AUTHORNOMICS Interview with Judy Dunn

By: Andrea Hurst

To get a free copy of Judy’s “10 Ways to Attract More Readers to Your Blog,” subscribe to her blog and send her an email at news@catseyewriter.com with “I SUBSCRIBED” in the subject line.

With a publishing industry that is ever in flux, it can be hard for an aspiring author to figure out what information is relevant and what she needs to do to be successful. Recognizing this, literary agent Andrea Hurst and writer and blogger Katie Flanagan present a series of weekly interviews with publishing industry specialists. The AUTHORNOMICS Series features literary agents, editors, authors, marketing experts and more talking about their opinions on the publishing industry, writing, and what a writer needs to know.

Interview with Blogger Judy Dunn

Judy Dunn is a writer, blogger and content marketing specialist. Her blog, Cat’s Eye Writer, is on alltop.com‘s list of best blogs about blogging and was named one of Write to Done’s 2011 Top 10 Blogs for Writers. Judy is currently working on a memoir about the 1970s women’s rights movement.

1. What is your number one blog start-up tip?

If I had to choose just one tip, it would be to focus on creating the very best content you are capable of. If you have time for just one quality post a week, that is what you should do. I tell my workshop attendees: “One kick-ass post a week is better than seven crappy ones.”

Because that is how you develop a following. The competition out there is tough, but if you have identified a niche topic and have something to say, the readers will come. In the content arena, the biggest mistake I see beginners make is not defining their audience and topics well enough.

For example, I see taglines (those short descriptors right below the blog header and name that tell first time visitors what your blog is about) saying things like, “Exploring the joy of life, writing, marriage, cooking and other cool things.” If I land on this blog, I don’t have a clear idea about what the blogger writes about. It is just too much stuff. I may like to cook, but if I am single, I wouldn’t necessarily be interested in someone’s musings on married life. So, write quality content with laser-focused topics. And the way you do that is by starting first with a goal. What is the purpose of your blog? What do you want to accomplish? The content part will fall into place after you’ve decided that.

2. How did you learn about blogging?

This blogging thing has been a journey. We had a copywriting and graphic design company for 18 years. When blogging started to become a legitimate marketing tool for businesses (moving past the more personal, online journal stage), as the lead copywriter, I was the logical person to explore it as a strategy. I became the blogger for the Cat’s Eye Marketing blog. Initially, I blogged about marketing for service-based small businesses.

I changed my focus two years ago, as I transitioned to helping small businesses and creative professionals, including writers, become better bloggers. At that point, I started adding my blog coaching services and products.

Now, in the last six months, my focus has narrowed even more. I blog specifically to help writers and aspiring writers learn how to use a blog as an author platform and how to leverage social media to get more visibility for their blogs and their work. And as I complete the draft of my first book, a memoir, my blog is becoming the hub for my own author platform. This has been a four-year process and the tweaking continues as I constantly evaluate and refine my goals.

3. Talk about the logistics of setting up a blog. What hosting/domain sites do you recommend?

There are so many ways to go with this. Most people think that the only option is to create a blog on a platform like WordPress.com, Blogger or Typepad. What they often don’t understand are the limitations of your blog on someone else’s platform, as far as control over your content and structure, as well as the room for growth. For example, if Blogger decides to shut down, there goes your content and there goes the readership you have built up.

We usually recommend that you self-host your blog with WordPress, which means that you own and control all of your content. This not only gives you more control, but it allows you to add so much more functionality to your blog. For self-hosting, we are big fans of Bluehost and Hostgator, for the ease of installing WordPress, as well as their affordability and excellent customer support. It’s also convenient because you can get your domain names there, too. Your readers can get lots more information at bobwp.com, including free posts and videos to walk them though some of these issues.

4. What tips do you have for building an audience?

As I referred to in the first question, your foremost strategy should be developing first-rate content. Above everything else, this will attract readers. There are many ways to promote your blog, from putting a clickable URL in your email signature line to writing guest posts for other bloggers—and everything in-between. Offering a free gift to readers will also increase your subscribes. For example, I’m offering your readers who subscribe to the Cat’s Eye blog a free tip sheet, “10 Ways to Attract More Readers to Your Blog.”

In addition, make it easy for readers to leave a comment on your blog and be proactive with your comments because readers who are responded to will come back again.

