3 Ways Blogging Can Make Our Writing Lives and Sales Shine

elephant einstein

Next week I’ll head to Monterey for my first ever Left Coast Crime conference – I’m stoked! In addition to enjoying other festivities, I’ll serve on two panels, Chills and Thrills: Psychological and Medical Thrillers and Social Media: Getting the Word out in Today’s Digital Age. For the latter, I’ve been asked to focus on blogging. Three years ago, I never would have imagined that I’d not only be addicted to blogging blogging and loving it, but sharing insight on the platform for others. That’s one beautiful thing about artistic paths, don’t you think? We never know where our paths will lead.

Here are three huge perks I’ve gained from blogging (and you can, too!):

1.  Content and discoverability as an author. Before starting my blog, I had loads of articles online and I was pretty findable. Blogging gave me the ability to increase my discoverability as an author, rather than merely being known or recognized as a health (and now sexuality) writer. Agents, publishers, editors and potential writing clients dig that. 

2. Fun! I was happily surprised to learn that blogging can be so darn enjoyable when we don’t treat it like necessary homework. When we write about topics we’re compelled or jazzed to cover, it resonates with readers and makes our writerly lives sparklier. I truly believe that that positive energy attracts more of the same in our personal and professional lives.

3. Readership and sales. It’s impossible to quantify sales derived from blogging, but I’m sure that it’s helped mine. Numerous of my first reviews on Amazon derived from blog readers, and reviews seem to lend themselves to sales. My sales have consistently spiked during book promotions I’ve run or announced on my blog. And it only makes sense that enthusiasts of our blogs are likely to take interest in our other work.

Here’s a chart I shared at the OWFI conference last year that shows the correlation between promotional events and my Amazon rankings during my first few months post-release. As soon as my book announcement hit my blog, my ranking went to too-low-to-measure to pretty high. The same happened once I posted my 99-cent and freebie promos on my blog. In some cases, I use other techniques to gently promote as well, but my blog has inarguably helped.

Kindle rank self published book

I also shared these stats at OWFI, which I found relevant and intriguing:

  • Social networking sites reach 82 percent of the world’s online population, representing 1.2 billion users around the world. (Comscore, 2011)
  • 61% of U.S. online consumers make purchases based on blog content. (Shareaholic, 2013)
  • 77% of Internet users read blogs. (The West Program, 2011)
  • Companies with blogs generate 67% more leads (READERS) per month on average than non-blogging companies.
  • Once we publish 21 – 54 posts, blog traffic generation increases by up to 30%. (Traffic Generation Cafe, 2012)
  • Once a blog has 300 pages, traffic generation increases by 236%, on average. (Stigma Web Marketing, 2012)

I’m not suggesting that we blast “buy my book” promos on our blogs, by any stretch. On the contrary, I believe that authentically writing and supporting others are the most powerful ways to increase our professional success through blogging. When we’ve built a quality community of blog readers (which trumps quantity of readers big time), they appreciate the occasional, “By the way, my new book is available!”  I want to know when bloggers I adore have books available, don’t you?

Another practice I love: Because I value blog readers so much, I offer them  special extras during promos. When I first gave my book away for free for a few days on Amazon, I sent MP3s of one of my original tunes to anyone who downloaded it and sent me a copy of their download confirmation, for example. And I always aim to make any promotional-type-stuff fun and not advertisey (pardon the not-a-word!), and support other folks rather than just me. It’s tough to go wrong with fun. By having fun, supporting others and remaining authentic, we don’t have to worry about words like “promote” or “platform.” Success becomes a natural derivative of who we are.

I’d love to hear your thoughts! What’s your favorite perk of blogging? How do you feel blogging can (or can’t) enhance sales and overall professional success? Any examples to share? Or blogging questions or challenges you’d like help with?

