The Middle

First of all,  I’m so sorry this post wasn’t up this morning.  I would blame Friday the 13th but the truth is, I thought today was Friday the 12th and  my inability to read a calendar resulted in the inability to get my post up on time.  Anyway…

Have y’all seen the show “The Middle“?  I love it… and average family from middle America does average things and does them in a mediocre way.  What’s not to love?  (Sidenote:  I read this aloud to my husband and his answer was:  “Sure, it’s great as long as you don’t mind watching people who are poorer than you, uglier than you and less talented than you do things that you do everyday.”  Touché.)

But, as it turns out, talent and wealth aside, when it comes to writing, I am a lot like the Hecks.   I think a lot of writers are.  Yes, getting my book deal was a big deal.  Yes, seeing my book on the bookstore shelf for the first time was an amazing experience.  And, yes, I have sold a fair number of copies of my book.  But I’m not John Grisham.  Or even Ann Voskamp.  I’m a middle-of-the-road author.  And, if we’re honest, most authors are.

So, how do Middle Writers survive– and thrive in “The Middle”?

1.  Being in the middle doesn’t mean settling for mediocrity.  No, I probably won’t sell a million copies of my next book, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t write it like millions are going to read it.  I choose to put forth my best work every day– regardless of whether it’s a short essay to be read by three people in my family or a book that will potentially be read by thousands.  Work hard to hone your craft and never settle for less than your best.

2.  Be realistic.  I admit– there are days that I daydream about multi-million dollar sales and huge contracts.  Days that I imagine the “what-ifs” of sold-out audiences and huge second printings.  But, then I get realistic.  And realize that those things would be nice– but they are not essential to my success as an author.

3.  Think about why you write.  I love putting words on paper.  I love making people laugh.  I love telling stories.  I love giving advice.  And, when I really get down to the nitty gritty of why I write, making money and selling books is not at the top of my list.  Which is a good thing.  So, when I find myself getting caught up in sales numbers and money and contracts and all that stuff, I remind myself why I write.  And remind myself that the rest is secondary.

4.  Build your platform where you are.  I write non-fiction, so platform is important.  But, as much as I’d love it, I’m probably not going to get Heidi Klum to endorse my book.  Or Oprah to put it on her book club list.  But that doesn’t mean I can’t work hard to build an awesome platform where I am.  I go to local Mom’s groups and speak.  I am heavily involved in MOPS.  I write for several parenting magazines.  I blog about what I love.  All those things build platform– even for authors in “The Middle”.

5.  Don’t be afraid to dream about “the Top”.  I know I just told you to be realistic but it’s also important to have dreams– and some of those dreams can involve “the Top”.  Set your sights high.  Live the dream.  Write like you’re going to make it big.  And never give up on your dream.
Question for you:  How do you thrive in “The Middle” (Or, if you’re not in “The Middle”, how do you like the view from “The Top”?

Keywording 201 for SEO Prowess: Three Simple To-Dos to Improve SEO

A few weeks ago, I gave you the 411 on how to choose thematic keywords for your site.  And, now that y’all have researched your keywords on Google Adwords and Insights, honed your theme and come up with a strong list of 10-15 keywords (you did that, right?), you’re probably wondering what to do with said list.

Using keywords correctly is complicated.  Really complicated.  And to be honest, figuring out the algorithm takes rocket-scientist brainpower and the ability to focus on complicated things like numbers and graphs for long stretches of time (12 minutes at least).  And, since I’m guessing that doesn’t sound like something you want to do when you could be doing fun things like NaNoWriMoing, I’m going to make it really, really easy for you.  So easy, in fact, that even a busy NaNoWriMoing novelist with less than 4 minutes of free time between soccer drop-off and throwing dinner in the crock-pot can get it done.

Homework caveat:  Before you can complete this to-do list, you’ll need to come up with a list of 10-15 thematic keywords for your blog.  Refer to this post for instructions.

Three Simple To-Dos That Will Improve Your SEO

  1. Use at least ONE of your keywords in the TITLE of a blog post at least one time per week.  (Why?  Title or H1 tags—especially title tags on WordPress which is built for SEO—have a strong SEO value.  That means that when you use a word in the title, the Google crawlers will automatically assume the article has something to do thematically with that word.)
  2. Make a hyperlink to a different blog article on your site in each blog post you write.   BONUS:  If possible, make the word that’s hyperlinked be one of your keywords.   For example:  if your keyword is “women of faith”, try to link the words “women of faith” to a separate article on your site that’s about women of faith.   (Why?  Just like title tags, Google crawlers assume that when your article links to another article, it has strong relevancy to that theme.)
  3.   Try to use at least one of your keywords in every article you write.  (Why?  It’s the thematic relevancy thing again—the more you organically use your words, the more Google is going to assume you know what you’re talking about when it comes to those themes.)

