The Business Rusch: Blogs, Guest Blogs, and Blog Interviews (Discoverability Part 9)
First, I’m participating in the first of three book bundles. This kind of bundle (there are several other kinds, which we’ll discuss) combines the fan bases of eight different writers. This particular bundle, which is a science fiction bundle, features an up-and-coming writer with six of us in the middle of our careers and one once-famous writer (now no longer with us). Readers can get six books for a minimum of $2.99 or eight books for a minimum of $10. The reader can pay the minimum(s) or pay whatever she thinks the bundle is worth to her. (It’s DRM-free)
I’ll be in a fantasy bundle with six writers (I think) in March, and a romance bundle in May. I’ve participated in various bundles before with different degrees of success, and there’s a trick to them, which I will discuss in a future essay. But I want you to see this one (even if you have no interest in buying), so that when I refer to it in the future, you’ll know what I’m discussing.
You’ll note here that my book in the bundle, Alien Influences, is normally $6.99 in ebook (and $18.99 in trade). If you buy the minimum bundle, you’ll pay about fifty cents for the book. Again, as we talked about in two previous posts (and to a large extent in the comment section), pricing is a strategy. If I were opposed to discounting books, I wouldn’t participate in something like this.
I’m doing it for the discoverability, believing that Kevin J. Anderson’s fans or Robert J. Sawyer’s fans might enjoy my book enough to pick up other books of mine. To be honest, Kevin is doing the bundle in the most savvy way not because of price (his is $4.99 e/$14.99 trade), but because of the kind of book he chose for the bundle. His book, Veiled Alliances, is part of his Seven Suns series, and if a reader likes that book, they will move to other parts of the series. I’ll talk more about this in a few weeks.
For today (Thursday) only, I’m participating in another strategic pricing maneuver. WMG Publishing is testing a new BookBub-like company, eBookSoda, which is brand new, and is (at the moment), allowing writers to advertise through their service for free. My novel, The Disappeared, the first in the Retrieval Artist series is $2.99 for one day only to see how effective this new company is. (WMG already put The Disappeared through BookBub using the same pricing structure, so there will be a basis for comparison.)
(For those of you who don’t know, these companies work like this: writers/publishers lower the price of books on various ecommerce sites, then advertise the lower price through these companies’ newsletters. The newsletters go out to a large number of people [in BookBub’s case, tens of thousands] advertising the daily deal.)
eBookSoda is a brand-new British company, operating primarily in UK market, and BookBub is a somewhat established U.S. based company, in the much older U.S. ebook market, so the comparisons aren’t going to be one-to-one. It’s more of a foot in the water to look at potential.
Again, a pricing strategy—The Disappeared is also normally $6.99 in ebook—but also an advertising experiment.
And I’ll be doing a discoverability post on experiments in a few weeks as well. Since this one is in progress, I figured you could look at it and see. (I’ve done several other one-day promotions in the past 12 months—some through traditional publishing companies—and learned quite a bit.)
So this little introduction is a reminder that pricing is not absolute, but strategic, and also, look at these things and think about various discoverability tactics that we’ll be discussing in the future.
I promised you that I would move from passive discoverability tools to more active ones. Previous posts covered a lot of the passive marketing techniques, so go back and take a look at those, starting here.
By active, I mean techniques that will take a lot of time from your writing by forcing you to write something other than your normal worlds or by repeatedly taking writing time to do something that is not writing. Other active techniques will cost you a lot of money, as well. I’ll be discussing all of these.
And yes, I know, the passive techniques mentioned in the previous posts also take time and sometimes take money, but usually they’re a one-and-done project. (Once you’ve designed your cover, you don’t need to redo it every week—unless you’re repeatedly screwing up.)
So everything I’m going to be discussing from here on out needs to be factored against Scott William Carter’s WIBBOW test. Ask yourself the question: Would I Be Better Off Writing? If your answer is yes, then stop whatever marketing you’re doing, and get back to the keyboard.
It doesn’t matter if your best friend’s answer is different from yours or if your editor wants you to do tons of promotion. If it doesn’t pass your personal WIBBOW test, then for heaven’s sake, don’t do it.
I’m going to start with the active marketing that traditional publishers have been requiring of their writers for the past five years now. A lot of indie writers are doing the same things that traditional writers are doing, and in similar ways.
A few years back, a dear friend of mine sold the first novel in her urban fantasy series. Her then-publisher (a big traditional publisher) paid to have her website revamped and linked with their website.
The publisher insisted that she blog. Her blogs needed to be about her books, the publisher said, or about something related to her books. Think about that: the blog had to be about her one book or nothing at all.
I’m not telling you who this is because not only did she leave the publisher, but she took back her website. The publisher-designed site was impossible to use from both the front and back end. And the publisher’s stricture on how to blog was ridiculous.
