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 of her blog and invited her to submit a book proposal. Her book won a 2018 IPPY in the True Crime category, closed a 180-year-old cold case, and has also been translated into German where it received critical acclaim and was recognized for its scholarly contribution to the history of forensics.
Today, blogging may or may not be something an author decides to invest time and energy in. If your authority as an author is based on your subject-area expertise, it remains an important goal to have a visible presence on the internet establishing your credibility. Whether blogging is the best means to achieve that goal depends on you and your project. It may be more important to be listed as an expert source available to journalists and appear as a credible source in news publications covering your subject area. HARO (Help A Reporter Out) may be a better fit to achieve those goals.
If you are blogging, you don’t want to be giving away the content of your manuscript online. What you want to publish in a printed version as a book is different and separate from what you publish on your blog. Most literary journals, magazines, and newspapers do not accept submissions previously published on a blog. Posts no longer than 1,500 words are optimal but key to the success of blogging is delivering valuable information to readers. How frequently you blog, what you blog about, and how you engage with your readers after you post the blog is key to a successful blogging strategy.
If you don’t have anything to blog about, then don’t. You still want to think about how you will pull readers to your writing and creating an audience for your work, but blogging may not be the best way to build an audience. Consider a newsletter instead. Either monthly or seasonally; a way to privately communicate to those who have been supportive of your literary efforts. A newsletter still gathers email addresses for a mailing list you want to build up before your book is published. Or consider Patreon, Medium, Substack, or other (paid) subscription based platforms for short essays or informative articles.
In the past decade I have observed too often how writers can spend more time writing blogs and not enough time working on their manuscripts. A blog is short and a discrete block of prose that stands alone as a snapshot in time. A book is entirely different and requires much more reading and reflection to create something larger than the sum of blog posts.
Recently Jean Raffa, author of The Soul’s Twins, wrote a blog that resonated with me and inspired me to write this. Jeanie has published a blog every Tuesday for the last 12 years, and now she suddenly wants to explore some of the rabbit holes she’s neglected in her own life story and blog less. She describes a new phase in her life as she approaches her eighth decade of life as wanting to learn the lessons life offers. Like so many of us, Jeanie describes how exhausting recent challenges have been and the need to reevaluate priorities. One of which is withdrawing from social media, at least for a while. “I want to be free of deadlines. I want release from the all-consuming burden to produce. I want to respect my desire to read and relax. I want to feel better about myself: more complete and whole.”
I hear you, Jeanie, and I think many of us share your desires. So much grief and sickness and pain in the world, so little time with loved ones or to savor that which is good, beautiful, and true. There has been no reprieve from the tragedies and losses in recent years. Connecting in real life has become much more precious.
It is about connecting in real life with people that matters most, especially if you are an author worrying about building an audience platform. Risk being vulnerable and put the social into your strategy first. Build your literary community of those who support your writing efforts. Support your library, shop at your local indie bookstore, attend author events and review their books. Go to community storytelling events, attend local theater, listen to a concert, visit an art museum. The people you meet face to face form the social networks that give you a solid foundation to find your readers.
If you’d like a consultation regarding your strategy to engage readers without burning out on social media, let’s talk. Book a one-hour session soon.