Why You’re Losing Your Blog Subscribers (and what to do to keep them)

Last week I did a major clean-out of my blogroll, mostly because I am losing Google Reader this summer.

Honestly, though, this has needed to happen for a while. I spend very little time on Google Reader anymore anyway, and most blogs have other ways for me to consume their content now, rather than RSS feeds.

A whole bunch of the blogs in my Google Reader didn’t make the cut. If yours was one of them, here’s why.

losingsubs
1. You don’t update regularly.

This is the numero uno reason why I unsubscribe from blogs. If you’re not going to update your blog on a regular basis (even if that regular basis is once a month), I’m not going to keep following it.

2. Your blog is boring.

That sounds harsh, I know, and I don’t necessarily mean that your blog is boring to everyone. It’s possible that it’s just boring to me because I don’t understand it or it doesn’t apply to me.

On the other hand, it’s possible that your blog is boring to everyone. Check on that.

3. You have no option to subscribe via email.

I used to make fun of people for demanding a subscribe-by-email option. “Come on, you luddite. Get on the train and learn to use RSS.” Well, I take it back. You need a subscribe-by-email option. You just do.

Why?

Do you know what I’m replacing Google Reader with? Nothing. That’s right. I’m not going to read blogs via RSS anymore. I’m getting the ones I care about enough that I don’t want to miss anything delivered straight to my inbox via email subscription. The rest of them I will catch when my friends post links to Facebook or Twitter or whatever.

There were a few blogs that I would have gladly given my email address to and let them into my inbox on a daily basis, but there was no option for me to give it to them. This makes my marketing brain asplode. It’s not hard, people. You can do it through free services like WordPress and Feedburner. Even better, you can own your email list if you use something like Mailchimp (free up to a certain number of subscribers) or Aweber (not free, but worth some money if you’re serious about email).

Let me give you my email address. If you don’t, it’s like I walked into your store and begged you to let me give you my money so that I could purchase your thing, and you refused.

4. You don’t have a subscribe button.

All that stuff about email said, you still need RSS. And, for the love of Pete, stick a Subscribe button up somewhere so I don’t have to guess what your feed address is.

5. Your tagline sucks. (Or you don’t have a tagline at all.)

Here’s a scenario: I am going through my subscriptions deciding which ones to keep and I click through to your blog. I see a mish-mash of posts on your site, but none of them are things that speak to me, and I wonder why I subscribed to you in the first place. Oh, and the title of your blog is your name.

I need a tagline. Your tagline should tell me what your blog is about so that I remember why I subscribed. By the way, your tagline should not be, “Just daily musings on my life, lol,” because that tells me nothing. What do you write about most commonly? What can I expect to find? Don’t make me hunt for your intro blog post or About page. Make a tagline and stick it somewhere prominent.

6. I don’t know about your blog.

I love blogs. I follow lots of them. But if I don’t know about your blog, I can’t subscribe to it, can I? That means you need to tell me about it. You can tell me in person. You can post it on your Facebook profile or Twitter. You can email me. You can leave a comment on this post if you want. Whatever. Just make sure I know about it.

And that goes for other people, too. If you want people to read your blog, you have to tell them about it. Post your links when you write a new post. If your blog is new, say, “Hey I have a new blog, in case you want to subscribe.” Easy, but lots and lots of people don’t do it and then get all butthurt when no one reads their blog.

So, this whole post is a little tongue-in-cheek, guys, and none of these things are deal-breakers, but if you want my advice (which you should, because I am awesome), spruce up your blog a little with the above tips and hold on to those subscribers.

Is Social Media Marketing Really That Hard?

By now, you’ve probably all seen this infographic from Buddy Media floating around on the interwebs:

 

(Click to embiggen.)

Your palms start to get a little sweaty, and then you realize you don’t know what 90% of this stuff even is. And then you panic and declare, “Holy mother of holiness, how will I ever manage my social media marketing all by myself?!” And then you realize that there’s no way this infographic is complete, because (OH GOD!) Pinterest isn’t even on here! Give me a paper bag to breathe into, quick!

Take a chill pill. Breathe. Do some yoga. Whatever. And then when you’ve managed to get your heart rate back down to a reasonable level, let’s talk.

Marketing is, and always will be, about reaching the specific group of people you want to reach. When you look at that giant selection of social media tools, it might make your stomach turn a little, but as you start looking closer, I think you’ll find that the people you really want to reach are concentrated in only a few of those platforms.

