How to Grow Your Reader Community with an Author Blog

This is a guest post from Judy Dunn from Cat’s Eye Writer, also one of the Top 10 Blogs for Writers.

Maybe you are working on your first book. Or could be you’ve already published.

Either way, you’ve probably heard a writer friend say, “You should start a blog.”

“Why should I blog?” you say. “I have enough writing to do. Won’t that just mean more deadlines?”

Well, yes, it will.

And you are right. You don’t have to blog.

Unless you want to hang around with other writers, find readers who will eagerly purchase and consume your books and maybe even capture the attention of busy editors and publishers.

With a blog, you get to shine a light on your work. If you write fiction, you can talk about your characters or about the place and time your novel is set in. Or publish excerpts or trial chapters to whet your readers’ appetites.

If your book is nonfiction, you can pique your readers’ interest by blogging how-to tips, talking about what inspired you to write your book and asking interesting questions to get your readers focused on your book’s topics.

For both fiction and nonfiction writers, a blog is also a perfect laboratory. You can try out new ideas and find out which ones your readers are most attracted to.

And then write about them.

Why building your community matters

Whether you are shopping your book idea with the traditional houses or going the self-publishing route, you know that the readers do not magically appear the day your book hits the Barnes and Noble stores or Amazon.com.

A blog helps you build a platform—an audience of readers. When you develop relationships, provide good solid content and engage your prospective readers, you are creating interest in your books.

How many readers do you need? Not a lot—if they are fans of you and your work.

In fact, it’s much better to have 100 engaged readers than 1,000 disinterested ones. Because this core group will create a buzz about your upcoming book and spread the word about this fun new author and her blog.

3 Steps to Growing Your Blog’s Reader Community

To build a lively reader community, you need to get your visitors to do three things: show up, add to the conversation and share your content. Here are just a few strategies successful bloggers use:

Getting them there

To build a community of readers—for your blog and for your books—first you need to figure out how to get them there.

Serve up engaging—and specialized—content. This seem like a no-brainer, but offer your very best content, and put it above the fold (headline and first paragraph matter the most).

Pay attention to your headlines. People are searching for solutions to their problems. They are also attracted to posts with numbers in the title,  headlines that promise how to do something and titles that hint at a surprise.

Put your blog’s URL—in clickable form— in your email signature line. But don’t have a 10-line signature line. Your blog will get lost. Put your blog’s URL in your signature line if it’s the one place you want people to go when you email them.

• Comment on other blogs. This is one of the best ways to drive new readers to your blog because you will get a link back to your blog. Target the blogs you think your blog visitors might be reading and leave a thought-provoking comment.

Alltop.com is a good source for finding the top blogs by industry and topic.

Getting them involved

Okay, now that you have the eyeballs, you need to do something to keep them there. Your goal is to engage your readers.

Make it super-easy to leave a comment. If you don’t, people won’t. It’s as simple as that. Here are some reasons bloggers don’t get comments.

Ask questions to continue the dialogue. A thoughtful question at the end has been shown to get you at least twice as many comments. So don’t forget to engage.

Accept all points of view. You don’t want to encourage comments from only the people who agree with you. New and different ideas make everyone think—readers and bloggers alike—and that’s a great way to come up with even more interesting ideas to write about.

Email a thank you to new commenters. One of the best ways to get more interaction in the comments section is to show your readers that you value their ideas.

Getting them to share your content

This is where you build your critical mass. Because when your blog visitors share your posts with their networks, that is when hundreds—sometimes thousands—more pairs of eyeballs will see your best ideas. And your audience of potential book readers and buyers explodes.

It has never been easier for readers to share the content they consume online. Give your readers as many incentives to share as possible:

• Wake them up with your headline. Sometimes people share a blog post based on the headline alone. So if that title comes through a subscriber’s RSS feed and pops into their Google reader, it needs to be interesting enough to pass on. Try a little controversy or a surprise statement.

• Offer a variety of social media ‘share’ buttons. Make it easy for readers to share your content by including Digg, de.li,cio.us, Stumbleupon, Tweet This, Facebook and other share buttons at the bottom of each blog post.

• Promote your posts in your own social media networks. Engage your followers on Twitter. But don’t just tweet, “here is my new post.”