The 500 Hats of Blog-tholomew Cubbins: Reducing Social Media Stress

Have you ever read The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins? It’s a Dr. Seuss story, set in feudal times, featuring a poor boy named Bartholomew. One day while riding through a market, he removes his hat to abide by the law. Once he does, another hat appears in its place. The same thing happens repeatedly, each hat appearing more extravagant than the last, until eventually, the king offers him reprieve and riches for the spiffy 500th. Finally, the boy can breathe easy! The prize was worth the stress and confusion.

Bartholomew reminds me of modern-day writers. Each time we move forward in our careers, we expose more of ourselves, gaining riches and, very often, stress. Every achievement—finishing a draft, landing representation, publishing—seems to invite an additional part-time, or even full-time, job. But we still only have one head!

As some of you know, I first delved deep into social media engagement upon my agent’s suggestion. And holy schmoley, did it feel like a ton of work. I researched the various platforms like crazy and raced through Kristen Lamb’s books in two days, spending the little sleep I could manage in between dream-tweeting. I’m pretty sure I looked something like this:

Social media stress

Since then, I’ve learned ways to fit social media into my writing life without going padded-wall crazy. Over time, it’s felt less like enigmatic work, and more like an enjoyable blessing. I’m sure many of you can relate.

As with most aspects of our careers, it’s important to utilize social media practices that work for us individually. I thought I’d share practices that seem to work well for me, and invite you all to chime in with your fabulous thoughts.

The following habits help keep me productive and sane—pretty simple and straightforward:

1) Save social media for warmups, breaks and cool downs. Social media is for authors what stretching is for marathoners. Our blogs, Twitter and Facebook shouldn’t rule our time, or take precedence over our primary writing. Saving social media for downtime and breaks helps on multiple levels. Shifting gears helps keep our other brains and work fresh; engaging in social media can bring respite, support and fun.

2) Write your most important work when your brain works best. I went into detail on this topic in an earlier post. Basically, working hardest mentally during our “golden hour,” or when we tend to feel the sharpest and most creative allows us to make the most of our time. (I’d personally rather wake up at 5am and work like crazy until mid-day than write at night, when my brain is somewhat mushy.)

3) Take breaks from it ALL. This has been a tough one for me to master, but I’ve learned that working non-stop doesn’t help anything. We can be more productive, creative and efficient if we allow ourselves wiggle room and, you know, that thing called life. Music, friends and my dog help me stay semi-balanced. I’m super grateful for that.

4) Learn to say ‘no.’ This is a biggie. Saying ‘yes’ to too many other tasks or events says ‘no’ to writing time. While breaks and days off are invaluable, they won’t do much if we have scarce work-time left over. If you’re overextended, try cutting back, or ask others for help. If you feel guilty, remind yourself that self-care makes us more enjoyable to be around. (Totally true for me.)

5) Be yourself. Aiming for popularity rather than authenticity doesn’t work well on-line, in my opinion. If we view social media as an extension of ourselves, we don’t have to try so hard—which can stressful and time consuming. Since people tend to recognize and appreciate authenticity, being ourselves naturally attracts engagement and support. If you’re like most writers I know, you enjoy supporting others. So if for no other reason—of which there are many—do that, too.

6) Savor the path. Back to Bartholomew: the prize is in the bedazzled journey. If we enjoy the process, and aren’t crippled by fear or self-doubt, our treasures will only brighten. Sure, we might (okay, will) get criticized along the way. But if we take it all in stride, write because we love writing and remain gentle with ourselves, we’ll reap less stress and more joy. Every day may not be sparkly, but embracing the whole shebang can make it all worthwhile.

Related links you may find helpful:

5 Quick Facebook Tips for the Busy and Shy, by Gene Lempp
25 Things Writers Should Know About Social Media, by Chuck Wendig
I is for Introvert: How Do You Know if You’re an Introvert or an Extrovert? (and how it affects blogging), by Jenny Hansen

Have you found ways to manage social media without feeling stressed or lost for time? What works best for you?