If you’re an author, maybe you want to focus on Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads (which, by the way, isn’t on that infographic either– OH GOD!). If you’re an artist, it’s going to be a different set of platforms.

Furthermore, a lot of the things on that infographic are pieces of software meant to help you manage your social media networks– they’re not actually social networks themselves. You don’t need to know how to use TweetDeck, HootSuite, and Seesmic (eek! Seesmic isn’t on the infographic– OH GOD!). You just pick the one you like the best and use that one. Just because you have the choice of them doesn’t mean you should use all of them. You’d go nuts if you tried, and it would be in no way efficient.

So, let’s try not to panic, folks. Yes, there are many social networks and many ways to reach people, but this is, ultimately, a good thing. Play around. See where you have some engagement. And then focus on that and have fun. Don’t be skurred. It’s all going to be ok.

Facebook for Authors

I’m going to assume, since you’re reading this, that you’re an author. I’m also going to assume, since you live on the planet Earth, that you have a Facebook profile, stalk Facebook using someone else’s profile, or have at least heard of Facebook. If both of these things are true, this should help you. (If not, go back to your cave dwelling. The modern world will only make you cry.)

Profiles vs. Pages

The first thing we have to cover if we’re going to talk about Facebook as a marketing tool is the difference between Profiles and Pages. If you log in to Facebook and chat with your old college buddies, stalk your kids or exes, and “Like” stuff (hula-hooping and Jell-o wrestling, say), you probably have a Profile. Your Profile is your personal presence on Facebook. It’s the real you: your real name (not your pen name), your real photo making an ass of yourself with a nearly empty wine bottle in one hand (not your publicity photo), and your real friends that you know from real-life interactions (not random fans).

You don’t want to use your profile to market yourself as an author. Why? I shall tell you.

  • If you don’t use your profile for marketing, you don’t have to say yes every time someone sends you a friend request. You can be friends with only your actual friends. Nice how that works, huh?
  • There’s a limit to how many friends you can have on Facebook. There is no such limit on Pages.
  • Depending on the privacy settings du jour, people may not be able to find you.

None of this is to say that you can’t tell your actual friends about your books. Of course you can. But you also need a separate place for your fans-not-friends to interact with you.

That’s where Facebook Pages come in.

Pages are the business version of Profiles. You can set up a page as your pen name, or really, your business name if you felt like it, or the name of your blog. But since this post is for authors, let’s assume you’re going to use your pen name.

The Set-Up

Visit any Facebook page. In fact, start with mine: Sonja Foust. At the bottom of the left column, you’ll see an option to create a page.

Click it.

From here on out, it’s all pretty self-explanatory, but let me give you a few pointers on what you should definitely include:

  • In Your Settings, make sure your notifications are turned on so that you can interact with your fans.
  • In Basic Information, set up a username. You can only do this once, so pick a good one! This makes it easier to link to your page because it will give you a url like this:  http://www.facebook.com/AuthorSonjaFoust instead of a bunch of random letters and numbers. (I would have just picked SonjaFoust, except I’d already picked that for my Profile and it wasn’t available for my Page. You may run into a similar problem– just do the best you can.)
  • If you have a blog, be sure to import it to the Networked Blogs app and then add the Networked Blogs app to your Page (go to the Apps section in the editor).

Interacting With Your Fans

You can actually use Facebook as your Page rather than your Profile. Go up to the top right corner of your Facebook window and click Account, then Use Facebook as Page and click the appropriate Page, in this case your pen name Page, that you want to use.

Now you can traipse about Facebook “Liking” and commenting as if you are your pen name. No one ever has to see your real-life profile. You can Like other authors’ Pages, for example, and they will then show up in the left column of your pen name Page. (If you then edit your Page and go to the Featured section, you can decide which of your Liked pages show up there.)

There’s really no limit what you can do…

RRRRR! (squealing brakes)

… That’s a lie. You can’t comment on other people’s Profiles if they have their privacy settings so that only friends can comment on their walls. But you’ll survive. That helps keep the conversation on your Page wall anyway, which is a Good Thing.

Experiment, play, look at other authors’ pages, and ask questions if you see something you want to do but you can’t figure out how. Lots of authors, especially those of us who know how challenging doing all of your own marketing can be, are friendly and willing to help. Drop me a line in the comments or on my Facebook Page if you have questions!