That’s it!  Easy, peasy, right?

Question for you:  What is the hardest thing for you about SEO?

Keywording 101 for SEO Prowess

Three words:  Search Engine Optimization.  They kind of make you want to grab a bag and start hyperventilating, don’t they?

In the world of viral marketing, social media and Google Adwords, SEO has become another one of the things that you’ve probably had to put on your to-do list.  And, if you’re anything like most of the writers I talk to, you probably have no idea where to start.

I was lucky.  Before I got my book deal, I’d spent five years working as a staff writer for a major media company.  And, since we wrote for the web, I spent hours each week honing my SEO skills.  We actually had a team of SEO gurus on staff that hosted weekly SEO boot camps for us—analyzing every article we wrote for SEO viability and nitpicking every teeny tiny keyword on our site.  So, while viral marketing and blogging were new to me, I had the SEO thing down pat.

And, I have to say, it’s worked for me.  While I spend very little time doing viral marketing on my blog—I’m just not a good twitterer—I get fairly decent traffic—and most of it comes from Google referrals.  I chalk that up to having a strong SEO strategy—and knowing where to focus my SEO time.

Obviously, SEO is a tough nut to crack—and there’s no way I can give you even a tenth of the information you need in one post.  Before you create a viable SEO strategy, you’ll need to decide if SEO is even worth your time (in some cases, it’s not), how you’ll use SEO keywords (there are many, many ways that go way beyond simply keywording a post) and how to create relevancy with your keywords on your site (now that’s complicated).

But, in order to put the horse before the cart, the first thing you need to do is come up with a list of keywords that you want to use on your blog or website.  This list can (and will) become your SEO cheat sheet—you’ll have something to focus on, something to consult whenever you’re writing a post, a start to a strategy.  Here are my tips:

  1. Limit your keywords. I’ve had clients who presented me with a list of 100 keywords and then asked me to help them come up with more.  And, while they have the right idea in that they are focusing on specific words instead of just throwing out a random slew of words as they write a post—they are biting off too big of a chunk.  While the Google and Bing algorithms are super complicated, one important aspect is that they search for relevancy—which means in a nutshell they’ll be crawling your site to see how much information on your site is relevant to a specific keyword or idea. So, unless you’re posting dozens of articles every week that are very specifically focusing on all 100 of your keywords, you’re probably not you’re not creating a sense of relevancy with many of them.  So, choose a short list (my recommendation:  between 5 and 15) of keywords that you can focus on with every post, every page and every idea.  By simplifying, you’ll actually create a bigger reach.
  2. Do your research.  Don’t just guess on which keywords people are searching!  I use both Google Adwords and Google Insights all the time to help my clients (and myself!) find appropriate words to focus on.  They’re pretty straightforward tools so you can probably figure out how to use them to your advantage in less than ten minutes.
  3. Know your competition. Remember how I told you that I used to work for a major media website with huge traffic numbers?  And remember how I said we had an entire SEO team on staff?  Let me give it to you straight:  Unless your last name is Grisham or you have a staff of 40 writers and editors helping you with your blog, you CANNOT compete with major sites like that.  It’s a waste of your time to try.  Case in point:  Me!  My book, The Christian Mama’s Guide to Having a Baby, is a pregnancy guide–but I have never spent even a minute focusing on the keywords “pregnancy,” “pregnancy book” or “pregnancy guide.”  Why?  Have you ever heard of “What do Expect When you’re Expecting“?  Or “Baby Center“?  I could spend hours a week creating relevancy on my site around the word “pregnancy” and only move from page 120,000 to page 50,000 on Google.  And, while moving up 70,000 pages is pretty good, I’m pretty sure no one has ever looked past the first two pages of Google results, so it’s absolutely a waste of my time to focus on “pregnancy.”  Instead, choose words that get a decent number of searches every month (target:  between 1,000-10,000 global monthly searches) and low competition (less than 20% on Adwords) and focus on those.
  4. If you don’t talk about it on your site, don’t use it as a keyword.  I see this mistake all the time… my clients throw out a search keyword based on a theme or idea in their books, but when I pull up their website, I see nothing about that particular idea on their website.  It’s not only poor user experience—if someone Googles “Amish recipes” and then comes to your site and finds nothing about Amish recipes, they’re probably not going to stick around—but it also does nothing to create a sense of relevancy around that keyword, which will hurt your SEO.  This does not, however, mean you need to blog only about the topics in your novels.  For example, author Jody Hedlund has a wonderful blog full of tips and ideas for authors (find it here)—however, her latest novel, The Doctor’s Lady, is about the first woman to pioneer the Oregon Trail.  On her website, Jody has done a great job of creating relevancy surrounding the theme of her book by creating a cool “reader fun” page that’s full of facts, quizzes and more surrounding the historical times in her books.   Similarly, author Rosslyn Elliot, a historical romance author who wrote “Fairer Than Morning” maintains a “History” page on her site that adds relevancy surrounding the historical concepts in her novels.
  5. Cater to groupies.  As fun as it would be to be loved by everyone, it’s just not going to happen.  As a pregnancy author, I can’t appease the natural birthers AND the epidural fanatics.  And you can’t appease everyone either.  So, think about your core audience—the people who ABSOLUTELY love everything you do—and work to appease them both with your site content and your keywords.  For example, my friend Cathy West wrote an amazing historical romance called Yesterday’s Tomorrow that’s set in Vietnam during the war.  And, while her book is great for all sorts of populations, you can bet that Vietnam vets and their families find it especially compelling.  My recommendation for Cathy?  To cater to that population, both by creating contests and posts that appeal to Vietnam vets, but also by focusing her keyword reach on words that appeal to that audience.

