Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Readers Welcome!

By Jeanette O’Hagan

In a recent discussion on reviewing ethics, one person commented:

'I guess the brilliant marketing ploy of writing a GOOD book and letting it stand on its merits is too advanced for some authors...' 

Sounds simple doesn't it. Write a good book (a solid achievement in itself) and the publishers and readers will come flocking to your door. I don’t think it worked that way even in the ‘good old days’ when writers just wrote books and publishers edited, published and promoted them. But these days even the best book, if written by an unknown or low profile author, is likely to sink without a sound if it is not promoted in some way. And here’s the thing, increasingly publishers give cursory attention to new and midlist authors, focusing the bulk of their marketing machine on the high profile, high earning stars. Even when a publisher is prepared to give promotional backing to unknown authors, they still expect authors to promote and market their own books. In fact, they may not even consider publishing a book unless the author already has a ‘platform’. 

Now readers please bear with me because I hoping for your input on this post.

Of course there are good ways and bad ways of promoting one’s book or in cultivating a social media profile after or even before that book is published. 

One pivotal way a writer can ‘build a platform’ or more importantly, build a devoted fan base, is through a website. Now I won’t go into the debate about whether a writer should in fact have a website and whether this should be a blog or static site. What concerns me today is what content to include on the website. Non-fiction writers can obviously blog around the topic of their non-fiction books but it’s not so clear cut when one writes fiction. Many fiction writers blog about interesting topics – maybe about their life experiences or on social or topical issues etc. (e.g. MikeDuran or Paula Vince). More commonly, I think, writers start blogs on writing – sharing their writing journey as wells as tips and pitfalls about writing craft. I can feel the pull to do this on my own website. After all, writing is a big part of my life, it is something I’m very interested in and am learning about. Moreover, blogs on writing craft can attract attention and build platforms – think of K M Wieland, Randy Ingermanson or Angela Ackerman for instance.

Readers, are you still with me?

The fact is that readers unless they are also writers are not so interested in writing focused blogs. Joe Bunting suggests (2013) that few of the people attracted to a writer’s blog actually buy his/her books (less than 10%) unless of course they are books on writing. And what an author really wants to do is to connect with his or her readers.

(Not that writing a blog for writers or about interesting topics unrelated to your book/s is a bad thing. After all, I did buy K.M. Wieland's Dreamlander after finding her website repeatedly helpful. Just that we need to know what we are doing and why.)

So if this is the case, then perhaps it is of greater benefit for authors or aspiring authors to target their website to the people they envisage reading and enjoying their books. This makes sense to me but it is not as easy as it sounds. I have a hunch attracting readers to websites of an unknown author is a lot harder than attracting writers to writing websites especially before one has a published book or books for readers to read.

So what content attracts prospective readers? Here are some possible ideas (by no means exhaustive):
- write about your books including pitches, book trailers, brief excerpts (though be cautious here);
- book reviews or vblogs in genre or category you write in;
- short fictional pieces  – short stories, deleted scenes, interviews with characters, poems, songs;
- behind the scenes  – author notes, the whys and wherefores behind the story;
- characters and setting – fun character interviews or profiles, maps, drawings, genealogies etc;
- related subjects – eg recipes or meals of the time period or location of  your world or setting, alternatively  some skill or hobby that you have included in the book and that you are passionate about;
- a question and answer page where you answer readers’ questions;
- contests, giveaways, quizzes, surveys;
- news about releases, launches  and other events;

One example of an author who connects effectively with her readers is Anne Elizabeth Stengl (my daughter's a big fan). Can you think of any others? 

My questions to you are:
- If you are a writer, what content do you think might attract readers?
- If you are a reader, do you look at author’s blogs? If so, what attracts you to an author’s website? What sort of content do you appreciate or would you like to see?

Jeanette has practiced medicine, studied communication, history and theology and has taught theology.  She is currently caring for her  children, enjoying post-graduate studies in writing at Swinburne University and writing her Akrad fantasy fiction series.  She is actively involved in a caring Christian community.


