Author Blogging and Reader Engagement

Guest Expert: Joel Friedlander

The instructions to authors have been repeated up and down the publishing line over and over: blog, blog, blog.

Last year, Simon & Schuster instructed all their authors to start blogging. Every author I’ve spoken to in the last year has told me they are either trying to get a blog started or planning on setting one up soon.

Traveling the web, you come across many of these blogs. Some are lively places where readers and bloggers spend time together. Too many others look like a ghost town, a place rarely visited and not inviting to the casual passerby.

How did all these blogs end up abandoned, dusty and neglected?

Well, we can’t know, of course, we weren’t there. But I know the one thing that makes or breaks your blog, if you’re an author trying to attract a community of readers to your blog: reader engagement.

And I don’t just mean readers who don’t visit or don’t leave comments or don’t participate in events, either. This is what I do mean:

• I mean bloggers who don’t engage their readers. Bloggers who write about whatever comes into their head, or about nothing at all.

• I mean bloggers who publish sporadically, whose writings vary in quality, in voice, in subject matter.

• I mean bloggers who appear to have given no thought at all to what readers might actually want to read or learn about.

• And I also mean bloggers who use their blogs as a place to post bits and pieces of various works in progress as a way of fulfilling their “blogging quota.”

How to Tell When Someone Cares

The blogs I read regularly are the ones that engage me as a reader. They leave me satisfied that the blogger has produced something useful, or entertaining, or educational, or all three. I get the feeling the blogger actually knows the kind of information I’m looking for and is working to give it to me. I trust them. And so I follow them.

Now what appeals to me, what engages me, may not be what appeals to you. But I think we can point to some things bloggers can do to promote reader engagement. And as authors, we ought to be able to use our blogs to test just how appealing our ideas are, shouldn’t we? After all, if we can’t attract an audience and involve people in what we care about, how much success can we imagine for the books we want to publish?

So blogging is also a great place to test ideas you want to publish, since it puts both the writing and the marketing of your content directly in your own hands. Not only that, it allows you to measure, on a daily basis, just how successful your writing has been.

Here are some tips on making your blog “sticky” and having readers just waiting for each post, making comments, telling their friends about you, tweeting your posts and doing all those things you hope they’ll do when they really engage with your content.

5 Tips for Authors to Engage Blog Readers

1. Make sure you know what your blog is about. If you write about Egypt today, and what you’re planning for lunch tomorrow, and your work in progress on Friday, can you blame readers for being a bit confused about what your blog is about? We’re all interested in many things, but usually only one at a time. Pick a subject and stick to it. If you can’t, at least make a stab at explaining or showing why this is related to your topic.

2. Have a publishing schedule. Bloggers are media publishers, plain and simple. If Time magazine decided to be a monthly, then switched to weekly, then started publishing every day, then didn’t publish for a couple of months, I don’t think they would have many subscribers? Whatever schedule is comfortable for you is likely to work. It’s really important, I think, to enjoy blogging, because people can tell your mood when you write.

3. Take care of your readers. It doesn’t matter how many readers you have today, take care of them. Take care of them by being on time, answering questions or comments, and thinking about who you’re writing for and why they might come to visit your site.

4. Get familiar with analytics. Blogging is at the foundation of web interaction. In its simplest form, you publish content, and invite comment. This two-way conversation is one of the things that makes blogging such a powerful way to connect with your readers. Analytics helps you to find out which articles resonate weeks or months later, which ones continue to provide enough value that they keep attracting traffic long after they’ve been publishing. That information is incredibly valuable to you as a publisher.

5. Ask for it. Hey, if you never ask, how will readers know you want their opinion, their input, their comments? As writers, sometimes we get caught up in the creative process. We live inside our heads a lot, maybe we’re used to sitting in a dark room by ourselves and the whole idea of social interaction is a bit weird. But this works: if you want a response, ask for it directly. “I’d love to hear your opinions on this issue. Please let me know by leaving a comment.” Do it.

So let’s recap: Having a focus for a blog that publishes regularly, cares about its readers, works to find subjects in which they are interested, and asks for involvement is much more likely to promote reader engagement. These are all things within the reach of authors who blog, so go out there and engage, you’ll be glad you did.

Joel Friedlander is the proprietor of Marin Bookworks in San Rafael, California, a publishing services company where he’s helped launch many self-published authors. He blogs about book design, writing and self-publishing at Joel is also the author of the newly-published A Self-Publisher’s Companion: Expert Advice for Authors Who Want to Publish.
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