We discussed websites last week, but we didn’t discuss blogging. Blogging on your own site is up to you (not your publisher), as are the topics.
If you are only writing fiction, however, blogging about writing is a very bad idea. First of all, millions of people blog about writing and publishing. Secondly, except for writing about your own process or your own work, you won’t have a lot to add.
So, if you feel the need to blog, do it creatively. For example, writer Kelly McCullough blogs about his cats every Friday. But he doesn’t write cute stories about them. Instead, he posts nifty pictures with great captions.
I read Kelly’s fiction before I ever went to his website, but I discovered his cat blogs almost a year ago, and honestly, I try not to miss them. (I have cats too. I understand.) His website is clear, and it’s easy to find information about his work. He also has a book cover on the sidebar, so it’s easy to discover his writing from the cat blog. You can also see the upcoming titles, right below that cover.
Most readers are not writers. Most readers want to know what the next book is or, as folks pointed out last week, something interesting about the writer, not a how-to guide.
Because I write nonfiction as well as fiction, I stumbled into non-fiction blogging. It started as business blogging (The Freelancer’s Survival Guide) and eventually morphed into a business blog about publishing. But that’s not all I do on this site.
The free fiction started as a gift to my established fans because I figured that they’d be the ones who find my website. Turns out that a lot of the nonfiction readers clicked on the free fiction just because they wanted to see who was nattering at them and if she really could write. The nonfiction writing blog and the free fiction blog get about the same number of hits, but if you drill down into the numbers, you’ll see that the unique visitors are very different. Both features of my site attract a different group (with some crossover).
Initially—and I mean about 7 years ago—I designed the site to be like a magazine with a variety of different features. The only features that survived were the free fiction and the recommended reading list. The recommended reading list which is monthly gets yet another group of people to visit. I’m not sure about the crossover there.
Dean’s taken a different tack with his blogging. He’s blogging his daily word count and his life. Kind of a slow-motion reality show. I thought of it as writer-only, and then it became clear that his readers like reading about his day-to-day activities as well. Since he started the daily blog, his daily unique visitors have tripled. Those folks buy his books.
It works for him.
Other writers have a static website, and spend little (or no) time blogging. It’s a passive choice versus an active choice. If you’re a slow writer or someone with a day job and young kids, daily blogging (or even weekly blogging) might not be for you.
With blogging, you have to do two things:
1. Be consistent
2. Provide good content
Like anything else, it takes time to build an audience for your blog, but an audience will come, particularly if you follow those two rules.
You are balancing something though: you’re balancing discoverability for your blog with discoverability for your published works. And those things aren’t always one and the same. So do follow your website numbers (and your sales) over time to see if your blogging is worthwhile.
Of course, if you enjoy doing it, then continue no matter how it impacts your writing. But if you hate it, don’t do it.
That’s the rule of thumb for all of these active marketing techniques.
Remember, they are not one-size-fits all.
My rule of thumb with my traditional publishers has always been to give their marketing a try. When I started publishing romance, I was excited about doing what the publishers asked, because the romance genre is well known for its marketing savvy, and for being on the cutting edge of various marketing techniques.
What I didn’t realize at the time was that the romance writers were always on the cutting edge; the romance publishers usually were behind the times.
Still, publishing romance gave me the chance to experiment with a variety of techniques, some of which I’ll discuss in future posts.
I have published romance under five different names. (One is a pen name I don’t disclose.) The reason I have five different names is that I started in traditional publishing, and I couldn’t use the name Rusch for most of my romance. I finally did publish a romance as Rusch (The Death of Davy Moss) but that was after I started indie publishing.
Two of my pen names have gone on publisher-mandated blog tours. Sourcebooks, who published Wickedly Charming (under my Kristine Grayson pen name) in 2011, asked me to do a blog tour. Sourcebooks’ publicist set it up, and boy, did she do a lot of work.
A blog tour, for those of you who’ve never done it, is a press tour in the blogging sphere. A writer writes a guest blog for a well-known book blogging site. Usually the guest blog also involves a book giveaway.
The Sourcebooks publicist contacted the bloggers, set up the giveaways, gave me deadlines and word counts, and then forwarded everything I wrote to the blogger. The blog would go up, and I was supposed to comment on the site or answer questions if I could.
Each blog tour lasted one month and usually involved a dozen different blogs. The publicist made certain the writers who were blog-touring did not write the same blog for each blogger. (That would be a disaster!)
The writers use the bloggers to promote the books, and the bloggers use the writers’ name (and giveaway) to promote the website.
Sometimes a blog tour includes interviews and sometimes it doesn’t. Often, a blogger will ask to interview a writer about the writer’s work. This happens after you’ve had a modicum of fame. It’s also something you can trade with your writing/blogging friends, if you so choose.
The interviews seem pretty straightforward. The blogger sends you a series of questions via e-mail, and then you respond via e-mail. Sometimes those questions run for pages. Sometimes there are only two or three.