Give Your Site Some Google Juice

Google Juice // goo . gel . jooce
The magical and mysterious value Google gives to your site, based on links from good sites, unique content, and the age of your site. The more juice, the higher your site’s ranking in Google searches.

So how do you get some? Here are some tips:

  1. If you are on WordPress, install the All in One SEO Pack. If you’re a beginner, it even works right out of the box, easy as pie.
  2. Write a great summary. Your website (even if you’re not on WordPress using the All in One SEO pack) probably has a place for you to put in a summary. Write a great, to-the-point, 145-155 character summary of your site, using the keywords you really want to target.
  3. Use descriptive titles. Again, think about your keywords when you’re writing your titles. How do you want people to be able to find you?
  4. Create content! If you have a blog, churn out the content. I’m not sure if Google recognizes this, but people do, and you get more links if you churn out more content– and I know Google recognizes more links.

My Sonja Foust, Romance Author site currently ranks very well when searching for the phrase “romance author” on Google. It’s because I’ve been around a while, I use the All in One SEO Pack, I title my pages and posts descriptively, and I’ve used “romance author” in the title for my page and in my summary. So give it a try, and get yourself some Google Juice!

How to Write a Kickass Author Bio

I know that sometimes when you sit down to do something that should be simple, like write your own paragraph-long author bio, you just get blocked and stare at the blinking cursor and wish for death. But you’re a writer. Suck it up and write your damn bio. You’ll need it for your website, any press you get, your book covers (eventually), and your query letters. Here’s how to do it:

1. Write your bio in the same tone that you write your books.

If your books are a little humorous, your bio should be a little humorous. If your books are about familial relationships, it’s probably best to highlight your family. If you write dog training books, you’d probably better mention your dogs.

2. Keep it short.

Remember, no one cares as much about you as you do, so don’t put them through the agony of reading a page-long description of your quirks and history from age 2.

3. Make it interesting.

Your readers want to be able to connect with you on some level, so make it easier for them to do that. Think about the questions people most often ask you: What do you do? Where do you live? What are your hobbies? Do you have any kids? If you have some weird fact to share that also relates to what you write, score one for you. Use it.

4. Write it in third person.

This is true for almost everything. The major exception is, of course, query letters. Those need to be in first person because, uh, they’re letters, duh.

5. Put your name at the very front.

I tried, but I cannot think of any other item that must be in every author bio besides your name, and it should be the very first thing people read. “Jane Doe has been a writer since the tender age of blah blah blah…”

If you’re still drawing a blank, here’s some other stuff that you could include in your bio, but certainly don’t have to. Oh, and don’t include all of them. I will personally hunt you down if you use all of them in one bio. It’s just unnecessary and no one wants to read it.

  • Where you live
  • Who you live with
  • What you write (If this is for a book cover flap, what you write besides what the reader is holding in her hand.)
  • Your hobbies/how you spend your non-writing time
  • What got you into writing in the first place
  • Any REALLY BIG credentials– I’m talking New York Times Bestseller here, not Mom’s Yearly Poetry Contest winner.
  • Your educational credentials only if they relate to what you write (If you have a PhD in coniferous fungal varieties, I don’t really want to know, unless that’s what your book is about.)
  • Any causes dear to your heart or volunteer work you do (even better if it relates to your subject matter, but doesn’t have to)

Don’t forget to go around and read the bios on some of your favorite authors’ websites and get some ideas for what you’d like to do with yours. Remember, this writing stuff is fun, so enjoy it!

Career Goals for Writers

If you’re not treating writing as a career, maybe it’s time to step back and consider why that is. Is it because you don’t care if you are never published? That’s fine then. For any other reason, though (you’re too lazy, you don’t think you’re a professional, you think of writing as a hobby even though you think you want to make money at it, etc.), you’re not getting off the hook. If you hope to be published and/or make money from sales of your writing at some point, you need to treat your writing as a career, and you need writing career goals.

Here are my top tips for forming your writing career goals and achieving them.

1. Know the market.

I know, writing is an art, and you can’t force art, blah blah blah. If you are writing fiction for publication, get that notion out of your head right this minute. You want to sell, so you need to know the market. That doesn’t mean you have to write something exactly like what the market expects, but how will you know what rules to break if you don’t know the rules? Know what market you are targeting first (literature, mystery, romance, non-fiction, etc.). Once you have that nailed down, do as much research as you can about that market. Read the books. Join the organizations. Talk to authors who are already published in that market. Learn it. Know it.

