You’ve heard it before. “You need to communicate with your readers.” “Carve out your spot on the internet.” “Fans need to know where to find you.” “The best time to start blogging was ten years ago; the second-best time is now.” They’re all right, of course — except that last one…sometimes.
Author websites can be an essential part of your online presence. And if you’re going to peddle fiction for a living, readers do need to be able to find you, but your personal blog is not always the best place for that.
Why fiction writers need a website
There are many reasons to have a website, but the most important one is to build that all-important email list. Nothing will sell more books than an email list full of true fans. Having hundreds or even thousands of people who subscribe to you with their email addresses gives you access to selling books to a percentage of that list every time you send out a newsletter.
You need an email list and a way to collect those emails, but that doesn’t need to be on a personal blog. You can start a free newsletter signup form on MailChimp or another mass-mailer platform and direct traffic to it from a link on Twitter, Instagram, or even in the back of your book. In fact, including a CTA at the end of your book is a great way to show a new fan of your work how they can be notified of future releases by their new favorite author.
I’m not trying to discourage you from having a blog or website. I have one, and so do many other authors. Blogs allow you to tell your story, provide a hub for your online portfolio, and build that email list. But blogs can also get in the way of what matters most: writing words that you can sling for hard cash.
When you spend your time setting up a blog, writing posts, fine-tuning your SEO, responding to commenters, etc., you’re not spending time doing what you started the blog to do. Don’t put the cart before the horse.
When you should start a blog
There are two prevailing thoughts on this:
- Start a blog immediately. If Twitter, Instagram, etc., goes out of business, you’ll have a place where readers are already used to finding you online. And writing blog posts teaches you how to meet deadlines and build a good writing habit.
- The best way to market your writing is in your writing. Most words you write should be fiction that you’re going to sell. Instead of starting a blog, build your email list through CTAs in your books, and focus on sales funnels.
Here’s the thing: they’re both right. Like with most things people disagree on, the best way lies somewhere in the middle. You don’t want to lose readers because a popular social platform went belly-up, but you also don’t want to slow your momentum where it matters most. So what’s a savvy author to do?
Look for the value
When thinking about building your blog, the most important word is value. At this stage in your career, will building a blog bring more value to you or your audience than can be found someplace with cheaper or easier access? If the answer is “no”, then you’re not ready for a blog.
You are probably already on Twitter. Use that to communicate with fans — you can link to your Twitter account in the back matter of your book, though that’s probably not the best use of a CTA. Social media is a free resource that doesn’t require time to setup. The trick is to pry yourself away from it long enough to get some sellable words down.
What you don’t want to do is pull the trigger on a personal blog when it subtracts value from your career. That’s often at the beginning when you’re still working on building a backlist of books. A blog is marketing, and if you don’t have a body of work to push, why are you wasting time thinking about marketing?
What are you planning to post
While talking about the value that you get or give, let’s discuss what you’re going to offer on your blog. Not all blog posts are created equal.
If you were a non-fiction author, the idea of what to blog about is easy: you’re going to blog about your subject matter. For fiction authors, it gets a little muddled. Do fans want to read character profiles about your latest MC? Probably not until they’ve met them in an engaging novel. Do readers care about your writing process? I’m sorry if I’m the one breaking this to you, but no one cares about your process. Other writers can learn from it, so they might want to read about it, but they aren’t your target audience for selling words — they’re more focused on learning a quick trick and using it for themselves than finding a new author to consume. Readers don’t care that you used a Headlights Method or a Snowflake Method or whatever method to construct your stories. What they want is the next story.
The harsh reality is that most personal blogs are vanity projects for authors to show off their ‘authorship’. If your name isn’t Rowling, King, or Patterson, no one cares, yet. And if they don’t care, they aren’t getting value from it.
How to build an internet hub
I get it: you want to look like a pro. Who doesn’t? You’ve got a link to your newsletter signup form in your Twitter account, and you’ve been writing books with CTAs in the back that lead to your next book, or your newsletter when there is no next book. But that blank page with a signup form on it is ugly, and you’re afraid that you’re losing as many people as you’re getting because it looks amateurish.
Having a more appealing landing page for your newsletter adds value, so let’s do it. But don’t start with a full blog. Instead, create a WordPress site (I recommend a free one at this early stage) and have a single landing page as your homepage.
This landing page is your online hub. Include a newsletter signup form, links to the social platforms where you’re most active, and a little ‘about me’ section that is as unpretentious as possible. From now on, everything links to this page. This is you.com on a single webpage.
As you get some products out, start a second page that advertises your books. If you have more than one series, you can do a different page for each series. You can share and link to these pages just as easily as you can a blog post.
You don’t need to use this blog to communicate with your fans. That’s what social is for, and it’s better for that, anyway. At this stage, your site is an informational hub. Since you started with a WordPress site, you’ll eventually be able to add a blog post section, but it’s optional, and always will be.
When to start writing blog posts
You’ve got something valuable to say. I know you do, and I want to read it as much as you want to write it. Here’s the problem: if you start a blog section on your site, you’re likely to fall into the trap of posting regularly, creating blogging deadlines, learning about SEO, and…hey, are you a blogger or a fiction writer? It’s okay to be both, but only if you want to — don’t feel like you have to be a blogger because you want to write fiction.
If you want to blog and write fiction, do not announce a blogging schedule that locks you out of your fiction writing time. Instead, choose a blogging platform, like Medium.com, where you can post, and no one expects it to be a regular thing. This is also a way to make some money on your blog posts, just like you do with fiction. And you can always post your Medium posts on your blog since you still own the words.
Is it ever okay to start a full blog on your site
As a pure fiction writer? Sure, but it’s optional and should be looked at as a hobby. You are a fiction writer. Make your goals around that. Then, if you want to chat about your writing process and discuss…anything…you can. Just be careful not to sacrifice your writing time for blog duties (work doesn’t like it when you call in because you have things that are more fun to do).
I wasted a lot of time writing blog posts and not writing money-making books. Learn from my experience. To get more no-nonsense publishing advice from a former publisher, signup for my newsletter.