5. How do you keep finding new things to blog about?

Every blogger hits a wall from time to time. But ideas are everywhere. They really are. If you have defined your blog’s niche, you have a good handle on your general content areas. I use a creative exercise called mind mapping to take a general subject and start chunking down to more and more specific topics until I have something manageable to tackle.

In a post I wrote, “8 Ways to Collect Enough Blog Post Ideas for the Next 100 Years,” I suggested other strategies, like: turning the camera on yourself in everyday life (using real-time experiences and applying them to your blog’s topics); identifying the activities and times of day when your ideas show up; practicing free, uncensored writing; reading more (it almost doesn’t matter what you read because it will often trigger new ideas to write about); and paying attention to your reader comments (I have often found gems there—questions that I have turned into new posts).

 6. You describe your blog as “for writers who blog and bloggers who write.” Why is it important for writers to blog? And don’t all bloggers write?

I am a firm believer in blog taglines and feel that they should be changed as often as the focus of your blog changes. For the Cat’s Eye blog, I wanted a tagline that tells visitors within seconds whether or not they have landed in the right place, whether this blogger writes about things they want to know about.

To me, “for writers who blog and bloggers who write” says that I talk to aspiring and published writers who have blogs and bloggers who are also writers (and no, not all bloggers write in the purest sense of the word; for example, some bloggers are small business owners who are blogging to promote their company). For me, this distinction is in line with my new focus on writers.

Why is it important for writers to blog? Boy, I could go on and on. But, basically, your blog is your home base. It’s the piece of real estate that you own, the spot where your readers can always find you. Whether you are shopping your book idea with the traditional houses or going the self-publishing route, you know that the readers do not magically appear the day your book hits the Barnes and Noble shelves or amazon.com.

A blog helps you build an author platform—an audience of readers. When you create good solid content and engage your readers, you are creating interest in your books. This core group of readers will help create a buzz about your upcoming book and spread the word about this fun new author and her blog.

 7. How often do you re-evaluate the aesthetics of your blog? How often do you re-evaluate the content?

Great questions. When you are building a blog, you need to have three essential things in place: quality content, an effective SEO component (structures and strategies to help you rank well with google) and appealing design. You can’t have a great blog without all three. Effort and resources put into just one or two of these will be time and money wasted.

The aesthetics, a good user-friendly design, is one of those three key pieces. I look at the design side of my blog at least twice a year. And I am constantly on the lookout for new tools and features that will make the reader experience even better. I am lucky because our other business focuses on WordPress training, coaching and consulting. My husband is an experienced designer. (I’m your typical low-tech writer who would use a fountain pen if I could still get away with it.) He does all my design and tweaking, even down to adding those cool social media buttons and my blog subscribe sign-up graphic.

On the content side, I pay particular attention to which posts are most popular. I have a philosophy called blog-as-lab. I wrote a post on it over at For Bloggers, By Bloggers (“7 Ways to Use Your Blog as a Lab, Even if You Sucked at Science.”) In science, we learn when we test theories. Same thing with out blogs. We learn what works and what doesn’t—what is true for our readers and what is not. Studying your blog stats can tell you a lot (which posts got the most views, how long the readers stayed on a specific page, things like that). If readers are not staying long on a particular post, that’s a sign that the content did not hit its mark.

But there are many other ways to measure the helpfulness of your content. You can ask your readers what they need. You can collect information from the comments. You can test different blog post headlines to track the click-through/open rates. These are just a few strategies.

 8. How do you juggle your creative writing schedule with your blogging schedule?

Since I started writing my book, I am much more sensitive to this issue. I divide my day into blog-related writing, promoting and increasing my blog’s visibility through social media—Twitter, Facebook, etc.—and what I call my sacred time: turning the phone and Internet off, closing the email inbox,  and making sure I meet my creative writing goals. I have a little red alarm clock that starts ringing and jumping on my computer screen to tell me it’s time to work on my memoir.

Balancing time and tasks is not an easy thing to do. I find in particular that, as I write my memoir, being the curious person that I am, I can get hung up in the research, (a habit left over from my teaching and grant writing days). If I’m not careful, one click can lead to the next (“Oooh! What’s this link?”) and before I know it, I have only two pages of writing to show for my day. So, yes, it’s a constant struggle. Time management is definitely something I am constantly tweaking.

Andrea Hurst has over 25 years experience as a published author, developmental editor for publishers, and skilled literary agent. She works with both major and regional publishing houses, and her client list includes emerging new voices and New York Times best-selling authors. Andrea represents high profile Adult Nonfiction and well crafted fiction. Her clients and their books have appeared on the Oprah Show, Ellen DeGeneres Show, Good Morning America, National Geographic network and in the New York Times.

