I've been blogging for seven years now, and this site is the engine behind my six-figure business.
Book sales account for around 50% of my income, but the other 50% comes from the products and services offered on and around TheCreativePenn.com. [Income breakdown here.]
These days, ‘blogging' is just one part of content marketing, which is essentially using free, useful, entertaining or inspirational content to attract people to your site with the intention that they may eventually buy a book or a product.
But many people jump into blogging too fast without learning what’s important and how to do it effectively.
They waste time and energy and end up complaining about lack of traffic, sales or comments. This is particularly pertinent for authors, because we only have time for a certain number of words per day!
Blogging is a completely different skill to writing a book.
It's a form of copywriting, with the intention that the reader will take action rather than be a passive consumer, as they are for a book.
I learned how to blog, podcast and grow an internet business from Yaro Starak, and he has just released the latest edition of his FREE Blog Profits Blueprint. Check it out here. You can also listen to a podcast interview I did with Yaro on successful blogging here.
Here are some of the main things that I see authors getting wrong on their blogs and how to fix them.
(Mistake 1) Using terrible headlines, which means people won't click or open or read any further
I share a lot of articles on Twitter which means that I skim a lot of content every day. Sometimes I find great articles but I have to edit the headline to make it more clickable.
Your headline should not be obscure or overly clever. It should be clear about the benefit to the customer.
Think about what a potential reader of your blog will type into Google or what might catch their eye on social media.
What are some of the words your customer will use? This is exactly the kind of keyword research that you should be doing about your book, so just take it a little further into the realm of a headline.
(Mistake 2) Not using enough images
Think about scrolling through your Facebook feed. What catches your eye?
It's not blocks of text any more, it's more likely to be images.
Most of the social sharing sites favor eye-catching images and many of the sharing tools like Bufferapp now automatically pick images from a post.
When you scan through a blog post as a reader, you use the images and sub-headings to decide whether to read certain sections.
So, it's important to use images when you blog, and there are lots of sites you can find them on.
For free images, you can search for Creative Commons options e.g. on flickr.com. All my own images on Flickr are Creative Commons. Check the type of CC license on the photo and make sure you attribute the creator in your post.
You can also buy images from royalty-free sites like bigstockphoto.com and sometimes these are easier because it's quicker to find great quality images.
Of course, you can use your own images, and perhaps that is the best option, because they are more personal and always original.
Then, you can use a tool like canva.com to edit the images and add text, as per the example at the top of this post.
If you have a WordPress blog, you can use a plug-in like Social Warfare to make sure images are shared on social media when people click your post. More on this in the interview on social media marketing with Frances Caballo.
We all know the importance of an amazing book cover in attracting a reader, so it's clear that each blog post will need a similar type of attractive image. So, do your blog posts and pages have attractive images on?
(Mistake 3) Not being mobile-friendly
Increasingly, people access the internet on their mobile devices, so your site needs to be optimized for whatever device people are using to find it.
More recent blog themes are responsive, changing size depending on the device used to access them.
But many authors are still running old themes, or even using website design that makes it very hard to upgrade and make the site mobile-friendly.
Pick up your phone (or borrow someone else's) and go to your site right now.
Is it optimized for mobile? Can someone sign up for your free ebook on their device?
If the fear of technology change is stopping you from updating your site, it's time to bite the bullet. Because Google now penalizes websites that are not mobile-optimized so this is increasingly important.
Personally, I use Studiopress for my WordPress design, but there are lots of options out there. Just make sure you choose a responsive theme. [Here's my tutorial on building your own author website.]
(Mistake 4) Not using enough white space
When was the last time you read every single word of a blog post?
In fact, I'm pretty sure that you're skimming this article! Most web browsers do, and that's fine.
We all have limited time, and the best way to consume articles like this is to skim over the highlights.
But the reader can only do this if the article is designed properly, with enough white space and segmentation of content.
This is why list posts perform so well. It's clear which aspects to pay attention to.
So make sure you use formatting to split out elements of your article.
This includes subheadings, putting aspects in bold and leaving a lot of white space, as well as using more images throughout the post to catch people's eye as they scroll down.
(Mistake 5) Thinking that it's all about you
One of the biggest issues with author blogs is that they are entirely self focused.
Yes, of course, you have to share personal information in order to connect with readers. That will build your unique voice and a personality that people will remain interested in over time.
But you also have to consider why they are there in the first place.
If you have a blog like this, which drives a non-fiction business, it's better to always focus on what the customer wants and needs.