Instead, try a Twitter ‘teaser’ to make your followers curious enough to click through to your post. Same thing on Facebook. Don’t just link to your post; use the status update box for an attention-grabbing message.

What about you?

Are you a blogging author? How’s it working for you?

Are you an aspiring author using a blog to build your community before your book launches?

Not blogging yet? What’s stopping you?

Judy Dunn is the author of Guide to Showing Up Online. She helps authors and business bloggers use their blog to attract readers, customers and clients. She also offers content marketing tips, resources and advice at her own blog, CatsEyeWriter.com, and at bestbloggtipsonline.com. Get more blogging tips by connecting with Judy on Twitter and Facebook.

Find out about her March 15 webinar: 30 Design & Content Tips to Skyrocket Your Blog.

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Comments

  1. says

    I have recently started blogging and was looking for ways to add spice to it. Thanks for the tips.

    I am also a science writer at http://mobiusasi.wordpress.com/
    What is the best way to attract more readers for a scientific blog while there are many news reports talking about exciting science?

    Thank you!

    • says

      Viji,

      On your question, that depends on your audience. Are you writing for the scientific community or for consumers/ lay people people with an interest in and passion for science who want to learn more?

      Without looking at your blog, it’s hard to say, but “science” is probably way too wide a topic. You will attract more readers with a niche, a focus, as in a sub-topic of science. If you are writing to make science more accessible to and exciting for “average” people, I say, hooray for you!

      • says

        You guessed me right! I am writing for general public (of all ages) from non-scientific background and to reduce the gap between scientific community and the general public. The idea is to remove the fear off their minds and make them stay tuned to the subject!

        Take a look at my blogposts here if you will be interested http://mobiusasi.wordpress.com/

        Thanks!

    • says

      Hi Viji,
      I think you need to go super-niche as well – for example, I read small niche science blogs on neuroscience, but check Guardian Science for big news. So definitely try to narrow down your field of interest. You can still add in little tidbits about big news.

  2. Tanith says

    I’ve visited a lot of writer’s blog that either don’t include a RT button or doesn’t include their username. It’s such an easy way to spread your content and gain new followers/readers. When somebody RT their post, they don’t really know about it and people who read the RT can’t easily get to the writer’s Twitter account to follow.

    3 tools make it easy to add sharing to your blog. Tweetmeme (http://tweetmeme.com/about/plugins) is an easy way to add your Twitter username and a tweet button. Digg Digg (http://www.mkyong.com/blog/digg-digg-wordpress-plugin/) will give that handy floating toolbar and includes Tweetmeme. Sexy Bookmarks (http://sexybookmarks.shareaholic.com/) will add any number of ways to share the post. Between these three tools, you’ll have your bases covered.

    • says

      Hi Tanith, I totally agree on this. I’m always looking for articles to share on twitter and will generally never share one that doesn’t have an associated twitter account. One of my main reasons for sharing is to network and that doesn’t work if you don’t attribute to someone! It does annoy me when I need to hunt for the twitter handle as well. So you’re right – thanks! (I use Tweetmeme)

    • says

      Thanks for reading and leaving a comment, Doug.

      To answer your question, I’ve used all of these strategies. And they work not just for authors and aspiring authors, but for promoting any kind of work. I use them to promote my ebook and webinars, and information products I am developing right now.

      • says

        These tips work for me too Doug. I do most of them, although I’m not a massive commenter elsewhere – I use twitter for most of my conversations and also on Facebook. I think commenting has gotten less on some blogs as the conversation has moved over.
        I also don’t email new commenters – I spend a lot of time answering emails in general. Sometimes it’s about targeting your time as best you can!

  3. says

    Judy, when my friend Aaron first started telling me I needed a writing blog last year, I thought, “Why? First off, no one will want to read it. Second, that sounds like an awful lot of extra work.” Deadlines!? Gah!

    Long story short, I caved — and six weeks into my new blogging adventure, I’m loving it! Yeah, it is hard work. Yeah, it’s requiring me to change my “real-life” schedule a bit to suit the blog’s posting schedule. I won’t deny that I have moments of wondering what I’ve gotten myself into.

    But it’s all worth it. Because I’m connecting with people. To my great surprise, people actually want to read what I have to say, and they want to talk with me about it. And guess what? Hard work, yes — but through Twitter, Facebook, and my comments on others blogs, connecting with people is far easier than I ever thought it would be.

