I recently had the honor of interviewing Jane Friedman, the co-founder and publisher of Scratch, a magazine about writing and money, and former publisher of Writer’s Digest. She has more than 15 years of experience inside the book, magazine, and literary publishing industries. Below, Jane shares her views on author websites, blogging and marketing for writers.
How important is blogging for a writer’s success?
Blogging is mostly overrated as a book marketing and promotion tool, and few writers have the discipline or stamina to do it for the length of time required for it to pay off.
However, a blog is probably the nonfiction author’s No. 1 content marketing tool for their career—a career that presumably involves not just selling books, but also getting new clients, securing speaking engagements, teaching online classes, delivering new products, and increasing their profile as an expert.
Which leads to another question: What is “content marketing”? It’s where you use content to provide value, build your brand, and gain trust with your readership over time. A blog is a form of content marketing, and it’s generally the most well-recognized and understood by authors.
What are the elements of a successful author website and blog?
It should immediately communicate the author’s name and/or brand and give visitors a specific call to action within 5-7 seconds, before they leave the site. What’s a good call to action? It might be: read an excerpt of my book, listen to this interview with me at NPR, sign up for my newsletter, etc. Your call to action will change a few times a year, depending on your marketing initiatives or book releases.
Make your menu or navigation exceptionally clear to first-time visitors. Where can they find information about your books? How can they look at your blog or its archive? How can they contact you? Know what people look for when they visit your site, then make it easy for them to access it.
I have a lot more advice on this topic here:
- Do You Need to Rethink Your Website’s Key Elements?
- Get Started Guide: Blogging for Writers
- The Big Mistake of Author Website and Blogs
Writer’s Digest seems to have flourished – at least digitally – under your tenure. What do you attribute that success to, aside from hard work? In other words, what can authors learn from your example there?
At Writer’s Digest, I focused on serving the audience authentically. If we did that well, the numbers and the sales followed.
Do you recommend that writers participate in online forums, and if so, why?
Writers usually have two goals with this type of activity: being part of a writing community and being in touch with readers.
As far as the first goal, I recommend it insofar as it can be a valuable source of education, information, and encouragement. It might also have some marketing value, but you have to be careful that you’re not marketing to the echo chamber of the writing and publishing community, rather than building your readership of non-writers.
For the second goal, participating in online forums where your readers are can be invaluable to understanding and anticipating their needs, serving them better, and—yes—marketing to them.
What about blogging communities? Can they help authors grow their readership?
I have limited experience with or knowledge of blogging communities, but my general impression is negative. (Every time one closes, such as Red Room or Yahoo Voices, I feel more steadfast in my critical POV.)
I do like multi-contributor blogs, into which I categorize Writer Unboxed, where I occasionally write.
How long have you been on Twitter? To what do you attribute your following?
I’ve been on Twitter since May 2008. I got in early, and I religiously wrote a “Best Tweets for Writers” column from 2009–2011 that helped launch my following. For a while I was a recommended follow by Twitter in the Books category. The growth is not the same as it was while I was on that list, but now the account has its own momentum no matter what I do. I tell the full story here: How I Got a Six-Figure Twitter Following.
Do you also post your own podcasts/videos/ or Google Hangouts?
I’m not currently doing my own podcasts, video, or Google Hangouts, though I accept invites to be a guest, and try to make sure my audience is aware when and where they’re available.
What role does social media play in helping authors’ books to succeed commercially? Asked another way, I find that authors can be reluctant to use social media. What is your advice in the face of their hesitation?
Social media helps authors in two primary ways.
- It helps you maintain connections with readers and nurture that relationship over many years. While you may use social media at times to directly sell, like during a book release, the key value is in being in touch or communicating with people who are fans your work.
- It helps you develop relationships with and reach influencers and others in your community who can help spread the word to their networks.
The question to ask yourself is: How, when, and where do you best engage with readers and others in the industry? There is probably at least 1 social network where that opportunity is richest and most meaningful for you. Focus on that network and do it to the extent that it energizes or inspires you. Forget the social media networks that feel like drudgery—that defeats the whole point of being there.
We know that email marketing is as important as social media. What advice do you give writers about growing their mailing list of avid and casual readers?
Make the email newsletter sign up very clear on your website; ideally it should appear on every page. Give readers a specific idea of what they will receive when they sign up for your list. Then deliver what you promise.
You once said in a blog post that writers must push their boundaries to incorporate new media into their marketing. (This isn’t a direct quote.) At what point do writers need to pull back so they don’t lose their focus on their writing goals?