You can find her on her Facebook Writer's page   

Image Readers Welcome by Jeanette O'Hagan (c 2014)




Further Reading (For Writers):

Beman, S., (November 28 2012) 4 Steps to Creating Enjoyable Reader Experience in Your Fiction Author Website on Self Published Authors Helping Other Authors, http://selfpubauthors.com/2012/11/28/4-steps-to-creating-enjoyable-reader-experience-on-your-fiction-author-website/  , acc 2 Sept 2013
Bransford, N., (August 12, 2008) Author Websites in Nathan Bransford Author http://blog.nathanbransford.com/2008/08/author-websites.html,  acc 9 Sept 2013
Bunting, J., (Aug 2013) What Fiction Authors Really Need to Know About Their Platform in The Write Practice, http://thewritepractice.com/fiction-platform/  , acc 16 Sept 2013
 Loren, R., (October 28, 2011) 13 Steps to Creating an Author Website Readers Will Love in Roni Loren, http://www.roniloren.com/blog/2011/10/28/13-steps-to-creating-an-author-website-readers-will-love.html , acc 8 Sept 2013
Loren, R., (February 2 2012),  Author Websites: Layering Yours With Sticky Extras in Roni Loren    http://www.roniloren.com/blog/2012/2/22/author-websites-layering-yours-with-sticky-extras.html  , acc 16 Oct 2013
Ruesch, R., Saturday, (September 2010) Websites 101: What the Unpublished Author Needs in Will Design for Chocolate, http://www.willdesignforchocolate.com/2010/09/websites-101-what-the-unpublished-author-needs/, acc 9 September 2013

19 comments:

  1. Briefly, Jeanette, I have two author websites--my original www.jo-anneberthelsen.com that has pages about me, about all my books(fiction and non-fiction), including reviews and reader comments, about what I speak on and where I am doing that, and a 'Buy' page with info on how readers can do that. So that's what I want to see on author's websites! My blog is separate from that but can be reached through that site from the home page. My second website (www.soulfriend.com.au) promotes my memoir 'Soul Friend' then has a bit about me, including an interview-style book trailer, and a 'Buy' page but also pages on topics like what is mentoring, how do you find a mentor, mentor training etc, so it has a particular focus. I change info on these two sites only as needed--but with my Wordpress blog, I write a new blog each week on all sorts of topics, not only those that might appeal to readers. I would probably attract more readers to that blog if I narrowed down my target audience but somehow people still seem to track with me each week, whether it's a writing related topic or not. I wanted this blog to reflect the whole of me as a person and to share things God has impressed on me through Scripture or in some other way in my daily life. Sometimes I share insights or funny things from when I sign books or when I speak somewhere or just when I'm writing, but at other times it has nothing to do with writing. But that's just me!

    Re your second question, I only occasionally read authors' blogs, as I am prompted via Facebook and if I have found they say worthwhile things about writing and/or life. Or sometimes if I want to find out more about the author after enjoying one of their books, I go to their website. Don't have time for much more than that--too busy writing!

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    1. Thanks Jo-Anne for a comprehensive answer. It's great to see what different people are doing and I am sure there is not one 'right way' as Annie and Andrea demonstrate - each looking for different things in an author's website. My Jenny's Thread is probably more like your blog - it isn't narrowly focused with reflections about the world, poems and thoughts about writing while my aim for Jeanette O'Hagan writes is to target it more closely to my hoped readers. I guess in the end it's about what works for each particular author and his/her readers :) And as Annie says - the glory of God.

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  2. Hi Jenny,
    Thanks for this interesting and informative post.
    I'm glad blogging sites make it so easy to set up nice appearing blogs which are easy to navigate. I did have a website for quite some time, but we recently decided that the cost of running it was too high (well, circumstances decided that for us), especially when blogs enable us to connect with the public and share the same information for free. At present, I'm enjoying running my two blogs, and finding them very rewarding.
    Thank you for giving mine a mention. It was fun to see it in the same sentence as Mike Duran's :)
    I keep an eye on several blogs and try to comment as often as possible. I have yours and Jo-Anne's, which she mentioned above, as well as several other Aussie and Kiwi ones.