Is it Time to Change Your Blog?

What the heck should I write about? What if no one reads my posts? What if EVERYONE does? What if HE does? Or SHE does?

Many bloggers obsess over ponder these questions early on. Then little-by-little we mature, from little baby blog-o-nitas to blog-alescents until finally, we reach hot blog mama-and-papa adulthood—perfect post, after perfect post. They flow from us like soap bubbles through a blower, impressing every reader equally and never ever causing a lick of stress.

*Falls over laughing* Yes, we gain confidence and skills. But even then, blogging involves continual growth. While that’s a great thing, it can bring growing pains. We may realize we’re posting too frequently or seldom, that our graphics or theme needs work or that we’ve grown complacent, too wordy or sloppy. Blogs grow along with us. It only makes sense that they’d change as we do.

Sometimes the greener grass we seek is right beneath our feet.

I’ve experienced a bit of my own blog-angst recently over a couple of secrets I’ve been keeping from you all. Sorry! Not my preference, trust me. Normally, I write whatever I’m compelled to. But for reasons I shan’t fully disclose (involving technicalities and even legalities), a couple of sizzling-hot tid bits (sizzling to me, anyway) have been growing into untamable flames inside me, making me want to burst on a daily, sometimes more frequent, basis.

So, spill ‘em already! I hear some of you saying. Not yet. ;) I can set the stage, however, by announcing some blog changes I’ll be making pronto:

A new blog schedule. (Did I just use the s-word? Yipes!) Until now, I’ve posted twice most every week, on whatever days I choose. From now on, I’ll aim to post every Monday and Thursday. Guessing many of you haven’t noticed my variance anyway.

Thematic post days: On Mondays, I’ll focus on sexuality, sexual empowerment for women and related topics, such as romance and sexual health. In honor of #ThrillerThursday (a fabulous weekly Twitter event), and my main fiction work, I’ll post on whatever thrills me at the time on Thursdays. This could include writing, books, authors, movies, animals, food, psychology, music—the list goes on, and on… I didn’t mention Mondays’ theme-name, now did I? NOPE! T.B.A. ;)

Perhaps now you can see why the schedule is important. Sex and all-(other ;))-things-thrilling are vastly different channels. If you’re not into sex-related topics, you can skip over my Monday posts. If you LOVE reading about sexuality, or simply want to join in upbeat, sex-related, empowering, sometimes silly discussion, you might opt to read my blog only on Mondays. Totally up to you, as always. I think this shift will make things easier for all of us.

Making these decisions got me thinking about blog changes in general. We all make tweaks along the way. The following have helped guide my ways.

Signs Your Blog or Blog Habits Need Changing:

1. It takes away from other writing. When I started blogging, I posted three times per week. To keep this up, and work on articles, my novel and semi-keep up with housework and other basics, like showering (well, practically), I quickly learned that two posts worked better. To keep my novel work a high priority, I blog after, and occasionally as a warmup or break.

2. You aren’t in love with your topics. Perhaps love is a strong word, but if we aren’t excited or at least interested in a topic, our posts will probably fall flat. As many of you know, authenticity rules in social media. Don’t fake it. Change it.

3. Your gut says CHANGE. This holds true for all writing, in my opinion. If the little voice in the back of your head says, “Wouldn’t it be cool if…” and the thought makes your heart beat a little faster, the voice is probably right. Nervousness and self-doubt may try to mute that voice. Don’t let it.

4. It feels like trivial homework. Blogging should be fun. Many of us blog as part of an author platform, but that doesn’t mean we should dread or drag ourselves through the experience. Even informative posts should be pleasurable to read and write. And I bet I’m speaking for many when I say I’d rather read a post someone had a blast writing than a “perfect” one.

