use some of these, you must have a little knowledge of HTML coding. But when I say little, I mean LITTLE. Essentially, if you can cut and paste, you can install a widget. Below on the left is the code I got from the FlagCounter.com site. On the right is how it appears on my blog. All I did was copy the code (using the key combo Ctrl + C), go to my WordPress.com widget window and open the one titled TEXT, and drop it in using the paste function (Ctrl + V). [I did go one step further by adding <target=”blank”> to my code so that the flag program will open in a new window when someone clicks on the image link – which is ALWAYS a good idea, but not necessary to the functionality of the widget.] It’s really that simple.

You can do all kinds of things with your widgets, like adding metrics about your blog. But it’s that TEXT option (and accompanying code) that really gives you a lot of versatility with your sidebars. My client, Samuel N. Asare, is a financial advisor in the Washington, D.C. area. He uses his sidebar to show off the books he’s written and to offer easy access to Tax Tables.

Some things your sidebar should absolutely include are:

  • Subscription and/or RSS Feed button
  • Search button
  • List of your categories
  • Your publishing schedule
  • Links to your social media sites

Here are a few different things other bloggers are doing with their sidebars:

Rhonda Cort publishes the Magnetic Woman Int’l blog.She does a very cool thing in her sidebar by including the icons for all the media outlets where she has appeared or been featured. The only thing that could improve on this would be if each icon held a link to the actual interview. Depending on her blog platform, that might require posting each icon independently.

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On the Celebrate Success 2012 blog, Teresa Beeman includes dates of her upcoming events. There are lots of calendar options for your sidebars – this one is particularly clean and easy to read.

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Jack Smith, author of the Tempe Tempest blog, has used his sidebar for a partial bio. Many bloggers use the About page as a bio, but the sidebar idea is good, in that readers don’t need to click another page to read it. I find Jack’s warm, witty style particularly engaging. Who can’t relate to the School of What the Hell Were You Thinking?!

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My new friend Robbie Schlosser writes the Magnolia Jazz blog and uses his sidebar to include the most current comments on his posts. I like this idea because it (a) gives the appearance of interactivity and (b) invites more people to comment.

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Shawn Snyder and her husband Rob present The Odd Couple blog, offering advice on marriage and family. They’ve done a very nice job of including images of their books – with links to the sales page – on their sidebar.

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Now, not everyone chooses to use a sidebar. Take the absolutely GORGEOUS blog by Danielle Charles: The Teacup Chronicles. I don’t know Danielle, but perhaps she’s just writing her blog for the love of sharing her stunning photos and lyrical word pictures with the world. If, however, you’re an author blogger, you probably have a more commercial mindset around your blog – which means you WANT to use the sidebars to their fullest promotional advantage.

If you’ve got unused territory over on those sidebars, start thinking about the best way to use it to draw people further into your blogs, promote your books, and share the resources that will make your blog an invaluable resource. These are the things beyond your posts that will cause readers to return again and again.

Happy widgeting!

MARCIE

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