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    1. Thanks Paula.
      I enjoy reading your blog and find it makes me think :) As do Mike's in a different, perhaps more controversial way. Thanks for keeping an eye on my blog too - I'm encouraged :)

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  3. Ok, shoot me down in flames but I find most authors' websites or blogs that talk about themselves unremittingly boring. I don't care about your lunch or what you ate at an anniversary dinner or what your birthday cake looked like. In a world of information overload, I don't need more trivia to filter out.

    On the other hand, I love ideas and wrestling with them, so that's the kind of posts I read - thoughts about violence in Christian books is a topic I've considered for many years, so I follow people like Mike Duran. I haven't actually bought any of his books yet but I'm probably at the tipping point. I started following Rebecca Luella Miller because of a fascinating post she wrote on the difference between pantheism and panentheism (which I'd never heard of) and how deeply the movie Avatar was imbued with it.

    I'm more interested in the books than the author - until I've read sufficient of an author's work to know I'm interested in the person who wrote these books that have had such an impact on me. I like reviews, because I like to know what an author whose books I like is reading and what is influencing them.

    I'd like to blog more... and occasionally you'll find something new at www.fire-of-roses.com/wp which at the moment is all about thoughts on threshold covenants, even when it doesn't look like it. It's been something I've been researching for years and it actually doesn't particularly matter to me if no one is interested in it. I try to adhere to that medieval concept of doing it for the glory of God. I think we need to work hard at all the various aspects of being an author but the glory of God is something that tends to get lost, sometimes, in that mix.

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    1. Hi Annie
      I agree - everything we do should be for the glory of God, something we shouldn't lose sight of though it can be easy to do at times. Rebecca Luella Miller sounds like an interesting person to read and I can appreciate the distinction she makes. You may be interested in a review I wrote on Avatar - picking up on spiritual themes (in the later half of the review) http://fantasytrekkers.com/avatar/

      As I said to Jo-Anne, I suspect there is no one right way - as it depends on the author, what is right for him/her - and the readers and different things will attract different readers. I think that whatever we do, we need to feel comfortable with it and enjoy doing it - and as you say, to the glory of God.

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  4. Just what I needed to read, Jeanette. You've got my brain ticking over as well as giving me some answers. Thank you! I'll be referring to this post a lot.

    In answer to your question, I love learning more about an author's everyday life - the opposite to Annie :)

    That's not to say I don't enjoy reading about their books - I do. It's just that I like being given a glimpse of an author's personal world, as you do when getting to know a new friend. I don't mean what they had for breakfast and all that trivial stuff, but some funny anecdotes, photos, life experience etc appeal to me.

    Thanks again, Jeanette. Great timing as far as I'm concerned.

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    1. Hi Andrea.
      I'm thrilled that my post came at the right time for you :)
      Everyone is different and so different things will attract different people to read what we write. Some like Annie are more attracted to ideas while others like a more personal touch. Maybe in part its a matter of exploring and finding out what works and what feels comfortable - for you and your readers. Still, I think it helps to know why you are doing something and being strategic about it.

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  5. Great starter for a discussion, Jeanette. The blogging journey for fiction authors is an interesting topic. Almost all the authors I read don't do much blogging at all. Their site is "basecamp" for their other communication activities, ie, Twitter & FB. In addition, email newsletters seem to be a very popular form of communicating and acquiring followers.

    I also enjoy the "closed" community group within FB that enables authors & followers to get up close and personal with each other. I'm in a couple for Tosca Lee and Mike Dellosso and have found these to be of wonderful benefit as a reader and I believe both authors have benefited from them.

    I take the view, if you enjoy blogging, then do it. Melissa Tagg is a fun committed blogger and I enjoy reading her posts. Jody Hedlund is another author who blogs a lot.

    I enjoy getting to know an author more but I think you can do this pretty effectively via FB and such like these days.