    Not that readers are flocking to my blog — I’m trying to focus one the one-reader-at-a-time principle! — but I’m getting more readers and different readers than I expected. It’s incredibly energizing!

    • says

      Hi Courtney – hang in there! Blogs take maybe 3 months to get some traffic, 6 months to get a decent audience. But the great thing is that it’s so rewarding – and as you say, it’s easier to connect. Blogging is, for me, one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done (and I’m sure for Judy too!) It is brilliant to find out things, share information and connect with people. You also have a real asset to show for your time, so keep on going! I can personally say, I’ve never regretted the time invested and it pays me back every day!

      • says

        Joanna, thanks so much for the encouragement! And yes, I do need to keep the blog in mind as a real asset. It’s kind of like putting money into the bank, isn’t it? Earning interest over time, and not driving myself crazy with knowing that it’s just a little bit at a time. I know the exponential growth will come — I just need to be patient! That’s the part that’s not so easy. ; )

  4. Elisa Michelle says

    Judy, I love your normal blog. You’ve mentioned this over there before, though a little differently. Still, I have to tell you that your advice has been very important to how I format and share my blog posts. Great advice, my traffic is going up, albeit slowly, but still. It’s going up!

    I really encourage anyone to follow this advice wholeheartedly.

    Thanks for posting,
    Elisa Michelle

  5. says

    Wonderful post Judy! As I was reading it, I was “checking off” what I am currently doing with my own blog to make sure I’m not missing anything. Your article has given me confidence that I am on the right track.

    I am an aspiring author who is building her platform before publishing a book. I like the thought of other writers and future readers being there with me right from the beginning. I’d like the blog to be “proof” for other aspiring writers who may come across my blog in the future that if you want something badly enough, that it can happen with a LOT of hard work.

  6. says

    Great post, Judy! Some of these things I’m already doing, but it’s always good to pick up a few extra tips on how to improve my blog.

    I decided to make my site more professional this year, as I had begun submitting my novel to agents. As well as switching to new software with better social media support (WordPress) and the inevitable visual makeover, I split out the “personal writing journal” part of my blog, and now the home page of my site only has reader-focused articles, which I publish every Wednesday (so far without fail). The combination of better software and a regular publishing schedule, plus a monthly book giveaway, has noticeably improved traffic :)

    • says

      Anne,

      WordPress is great! (A little biased since my other business is Savvy WordPress, but it’s just so much better. Because I started my blog before we launched our new biz, I was on Typepad. What a difference when I moved over to WP.)

      Glad to see your new site is working well for you.

  7. says

    Excellent content here, Judy. (Found you via Kristen Lamb–thanks, Kristen!) Some ideas are SO simple: ask readers to share your content, especially those who prefer not to comment. Consistency is tough but necessary dicipline–working on getting there myself. Thank You!

    • says

      Joanna,

      Thank you. (And thanks to Kristen!) You nailed it when you said consistency is key. It’s surprising how much easier it gets when you just make it part of your routine.

  8. says

    I already subscribe to Judy’s blog, and she’s amazing! Thank you for this deeply insightful guest post from her.

    I’m a regionally and nationally published journalist who’s getting back in touch with her creative roots. My day job consists of being a corporate health writer. I’m currently writing a novel, and my experience in media relations has taught me about the importance of building an author’s platform. I currently have 201 subscribers–pretty engaged–for my blog, “Shari Lopatin: Rogue Writer.” My plan is just what Judy is suggesting. I plan to build that base readership so when I make a formal book proposal, I’ll already have a marketing plan in place to pitch as part of the package.

    Brilliant tips, and brilliant strategies! Thank you for sharing.
    Shari

  9. says

    Shari,

    Wow, you really get it. (Have anything to do with that media relations background?) : )

    You are so smart to be attacking it this way. I think that sometimes first-time authors are so focused on their book that they forget that they need to build that audience BEFORE it comes out. That you have 200 subscribers tells me that you’re doing things right.

    Thanks for weighing in here.

  10. T. L. De Allanne says

    Great article! I have toyed with the idea of starting a blog. So last week, I decided to create a musical video on YouTube to talk about my manuscript entitled Aendaria [c.2011]. To find my video just type “Aendaria” on the subject line.

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