This article appeared in the July/August 2008 issue of Writers’ Journal in the “Computer Business” column. It’s the fourth in a 6 part series. I’ve dominated that column since then and if there’s anything you’d like to know more about, Please feel free to comment or drop me a note.
Forums and Podcasts and Blogs…Oh My!
The primary reason authors need a web presence is to get in touch with their target audiences. If you’re starting out, this may mean identifying your audience first. Ultimately, it means establishing a dialog with your readers, so that you can better understand their wants and needs and cater to them. Nurturing your fan base means you have eyeballs eager to purchase and read your next book, which leads to happy editors and publishers, bigger advances, larger print runs and—dare I say it?—bestseller status.
If you’ve been through the publishing process before, then you’re aware of the more established methods of getting in touch with your audience. Book tours, book signings, club meetings, speaking engagements and other in-person contacts are valuable ways to promote yourself. When it comes to winning people over and being remembered, nothing beats a face-to-face meeting. The one drawback is that both you and your readers have to travel somewhere and be there at a designated time.
The web is 24-7-365 marketing. Your readers can visit your site and read your latest news in their bathrobes at 4am if they want to. But to establish a dialog with them, you need to offer something more than an online brochure. You need an interactive experience that can substitute for an in-person meeting.
A contraction of “web” and “log,” a blog is designed to be updated regularly. It lists your posts in reverse chronological order and can file your articles or stories under easy-to-browse headings. The value of a blog is three-fold.
- Its dynamic nature allows you to keep your content fresh
- Fresh content is more readily picked up by search engines
- All of the blogging platforms have a comment feature
- The syndication features make promoting your content fast and easy
- Most blogging platforms interface with social media outlets to update many places at once
Fresh content, crawled and distributed by search engines, is going to help you attract new eyes to your work. The comment feature is going to allow them to leave you feedback and open up a dialog with you. Two popular blogging software services are wordpress.com and blogger.com. Both are free and easy to set up and use.
The key to making a blog work for you is to post regularly. Most bloggers will argue in favor of daily posts. I personally can’t commit to more than once a week because I can’t seem to complete a thought in less then 500 words. Nonetheless, not every post needs to be a full article. A paragraph or two a day should be manageable, but you need to make sure that it’s content worth reading.
You can gauge your popularity by looking at your web traffic statistics. The most popular blog software has these features built in and all you have to do is look to know how many times your page has been viewed. Web traffic statistics are subject to a number of data skewing limitations, so while they’re helpful and you should definitely put your monthly page views in your query letter, you’ll get more oohs and aahs from editors with other numbers. See Below.
RSS (really simple syndication) will automatically send your post to whoever subscribes to the feed. If you’re posting less often, most blog software offers the ability to deliver an RSS feed. You can offer RSS through a website or through a service as well, but the blog platforms have made it RRSS (really, really simple syndication). All you have to do is check a few boxes when setting up your account and your articles are syndicated throughout the web. I recommend that you enable the feature that only syndicates a paragraph or two and then provides a link to the full article on your blog. That way you can keep better track of the numbers and potentially attach them as regular readers.
A podcast is an electronic audio recording that can be posted on your web site or blog. With some very simple software and a microphone, you can digitally record yourself reading some of your work. Think of it as an audio postcard advertisement. Mention your url at the beginning and end and invite people to visit your site for more information or recordings, or whatever you’re offering. Podcasts lend themselves very nicely to RSS feeds and there are even established venues that will accept your submissions and then syndicate them. Podcast.net and Podcast.com are both free places where you can post your podcasts. Podcast.com even has its own blog with instructions on how to get started. Blog.podcast.com
A forum is a more robust and less controllable version of a blog. While your blog topics are chosen by you (or whomever you’ve given posting permission to) and your posts are written by you, a forum allows your subscribers to initiate their own topics of discussion (aka “threads”).
A forum is a step up from a blog in terms of knowing how popular you are because you can make people register in order to contribute to the discussion—or even to read past a teaser. These people you can get to know much better by inviting them to tell you more about themselves, like offering a user bio page. A forum allows you to test market ideas and titles while making your audience feel special for having consulted them. Of all the interactive possibilities out there, a forum is the most difficult to set up and the most demanding on your time to maintain. Consult a professional for help, or simply join and become a loyal poster on someone else’s.
V-logs are the video off-shoots of blogs. With a small webcam and some simple software, you can create a video recording of yourself and post that on your blog, forum or website along with some text. V-logs can better approximate an in-person meeting than just a blog because your readers can actually see you moving and hear you talking before they post their comments. Even if they can’t directly interact with you, it’s a bit better.
The video doesn’t even have to be of you. Depending on the topic of your v-log, you could include video of just about anything so long as:
- it’s not copyrighted by someone else,
- you got permission from the subjects to record them and to electronically distribute that recording, or
- the people you taped at the public venue you were recording did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy and were not minors.
When in doubt, get written consent. This holds true for photographs as well. When you go out, keep a few simple permission slips in your camera bag and talk to people. For that matter, keep a few business cards with your web address on them handy. Invite your subjects to come and see themselves on your website. Who knows, you might even meet some new fans.
The absolute best way to keep in touch with your audience is through some form of email correspondence. Ideally, all of your web pages should steer people toward subscribing to your e-newsletter, or—if you don’t want to do a newsletter—free tips, or notification of when your site has been updated, or of when a new article is in print. As long as you are providing people with something of value, they won’t mind the occasional reminder that you have a new book coming out or that you’ll be appearing in their area. In fact, if you’ve built your relationship with them properly, they’ll be upset if you don’t let them know.
One note here on responsibility. Your fans are trusting you with information about themselves and they’re giving you permission to contact them. Don’t abuse them. Let them know that you’ll protect their information and don’t sell or give it away.
Be courteous when contacting them. If they’re expecting a monthly newsletter, don’t send them daily advertisements. You can contact them more often as long as the contact has value to them. Put the “Buy Now” button for your book on your website and make them want to go there. You did not go to the effort of building a relationship with these people to get a quick sale. You want them attached to you over the long term, so be a good friend and put their needs before yours. They’ll reward you for it.
Angela Render is an author who has been editing and developing websites for over a decade. She teaches regular classes on Internet marketing. Her Internet marketing workbook, Marketing for Writers: A Practical Workbook, is available on her website at www.AngelaRender.com.