When you find yourself going through a checklist of media initiatives, without any interest or enthusiasm, then it may be time to pull back and evaluate why you’re doing it, especially if you’re not seeing reader engagement. (Keep in mind that any new effort takes time to pay off—you have to show up consistently, find your voice, and improve. This can take 6-12 months for some people.)
I love to suggest writers experiment and question the mediums they may always default to; on the other hand, there’s nothing wrong with pursuing what works—especially if it motivates you to produce more good work. You just need to be aware if you’re clinging to certain things because you’re afraid to change (while everyone else is moving ahead), or making good choices that build on your strengths and the qualities of your work.
I see that you’re on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, Pinterest, Instagram, YouTube, Tumblr and Goodreads. How do you manage your time on so many platforms? How much time do you spend each day on social media?
I only show up consistently (usually daily) on 2 sites: Facebook and Twitter. I don’t have any quotas, however. My biggest rule is: Any time I tweet or post, it’s not to put myself in front of people. It’s to share something of value or to entertain. Period. So if I don’t have something for 48 hours, then you won’t see me. I’m not going to come up with a bunch of posts to fill in the gaps; we all have enough to look at already.
I’m a casual user of Google+, Pinterest, Instagram, YouTube and Tumblr. For each of those platforms, I have very particular things I post, or certain triggers. E.g., on Pinterest, I mostly pin graphs and charts related to the media/publishing industry, whenever I come across one. That’s it—but it’s a very useful repository now. Tumblr is a kind of personal notebook, where I save quotes or clips from interesting articles.
So it’s not so much about managing my time; over a period of months or years, I establish a particular benefit of each channel, something that fits my purposes. They’re not on my mind, and only come into play when I find things that fit my use of those networks. It wouldn’t be sustainable otherwise. Overall, I probably spend 1-2 hours per day on social media, if you aggregate all the little minutes here and there—most of that being Facebook and Twitter. Most of that is consumption time, or staying informed about what’s happening, not posting time.
If you were to narrow your social media use to three networks, which three would you refuse to give up and why?
It would be difficult for me to give up Twitter given my long-term investment there, and its importance in the writing and publishing community conversation. It would also be hard to give up Facebook, since that’s where a good deal of my audience engagement happens. Together, Twitter and Facebook make up most of the social media referral traffic to my website. However, organic search traffic to my site is far more important than social media right now; therefore, Google Plus is the third network I’d be reluctant to give up, since I think it will continue to have an impact on SEO.
Do you think that certain social media networks are better suited to specific genres? For example, Facebook and Pinterest are ideal for romance writers. Tumblr and Twitter would be important for YA and NA writers. Nonfiction writers would need to have a presence on LinkedIn and Twitter. Or don’t you agree with the premise that certain channels are better for specific genres?
I do think certain channels are better for specific genres or audiences, yes. Most importantly, the author needs to be comfortable and committed to using whatever networks they’re on. Hopefully there’s a good match between what the writer is capable of sustaining for the long haul, and where her audience is active and engaged.
How do you suggest that writers juggle their writing time with their social media and marketing efforts in general?
This seems to be the question on everyone’s mind these days, and I understand writers feel that they’re under tremendous pressure. So when I hear this question, what I hear is: how can I relieve the pressure? How can I alleviate any stress or anxiety I have about juggling these things?
There is a very simple answer: Don’t take it all so seriously, and detach from the crazy-making activities. In a moment of silence, I bet you know what you should be doing, so acquire the discipline, structure, and tools to make it happen.
For Indie authors interested in finding an agent or publisher, what do they need to have in place aside from a killer manuscript?
It’s immensely helpful to point to a growing and engaged readership devoted to reading just about anything you publish. Be able to demonstrate your efforts to cultivate and nurture that readership.
What marketing advice would you give a new writer just starting out?
Get your website established, even if it’s just a shell, and begin improving it and getting better at honing your online brand, one day at a time. This is your home base for the entirety of your career. Get comfy.
Visit Jane’s website to learn more about her.
About the Author: Frances Caballo is a social media manager for writers and author of Avoid Social Media Time Suck: A Blueprint for Writers to Create Online Buzz for Their Books and Still Have Time to Write, Social Media Just for Writers: The Best Online Marketing Tips for Selling Your Books and Blogging Just for Writers. Presently, she is the Social Media Manager for the Women’s National Book Association-SF Chapter and the San Francisco Writers Conference. You can find her on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Google+.
Practical Tips for Marketing Your Books on the Social Web