You've written your novel. Maybe you've even found an editor.
Now you're thinking about publishing. But no matter where you look online, all of the advice boils down to the same thing. You're going to need a platform. Agents pretty much require one now. And it's an essential part of your marketing strategy if you're going to publish yourself.
But what is a platform? Is it your Twitter following? Your Facebook Page? Your email list?
It's all of these things and more. Your platform is how to interact with the world as an author. And it's never too late to start building one.
The problem is, it can be difficult to know where to start. Particularly when the advice contradicts itself. Some authors say blogging is pointless for writers. Others promote writing on platforms like Medium. And yet more focus exclusively on the email list, and don't even bother with social media.
While an email list is important, blogging can be a fun and useful way to build your platform. After all, it's about communicating through the written word. And you're a writer - so that's right up your street.
So in this two-part exploration, we're going to examine blogging for fiction authors. In this post, we'll focus on 3 of the 5Ws - What, Why, and Who. We'll look at where and when (as well as how) in the next post.
What is blogging?
Put simply, blogging is a way to build relationships with your readers. A few years ago, blogging was often seen as a way to keep an online diary. Bloggers might document their struggles with a job, or an illness. They found readers who were going through the same thing.
But now it’s become the bedrock of content marketing. You literally market yourself through the content you produce. And that content helps you to build relationships with new readers. Remember, readers aren’t likely to buy a book after seeing your “BUY MY BOOK!” tweet for the 600th time on Twitter.
And they certainly won’t buy your book after getting an automated direct message from you.
But if they get to know you through your blog content? Well, you’ve already broken down one of the barriers to buying. You’re no longer an unknown quantity. They already have awareness of you - and they know if they like your writing.
Think of it like ‘try before you buy’.
Most bloggers agree that there are three types of blogs; those that inspire, educate, or entertain. We’re not going to look at inspirational blogging here. We’re more interested in the other two.
A lot of bloggers focus on the ‘educate’ strand. Think of all of those blogs hosting recipes, skin care regimes, fashion advice, or parenting tips. Blogs about creative writing, like this one, fall into this category.
These bloggers form connections with their readers by helping their readers with a problem. And readers keep coming back because they like the blogger’s help, or even just their voice. Psychology blogger Mark Manson is a good example of an educational blogger who also wins readers through how he says things, as well as what he says.
So yes, you could blog about how to write. But you’re a fiction writer. So you’re looking for readers for your novels - who might not want to know how to write. And teaching writers how to write won’t necessarily net you sales of your novels. If you’re only starting out, it might not be appropriate either.
If you want to choose the ‘educate’ strategy, then consider writing articles about any research you’ve done. This is particularly useful if you write a genre like science fiction or historical stories. Catherine Curzon is a great example.
Alternatively, you might choose to go down the ‘entertain’ route. Flash fiction is a brilliant way to get your fiction out into the world. And as the stories are less than 1000 words, readers are more likely to actually read them.
You can also blog a story as a serial. Andy Weir followed this route for The Martian and built up a following before self-publishing.
Or you can even share artwork related to your book. People love visuals, and they’re a great - and quick - way to grab attention. You just need to make sure you promote whatever you post - but more on that next time.
Why should you start blogging?
Back in the day, authors often had static websites. They'd only update the pages when a new book came out. Or perhaps they were going to do a signing somewhere. You might see a 'News' tab on these sites.
Then authors realised that static websites weren't helping. If you don't update the content regularly, readers have no reason to come back. Plus, Google likes a website that isn't static. It likes regularly updated sites because that improves the user experience - and Google's algorithms are all about the user experience now.
So replacing your website with a blog is an easy way to keep the content fresh - and keep the readers coming back. The more time a reader spends on your blog, the more they get to know you.
But there's another advantage to blogging. As with anything, writing improves with practice. So the more you blog, the more you write...and the better you get.
Who do you blog for?
This is perhaps the contentious part of blogging for authors. Who exactly are you hoping will read your content?
Many authors fall into the trap of blogging about writing. It's a natural assumption to make. After all, you should write what you know, right?
Wrong. The only readers who are interested in reading about writing are other authors. So if you're blogging about ways to make your characters more relatable, or how to get readers to keep turning the pages, only other authors will read your blog.
That's not necessarily a bad thing. It'll help you to network with other authors. That in itself is helpful when it comes to promoting your work.
We talked about educational blogging earlier. But remember that other authors aren't always going to be your target audience. They won't necessarily buy your books.
The visitors you want to attract to your blog are potential readers.
So how do you attract those?
If you ask an experienced non-fiction blogger what they think fiction authors should blog about, they nearly always say 'take readers behind the scenes'. They advocate sharing 'deleted scenes', or updating readers on your progress on your newest book.
So fiction authors blog about their characters, or their writing process. They share photos of where they write.
But only two kinds of people are going to be interested in that. Other authors and people who are already your readers.
That kind of content goes into your emails to your existing fans. They already know your worlds and characters, and want to know more. So they’ll be interested. It’s a nice, exclusive reward for people who’ve engaged with your writing.
But a lot of people who land on your blog won’t know you from Adam. Especially if they’ve clicked on a link on Twitter. Until you build up a following, you need to produce content that people will want to read. Which leads us onto our final question.
What do you actually blog about?
This is probably the biggest question for a fiction blogger. After all, you’re not like all of those lifestyle, fashion or tech blogs. You can’t necessarily teach readers how to do something.
And if you just write about your books, it’s unlikely that people will want to read posts about them. If you don’t believe me, try visiting a blog about a film you’ve never seen.
Remember that the rabid, active reader that devours four books a week is in the minority. So your blog needs to woo occasional readers. What might they be interested in?
Start with your genre. What relates to it? If you write fantasy, you could blog about other fantasy novels. Or make lists of the best elves in fantasy. Pit famous characters against one another in a fictional duel. You can even talk about fantasy films.
If you write crime thrillers, you could post about true crime, or research into cold cases. Maybe discuss elements of crime thrillers, so you could have a series about what forensics involves. You could have a ‘case of the week’ column.
More interested in writing science fiction? Blog about science news, or famous science fiction novels. Compare adaptations for film and television. Anything that readers of science fiction will find interesting.
So do you see how it all fits together? Your blog is there to advertise your presence online. It’s a way to get attention, which you can funnel towards your books through a sidebar ad, links to your books, or an invitation to join your email list.
And the best way to do all of that is to speak to people who enjoy your genre.
Hopefully this article has given you more of an idea what you might do with your own blog. And this foundational content is really important if you want to set up a blog from scratch. It’s also essential if you already have a blog and you’re not sure what to do with it!
So look out for part 2 to find out how to set up a blog, when to post, and where to promote your posts!
Need some help finding your blogging voice or brainstorming topics? My Complete Book Marketing Toolkit offers this and more.