For example, instead of writing a blog post about “the struggles I have with my latest novel,” I could turn that around and write one on “How to overcome struggles with your latest novel.”
Changing ‘I' to ‘you' shifts the focus onto the reader/customer.
An article like that would include tips for the reader and would be focused on them, even though it would include your own personal insight as well.
Many articles written by authors who haven’t studied blogging are rambling and overly personal without actionable advice or information for the reader.
It's not surprising when they don't get much traffic or traction.
(Mistake 6) Creating only ephemeral content
When I first started blogging, I was under-confident about what to share. After all, who was I to talk about publishing and writing?
So I used to do link roundups of things I found useful. Here's one example from Dec 2008. This is the type of post I still see people sharing, but there are some huge problems with this type of post.
- It's obsolete really fast – so unless you are a news focused site posting new stuff several times a day e.g. The Passive Voice or InkBitsPixels, it's not a good use for your blog
- It takes people away from your site because once they click, they're over at someone else's place and may never return
- It doesn't represent your own opinions or ‘voice' on the topic. There is nothing memorable about you when you share links without some kind of analysis
- Pretty soon, many of those will be ‘bad links' as so many sites disappear over time.
I still share what I find useful every day, but I do it on Twitter and Facebook, not on my blog.
Your blog should be full of your content, original pieces in your voice.
It should ideally be content that will last.
This can be described as ‘pillar content,' which is covered in Yaro Starak's Blog Profits Blueprint. A good example of pillar content for this site would be a post about essential grammar (these are always popular!) or how to write a non-fiction book. This type of article doesn't age.
Posts about publishing and book marketing, as I know myself, need updating over time because things change.
(7) Not deciding on WHY you are blogging
Are you writing articles and guest posts because someone said that was the thing you had to do?
What are you actually achieving with your actions?
As authors we have a certain number of words per day and we all have a limited amount of time. We have to choose very carefully how to use those words. Would they be better used to write a book?
Of course, I love blogging and I've written over 1500 articles over the last seven years, most of those on this site, but many across the blogosphere.
But I have a reason for it all.
I have a business based on my writing and I make a full-time living this way. That was always my intention and everything I write drives towards that goal.
With each piece of content you create, consider why you are doing it and how it helps you to reach your goal.
Will this article attract people to your email newsletter? Will it send people directly to your books? Will it build your authority in your niche?
Of course, writing for the sake of writing is brilliant and I'm certainly a fan of blogging for helping others, connection and self-expression. I attribute blogging with helping me relax my writing enough to write fiction after years in a corporate job.
But if your definition of success relates to income and book sales, then you have to consider how blogging (and everything else) fits into that plan.
Hopefully that gives you some ideas about what you can improve with your author blog.
And if you want to learn how to blog in order to build a business online, then check out Yaro Starak's Blog Profits Blueprint. I learned from Yaro and his influence is all over this site – from the podcast and my pillar content, to the idea behind my Author 2.0 Blueprint – so I can personally recommend him. He has updated everything for the latest tools, even though the underlying principles remain the same. Click here to check out the free Blog Profits Blueprint.
If you have any questions or lessons learned from your author blogging experience, please do leave a comment below and join the conversation.
Aderyn Wood says
This is a timely post for me as I’m in the process of updating my blog. I think I’ve been rather guilty of committing mistakes 5 and 6 in particular, so thanks for making me more aware of that, Joanna! I was also wondering about the importance of knowing ‘who’ you are blogging for. I know you have two websites, essentially one for other writers and one for your fans. Perhaps some of us are making the mistake of trying to cater to everyone, or not really knowing who we’re blogging for.
Joanna Penn says
Great point Aderyn! It will depend on whether you are trying to run some kind of business with your site – in which case, yes, it is important to know who you are aiming at. My audiences are very different so I need 2 brands, 2 sites, 2 names in order to separate them. But it is a lot of work 🙂
David Throop says
Aderyn and Joanna
Defining the reader for your blog is one of the main things I always find when I read about blogging. I’ve read writers talk about using an avatar, but I like to think about it in more concrete terms.
The American satirist Kurt Vonnegut always said he wrote for his wife, or daughter, depending on the story. Stephen King has discussed the same previously.
I think that by focusing on ONE person that you may know, helps make the writing have a flow and a personality that may lack in more traditional writing.
How does #7 work for fiction writers? I see a lot of fiction writers blogging about what’s going on with their next book and most posts have ZERO interaction.