5. You’re unfulfilled. Fulfillment derives from all sorts of stimuli. Posts and topics we care about and interaction with fellow bloggers and readers can be hugely gratifying. If you’re low on the interaction spectrum, make efforts interact more. This post by Kristen Lamb, on improving your “Likability Quotient,” is chock-full of helpful insight. If your posts aren’t gratifying, see #s 1 through 4.

Making changes, and committing to them, can be scary. What if our new content doesn’t jive well with readers? Or topics that seem cool in our heads come out wonky? What if a schedule we set for ourselves seems impossible to maintain? The answer, I’ve decided, is who cares? It’ll all work out somehow, and it’s far better to take the risk—especially if your gut says DO. Transitions may go smooth-as-PB or as clumpy freezer burnt ice cream. Fortunately, the latter—like most obstacles—is fixable. (We can always buy new ice cream. ;))

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Have you changed your blog? Are you considering changes? I always love gabbing with you.

The Bodacious Blogger’s Essential Ingredients

I’ve never been great at following recipes, perhaps because my first works of fiction were faux cakes and pizzas baked in my magical kitchen. (Okay, the sandbox.) My recipe ineptness has its perks, though. First, it’s made coming up with my own concoctions practically necessary. (I’m happy to report that they no longer taste like air or sand.) Second, it prepared me for writing, on the page and in the blogosphere.

Like baking a cake, there is no one “right” way or “perfect” recipe to achieve blogging success. But there are useful guidelines…

Essential Ingredients for Blogging Bodacious-ness

1. Authenticity. We hear this word a lot in regards to blogging, for good reason. Writing about issues and topics we care about, in our own voice makes for captivating posts. Our blogs should be natural extensions—or reflections—of us and what our brands represent. In other words, bake your own “cake” from scratch, using your own ingredients (your thoughts, beliefs, knowledge…). Readers can tell if we use a mix or swap the bakery label for our own. ;)

2. Readability. Ever looked at a recipe and felt so daunted by the tiny print, long lists of unpronounceable ingredients or lack of photos? I personally believe that posts should be as long as they need to be. Breaking up longer paragraphs with spaces, bullet points or photos, and using clear fonts and non-distracting themes can help ensure a comfy reading experience.

3. Takeaways. Imagine going to a cooking demo and leaving with an empty, ravenous belly. Might be okay if the chef was highly entertaining, but if not, your low blood sugar and emotional upset would probably prevent you from visiting again. Blogging works similarly. Giving our readers some sort of takeaway, be it entertainment, inspiration or how-to tips, functions like welcome and thank you gifts, bundled into one.

4. Supportiveness. When I was a kid, I loved going door-to-door selling everything from candy and cookies to 1-child plays. But I was weird. And have grown up since then. Not only is pushiness counter-productive for writers, but ineffective. (Thank goodness!) Supporting others creates connectedness and community. Visit others’ blogs. Follow those you find intriguing. Post thoughtful comments when a post strikes you, and share links you enjoy. (Not convinced? Read social media guru Kristen Lamb’s post, 10 Ways to Increase Your Likability Quotient.)

5. Effective Titles. Would you have read this post if I titled it, Random Stuff? “With 500,000 new blog posts published per day on WordPress.com sites alone, we can’t afford to use vague or boring titles if we want our blog to stand out in tweets or in someone’s Google reader,” Marcy Kennedy, one of my favorite bloggers, wisely said. For more of her insight, read Four Little-Known Factors that Could Destroy Your Blog’s Chances of Success.

Bloggers Who Take the Cake
The proof is in the pudding, right??? The following bloggers bodacious supreme, in my opinion. They have their ingredients and style down pat, never cease to inspire, entertain or teach, and continually bring joy to my cyber-villa. I’ve awarded each blogger one of my cake concoctions.

Natalie Hartford takes the Pink Rainbow-licious Cake for bedazzling the blogosphere with her unique enthusiasm, color and pizazz. She’s as sweet as her blog is PINK! She spilled some of her fab blogging secrets here: Keeping Your Blogging Mojo Alive and Burning.

