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5 Qualities Successful Blogs Have in Common

Tuesday, March 11, 2014


By Jody Hedlund, @JodyHedlund

When I first started blogging, it seemed that everyone was saying writers should blog to develop a platform. Of course, I jumped on the bandwagon, fascinated and even excited about the prospect of meeting other writers through blogging.

With newbie enthusiasm, I was pumping out five posts a week, visiting lots of blogs to meet new people, and commenting like crazy.

That momentum couldn't last forever (not without sacrificing my writing). Eventually I dropped down to posting three times a week and did that for a year or two. Then I decreased to twice a week for while. And now I only blog once a week on Tuesdays.

After five years, I've learned a LOT about blogging. The number one conclusion I've drawn is that having a blog is NOT essential to a fiction-writer's platform. Why? Because readers aren't surfing author blogs consistently if at all. Thus blogs won't help writers sell significantly more books. Instead of wasting countless hours writing blog posts, writers are better off putting their energy into writing books.

Sidenote: Lest you think I don't draw true "readers" because my blog is geared toward writers, I did experiment for a while with one post a week specifically written to interact with readers. The page views on those particular days dropped drastically, while hits on my writing related posts have only grown.

All that to say, I don't think blogging is necessary for fiction writers (non-fiction is different!). Fiction writers will get more bang for their buck by putting time and money into their books, not blogs.

However, that's not to say blogging has no value to a novelist. It does . . . to a degree. Some people simply enjoy the process of communicating in a blogging format, sharing their thoughts, public journaling, and meeting new people. Others use their blogs to update readers occasionally with events or new books. Those can be valid reasons to blog.

I simply caution writers who start blogging because they want to use it as a platform to draw in readers of their books. Be wary of having too high of expectations. Be careful of expending too much energy on it. Definitely don't sacrifice writing time to blog. And be realistic about the result of blogging helping with sales of book (because it will only help VERY minimally).

For those hearty, daring souls who persist in blogging, there are ways we can give our blogs a chance at having relative success, (and not just having our posts read by a dozen people, half of whom are spammers). After all, no one wants to put time into writing posts no one will read.

As I've analyzed blogs over the years, here are five qualities that "successful" blogs seem to have in common:

1. The blog has a target audience. They know who they're trying to reach and why. Whether that's writers, young parents, work-at-home moms, feminists, etc. the blog is relatable and enjoyable for a specific group.

2. The posts give the audience a reason to keep coming back. The blogger offers something tangible that speaks to a need in the reader. Visitors take away something every time. It could be advice, encouragement, knowledge, community, etc. Whatever it is, readers are willing to sacrifice busy time to swing by the blog because visiting is a worthwhile use of their limited time.

3. The posts are user-friendly, fairly short, and easy-to-read. Enough said.

4. The blogger uses multiple social media outlets for promotion of posts. It's not enough to have the philosophy "If we build it, they will come." No, unfortunately, when we publish a blog post, no one will come . . . unless we promote in multiple places, like Twitter and Facebook (although if we over-promote then people begin to tune us out). Making pinnable graphics for Pinterest can also create a continuous source of traffic (since pins are constantly being repinned).

5. The posts are consistent and reliable. Readers are more apt to return if they know WHEN we're posting (rather than having a random schedule) and if they know they'll get consistently good content time after time.

What's your blogging story? Has your blog been helpful to you or not? What do you think goes into having a successful blog?

20 comments:

  1. Like you, I've cut back to mostly posting once or twice a week. While I don't think a blog is the only way to build a platform, I think it is a great way to develop more in-depth friendships. And hopefully these will help you when you do have a book deal.

    I've been lucky to draw in some readers because I focus so much on books and book giveaways. And we have a lot of writers use Casey's agent spotlights

    I'd add to your list finding a community of bloggers to follow. Because if you don't follow other bloggers, it's less likely they will stop at your blog.

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    1. Hi Natalie,

      Yes, having book giveaways can draw LOTS of readers. Whenever I do giveaways, readers flock to my site. But I've noticed they don't keep coming back. They come for the giveaway and then that's pretty much it! :-)

      As far as finding a community of bloggers, I think that's key especially in the beginning of blogging. It's a good way to start to building relationships with reciprocal commenting and visiting on blogs. However, for many bloggers, it's difficult to enlarge that circle of friends. Not everyone wants to, and that's okay! They're content with the community they have formed. But for those who want to continue to grow their readership, it takes a bit more work.

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  2. I agree. I've dropped down to once a week now. I find more writers visit my site so I try and give them some useful links for various genres and writing. I have had an increase in traffic since doing this and can use my time for more writing rather than scrambling to figure out a topic to post for that week.

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    1. Hi Traci,

      It seems that once a week is very manageable, at least that's what I've found. I can easily post something and respond to comments, but it doesn't cut into the bulk of my writing work.

      That's great to hear that you've had an increase in traffic since you've become more focused. The growth of my blog has been very gradual and steady over the years. And even with cutting back to once a week, I've noticed I still continue to grow.

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  3. Have you read Kristin Lamb's Rise of the Machines? She has a different slant. She says blogging makes a writer a better writer--faster, leaner.

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    1. Hi Melissa,

      Sorry the blog is giving you a hassle! It seems to do that selectively from time to time.

      I haven't read Kristen's Rise of the Machines. But I really love Kristen. We've been friends through this whole blogging/social media journey. And I appreciate all her wisdom and advice.