Like the guest blog, the interview promotes the writer, but it also promotes the blogger and the blogger’s website.
Once again, if you choose to participate in something like this, then you cannot just cut and paste your answers from previous questionnaires. The internet lives forever, and nothing goes away. Fans who follow your work will see that you’ve answered the same question the same way before, and that will defeat the purpose of doing this kind of promotion.
What is the purpose?
Well, that’s the question, isn’t it. And I’ll get to it below. After one more thing.
Bloggers often ask for giveaways: free stuff that they’ll give to one lucky commenter or reader. Usually the giveaway is a copy of the book you’re promoting. Sometimes it’s an advance copy. Sometimes it’s something more elaborate.
If your publisher doesn’t provide material for the giveaway, then the giveaway comes out of your pocket, and it costs you money.
Is that worth the promotion on the website? Well, let’s examine this, shall we?
When I was doing blog tours for Sourcebooks, I initially did them as an experiment, to see if the tours were worth my time. After saying yes the first time, though, I really didn’t want to insult bloggers by saying no the next several times.
That was a Catch-22 set up by Sourcebooks, because they had already asked the bloggers if they wanted me to guest blog. Instead of saying no to my publicist, I would be canceling existing blog tour posts—which, in my personal opinion, would have been a bad thing.
Here’s what I learned on my blog tours. I wrote about 10,000 words of free blog posts each time I did a blog tour, not counting responding in the comments (if I remembered. Sometimes I was traveling, and simply couldn’t respond). The bloggers provided space, and did promotion to their readers. Sourcebooks provided the giveaways.
There is no way to know if the people who read my blog posts—with the topics often determined by the bloggers themselves (not me)—actually bought my books. I have no idea if the sales of the books went up because of the blog tours, because the blog tours, like so much in traditional publishing, occurred in the first month of publication.
So were my sales goosed by the tours? Or did the tours make no difference at all?
In talking with other romance authors who set up their own blog tours, I suspect the tours made very little day-to-day sales difference. There was never really a spike after visiting a single blogger’s site, even if that site had tens of thousands of readers.
But, remember, discoverability isn’t just about a single blog post or a single encounter with an author/book. Advertising—and that’s what a blog tour is—is more effective if your name/book title are everywhere at once. People see the name mentioned a lot and eventually, they’ll at least look at the book (if, indeed, it sounds interesting to them).
So, with that caveat in mind, a blog tour might be a way to raise your profile shortly after your book is published. If you can set it up yourself (or your publisher’s publicist does) and if you have the 10,000 words of writing to spare. And, if you’re doing it yourself, you want to foot the bill for the free giveaways, with no actual and obvious return.
There are other places for free giveaways that we’ll discuss later that might be more effective than doing so here.
Some book blogs get tens of thousands of unique visitors every month. Others only get four to five hundred unique visitors. Those visitors might be passionate, but you have to weigh the visibility you’d get among the blog’s regular readers against your time.
Again, a blog tour is your choice. It might get you favorable reviews from a blogger. But the book bloggers pride themselves on honest opinions. You might write a blog for a site only to find your post side-by-side with a negative review of your book.
That’s a risk you take when you do things like this.
Interviews seem easier at first because the questions are there for you. But I find that interviews take me a lot longer than a 400-500 word guest blog. I’ve gotten very picky about doing e-mail interviews, and will turn down those of more than 10 questions. (Even ten is dicey these days.) Much as I like supporting my fellow bloggers, I simply do not have the time to spend three hours answering questions for someone else’s blog.
I say no more than I say yes. Although I admit, I still do the occasional short interview. I did one on the afternoon I wrote this blog post. That was a four-question interview and it took me 15 minutes. Will I get any book sales from it? I have no idea and I have no way to measure it.
Generally speaking, I’m doing the interviews as a favor to my fellow bloggers.
Now that I’m no longer published with Sourcebooks, I will probably stop doing guest blogs. They aren’t worth my writing time. I have other uses for that time that will aid discoverability. I’ll get to that in a future post.
One last thing: Because I write this blog and the recommended reading list, my website shows up on a lot of writer/reviewer blog lists. Two or three times per week, some hapless writer asks me via e-mail if they can write a guest blog on my site to promote their work. I now have a standard guest blog rejection letter for these people. Clearly, they don’t come to my site and have no idea what I do here, because if they did, they would realize that I do not have guest blogs, and I don’t review new material. I just recommend what I happen upon within a month.
I’m not offended by the writers who do this, because I’ve edited off and on for decades. I know that writers rarely if ever look at the markets they’re submitting to.
But if you’re going to ask someone if you can guest blog on their site, you need to make sure that they accept guest blogs, that they actually have a large audience interested in your genre of writing, and if they will review the books by the writers who guest-blog. Be aware that you might get a negative review from that site. It’s part of the process.