NOW:  For a chance to win an hour of SEO consulting from me (via phone or Skype, 30 minutes research, 30 minutes talking), respond to this post and tell me how (or if) you’ve developed an SEO strategy for your blog.  Winner will be chosen at random on October 21st and will be contacted by me via email.

*CONTEST IS CLOSED*  Congrats to WINNER Norma Thurston Holtman.

Platform 101 for Regular (Not-Famous) People Like Me

Sometimes I wonder why I didn’t decide to be famous when I grew up.  Because I’m starting to think that if my face was plastered across magazine covers and my name was on the marquis, I would have a lot easier time getting people to read what I have to say.

But, alas, I decided to be a plain-old, regular gal.

And, while I like my regular life with my regular kids and my regular husband and my regular job, I imagine that authors with big-time names and fancy doctoral degrees have a much easier time building their platform than I do.

You see, I write pregnancy and parenting books.  And, while I do have three fabulously adorable kids that give me lots to talk about on the pregnancy and parenting front—I’m not an OB, I’m not a nurse and (shocker) I’m not Jenny McCarthy.

Which means I’m not an “expert”.  And I’m okay with that.  But will my readers be?  And, since I’m not, how do I convince my readers (and the world) to read what I have to say?

Here’s what I’ve learned about platform building for regular folk:

1.    Stick to writing what you know.  For some reason, people generally don’t like to hear advice from people who don’t know what they’re talking about.  (Who knew?)  So, since I’m not a doctor, I steer clear from giving medical advice, but give everyone the nitty gritty details on what it’s like to go to the doctor—something I’ve done a lot of.   You may not have a diploma on your wall—but if your life experiences have given you expertise in something, write about it!

2.     Write what you know in lots of places.  Once you’ve written what you know, write it in a lot of places.  Spread the love and submit articles for magazines, guest post on blogs, start a blog of your own and post user generated content on websites like Yahoo! Shine.   Get your name out there—and before long, people will start regarding you as an “expert”.

3.    Keep your blog focused on your area of expertise.  For a long time, I wrote blog posts according to the whim of the day.  And I found that my readership shrunk and my posts seemed stale.  Why?  Because they weren’t focused.  Based on some advice from my agent, Rachelle, I decided to keep my blog 100% focused on pregnancy and parenting—and thus, create a level of expertise for myself through my own blog postings.

4.    Get to know the experts in your area.  I had the most amazing OB read and endorse my book.  With his endorsement came the assurance that while my book wasn’t written by an OB, the advice in it was medically sound.  Likewise, I try to stay well read on the pregnancy and parenting front, so that when I publish material, it comes with the backing of the experts in the field.

5.    Get out there.  If you want to get your name out there, you have to actually get your name out there.  That means prying yourself away from your computer (fun as it is to write the day away) and meet people.  It can be as simple as going to playgroups/school meetings/ministry events and getting to know people in your audience and as complicated as setting up speaking engagements around the country.  Regardless, if you’re not out there talking about your book, no one else is.

Question:  What are your best platform-building tips?