      But I'm not sure that I would necessarily agree that blogging has made ME a better and faster writer. For me, blogging is an entirely different beast than my novels. I workout different muscles for each. And I honestly have to say that the way that I've grown the most in my ability to write faster and better novels is simply by writing one novel after the next.

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  4. PS I don't want to be anonymous, but I can't figure out how to comment in any other "mode." My name is Melissa Lewicki.

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  5. I used to post three times a week, but have now cut back to the once. I too have read Kristin Lamb's blog and know she has a different slant (as one of the commentators mention,) but in truth, you've hit the mark here perfectly, Jody. Our blogs draw less readers, and more writers to them. Of course, writers are readers, and they too buy books. But I've noticed the exact same things as you have. It's not our blog that sells books. It's our books that sell books. Gotta write.

    I will continue to blog once a week because I enjoy it, but I no longer put aside important writing time to prepare three blogs a week.

    By the way, love your blog. Keep up the posts. :)

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    1. Hi Joanne,

      Yes, I truly don't think that most average readers really care a whole lot about an author's blog! I think some of my non-writing readers stop by from time to time. But it's a very minute percentage. And most of my sales come through other venues. Blogging has a limited scope (as does all social media, really).

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts and for your very sweet words!

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  6. I enjoyed reading this. I appreciate you making a distinction between blogging about non -fiction vs fiction. My website is a means to attempt to interest readers in my Non-fiction memoir. I add a historical "tidbit" monthly and then tweet and add FB posts about the new "tidbit." I include a short excerpt from the book so readers can determine if the book would interest them. I also hope it will generate interest in the sequel I am working on.

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    1. Hi Barbara,

      Yes, I definitely think there's a difference for blogging for non-fiction versus fiction. Non-fiction can draw in readers who have specific needs, and the blogger can become the "expert" of sorts regarding those needs. Sounds like you're on track with your focus! Wishing you all the best!

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  7. I'm blogging story is the same. My followers were favored all kinds off genres, but kept visiting because I wrote for writers (not readers), and because I commented back. But then I lost my domain and had to start all over again. I stopped blogging about writing (except on the Querytracker blog) and focused on my genre. I loved blogging, but with my old blog, I was spending 12 + hours a week at it. Now that I have deadlines, that's 12 hours I can't spend on just blogging anymore.

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    1. Thanks for sharing your blogging story, Stina! How has focusing on your genre worked for drawing readers? Have you gleaned any interest from non-writing readers?

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  8. I may be in the minority, but I purchased two of your ebooks based solely on the exposure I received from your blog.

    I imagine it's hard for fiction writers to gain a platform via social media in general.

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  9. I'm still new to blogging (and writing for anyone other than myself), but I've found my blog to be a huge help to my writing in general. Making the transition from journaling alone in my room to writing for an audience has created some much-needed intentionality in my writing. Rather than writing down whatever comes to mind, I'm developing the ability to sit and craft my content into something that would actually benefit readers.

    The first few posts on my blog (ok, maybe more than a few) are very much written for myself. Now, I'm able to stop and think about whether my words are of any use to my audience. More than that, my blog has helped me define exactly who my audience is and what my voice is when writing to this audience.

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  10. Thanks for the great advice! I recently began actively blogging my book reviews (including Rebellious Heart!) and I'm always looking for things I can improve.

    http://heidi-reads.blogspot.com

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  11. Ha - Saw a retweet of this post and favorited it by a slip of the finger on my iPad. Read the post and was I glad I did.

    I followed a similar path to yours - starting with a post a day, winding down to one a week. For the last few years I don't even post once a month.

    I started at Open Salon and was lucky to have Salon itself pick up three of my posts - which led to some good things. Unfortunately, Open Salon has fallen into ruin, with no link to the magazine. It's a shame.

    I read a lot of blogs on writing and it's obvious that most of their audience is other writers. So I don't imagine blogging sells a lot of books. That said. blogging consistently did improve my writing, at least in the first few years.

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  12. So glad I stumbled upon this particular post. Jody, I've had your website bookmarked for quite a while, but have tended to focus on the blogs whose authors have posted on mine ... that reciprocity you mentioned above. I remember when Kristin announced that if we bloggers posted three times a week, our numbers would go up. I tried -- actually, I only thought about it -- but it just did not fit with my life. My commitment for this year is to post faithfully each Wednesday. Sometimes it takes a full week for the conversation to run its course. Sometimes I get only a very few comments. I believe building a following takes time and I'm willing to give it the time, another few years probably, posting once a week and checking in daily to read any comments and reply. I have introduced guest bloggers this year, one a month. My biggest challenge is that my topic -- cultural differences -- is often an uncomfortable one and not everyone's cup of tea. Still, I persevere. Thanks for a timely post.

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  13. I used to post three times a week, but now down to one-two times. I won't post when I can't interact with commenters and visit other blogs, so the new schedule gives me more free time.
    I do post for writers with the Insecure Writer's Support Group, but otherwise I post fun stuff, with regular segments about books and movies. You're right that consistency is key.
    Blogging is still effective though. Last month my publisher did a sale on one of my titles and advertised it several places. I announced the first day of the sale on my blog, which was before any of the ads, and all three of my books shot up in rankings because my followers spread the news. Big time. Of course, none of that happens unless one is supportive and reciprocating.

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