Do I recommend guest blogging for fiction writers? If you’re doing it to goose your sales, no. If you’re doing it to get your name out there in the month of release on your books, maybe. If you’re doing it for the ego-boo, please, find another way to get your ego stroked.
I can only see guest blogging/interviews as a way to aid discoverability—and certainly not the best way. It’s work intensive with little return.
That said, I’m going to add a small caveat for the nonfiction writers. Guest blogging works for nonfiction writers, especially those with active websites. It is something to keep in mind.
And honestly, if I were Kelly McCullough and a cat website asked me to guest blog, I’d do it. Because it’s different and interesting and might bring a whole different audience to my website and writing. The same if a cat site asks me to guest blog because of all the cat short stories that I write. It’s an unexpected place to guest blog, and it’s the kind of advertising that you wouldn’t normally get. Would I ask a cat site to let me guest blog? No.
I often participate in SF Signal’s Mind Meld. Mind Meld’s interview is a single question which I can answer with a modicum of ease. It’s readable. Lots of authors participate and all of them have something interesting to say. It’s not the same-old, same-old. And because of that, it gets a lot of targeted readers.
That said, I don’t do it to increase my own readership. (I’m sure I piss off as many people as I intrigue.) I participate because it’s fun.
If the stuff you do around your writing isn’t fun, then don’t do it. No matter how many people tell you it’s a very good idea.
Take the WIBBOW test with all of this discoverability stuff. And answer it honestly. Because ultimately, it’s your writing—and your career.
I have always done a lot of experimentation on marketing and promotion in writing. I try to do my best to measure it. I have spoken to marketing and publicity departments in a lot of companies about what works and what doesn’t, and I’m always talking to writers about what they do as well. That “let me see if this works” attitude will inform the next several sections of this discoverability series.
You guys are helping by providing links to things I might or might not have seen. Thank you! I also appreciate the comments and the emails. I love hearing your experiences.
And of course, there’s the donate button which also keeps me going. If you learned something or you like the blog, please leave a tip on the way out.
“The Business Rusch: Blogs, Guest Blogs, And Blog Interviews” copyright 2014 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
Please Read These Assumptions Before Commenting:
I’m going to make some assumptions in the next group of blog posts, and I’ll repeat those assumptions each week until I’m done.
Assumption #1: I’m going to assume you’ve read the previous posts, which you can find here.
Assumption #2: With only a few exceptions, we will be talking about fiction here. There are promotion techniques that work for nonfiction—even on the first book—that do not work for fiction. I don’t want to muddy the waters here. We’re discussing fiction in these posts.
Assumption #3: You have learned your craft well enough to intrigue readers. You know how to tell a good story, you have grammar, spelling, and punctuation under control, you create interesting characters, and you write what you love.
Assumption #4: If you have indie published your work, then your work has a good blurb, a great cover, and a well-designed interior. Your work is available in ebook and trade paper formats. (I also hope you have audio books, but for our purposes here, I’m not going to assume it.)
Assumption #5: If you have indie published your work, your ebooks are available in every ebook venue you can find. Your paper novels are in extended distribution on CreateSpace or Lightning Source. In other words, if a bookseller whom you don’t know and never will know wants to order your paper book, that bookseller can call up a catalogue from a major distributor (Baker & Taylor, Ingrams) and order your book at a bookseller’s discount.
Assumption #6: If you are traditionally published, your books are with a company that makes the books available in e-book and paper formats, and your books are still in print. (If they aren’t, ask for those rights back and then publish the books yourself.)
Assumption #7: You have at least a minimal web presence. You have a website that readers can easily find. You have a list of your published books somewhere, also findable. You have some passive marketing in place. (A mailing list, a social media presence, or a contact button on your website. Something.)
Assumption #8: You have published more than one book. Most of what I tell you won’t work on one novel. You’ll need several—or at least a novel and some short stories. If you’re haven’t published much, make sure you’ve done 2-7, and write the next book.
Assumption #9: You will finish this discoverability series before you decide which of the things I mention is for you. Because one of the last posts I’m going to write is how to measure success. That should have been one of the first posts I wrote, but of course, I write out of order, and so it’ll go at the end. [VBG]
Those are the assumptions.
Now, I have one big WARNING:
Everything I say here, everything, MUST take place after you’ve finished writing your story/book/novel. Do NOT take ANY of this advice into your writing office. None of it. Be an artist: write what you love. When you’re done, then worry about marketing it. This new world of publishing allows us to write whatever we want and publish it. Please take advantage of that. When you write, be an artist, be a great storyteller, not a marketer or a salesperson.
I know, I know. Lots of warnings and assumptions. But I had to be clear, because these points are extremely important. I won’t get to everything this week or even the next week. So…you need to be on the page that I’m on to understand what I’m talking about.