Guide to Literary Agents: The Most Trusted Guide to Getting Published (Market) (2015)

BLOGGING BASICS:

Get the most out of your site.

by Robert Lee Brewer

In these days of publishing and media change, writers have to build platforms and learn how to connect to audiences if they want to improve their chances of publication and overall success. There are many methods of audience connection available to writers, but one of the most important is blogging.

Since I’ve spent several years successfully blogging—both personally and professionally—I figure I’ve got a few nuggets of wisdom to pass on to writers who are curious about blogging or who are already doing it.

Here’s my quick list of tips:

1.    START BLOGGING TODAY. If you don’t have a blog, use Blogger, WordPress, or some other blogging software to start your blog today. It’s free, and you can start off with your very personal “Here I am, world” post.

2.    START SMALL. Blogs are essentially very simple, but they can get very complicated (for people who like complications). However, I advise bloggers start small and evolve over time.

3.    USE YOUR NAME IN YOUR URL. This will make it easier for search engines to find you when your audience eventually starts seeking you out by name. For instance, my URL is http://robertleebrewer.blogspot.com. If you try Googling “Robert Lee Brewer,” you’ll notice that My Name Is Not Bob is one of the top five search results (behind my other blog: Poetic Asides).

4.    UNLESS YOU HAVE A REASON, USE YOUR NAME AS THE TITLE OF YOUR BLOG. Again, this helps with search engine results. My Poetic Asides blog includes my name in the title, and it ranks higher than My Name Is Not Bob. However, I felt the play on my name was worth the trade-off.

5.    FIGURE OUT YOUR BLOGGING GOALS. You should return to this step every couple months, because it’s natural for your blogging goals to evolve over time. Initially, your blogging goals may be to make a post a week about what you have written, submitted, etc. Over time, you may incorporate guests posts, contests, tips, etc.

6.    BE YOURSELF. I’m a big supporter of the idea that your image should match your identity. It gets too confusing trying to maintain a million personas. Know who you are and be that on your blog, whether that means you’re sincere, funny, sarcastic, etc.

7.    POST AT LEAST ONCE A WEEK. This is for starters. Eventually, you may find it better to post once a day or multiple times per day. But remember: Start small and evolve over time.

8.    POST RELEVANT CONTENT. This means that you post things that your readers might actually care to know.

9.    USEFUL AND HELPFUL POSTS WILL ATTRACT MORE VISITORS. Talking about yourself is all fine and great. I do it myself. But if you share truly helpful advice, your readers will share it with others, and visitors will find you on search engines.

10.TITLE YOUR POSTS IN A WAY THAT GETS YOU FOUND IN SEARCH ENGINES. The more specific you can get the better. For instance, the title “Blogging Tips” will most likely get lost in search results. However, the title “Blogging Tips for Writers” specifies which audience I’m targeting and increases the chances of being found on the first page of search results.

11.LINK TO POSTS IN OTHER MEDIA. If you have an e-mail newsletter, link to your blog posts in your newsletter. If you have social media accounts, link to your blog posts there. If you have a helpful post, link to it in relevant forums and on message boards.

Don’t spend a week writing each post. Try to keep it to an hour or two tops and then post.

12.WRITE WELL, BUT BE CONCISE. At the end of the day, you’re writing blog posts, not literary manifestos. Don’t spend a week writing each post. Try to keep it to an hour or two tops and then post. Make sure your spelling and grammar are good, but don’t stress yourself out too much.

13.FIND LIKE-MINDED BLOGGERS. Comment on their blogs regularly and link to them from yours. Eventually, they may do the same. Keep in mind that blogging is a form of social media, so the more you communicate with your peers the more you’ll get out of the process.

14.RESPOND TO COMMENTS ON YOUR BLOG. Even if it’s just a simple “Thanks,” respond to your readers if they comment on your blog. After all, you want your readers to be engaged with your blog, and you want them to know you care that they took time to comment.

15.EXPERIMENT. Start small, but don’t get complacent. Every so often, try something new. For instance, the biggest draw to my Poetic Asides blog are the poetry prompts and challenges I issue to poets. Initially, that was an experiment—one that worked very well. I’ve tried other experiments that haven’t panned out, and that’s fine. It’s all part of a process.

SEO TIPS FOR WRITERS

Most writers may already know what SEO is. If not, SEO stands for search engine optimization. Basically, a site or blog that practices good SEO habits should improve its rankings in search engines, such as Google and Bing. Most huge corporations have realized the importance of SEO and spend enormous sums of time, energy, and money on perfecting their SEO practices. However, writers can improve their SEO without going to those same extremes.