What do readers want to see fiction writers blogging about?
Joanna Penn says
This post is more aimed at people who want to actually use their site as a business – whereas fiction authors make their sales on the book sites themselves, the website/blog rarely is the thing driving their business. I rarely blog for fiction because it doesn’t sell books, although I am more personal with my email list. On my JFPenn.com site, I share a weekly update http://jfpenn.com/now/ and articles about my research and creative process http://jfpenn.com/my-creative-writing-process/ , interviews with other thriller authors http://jfpenn.com/john-connolly/ and articles about other people’s books http://jfpenn.com/books-i-love/ But I’d say that blogging is far more effective for non-fiction marketing and sales as it is easier to build a niche and attract people with content.
I can’t think of any big name fiction author who has built a significant business out of blogging – probably the closest is John Green, who has an incredible YouTube channel (vlogging) but most fiction authors just use their sites as a more static update
Here is a challenge for you, if you have time for it. What should fiction authors do with their blog to help them sell more of their books?
I must admit, my expectations based on the title for this blog post were to find answers to this very question here.
I have read other advice about content for fiction author blogs before, but it strikes me that content suggested is only going to be of interest to people who are already fans of your fiction books.
Derek Haines says
I agree with every word, Joanna. But especially with two of your points. White space and evergreen content. It took me a while to learn how important these two elements are to successful blogging.
Vaidya Shankar says
So crisp and neat, no wonder you are a professional. Thank you for the tips.
Ross Mountney says
Hi Joanna, thanks so much for this piece, it’s so useful and a good reminder of some of the things I need to keep in mind for my site. I’m an author writing about home education and parenting and my only ‘business’ really is selling my books, but I try and do what you suggest and offer free advice and some personal insights for my audience in the hope they like my voice and buy my books. I often pop in here or look at your email newsletters but so rarely do I give you a thank you! This is one now!
I’d also like to ask another question about blogs and links: I’ve been asked by someone who has a business related to learning and education, as my site is, if he may do a guest post, explaining what they do and offering free advice to my audience (obviously posting a link too to their business). However, I was warned about people doing this because Google might ‘downgrade’ my site if links pass business from my site to theirs. I see you have many links on yours and you make many recommendations. I’m very unclear and would welcome your interpretation if you have time, so I know whether to accept offers for guest posts in the future. Many thanks and all the best. x
Joanna Penn says
Guest posts are just part of the internet eco-system and the only ‘downgrade’ relates to the article-factory-farm type sites, the ones that were aimed at backlinking for cash. Like buying reviews 🙂 But having good quality posts on your site that offer useful info to your audience is completely fine. Here’s an example of a guest post on this site: http://www.thecreativepenn.com/2015/10/22/self-editing/
The main thing is that it should be helpful to the audience and not be a marketing piece. The author byline should be the link to the other person’s site. I hope that helps 🙂
Ross Mountney says
Thanks Joanna, yes that’s explained it and cleared it for me. Very grateful for your fab service. All the very best. x
This was really useful! Thank you so much!
Joseph Devon says
This is a great piece, especially the part about how readers often skim. When reading book or short story, you really have the reader’s attention in a way that you don’t often find here on the internet.
Mikey Campling says
Spot on. I think I’ve made all these mistakes. The great thing about this piece is that it’s actionable, so I come away feeling, “Oh, I see how to fix that.” Thank you Joanna.
Joanna Penn says
Glad it’s useful 🙂
Lilly Brock says
Hi Joanna, First of all, thank you for caring so much about all of us with your generous information and advice.
I have been totally confused whether to blog or not. My website just went live, and I added a blog. I started out with a small nonfiction book simply to learn the self publishing process. My desire is to write historical fiction. I have a novel in the works. After reading about your recommendation for fiction writers not to blog, I’m thinking about removing the blog. I have been asking myself the question, “Why am I blogging?” Your thoughts, if I should just remove it. The site is so new, not many people would notice it.
Joanna Penn says
If you don’t have tons to say and you want to use your words for your fiction, then just remove it – or amend the title to say ‘Thoughts’ or ‘Updates,’ rather than Blog. People expect a blog to be regularly maintained, whereas if you adjust the title to something that can be irregular, you can occasionally write something if you feel like it. Later, you could amend it research if you want to write pieces that go behind your fiction – but for now, don’t stress 🙂 you can always add it back later.
