Five Things I Learned About Writing/Marketing from Dr. James Dobson

First things first:  Yes, I met Dr. Dobson.In real life. And, yes, he was kind and wise and funny and smart and everything I expected him to be and more. I flew up to Colorado Springs in April, 2013 to be a guest on Dr. Dobson’s Family Talk radio show. In the studio, we chatted about families, about writing, about my books, and then recorded 3 1-hour segments to air on June 5-7, 2013. (Click here to see where you can listen in.) And, in the process, I not only gained invaluable insight on motherhood, marriage, and family from one of the most amazing theological minds of our generation, but I also learned about writing as well. Here’s what I took away from this meeting.

Dobson1. Actions Speak Louder Than Words.  Dr. Dobson’s life’s work and focus has always been on helping Christ-centered families. And I don’t think anyone in the world would argue with me if I said that he has passionately and wholeheartedly given his career to this goal. This is a great thing. I have to admit that part of me expected our visit to be something like a college-course lecture. Instead, he pulled my five-year-old daughter onto his lap and talked to her. And he showed me without saying a word that he values children and family and motherhood in a way that goes beyond words. I learned that if I want to talk the talk in my writing and on my blog, I had better be willing to walk the walk.

2. Listen With Open Ears.  Dr. Dobson knows his stuff. The guy is legendary—well-read, well-educated, well-just-about-everything. And the truth is that I knew there was nothing I could’ve said to him about parenting or motherhood that he a) didn’t already know and b) hadn’t already covered in his own writings. But Dr. Dobson listened to my words wholeheartedly and willingly—even on topics that we didn’t necessarily see eye-to-eye on. He showed me respect by looking me in the eye and allowing me to voice my opinion. And I left in awe of his incredible wisdom and kindness. No wonder he has made such an impact on our world! He is willing to listen with open ears and to show respect with a gentle kindness—even to those who are “below” him in status or who have different opinions than he does.

3. Don’t Be Afraid to Put Yourself Out There.  I wish I could tell you that I did something to earn myself a spot on Dr. Dobson’s radio show. I wish I could tell you it was on my merit, that I did something extraordinary, that I am an amazing radio speaker, that my writing is just that inspiring…but I can’t. Because the truth is that I did nothing. I threw myself out there by having my publicist send my book to Family Talk’s studio…in 2011. From there, God worked behind the scenes to inspire the right producer at the right time to pick up the book. As authors, we have to do everything we can to get our books “out there,” but after writing and marketing five books, I’ve learned that God is the one who opens those doors. We just have to be willing to walk through them.

4.  Don’t Be Afraid to Ask.  I was thrilled the day I got the call from Dr. Dobson’s producer that I was going to be on his show. And I knew it was an important break in the marketing campaign for my new books. But I had also made myself a promise way back when my oldest was born: I was never going to let my career take me away from my kids for an extended amount of time. And while I desperately wanted to go on the show, I also struggled to decide if was a good idea to leave home for three days at the end of the school year. I prayed and picked up the phone and asked the producer if I could bring my daughter along. And she bent over backwards to make it happen. They reserved a room for me with two beds. They helped me book airline tickets. They found me a big-enough rental car. And the entire staff at Family Talk showed my daughter incredible kindness and love while we were there. My point? Don’t be afraid to ask. I know it wasn’t easy for them to have a five-year-old in the studio, but it was important to me. Dr. Dobson’s organization lived up to their reputation of being advocates for family by helping me make it happen.

5.  Be Willing To Be Flexible.  I went into Dr. Dobson’s studio with the expectation that we were going to record one hour-long segment. I walked out having recorded three. We had a flow going and had so much to talk about that we just kept recording. The studio session took much longer than expected and…shockingly…we got stuck in a snowstorm afterwards (a snowstorm in April? Apparently this is normal only in Colorado). Anyway, writing and marketing is an inherently liquid task—and only by being flexible to roll with the changes—ups, downs, twists, and turns—will we be able to see and succeed in the long-haul.

What have you learned about writing from other (famous) authors or radio personalities?

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Erin MacPherson is the author of The Christian Mama’s Guide series.  She’s also a mommy blogger, amateur chef, and (very) amateur runner.  She blogs at www.christianmamasguide.com.

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?