In this section, I will use the terms of site pages and blog posts interchangeably. In both cases, you should be practicing the same SEO strategies (when it makes sense).

Here are my top tips on ways to improve your SEO starting today:

1.    USE APPROPRIATE KEYWORDS. Make sure that your page displays your main keyword(s) in the page title, content, URL, title tags, page header, image names and tags (if you’re including images). All of this is easy to do, but if you feel overwhelmed, just remember to use your keyword(s) in your page title and content (especially in the first and last fifty words of your page).

2.    USE KEYWORDS NATURALLY. Don’t kill your content and make yourself look like a spammer to search engines by overloading your page with your keyword(s). You don’t get SEO points for quantity but for quality. Plus, one of the main ways to improve your page rankings is when you...

3.    DELIVER QUALITY CONTENT. The best way to improve your SEO is by providing content that readers want to share with others by linking to your pages. Some of the top results in search engines are years old, because the content is so good that people keep coming back. So, incorporate your keywords in a smart way, but make sure it works organically with your content.

4.    UPDATE CONTENT REGULARLY. If your site looks dead to visitors, then it’ll appear that way to search engines, too. So update your content regularly. This should be very easy for writers who have blogs. For writers who have sites, incorporate your blog into your site. This will make it easier for visitors to your blog to discover more about you on your site (through your site navigation tools).

5.    LINK BACK TO YOUR OWN CONTENT. If I have a post titled Blogging Tips for Writers, for instance, I’ll link back to it if I have a platform-building post, because the two complement each other. This also helps clicks on my blog, which helps SEO. The one caveat is that you don’t go crazy with your linking and that you make sure your links are relevant. Otherwise, you’ll kill your traffic, which is not good for your page rankings.

6.    LINK TO OTHERS YOU CONSIDER HELPFUL. Back in 2000, I remember being ordered by my boss at the time (who didn’t last too much longer afterward) to ignore any competitive or complementary websites—no matter how helpful their content—because they were our competitors. You can try basing your online strategy on these principles, but I’m nearly 100 percent confident you’ll fail. It’s helpful for other sites and your own to link to other great resources. I shine a light on others to help them out (if I find their content truly helpful) in the hopes that they’ll do the same if ever they find my content truly helpful for their audience.

7.    GET SPECIFIC WITH YOUR HEADLINES. If you interview someone on your blog, don’t title your post with an interesting quotation. While that strategy may help get readers in the print world, it doesn’t help with SEO at all. Instead, title your post as “Interview With (insert name here).” If you have a way to identify the person further, include that in the title, too. For instance, when I interview poets on my Poetic Asides blog, I’ll title those posts like this: Interview With Poet Erika Meitner. Erika’s name is a keyword, but so are the terms poet and interview.

If you interview someone on your blog, don’t title your post with an interesting quotation. While that strategy may help get readers in the print world, it doesn’t help with SEO at all.

8.    USE IMAGES. Many expert sources state that the use of images can improve SEO, because it shows search engines that the person creating the page is spending a little extra time and effort on the page than a common spammer. However, I’d caution anyone using images to make sure those images are somehow complementary to the content. Don’t just throw up a lot of images that have no relevance to anything. At the same time...

9.    OPTIMIZE IMAGES THROUGH STRATEGIC LABELING. Writers can do this by making sure the image file is labeled using your keyword(s) for the post. Using the Erika Meitner example above (which does include images), I would label the file “Erika Meitner headshot.jpg”—or whatever the image file type happens to be. Writers can also improve image SEO through the use of captions and ALT tagging. Of course, at the same time, writers should always ask themselves if it’s worth going through all that trouble for each image or not. Each writer has to answer that question for him (or her) self.

10.USE YOUR SOCIAL MEDIA PLATFORM TO SPREAD THE WORD. Whenever you do something new on your site or blog, you should share that information on your other social media sites, such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, online forums, etc. This lets your social media connections know that something new is on your site/blog. If it’s relevant and/or valuable, they’ll let others know. And that’s a great way to build your SEO.

Programmers and marketers could get much deeper into the dynamics of SEO optimization, but I think these tips will help most writers out immediately and effectively while still allowing plenty of time and energy for the actual work of writing.

BLOG DESIGN TIPS FOR WRITERS

Design is an important element to any blog’s success. But how can you improve your blog’s design if you’re not a designer? I’m just an editor with an English Lit degree and no formal training in design. However, I’ve worked in media for more than a decade now and can share some very fundamental and easy tricks to improve the design of your blog.