2. Decide where you want to be in the market.

Within your chosen market, there are likely many different ways to be successful. I am a romance author, for example, so I could choose to go the category romance route, or the single title romance route (among others, but we’ll stick to those two for simplicity). Both have their advantages and disadvantages. It is my job to know what those are and which one fits better with my personality and my other goals.

3. Create steps to get to your desired place.

I’m going to use romance as an example again, because I know romance. Let’s say I want to be a single title author at a big New York publishing house. Now let’s say that the category publishers are looking for hot new voices at the moment, and I think I could probably write a category. I decide to do this to get my foot in the door and get some publishing experience before moving on to single title. (Disclaimer: I’m not saying this is how you break into single title. I’m just saying this might be one way to go about it.) The point is that you have to know your market in order to know what steps will take you to your goals. Ask other writers what steps they took, and whether they’d recommend it to someone else. There’s no substitute for personal experience.

4. Re-evaluate periodically.

Your writing career aspirations may change as you learn and grow. That’s ok! Just take the time to re-evaluate every now and then so that you know your short-term writing goals are still in line with your career goals.

5 Marketing Resolutions You Should Make

1. Look at your analytics.

If you don’t have analytics installed on your website/blog, you’re doin’ it wrong! Get some Google Analytics or StatCounter, or whatever floats your boat– just get something! Then look at your data and make decisions on what to add and take out of your site, what to do to make your site easier, and where to try to get links, all based on your analytics data.

2. Research social media.

I’m not saying social media is necessarily the right thing for you to jump into, but you can’t deny that social media is the thing right now. You at least need to know what’s out there, how other authors are using it, and what might be the potential benefits for you. Then if you decide that it’s not worth it to dive into Twitter or Facebook, you will be making an informed decision.

3. Learn something new.

Marketing, and online marketing especially, is an ever-changing expertise. You won’t have any trouble finding a topic to learn more about. Make it a goal (and a regular habit) to learn something new about marketing.

4. Try something crazy.

Go waaaaay outside the box and do something really new and different. Put up a free read. Get a guest blogger. Share some photos. Anything, as long as it’s something you’ve never done before. It’s ok to try because you’re looking at your data, and if your idea bombs, you’ll know– and you might surprise yourself with a great result!

5. Make friends with someone who’s not an author.

Have lunch with a web designer. Chat with a developer. Find an analytics guru and buy them coffee. The people around you are your best resource for marketing ideas.

Do you have any new marketing goals for 2010? I’d love to hear what they are! Please share in the comments.

Home Grown Keep In Touch System

A few weeks ago, I read a book that detailed a Keep In Touch program for your clients and contacts. It was meant as a relational marketing tool, to keep your name in front of clients and potential clients.

I don’t really have clients, per se, but I do have people that I want to stay in touch with: family, friends, folks from school I haven’t been really good about speaking to… So I decided to implement a personal Keep In Touch program.

I first searched the web for some free software because, hey, I’m really lazy, and if there’s already a system in place, I’ll use it. Apparently there’s not. So I created my own system, and I’ll detail it here for you.

Image representing Plaxo as depicted in CrunchBaseImage via CrunchBase, source unknownFirst, I got all my contacts in one place. I’m using Plaxo, synced with Address Book on my Mac. This also syncs with my iPhone, so I have a complete and updated address book on my laptop, my iPhone and on the internet at Plaxo.com in case my phone dies and I don’t have my laptop with me. So far, this system has worked really well and I’ve never been without my contacts’ info when I needed it.

I’ve gathered all the info I can from all my sites with contact info, namely LinkedIn and Facebook. This takes a really long time, people. Really long. LinkedIn has an export feature, but it really doesn’t give you much valuable info. And, it is actually against Facebook’s privacy policy to have an export feature, so if you want the contact info from Facebook, you have to go through every contact and get it manually. Now, whenever I add a new friend/contact on Facebook or LinkedIn, I go ahead and put their info in my address book, so I won’t have to do a big Facebook trawl for info ever, ever again. It sucked big time.

Now, of course, this only really works if you’re using LinkedIn and Facebook as intended, and your friends and contacts are people you actually know.