Katie Flanagan is a fiction major at Northwestern University. She is currently an editor with Booktrope Publishing and Pink Fish Press. In the past, she has interned with Andrea Hurst Literary Management and the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts. Her favorite genre is women’s fiction, but she reads any fiction put in front of her. Check out her blog about the writing life at katieflanagan.wordpress.com and follow her on Twitter at @K_Flanagan.


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Comments

  1. Fabulous interview full of great (and critical) must-know info for authors and bloggers! Thanks Andrea, Katie, and Judy!

  2. Judy Dunn says:

    Always good to hear that someone has found a post helpful. Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment. : )

  3. Great post! Judy’s first point is Incredibly Important!

    Having coached bloggers through the process of identifying their niche, my perspective is that it’s often one of the hardest things to do. Picking the right niche feels like limiting yourself… and you are. But that’s good because it forces you to focus on going deeply on your topic instead of broadly generalizing.

    It’s really hard to attract a target market if your niche isn’t clearly defined.

  4. Lovely interview, Judy! How nice to see you on Andrea’s site. I hope you’ll be back.

    And I’m very pleased to hear about your work on your memoir. ;)

  5. Great information. I can’t wait to apply your ideas and suggestions. I’ll be following you soon.

    And, thanks Andrea for having such great guests. -Susan.

  6. Excellent interview (the questions are spot on!) and excellent advice (thanks Judy!. I agree with everyone here, the hardest thingfora writer is to blog within a “niche”. Actually, that drives me crazy. I’ve been blogging for 2 years now and slowly driving my traffic up without however giving up entirely on my urge to speak out about just anything that happens under the sun!

    Believe me, it’s more than a simple urge, it’s a downright passion! I can get passionate about snow in Rome (where I live – did a photo reportage on it) and cooking a Quiche Lorraine the right way (took me 20 years to figure out how to get it just right). And I’m not comfortable with pushing my own writing – just hope my readers will enjoy my blog and eventually click those buy-the-book buttons…

    But your point about “niche” blogging is statistically proven to be exactly right, sigh! That’s what drives traffic…if you keep switching niches as I do, chances are you’re losing readers. But you know what the real problem is? As a writer, one is profoundly interested in EVERYTHING that happens in the world, close by and far away…So how on earth can one do niche blogging? It just doesn’t come natural!

  7. Judy Dunn says:

    Joseph,

    Yes, that niche issue is critical. And it can be a challenge, because we are afraid we will be turning readers away who aren’t interested in that topic. But that is precisely what needs to happen! I think our niche gets more clearly defined as we get more of a handle on our audience. I found that true in my case, anyway. Thanks for bringing your knowledge to the table.

  8. Judy Dunn says:

    Victoria,

    Wow, great to see you here. I’m honored that Andrea and Katie invited me to their house. And, yes, I’m pretty excited on making the decision to finish my memoir. : )

  9. Andrea Hurst says:

    Thanks for stopping by.

  10. Judy Dunn says:

    Susan,

    Glad this was helpful. How could I go wrong with such great questions? If you are on Twitter (forgot to include my social media handles), I’m @CatsEyeWriter. Would love to connect with you there. And if “follow” means subscribe to my blog, that would be cool, too. You can find it at http://catseyewriter.com.

  11. Judy Dunn says:

    Andrea,

    My pleasure. : )

  12. Judy Dunn says:

    Claude,

    You and I have had this discussion before—on my blog, as I recall. I so totally get what you are saying. It is the curse of a curious mind. What makes us good writers can make us challenged bloggers. I think I changed my major, like, eight times in my first year of college. I wanted to know about everything! So how to do niche blogging? Why, you have eight different blogs, of course. : )

  13. For me, this was your best interview to date. I subscribed to catseyewriter immediately.

  14. Judy Dunn says:

    Adrian,

    Thanks for reading and leaving such a warm comment. And I’m glad that you decided to join the Cat’s Eye community. Thanks for that, too. : )

  15. This is a wonderful interview, with great information. I already follow Judy (that’s how I arrived here), but I had never heard of Andrea and Katie before. (I have just subscribed to their blog, too.)

    I understand the need to focus on a narrow niche with a blog–for audience development, SEO, and other reasons–but I struggle with this advice. Like Judy, I am a writer, editor and former teacher (English as a second language and college writing composition) who loves to learn.

