SEO Is Not Enough To Grow Your Blog Subscriber List!

Only five years ago, you might have heard, “Radio doesn’t sell books. TV sells books.” Now, you’re more likely to hear, “TV is okay, but social media sells books.” If you get bloggers talking, tweeting, sharing, and posting about your books, you’re likely to experience enhanced success at marketing your book.

But, alas, marketing your blog is different from marketing your regular website. Specifically, plain old search engine optimization (a.k.a., SEO) isn’t enough to make you a widely read blogger.

The blogging system has added variables beyond SEO, like the warm, fuzzy, social element (hence the “social” in “social media.”) Search engines are “cold” and comb through blogs, looking for key words, tags, page relevance, back-links from other reputable sites, etc., but real people are “warm” and click on “forward” and “share” buttons if they feel that your message resonates with them on a personal, emotional level. Catch my drift? You have to be an expert at both the cold and warm elements in order to succeed at blogging.

By the way, in case you’re wondering what a “back-link” is, I’m going to be self-serving and include one here. It’s a link back to my own website, www.TheEdenDiet.com. Voila! I just raised my own website’s search engine ranking by linking it to the highly respected Wordserve Watercooler blog.

In the same way, let me return a favor to a fellow Wordserve author. A while back, Jordyn Redwood interviewed me on her blog, Redwood’s Medical Edge, and she included a back-link to my Eden Diet website. Now, I just returned the favor with a back-link from the Watercooler. Her blog’s search engine rankings just went up a bit. Do you see how it works? The “social” in  “social media” augments your search engine optimization.

Unfortunately, even if your blog content resonates with people on a warm, human level, only a small percentage of your subscribers will click “share” and “forward.” Probably, most will be passive and neither comment on nor share your posts. Thus, to expand your subscriber list, you must find ways to engage and mobilize that small minority of blog followers who could actually help you spread your message.

One way to recruit supportive blog followers is to cross-promote with other reputable bloggers who have large subscriber lists. Imagine the ripple effect of increased numbers of subscribers when other big-time bloggers link back to your blog (not to mention that the back-links will raise your blog’s standings with the search engines).

Because it isn’t easy to get big-time bloggers to notice let alone promote and share your content, let me tell you some strategies that have worked for me: (1) Ask to feature/interview other bloggers for your own blog. Try to pick those with large followings. Many will offer to feature/interview you on their blog, in return.  (2) Offer free books to those who interview you and suggest that they give them away to their own followers. When you first help others, some return the favor!

In summary, your ideal blog marketing strategy should be (1) get noticed (through regular SEO, using key words and tags, getting back-links, etc.); (2) hold your readers’ attention with a warm message that fills their needs; (3) encourage readers to actually participate and share your message; and (4) get noticed by and develop relationships with well-known bloggers who have big followings. Help your fellow bloggers spread their message by featuring them on your site, and maybe someday they will offer to help you spread your message.

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From Self-Published to Contracted Author (In Ten Thousand Easy Steps)

Five years ago, when I attended a Harvard University writers’ workshop for medical doctors, I was one of the few in attendance who actually had an edited, polished, pitch-ready manuscript in hand. But, still, I left that meeting with no agent and no publishing contract. The reason is I didn’t have a media platform.

Right or wrong, after that meeting, I decided to self-publish. I figured it would be easier to build my platform once I had a tangible book in-hand, and the fastest way to turn my manuscript into a tangible book would be via self-publishing. I thought, “I can always sell my book to the publisher later, if it succeeds,” and “How hard could it be to self-publish and succeed?” Little did I know how much work the whole venture would entail.

Over the following year, I hired freelance editors and artists to tweak my book into publishing house quality. I even started my own publishing LLC, so I could print my books via Lightning Source, Inc. and get them into the warehouses of the major distributors like Ingram and Baker&Taylor.

Next, came the marketing. Ugh! Being that I had no contacts in the media, I still don’t understand how I landed those first few radio and TV interviews. Okay…I confess. Maybe it had to do with me calling the stations and saying, “Hello. This is Dr. Rita Hancock. I need to leave a message for [the producer’s name], so please connect me to her voice mail.” It’s not my fault if the receptionist put me through because she thought I was calling to leave pregnancy test results. It’s not like I implied that exactly.

During this platform-building year, I also built my book’s website and online interactive support forum and began sending out monthly newsletters, answering questions on “Ask the Expert” websites, and utilizing pay per click advertising to drive traffic to my website.

Eventually, thanks to the platform-building, I landed both an excellent agent and a contract with a bona fide publisher. However, what came next utterly shocked and disappointed me. I didn’t yet know the adage “The top 20% of the authors get 80% of the marketing dollars.” Being a newbie author, I was left almost completely on my own to market. In a sense, it was “do or die” for my writing career. So, over the subsequent few years, refusing to “die,” I redoubled my efforts and took media training classes, learned how to write press releases, secured book endorsements, cross-promoted with other Christian authors, and built up my presence in social media like Facebook and Twitter.

I hoped that through these continued efforts, I would eventually be in the top 20% on some publisher’s author list—if not on my first book, maybe on my second, and, if not with my first publisher, maybe with a different publisher. And that’s exactly what happened. One day, during a conference call over my second book, I heard the publisher say what sounded like music to my ears. “Dr. Hancock, we’re prepared to put a lot of money and a lot of energy into promoting your next book.” Amazing! All that hard work finally paid off, and it took only ten thousand easy steps to get there.