Tameri Etherton takes the Berry Yummy Oatmeal cake. She’s wholesome, fun and nurturing, with no need for added sweetener. Because Tameri loves happy endings, her natural cake has sweet surprises inside.

Louise Behiel takes the Sassy Salmon Cakes. Louise never fails to educate and inspire. Her gluten-free cakes are fortifying, like her posts, and delicious, much like her friendship and support. She recently shared 8 Steps to an Emotionally Rich Family, and drew a brilliant comparison between old-fashioned radios and kids.

Kourtney Heinz takes the Flourless Chocolate Cake for her rich writing skills and ability to savor every bit. No room for extra fluff in this writing woman’s life! You’ll see what I mean when you read her captivating post, Looking at Who You Were. Loved loved loved it.

Amber West takes the Fortune Cookie Cupcake for her entertaining, inspirational and grin-inducing posts. Her Friday Inspiration series is loaded with insight, and she’s consistently one of the first to lend a helping hand.

Susie Lindau takes the Crazy Cake. Whether Susie is giving us glimpses of her “wild ride,” throwing blog bashes or sporting flash fiction, her blog is a crazy-cool treat. Oh, and she’s also a mass murderer

Roni Loren takes the Hot Fodue Cake. Her novel, Crash Into You, caused more perspiration than the stairclimber I read it on. If you know what I mean. It’s one of my favorite reads of 2012, and her writing/blogging posts are some of the best. As for the “cake” portion of this recipe, that’s up to YOU. ;)

Nigel Blackwell takes the Blappleberry Pie Cake for his ability to blend education, entertainment and wit. His post, A Non-Controversial Sockumentary, is one of the most entertaining post I’ve ever read.

Jennifer L. Oliver and M.G. Miller take the (Practically) Instant Chocolate Cake, for Jennifer’s fine author interviews—her latest of which featured M.G. and his spectacular book, Bayou Jesus. Read it. Once you start, you won’t want to waste time slaving over baked goods. This whole grain cake takes minutes in the microwave. And it’s delish.

Debra Kristi, Coleen Patrick, Fabio Bueno and Ellie Ann Soderstrom take Health-Nut Choco-Copia Cake for their versatile mix of upbeat, inspiring posts on everything from mythology and HILARIOUS mistaken song lyrics, to family pets and sustainable agriculture. You can’t go wrong with these sweet tweeps. Ya just can’t.

So there you have it. My baker’s dozen. (Told you we bloggers can break rules. ;)) What blogging ingredients do you find most important? What kind of cake might your blog be?

****If you’re interested in preparing one of the cakes above, hop over to my Facebook author page and place your vote!****

#Pinterest & Blogging: 7 Keys to Success

Like many, I was hesitant about joining Pinterest, particularly before the recent copyright changes. Though I dug the concept, it sounded like a time-sucker and more fun than vital. When I learned that it’s the fastest growing social media platform, a top referrer to retailers and appeals particularly to educated women, I figured it was time to research my brains out look into it. I’m so glad I did.

Pinterest is now the third most popular social network, according to a new Experian study, behind Facebook and Twitter. And retailers are not the only beneficiaries. Crystal Underwood’s tips-for-mommas blog leapt from 100 hits per day to up to 7000 after she embraced the virtual pin boards. Design blogger Jessica Colaluca, one of Mashable’s “21 Must-Follow Pinterest Users,” credits Pinterest for 35 percent of her estimated one million-plus monthly hits. And major publications, including Elle magazine, Martha Stewart Living and Cooking Light, are taking Pinterest by storm.