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    1. Hi Ian
      Hi Ian, thanks for your comments. I agree - social media like Facebook is a great way to interact with readers and supporters. People are probably more likely to like or comment on Facebook than they are on a website or blog. I like your idea about closed groups too. And, yes, I don't think every author does or should blog. However, a website can still be more than a relatively static site (with author & book info and a way to buy books or sign up for an email) without being a blog - for instance, some of the things suggested include putting of deleted scenes, short stories or material that relates to the content of the books. In my website Jeanette O'Hagan Writes - I've added a hypertext story from the point of view of a main character in my first book which, I hope, acts as a teaser for the book without giving away major plot points http://jeanetteohagan.com/my-sister-by-dinnis-son-of-gaia/ I'm still feeling my way with this and each writer will (and should) come to his/her own position on this, but personally, I don't think it's an either/or proposition - either FB or website/blog.

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  6. I really enjoyed your post, Jeanette. Seemingly it all comes down to 'horses for courses'. We are all so different in our tastes. My Inspirational Romance blog hardly ever draws comments, but I'm amazed at the stats. The US comes first followed closely by Russia, Australia, UK and then various other Muslim countries. That shows me women remain interested in not only romance but how Christians view it and marriage.

    I view it as a quiet witness.

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  7. Thanks Rita. I'm glad you enjoyed the post :) And I think that's true with website - far more people are likely to read and enjoy them than comment on them. This is true with FaceBook to some extent as well but there is often a bigger barrier to overcome with commenting on webpages. Not everyone is on FaceBook. I like the way you view it - as 'a silent witness' on that can go around the world :)

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  8. Jeanette, great post and I've enjoyed reading all the comments. I think it can be a process of trial and error to find our niche via blogs and/or social media that connects us with our tribe of readers.

    Genre is important, too. More than once at RWA last week I heard a presenter talk about how Facebook mainly attracts older readers. If you write YA, you need to be exploring other options to connect with your younger readers eg. Instagram, Wattpad.

    Romance readers tend to like getting to know the author on a more personal level, as shown by the popularity of author blog interviews. If you know your brand, you can experiment with ideas that are connected with your brand.

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  9. Thank Narelle - that's a great point about knowing your readers and the difference preferences between YA, romance extra. It would be interesting to know trends with other groupings too - speculative fiction, historical, literary etc.

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  10. Hi Jenny - Sorry I'm a bit late coming to this discussion. Great food for thought in your post and very relevant for me as I've just entered the blogosphere with a Writing Tips blog on our business website. I'm intending to do a post each Tuesday and have survived four posts so far. How many to go? There were two main reasons I decided on a writing tips blog.

    First, I feel God has called me to write, but also to encourage others to write. I've been doing the latter part informally through Quirky Quills and others I know, but I thought a writing tips blog might also be relevant to new writers and is a way of giving back what I've learned from others over the years.

    Second, As we're building our business, I thought it would be helpful for prospective editors/publishers to see samples of my writing, particularly magazine editors who are deciding whether to accept an article pitch. Though I guess that could backfire if they don't like my writing. Most of the blogs also link to other samples of my writing, including published pieces.

    It's early days yet and I'll re-evaluate it in a few months. It does take a fair bit of time to do, so it would be good to know if there are measurable payoffs. Thanks for getting the conversation going :)

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    1. Hi Nola
      I've enjoyed reading your writing tips on your new website and it makes perfect sense both in terms of your calling to encourage other writers and in terms of building your new business. It's also a lovely idea to link to your writing. Building up connections can be a slow process. I know with WordPress blogs there is a plug-in that allows you link into Google Analytics. This measures numbers and characteristics of the hits to your site so it might worth investigating if you haven't already done so :)

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    2. Thanks for the tip Jenny. Tim built the website and can access some analytics, but I'll ask him about it.

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  11. This is exactly the issue I was thinking through about a year ago. So much of the advice on building a platform seems to be most applicable to non-fiction. I had just learned about content marketing and was trying to figure out what that would look like for a fiction writer. That's where my youTube show came from. I figured the people I wanted to start reaching out to were readers and viewers of speculative fiction. So I made a show where I talk about those kinds of stories, recommending those that I've enjoyed. Of course the problem then is that I had to market my youTube show, so it turns into a bit of an infinite spiral. Seems to be working though.

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  12. That's great Adam. Giving reviews on books from your genre or category sounds like a wonderful way to connect with readers. I think it usually takes time to build numbers but things often have a momentum of their own. Thanks for your input :)

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