What steps are you willing to take to promote your book?

Amazon.com’s ‘Vine Program’ Can Either Help Or Hurt You

Not all marketing tools are created equal. Some will move books; some will bite you where the sun doesn’t shine. Today, allow me to tell how the use of one book marketing tool could have sunk my book.

“The Amazon.com Vine Program” is a service offered by Amazon.com to book publishers. Basically, publishers contract with Amazon.com to send out a certain number of books to reviewers in exchange for their unbiased ratings. Theoretically, it’s a way to jump-start ratings on an author’s page immediately after a book is released.

But there can be problems with this system. In at least one case that I know of (MINE!), the publisher failed to communicate with the Vine Program that the book in question had a Christian viewpoint. And since nothing noticeably Christian appeared in the title, subtitle, cover art, or even in the book’s description, it was a cauldron of trouble. The book ended up being inadvertently sent to people unsympathetic to faith issues who rated the book poorly and then slammed the publisher for being deceptive about its religious agenda.

You could argue that this was really the publisher’s mistake and not the Vine Program’s. But it still highlights the fact that the Vine Program can be utilized ineffectively and, hence, end up hurting your efforts more than helping.

How can you avoid this situation? Ask your PR and/or marketing folks if they intend to utilize the Vine Program. If so, work with your agent to make sure your publisher adequately broadcasts your book’s content through its title, subtitle, description, and cover art. Otherwise, your book won’t get to its intended readers, and your reviews may be less than stellar.

Even if this Vine problem doesn’t happen to you, expect some unfair ratings to come your way in the Amazon.com rating system. People are imperfect; therefore, readers (and publishers and authors) are imperfect. Some readers aren’t capable of understanding what you say, and others read too hastily or misunderstand your message for other reasons.

The good news is, eventually, justice tends to prevail. Unfair and/or misleading reviews tend to fall off the map. Once enough people rate the unfair reviews as “unhelpful,” the Amazon.com rating system automatically deletes them.

In addition, reviewers have the option to “comment” on each other’s reviews and clear up any confusion. (Only, sometimes, their comments make things worse rather than better. You should see the caustic verbiage that flew back and forth between two reviewers of my book, The Eden Diet. I have an overall five-star rating, but I got a two-star review that apparently ticked off one of my supporters. The comments that followed were so mean that they were actually funny–in a “Pulp Fiction” kind of shocking-human-nature way. It was like a psychology experiment went wrong, right on my Amazon.com review page. Thanks a lot, people!)

The point is, online review systems are fraught with inherent inaccuracy and bias, and they sometimes hurt more than help. But if you want to be a writer, you have to get used to this and other imperfections in the system as a whole. That’s why book writing (and the reading of book reviews on said writing) is not for the faint of heart!

Care to share some of your review experiences?

Authorship Is A Lesson In Humility

The pain was almost unbearable as I read my book doctor’s lengthy and critical evaluation of my first manuscript. I felt like my heart was being ripped out of my chest. Without significant additional help, not to mention hundreds of hours of work and a lot of money for surgery, my manuscript wasn’t going to live. It was my first lesson in humility as a would-be author.

Thankfully, my book doctor was funny and tactful as he delivered his prognosis. He told me he could teach me how to resuscitate my baby if I was willing to pay the $80 per hour co-pay.

As if my deficiencies as a writer weren’t a big enough blow to my ego, I was also told I had to wait three months before he could carve out time for my writing lessons. Come on, man! Three months? Really?

The harsh truth was no matter how much authority and respect I garnered in my day job as a physician, in the world of book-writing and publishing, I was a vulnerable, inexperienced nobody. I couldn’t even get a writing coach’s quick attention when I was paying.

Fast forward a year, and thanks to my book doctor’s worth-the-wait teaching, plus my own endurance through repeated rejections and humiliation, I produced a much-improved manuscript and ultimately went on to secure Greg Johnson as my agent and a publishing contract with Zondervan for The Eden Diet.

Woo-hoo! I got an amazing agent and a book contract! I thought that meant, “No more begging for people’s time and attention regarding my book.” Wrong! I hadn’t yet even begun to market. I didn’t know yet how humiliating book signings can be, “Please, Mrs. Bookstore Patron, may I interrupt your shopping agenda and tell you about my book?” Many stopped and listened, politely, but some walked right by, as if they didn’t hear me talking.

Compare that to my life at the office. In my doctor-world, I have actual authority and garner near-immediate respect from people who don’t even know me.

Fast forward again and now I have a contract with Strang/Charisma House for a book that can help even more people. Will I risk rejection again as I hold book signings and market for this second book? Absolutely. I counted the cost, and it’s worth the price. My message can bring countless readers into physical, mental and spiritual wholeness. Isn’t their profound healing worth a little momentary discomfort on my part?

Besides, any tiny shred of humiliation I endure along the way to help other people is infinitesimally small compared to the humiliation my Lord suffered when He was hung on the cross. Actually, now that I think about His humiliation for the greater good, I don’t even have the right to talk about humility.