Here are my seven blog design tips for writers:

1.    USE LISTS. Whether they’re numbered or bullet points, use lists when possible. Lists break up the text and make it easy for readers to follow what you’re blogging.

2.    BOLD MAIN POINTS IN LISTS. Again, this helps break up the text while also highlighting the important points of your post.

3.    USE HEADINGS. If your posts are longer than three hundred words and you don’t use lists, then please break up the text by using basic headings.

4.    USE A READABLE FONT. Avoid using fonts that are too large or too small. Avoid using cursive or weird fonts. Times New Roman or Arial works, but if you want to get “creative,” use something similar to those.

5.    LEFT ALIGN. English-speaking readers are trained to read left to right. If you want to make your blog easier to read, avoid centering or right aligning your text (unless you’re purposefully calling out the text).

6.    USE SMALL PARAGRAPHS. A good rule of thumb is to try and avoid paragraphs that drone on longer than five sentences. I usually try to keep paragraphs to around three sentences.

7.    ADD RELEVANT IMAGES. Personally, I shy away from using too many images. My reason is that I only like to use them if they’re relevant. However, images are very powerful on blogs, so please use them. Just make sure they’re relevant to your blog post.

If you’re already doing everything on my list, keep it up! If you’re not, then you might want to rethink your design strategy on your blog. Simply adding a header here and a list there can easily improve the design of a blog post.

GUEST POSTING TIPS FOR WRITERS

Recently, I’ve broken into guest posting as both a guest poster and as a host of guest posts (over at my Poetic Asides blog). So far, I’m pretty pleased with both sides of the guest posting process. As a writer, it gives me access to an engaged audience I may not usually reach. As a blogger, it provides me with fresh and valuable content I don’t have to create. Guest blogging is a rare win-win scenario.

That said, writers could benefit from a few tips on the process of guest posting:

1.    PITCH GUEST POSTS LIKE ONE WOULD PITCH ARTICLES TO A MAGAZINE. Include what your hook is for the post, what you plan to cover, and a little about who you are. Remember: Your post should somehow benefit the audience of the blog you’d like to guest post.

2.    OFFER PROMOTIONAL COPY OF BOOK (OR OTHER GIVEAWAYS) AS PART OF YOUR GUEST POST. Having a random giveaway for people who comment on a blog post can help spur conversation and interest in your guest post, which is a great way to get the most mileage out of your guest appearance.

3.    CATER POSTS TO AUDIENCE. As the editor of Writer’s Market and Poet’s Market, I have great range in the topics I can cover. However, if I’m writing a guest post for a fiction blog, I’ll write about things of interest to a novelist, not a poet.

4.    MAKE PERSONAL, BUT PROVIDE NUGGET. Guest posts are a great opportunity for you to really show your stuff to a new audience. You could write a very helpful and impersonal post, but that won’t connect with readers the way a very helpful and personal post will. Getting more personal makes readers want to learn more about you (and your blog, your book, your Twitter account, etc.). Speaking of which...

5.    SHARE LINKS TO YOUR WEBSITE, BLOG, SOCIAL NETWORKS, ETC. After all, you need to make it easy for readers who enjoyed your guest post to learn more about you and your projects. Start the conversation in your guest post and keep it going on your own sites, profiles, etc. And related to that...

6.    PROMOTE YOUR GUEST POST THROUGH YOUR NORMAL CHANNELS ONCE THE POST GOES LIVE. Your normal audience will want to know where you’ve been and what you’ve been doing. Plus, guest posts lend a little extra “street cred” to your projects. But don’t stop there...

7.    CHECK FOR COMMENTS ON YOUR GUEST POST AND RESPOND IN A TIMELY MANNER. Sometimes the comments are the most interesting part of a guest post (no offense). This is where readers can ask more in-depth or related questions, and it’s also where you can show your expertise on the subject by being as helpful as possible. And guiding all seven of these tips is this one:

8.    PUT SOME EFFORT INTO YOUR GUEST POST. Part of the benefit to guest posting is the opportunity to connect with a new audience. Make sure you bring your A-game, because you need to make a good impression if you want this exposure to actually help grow your audience. Don’t stress yourself out, but put a little thought into what you submit.

ONE ADDITIONAL TIP: Have fun with it. Passion is what really drives the popularity of blogs. Share your passion and enthusiasm, and readers are sure to be impressed.

ROBERT LEE BREWER is the editor of Writer’s Market and Poet’s Market, as well as a published poet. He is the former Poet Laureate of the Blogosphere.