Six weeks of sabbatical from blogging this summer passed quickly. Too quickly.
Sweetly slipped through my fingers. Like melting ice cubes. Rippling waves against ancient cliffs on Lake Superior’s shores. Finding the time and space and inspiration to write and do research without worrying about what anybody else thinks. Need I say more?
Here’s a list of tips I compiled from the best practices used today by successful authors on their blogs. You can use it as a checklist for writing your next post.
- Write a catchy headline.
Brief. Clear. Play on words. Lists are popular. Hyperbole is not. What will hook readers’ interest? The headline needs to include your keywords to pull the right readers.
- Start with a vibrant photograph.
Pictures pull people into your writing. When you share your blog posts on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, your image will load along with your headline. The photo is as important as the catchy headline to motivating readers to click through to read. Be caring and careful of copyright on images. Use your own photographs or make sure you obtain copyright permission to use others’ images.
- Like a news story, let the reader know who, where, when, and what in the opening sentence.
Hook your readers with a sentence which gives them a reason to keep reading. Action. Power verbs. Conflict. Your first sentence should raise the questions of how and why. Give your readers what they need to know in order to make sense of what will follow.
- Use second-person POV and directly address the reader with a conversational tone.
You. Yes, you. Write your blog like a letter to a friend. Write like you expect a letter in return. Engage your readers. When a visitor stops by, make them feel as though they’ve discovered a message in a bottle meant only for their eyes. Using second-person POV helps you create the intimate connection between writer and reader.
- Keep your paragraphs short.
The way a reader processes text on a screen differs from the way the same words in a printed book are read. Eyes scan for parenthetical breaks on a screen the way they scan for periods in hardcopy: punctuation of one complete idea. Short paragraphs help the screen reader identify the main points. Writing for the screen requires you are conscious of how the reader scrolls through text on the internet.
- Vary the length of your sentences. Short sentences pack more emotional punch.
Short paragraphs. Short sentences. This isn’t to suggest, however, your blog posts should be short. (See tip #8 below.) If you vary the length of your sentences and keep your paragraphs short, you can offer high quality lengthy pieces which reward an intelligent and interested reader in the subject matter about which you write.
Write for your reader. Short. Punch it up.
- Include internal and external links in your text.
Embed hyperlinks to your blog posts. If you make references (to a book, author, person, company or organization, event, publication or citation) then build external links into your blog post. External links are those which take your reader from your writing and brings them to the reference point URL. I always recommend you format external links to open in a new window/tab.
If you make reference to something you’ve previously written about on your blog, embed a hyperlink. If you can link your blog post to other pages internal to your own website, it creates a network of interconnections. Internal and external links serve SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and help new visitors find your writing.
- Provide 1200-2000 words of quality content on a subject you know interests readers.
It may seem to you that no one has time to read long blog posts and you may have half the truth. People are busy. If they are going to spend time reading on screen they seek out quality. Research shows blog posts with more than 2,000 words have higher readership than those with blogs under 1,200 words. If you are blogging <300 word posts, you need to be using Tumblr instead.
- Ask a question of the reader at the end of your post.
Every writer wants to know how the reader responds to the words and ideas they’ve shared. Invite them into a conversation with you. If you can’t come up with a question, then perhaps what you’ve written is for you and not the reader. Writing a blog is about connecting with your readers. Learning from them what resonates and what falls flat. Probe your reader to consider how your words have some ‘take-away’ value in their own lives. Elaine Mansfield, whose robust audience platform has been built on these best practices, offers examples of how to leave your reader with a self-reflective question on her blog.
10. Include a Call-To-Action.
Make sure you offer your readers a call-to-action. Ask them to do something as a result of reading. If they liked what they read, then put a link to subscribe to your blog or newsletter. If you are promoting your book provide a buy button. Your writing will pull them to your site and into the funnel towards sales.
These 10 tips can make your blogging efforts more effective. Make it a checklist for future posts.
Taking a sabbatical from blogging during the website redesign allowed me to weigh the evidence for and against blogging. Most authors resist the discipline and dedication required by blogging. I’ve repeatedly heard writers complain the time spent on their blogs is time not spent on their manuscripts. I sympathize. Writers bemoan the technical challenges. And like dishes and laundry, it seems there’s always more to do. Or maybe it’s the dusting and vacuuming you don’t like about housework. Whatever the task, just because you don’t want to do it won’t change the fact that it needs to be done.
The publishing industry’s obsession with audience platform is not going away any time soon. If anything, acquisition editors may be more interested in an author’s ability to convert readers into book buyers than in the manuscript. Building an audience platform is more than Facebook, LinkedIn, Tumblr, Twitter or Pinterest.
Best practices reveal blogging is the most powerful tool to build a following of readers and the foundation for an author’s online presence.
A website and blog for an author today is the contemporary equivalent of a resume or curriculum vitae. If you don’t think you’ll get the job, you don’t write the resume. You show up and fill out a job application form and aren’t surprised when you don’t get a job. If an author doesn’t believe in their own publishing success, she won’t invest in her own real estate on the internet.
Owning your own domain name is important to establishing a solid foundation to your online presence. You don’t own your real estate on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or other social media platforms. You’re a renter, subject to the changing terms and conditions of digital landlords.
If you’ve been blogging for a while, this list of tips may freshen your posts. Could you please share tips I’ve overlooked?
If you’re beginning to blog, stay tuned in October for more tips on what to write about.
If you haven’t yet started building your audience platform, let us know if we can help.
Six or seven years ago my advice to aspiring authors of nonfiction books was to build an audience platform by blogging. An example of how critical blogging could be to securing a publishing contract can be found in the case of Ann Marie Ackermann, author of Death of an Assassin: The True Story of the German Murderer Who Died Defending Robert E. Lee. After an initial assessment of her manuscript, I had recommended she start a historical true-crime blog, and she did. In fact, the editor of the ideal book series at Kent State University Press became a fan ofRead more…