Ok, now on to the categorizing. Plaxo (and Address Book on Mac) has a way to categorize your contacts. If you have a way to add a category, a group, or a new field in whatever address book you’re using, it’s cool. You don’t have to be using Plaxo and Address Book on Mac. I went through every contact (and I have almost 400) and categorized them into the following groups:

N- I never really feel the need to speak with this person, but I want to save their contact info anyway, or I see this person daily (at work, for example) and don’t need to have a Keep In Touch plan for him/her.
1y- I will get in touch with this person at least once a year.
6m- I will get in touch with this person at least once every 6 months.
1m- I will get in touch with this person at least once a month.
2w- I will get in touch with this person at least once every 2 weeks.

Most of my contacts ended up in N. I know a lot of people that I either don’t need to stay in touch with, don’t want to stay in touch with, or don’t really know that well.

Once I had everyone categorized, I took all the categories except N and began putting them in my task list. I use RememberTheMilk, but you can use whatever task management program you like, as long as you can set it to repeat tasks at specified intervals. I put everyone on my list. If I knew their birthday, I went ahead and used that as the starting point, since I’m obviously not going to get in touch with everyone, like, this week. For the people whose birthdays I didn’t know, I staggered them throughout the year. For each one, I set up a repeating task based on how often I’d like to contact that person.

Et voila!

Honestly, it took a really long time to do all that, but I’m so glad I have it in place now. Maintaining it will be a comparitive piece of cake, and the biggest benefit is that I have a system in place to keep in touch with everyone I need to keep in touch with, and I won’t forget, and I won’t be sending notes saying stuff like, “Oh my gosh, I’m so sorry I haven’t spoken to you in THREE YEARS! Can we still be friends?” And that’s worth a lot.

Generating Post Ideas

One of the most common problems with writing a blog is generating enough content to keep on blogging! Even if you’re a daily journal type blogger (like me), sometimes there just isn’t anything new to say. So what do you do? Well, I think blogging is a pretty personal thing, and you’ll have to come up with your own solution, ultimately, but I can tell you what I do.

1. Always remember What Not to Post. This can be hard, especially if the only things you have to post about are on your personal list of Things I Will Not Post About. But do not stray. You’ll regret it in the long run.

A hand-drawn mind map
Image via Wikipedia

2. Brainstorm some post ideas. At first, especially if you’re writing a topical blog, the ideas will be fast and furious. Capture as many of them as you can, maybe in a Word Doc, maybe as a draft post, but don’t use them all right away. Schedule them for regular intervals. After the first round dries up, you’ll have to practice some other techniques for generating post ideas. One of my favorites is mind mapping. Pro Blogger takes you through the mind mapping process for generating blog post ideas.

3. Make an editorial schedule. You’ll probably want to do this first, before you’ve even launched your blog, but if you have an established blog, it’s never too late to implement. My schedule is Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and I have a list of blog ideas covering as many weeks in advance as possible. I’m not completely tied to the list, in case something cool happens that I have to blog about instead, but at least I avoid blogger’s block completely, and always have something to write about! I use an Excel spreadsheet to do this, but you could use anything you like: calendaring software, Word doc, or even just draft posts in your blog platform.

How about you? How do you keep on keepin’ on with your blogging? Give me some more ideas in the comments!

Be Yourself… Unless You’re Rude or Something

I’ve been priveleged to be on a couple of podcast interviews in the recent past, one for Laura at 15SecondPitch and one for Stay Happily Married. (Check them out, if you feel so inclined!) Interviewing can be a little nerve-wracking, especially when you’re on live! So, here’s my advice if you’re up for a radio/podcast interview in the near future:

  • See if you can get the questions ahead of time. Most interviewers know the importance of planning great questions, so they’re planning ahead anyway, and won’t mind sending you over the outline.
  • Study! It’s not a test, but you have the questions, so you might as well come up with some responses. I always write mine out in paragraph form because I find that’s what works best for me, but you could do a bulleted list or whatever makes you most comfortable.
  • Don’t over study. It’s not a test, as I said. A lot of times, you won’t get the questions in the same order, and you may not even get the same questions. So have an idea of what you’ll say, but don’t be tied to your script.
  • Be yourself! If you’re a writer, you already know the importance of “voice,” that thing about your style and tone that is unique to you. Well, you have a conversational “voice,” too, so don’t lose that! Pretend you’re talking to a friend.
  • Um, but don’t be yourself if you’re rude or something. Most of the time, you’re at least hoping a lot of people will hear your interview, so don’t be a butt. But that’s pretty much good advice for life in general: don’t be a butt.