Icy Sedgwick says
I quite enjoy blogging but it’s difficult to know what to talk about that will appeal to readers if you’re trying to support fiction. New readers aren’t interested in interviews with characters or ‘deleted scenes’ and while existing readers might be interested in research or photos, it’s difficult to find them. So I started blogging about films related to my genre since I study films for my PhD so it’s killing two birds with one stone!
Hi Joanna, I really enjoy your emails and videos. I have a question about you Mistake #6 here, are you saying that we should not have links to Twitter and FB on our blog? I clicked the link for your link roundup so I understand that part, but then you have a Twitter box with a link roundup too. Thanks!
Joanna Penn says
No, not at all. Sorry for the confusion. You should have links to your social media on your site, but in a static place e.g. on sidebar or top/bottom of page. I used that twitter screenprint as an example of where I DO share useful links. Hope that makes it clear.
Alex J. Cavanaugh says
Hey, I’m doing it right! Which is good to know after over six years of blogging.
I stopped following a few authors because every post was about them, their book, their sales, etc. Even big name authors don’t do that.
P J Whittlesea says
Hi Joanna, thanks for the tips.
I’m also trying to establish a professional writers platform and couldn’t see the forest for the trees ( sorry about the cliche). This made the blogging side a lot clearer. I think I really need to focus on the ‘why’.
I’m listening to Yaro’s Blueprint, it’s very good on bringing it all together. I would also like to thank you for all the great information you a sharing on self publishing in general.
Jason Bougger says
Thanks for the great post. My blog has been around for just over a year and it is a constant struggle to gain (and keep) followers. I’m already doing a lot of what you mention here, but I definitely know which areas I need to improve in and your post just reinforces that.
I think one of the most important things is to keep your blog focused and consistent. Everything grows over time as long as you don’t quit 🙂
Joanna Penn says
Agreed – but you also need to get OFF your blog and drive people to it, either through social media sharing, guest posts and other forms of marketing your content. It’s the same as books. If you write them, the sales do not just magically come 🙂 You have to drive that traffic.
Jason Bougger says
Totally agree about books. Sales definitely don’t magically appear. Sadly, neither do Amazon reviews 🙂
Mary H says
Joanna, thanks for this very valuable information. I plan to start my author blog soon – after thinking about it for a year and researching other blogs, what I like and don’t like, what seems to stand out and so on – and you have articulated all that I have been discovering and more! Thanks again for your generous and helpful post. Now I am going to look for you (and follow) on Twitter!
Hi Joanna. I liked your post and found the bit about white space to be particularly interesting. I had never thought about the fact that most internet readers skim an article as opposed to actually reading and taking in the entire thing. I felt like your tip about white space was really helpful.
Dave Lynch says
I am only starting into fiction, having come from “the other side” and so I don’t really want another WordPress site to run when I already have too many for other entrepreneurial endeavors. I don’t know how fiction will work out for me, so I chose to blog where the readers are: Goodreads.
I plan to syndicate the posts through my Facebook fan page, Twitter account and Google Plus page.
If I do well I may reconsider in the future, but the way I look at it, Goodreads is a good place to be blogging when there’s over 40 million readers there 🙂
Joanna Penn says
It’s good to be on an outpost site for sure, but remember that you don’t own that site and they can always change the rules. If you’re going to blog on Goodreads, or Medium, or Facebook or LinkedIn, or anywhere else, then I’d also repost on my own site so it stands the test of time. Many of these sites change the rules, or disappear over time.
Rajaratnam Abel says
Thanks for your post. I more blogging.I have enjoyed everyone of your posts. They are practical and simple. Although money has been my constraint, I ma beginning to cough up little sums of money to add quality to my work.
I look forward to applying the contents of this post as I doing more blogging.
Thank you Joanna. I feel like a huge weight has been lifted off my shoulders. As a fiction writer, I could never figure out what the focus of my blog should be. I see authors either write about the ins and outs of publishing a book or sharing info about other books and authors. I couldn’t see the marketing value of either. I am going to remove the “blog” from my website and focus on connecting with readers through my Facebook page.
I have just created my own author blog called No Limit Power, and was wondering if you could check it out for me, and give me a few tips on what you think. I was always fascinated by the internet and it got me interested in blogging and I even studied a course in eMarketing. I really want to get into this business and one day make a living as an author.
Really loving this blog. 🙂 Keep it up
Joanna Penn says
Sorry, but because I get so many requests to check out people’s sites and books every day, I can’t do that – or I would never create my own work 🙂 Best to go through it yourself! Have fun!