All about blogging for authors

I often present about Blogging for Authors at writing conferences and am consistently surprised how few writers actually blog and, of the ones that do, use WordPress, Typepad, Blogger, Tumbler or another service that is not their own domain. That’s bad.

It may seem difficult to comprehend–blogging is blogging, right?–but trust me when I say that you need your blog to live on your own hosted domain like carlaking.com/blog instead of being trapped with a service: carlaking.typepad.com or carlaking.blogger.com or carlaking.wordpress.com.

Again, don’t use a free hosted service. Start from the beginning with your own blog. Here’s how.

Buy your domain name

If you already have your own website, you probably already own your domain name. But if you don’t, get on over to GoDaddy.com and buy a bunch. A bunch!? you exclaim. Yes, a bunch, I repeat. Here’s why, excerpted from my guide, Self-Publishing Boot Camp Guide for Authors:

You should not only buy your name (and your pen name and nicknames) but the name of your book and the name of your publishing house. You can “redirect” or “forward” all those domain names to your main website, which ideally is your author name. If your name is difficult to spell, try to buy the common misspellings as well, and forward those domains to your main site. If you have a common name, it is likely to be taken. If not, grab it now and choose .com — don’t bother with .net and .org or .biz or .tv or any of the other tags if you can get a .com tag. If you cannot get a .com tag for your author name, consider adding your middle initial (carlasking.com), or use a dash or underscore (carla-king.com or carla_king.com) or even append the word “author” or “writer” to your name (carlaking-author.com). If you write for a niche market, use that description (carlakingmotorcycles.com) and if have a great nickname, use that (missadventuring.com). No matter what name you choose, use keywords on your site for maximum discoverability so that search engines can find you by any of these names.

Get a Web Hosting Service

Now go shopping for a web hosting service. Again, I prefer GoDaddy. Get their Managed Self-Hosted WordPress plan, basic is $3.99 and it’s often on sale for 50% off. You get a free domain, 10 GB of storage, and an email account so you can use your site name as an email address. This spreads your brand, unlike a Gmail account.

Themes

Once you purchase the hosting plan you’ll be taken to a page to choose a theme and build your site with placeholder information. It’s super easy to populate. And if you want to change the theme later, all the information from your old theme will just be moved into the new theme.

Categories, Tags, and Keywords

Think of it like this: the cracker is a category, and tags and keywords are the crumbs.

Did you think you were done? Well… you could just start blogging and forget about the SEO for now. But remember that I said Google is your best marketing partner, so give the Google some love. Now we’re getting into Search Engine Optimization (SEO) territory. Use categories, tags, and keywords wisely. This is that (yawn) metadata stuff. Not difficult, and since you’re a wordsmith, it really can be kind of fun.

For example, in my old MotoSFO blog (link is to Internet Archive), my categories were North Bay, South Bay, East Bay, Sierras, Wine Country, and Farther Flung. I set up web pages for each of the , so that people who just want to see the Wine Country entries don’t have to sort through all the entries to find those stories.

My tags are activities, camping, coast, fog escapes, gear, historic, local favorite, lodging, quaint towns, rallies, ride to eat, sights, and twisties. So if you want to ride twisty (mountainous) roads you can click on that, and get a page with just twisty roads. Or if you want restaurants in Wine Country, you can get that. You see tag clouds all the time on blogs and websites. The more often the tag (word) appears in someone’s collection of blog posts, the bigger the word.

Keywords are the third step. Mendocino, Napa, Santa Cruz, Lake Tahoe, are keywords. Names of restaurants are keywords. So if I’m writing a story about riding motorcycles to Tomalas Bay to visit the Hog Island Oyster Company, those are keywords, and they should show up in the first 50 words of the article, and also in the ALT text of every image I include in the article. Google loves you if you think this out carefully and use them correctly. If you’ve written your blog posts already, just go back and enter categories, tags, and keywords.

What to Write?