“We are seeing traffic increases and high engagement, and [Pinterest] is great branding for us to get our content out there.” — Keith Pollock, editorial director of Elle.com

Whether you’ve joined Pinterest or not, making your posts more “pinnable” can enhance your blogging experience on multiple levels. There are loads of ways to obtain blogging and Pinterest success. Read on for my favorites…

1. Fill your blog with high-quality content. Joining Pinterest will not automatically stimulate quality blog hits (i.e., readers who linger, comment, subscribe and interact), even if you post visually-stunning images. Why? Because successful blogging takes lots more than pretty pictures. Pinterest can help open the door to our sites. Posting captivating content will keep guests from fleeing to the neighbors.’

2. Be authentic. Many of us recognize that authenticity makes for better posts and more enjoyment for us and our readers. The same applies to Pinterest. If you’re not a foodie, featuring glamorous food photos simply because the images are popular is counter-productive. Withholding your passions and interests can have similar effects. People sense falsity, so steer clear of it. Pinterest’s updated etiquette tips say it best: “Pinterest is an expression of who you are.”

3. Give to give. Giving of ourselves also enhances enjoyment—ours and our readers. If you, and by extension your brand, is entertaining, provide entertainment. If your brand is inspiring, inspire. Have cooking, cleaning or photography skills? Share some pointers. Such giving attracts like-minded readers to our blogs, who will appreciate what you offer. In return, you’re likely to gain subscribers, comments and, when applicable, sales. This practice reminds me of exercise. Many of us start working out because we believe we should. The emotional benefits—better moods, sleep quality, energy…—keep us at it.

4. Get creative with titles, photos and topics. Using your authentic self to conjure up snappy titles, eye-catching graphics and topics you genuinely dig is a great way to lure people from Pinterest to your blog. It also encourages re-pins and comments. Just make sure that your post’s content is at least as entertaining, inspiring, though-provoking or delightful.

5. Use your own photographs or self-concocted graphics. If you feature stock photography in a blog post, the pin should technically link to the stock company—not your site. Creating your own photos and graphics allows you to convey precisely what you wish to, without infringing upon copyright laws. Adding your website address to images can help draw more eyes to your site, particularly if you pin a photograph without any text. (Check out my example above. If I can create graphics, trust me—you can, too. ;))

6. Keep your blog and pin boards in mind in the “real” world. I only recently signed up for Pinterest. Already, it’s opened my mind up to cool new ways to use it. I tote and use my camera more often and have been dabbling in graphic techniques. Just as life inspires blog topics, knowing our posts could appear on Pinterest can inspire us to seek out photographable moments that coincide. Best of all, the process feels more like fun than work—how life should feel, IMHO.

7. Support others. As with other social media platforms, rambling on about ourselves, our products or our work generally evokes one thing: annoyance. We all know how frustrating endless pitches from a particular salesperson can be. If you’d slam the door on your content if it appeared at your door, switch gears. Comment on, follow and share others’ fabulous posts and pins on Pinterest, Twitter, Facebook and/or your blog.

Extra pointers:

  • Don’t only pin blog posts. Share and celebrate your interests. If your blog is serious, show your goofy side, and vice versa. You can also use Pinterest boards as tools to organize your favorite products, articles, books and so on.
  • Link your Pinterest account to Facebook and/or Twitter. Mine is linked to Facebook, which allows me to interact with people on both networks with one post. I then Tweet pins selectively. Experiment with both, then decide.
  • Invite your friends to Pinterest. Lisa Hall-Wilson and I both have group boards, which are a great way to join forces with like-minded folks. If you’re interested in joining my group, Writers United, drop me a note: august@augustmclaughlin.com.
  • To encourage readers to pin your posts, add a “Pin it” button to your share options, and a “Follow Me on Pinterest” widget to your theme.
  • Focus on quality and connections, not “the numbers.” Gargantuan numbers of hits can be fun to see on your blog dashboard, but it doesn’t mean much if people spend little time reading or enjoying your content. I’d rather have a handful of close-knit, supportive connections than boatloads of rapid clicks. Wouldn’t you?

I’d love to hear from you. Any of these tips strike a chord with you? Any to add? Thoughts on Pinterest in general?

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