As part of my "get out of my head and into someone else's" campaign for 2012, I'm following more blogs than ever, and I read more one-off posts now, too.
In order to know who's updated what and when, Blogger gives me a nice snapshot of all the blogs I'm following, even if the post is written through WordPress or a private website. Partially because Michael Lorenson and Lee Lofland are writing their blogs daily, I'm reading daily. So I check my reader summary daily. Sometimes two or three times daily. Sometimes I check it like a maniac, because data is taking forever to run, or because I can't figure out how to fill a plot hole and it's killing me.
That got me thinking about how we market our blogs. How do we get more readers? And why bother, if you're an unpublished author?
I know Facebook has a "Networked Blogs by Ninua". Here, you can search blogs by category, twenty blogs at a time. I'm registered there, too, under "Writing."
But under the "Writing" category, blogs are ordered by number of existing followers. And I tried to find out how many blogs under "writing" there were. Apparently Ninua can't count that high, but it's probably more than 5000. (And for the love of all good things, don't put "Muse", "Musings" or any variant thereof in your frigging blog post title. It's.Over.Done.)
And as for the count of how many are "following", that's Ninua's count, not Blogger's count. I gave up scrolling through blogs in the "writing" category, because after almost 3000 registered blogs, I still hadn't found myself. I'm at the very bottom of Ninua's list, because according to Ninua, I have only two followers, and I'm one of them. Only the most already-popular posts are going to float to the top and attract new readers.
So basically, I would have greater success handing out business cards to strangers on the street than I would if I relied on Ninua's listings. That means I can't leave anything to chance. I have to work to get more exposure, if I want more readers.
Once a new post has gone live, ordinarily I send out a notification through Facebook and Twitter. Facebook is still my biggest referral URL (shouldering that spambot domar.ru out of top spot), so I know that FB is a good way to notify folks of a blog post update.
Some blogs I follow now because I've been perusing author websites or being referred to certain blogs by other readers. That's why I started following Annie Off Leash by Annie Boreson. So, yes to old-fashioned word of mouth. But I've found the majority of my new reading material through a post recommendation on Facebook. That's how I found Graveyard Shift. So, yes to Facebook, too.
But I also found that readership through FB has everything to do with the timing of your post, and with the popularity of your readers. If you have a family member with few friends (and assuming they like you enough to check up on you daily), the message will get through to them easily enough. But if someone has a gazillion friends and professional contacts, your FB status update and/or link are going to get buried quickly under that reader's slushpile of status updates.
I still haven't found the timing sweet spot for FB links. Post in the
morning, when everyone's checking their FB news? Lunchtime? In the
evening? Post repeatedly until people de-friend you? I dunno.
And most importantly, unless someone else re-tweets your post or shares the link on their own FB profile, your tweets and FB status updates never reach beyond your own established circle of contacts.
Or does Twitter or Facebook even matter, if people tend to use things like RSS Feeds, Google Reader, and Reading Lists, which allow us to check out the posts we want to view, when we want to view them?
It does matter, if you want to attract new readers. You need to get yourself on to new RSS Feeds, or they won't ever read your work.
I look to how Tobin was "pimping" our interview from late last week. I posted the interview just once on Facebook, around my lunchtime. That's my normal activity.
But Tobin posted the interview several times to Twitter, he posted it on five different spots in Facebook (his fan page, his personal profile, and at least three different Writer's Group discussion group pages); it was referred on from there by his friends and family - and some my friends too! I wouldn't be at all surprised if he got on the phone and called people to tell them to read it.
The results were fantastic: within a week, his was the most popular post in the history of the blog - and not just a bit, but by an additional 25% more views than the next most popular post.
Compare that against other recent interviews and blog posts. On average (including some recent interviews), I've had only 1/5th of the views as Tobin's interview - over the same period of time.
So there's the answer to the how: increased readership = social media + word of mouth. You can only reach so far. Your reach doubles the moment one other person reposts or retweets your link. Your reach expands geometrically every time someone else passes on the word. You need to meet people who are willing to believe in you and point people in your direction. And you need to return in kind.
But that begs the next big question: why would someone like me (prefamous) want to increase my readership now - months, maybe years before an actual paying publication contract.
Tobin and I had a good discussion about it. After all - Tobin needs students for his class, and he needs readers to buy his work; this is one more means of advertising. Increased exposure makes sense for him. What benefit is there to me, if I should a) blog at all, or b) make a point of increasing readership?
Tobin would argue that I do have something to sell, and that I need to get off my bum and go direct to Kindle. I'm old-fashioned and I'm still holding out for the classic print (but more on that in later posts).
But there is an argument to be made about posting regularly and actively marketing my blog, even if I'm a "nobody" in established circles.
Let's say a publisher has received my work, and they want to know more about me. They can Google me and my blog. Here's what they're going to see.
Potential: They can see what other writing styles I'm capable of. They can see the extent to which I research, what my passions are, and how seriously I take my writing craft. (Typo spotted post-publication? Kill it kill it kill it! Then update the post and pretend like it never happened.) They can see how much writing experience I have, and what I intend on pursuing. They're going to see what else I'm working on, or have worked on in the past. And they're going to see that I'm not afraid to post things that are uncomfortable to talk about.
Thought: Let me never publish a post that hasn't taken more than 4 hours to write and refine (usually spread out over two more more sittings). And may these posts do more than express my own thoughts; I won't ever be satisfied unless they make the reader think, too.
Audience: I'm attempting to build up a readership now, well in advance of publication. Networking is one thing, learning from other people another; but building up a readership, getting people interested in the stories I intend to publish - that's all one great big teaser campaign. And it shows that I'm ready, willing and somewhat capable of marketing, even when I have "nothing to sell" yet.
Dedication: I'm not just blarfing whatever comes into my head. I'm researching. I'm learning, and processing new information, and putting it into practice. I'm audaciously contacting new and established authors, publicists, agents, publishers and editors, and I'm putting them through the interview wringer - even though I'm neither an online magazine, nor writer's group, nor a publisher, nor even an established author. I'm not doing it just for myself, either - though I do learn something new every time I interview someone. I'm doing it so I can share best practices with others in my position, and so I can advertise great new Canadian writing to audiences here and abroad. And they're going to see that I'm actively writing - more so than ever, with or without their publication contracts.
So do I have something to sell? Yes - best practices, advertising, and one very prolific writer. There's no price tag, but I'm still "selling" something.
Do I have something to gain? Absolutely.
Does everyone benefit, if I continue expanding readership? Beyond doubt. I benefit, so do my guests, and so do the readers.
So how, fellow writer, how do you market your blog? And for a bonus question: how important is it to you that you increase your readership, if you're not getting paid to blog? Leave your comments below!
Also, if you're new to this blog, can you do me a favour? Follow me. I promise, I won't let you down.