When I travel, I post blogs about my day. I post microblogs (tweets, on Twitter) about 10 times a day. When I was in Morocco I posted “I’m in the Sahara Desert, look, here’s a photo of a Kasbah!” and “Enjoying an avocado banana mango almond smoothie, here’s a pic.” I cross-post these Tweets to Facebook, maybe adding a few lines because it let me write more than 140 characters, though if I were traveling today I’d use Instagram, instead. Every few days I posted a longer piece on my blog summarizing the last few days, or relating an experience.

When I’m not traveling, I post excerpts from my upcoming book. I comment on gear and gadgets, and review motorcycles, and interesting motorcycle travel websites and events. post stuff about women in motorcycling. For international women in motorcycling month, I posted a profile of a woman in motorcycling for every day of the month. I also post information about events I’ll be attending, online and in person, or events that I think are interesting, even if I can’t get to them. Sometimes I find fun stuff from my trips while I’m organizing my notes and media files.

And then there’s this blog post, the one you’re reading right now. It’s a perfect example because you’re reading it because you really need the information. You probably didn’t like all that stuff above on domain names and web hosting, categories, tags, and keywords. But you need it. Desperately. Voila. What non-fiction wisdom do your readers need?

After my workshop, one guy came up and told me he had been hoping it was easier. He was simply too busy producing podcasts and he just couldn’t find time to write blog posts. “Do you write descriptions of your podcasts for iTunes?” I asked him? “Yep,” he said. “So… why not just take that description, and an excerpt from the podcast, along with a related photo and, voila! Blog post.” When he starts blogging, I’ll let you know.

People don’t follow blogs. They follow people.

But here’s possibly the most interesting and valuable thing I have discovered about blogging. People don’t follow blogs, they follow people. The more personal you get the more universal the message. It doesn’t always have to be nice. Once, in China, I just exploded on my blog. I was waaaay back in the countryside in every village I rode into I was surrounded by incommunicative people and it was frustrating.

… the first time I stopped in a remote country village I thought it must be the place they kept all the retarded people. They approached walking slowly, blank-faced and wooden as daytime living dead. The living dead, mechanically placing sunflower seeds between their teeth. They spit out the shells some land on their chins and stay there while they gape. More gather, and the air thickens. A hand darts in to work the clutch lever. Another tests the brake lever. The crowd murmurs in approval, and someone enters the circle to bounce on the seat spring…

I got more comments on that post than any other – because I’d let my emotion, my frustration loose. I was experiencing a series of very difficult “moments” in a four-month journey. And as it turned out, an expert informed me that because the government does not allow people to move out of their villages, there is inbreeding, and on top of that, iodine deficiency, which actually retards brain development. So I was likely surrounded by not only curious people who had never, ever seen a foreigner, and uneducated, but who were also mentally challenged.

Many of us introverted authors are too shy and so we get boring. But take a look at some popular blogs and you’ll realize that they they either impart essential information (non-fiction business, health, etc.) or are so shockingly personal that you can’t look away. A good example of a train-wreck-about-to-happen is Penelope Trunk’s blog. A Gen-Y business blogger, she has Aspergers syndrome and no boundaries. (And if you’re still skeptical about self-publishing, take a look at the post titled How I got a big advance from a big publisher and self-published anyway.)

Penelope Trunk is a Gen-Y business author/blogger with Aspergers Syndrome.
“I read Penelope’s blog posts about abuse and bulimia and failure and oral sex and I wondered if I could ever be that brave.” –Cassie Boon

Seth Godin is an entrepreneur, author and public speaker, and popularized permission marketing. He uses Typepad. I wonder if he would, if he started now.

Kristen Lamb is author of the best-selling books We Are Not Alone—The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer. She answers the question When do writers need multiple blogs. Never! I don’t think I agree, since I have three – Motorcycle Misadventures, Self-Publishing Boot Camp, and MotoSFO.

Cara Black, mystery writer specializing in Paris.

Neil Gaiman is a popular writer of sci-fi and other prose, poetry, film, journalism, comics, song lyrics, and drama.

Rules for My Unborn Son Walker Lamond’s collection of fatherly advice on how to be a good man on tumbler.com, which attracted a publishing house.

Motorcycle Misadventures (me) Carla King’s motorcycle travel writings, readings, journeys, gear, gadgets, and recommendations. I also have a Self-Pub Boot Camp blog.