    I tried maintaining a blog for writers and another blog for my business (web design, SEO, writing/editing) and ended up not doing either one well. So I recently decided to shut down the writing blog and put my efforts into the business blog while allowing myself to post more creative, writing-related stories there when I feel like it.

    This is probably not a wise decision niche-wise, but isn’t it better to write about something–fairly regularly–than nothing at all?

  16. Judy Dunn says:

    Clarice,

    Good to see you over here.I know what you mean. I love it when I find a new blog to follow. Can’t believe I hadn’t run across Andrea’s in all my travels. I understand your dilemma. For a time, I feared losing my business bloggers when I started focusing more on writing. But I found I couldn’t write focused posts that would attract both audience. Funny thing, though. Some of my earliest subscribers, those biz owners, are still hanging around. I think they are the ones who want to improve their writing skills. On your question, I would just ask, “What do you want your blog to accomplish?” If it’s a lead generation tool for your design and copywriting business, I think a mix of posts would be fine. What you want to do is show prospective clients that you know your stuff, and that includes writing. When my blog was the Cat’s Eye Marketing blog, I did that. Advice on design and posts with writing tips. Now if you are talking writing for fiction writers, then that is an entirely different ball game. I think you were wise to rethink the two blogs thing. That is a difficult one to pull off. Thanks for sharing your thoughts here, my friend.

  17. Thanks for the response, Judy. It actually makes me feel better! Especially the line “What you want to do is show prospective clients that you know your stuff, and that includes writing.” That was what I was thinking (hoping?). It’s nice to have you confirm it.
    (My writing/editing emphasis is mainly on nonfiction topics, so it does blend better with the web design thing than if I were talking about fiction.)

  18. Such a fantastic interview Judy! I’m definitely going to check out the lab post you wrote–it’s good to learn about someone else’s process as to how they schedule in the time to improve their blog’s design and content. It’s an area I’ve been stuck on for quite some time. :)

  19. Miriam Dyak says:

    Judy,
    I bet many of us hang around simply because you are a really interesting person with very helpful and thought-provoking things to say, and we like you! I don’t know about anyone else, but usefulness is not enough to get me to stick around – if it were, I’d be following the dictionary. Thanks for a great interview and for introducing me to Authornomics.

  20. Judy Dunn says:

    Krissy,

    Good to see you here! Blog-as-lab is a favorite philosophy of mine. It can be challenging to plot out the time for improvement, but it’s so worth it. : )

  21. Judy Dunn says:

    Miriam,

    Thanks for the warm words. You have been such a loyal Cat’s Eye reader. And now we get to help you in your own blog start-up. Very cool. Glad to have introduced you to Andrea’s site. : )

  22. beth says:

    i have been blogging for almost a year and it is a learning experience with each and every post. your recommmendations on defining a niche and writing with laser focus are very helpful at this stage in my blog. i am not well versed in the internet and social media and i feel that i entered the realm of blogging with great enthusiasm and little knowledge. i must now learn the technicalities of blogging to increase readership and to succeed in creating a conversation. i am grateful to you for sharing your experience and for your wise advice.

  23. Judy Dunn says:

    Beth,

    Glad this made sense to you. If you have your first year under your belt (or almost), you have passed the hardest part. When I was researching for a post I wrote at Cat’s Eye, “Why Most People Quit Blogging: The Princess Syndrome,” I learned that most bloggers quit in the first two to three months. That was a scary statistic. And if you have the passion, well, that’s a very important thing because it will keep you going, even when you hit those occasional walls, as we all do. Thanks for sharing here.

  24. Andrea Hurst says:

    Thanks for all of your feedback. See you at the conference on Whidbey Island.

  25. Calla Gold says:

    A wonderful interview of my thought leader Judy Dunn of the Cat’s Eye Blog.
    Her statement of purpose and the story of how her focus changed and clarified and drove the income portion of her business model is information I eat up.
    Excellent!
    Calla Gold
    Jewelry Blogger

  26. Judy Dunn says:

    Calla, my friend,

    I so appreciate hearing from you! Thanks for reading and, wow, what a wonderful compliment. And yes, that “nichifying” can be quite a process.

  27. Andrea Hurst says:

    Great seeing you at the conference

  28. Judy Dunn says:

    Andrea,

    Glad I could meet you in person, too. It is a wonderful thing when online friends can connect in real time. I enjoyed hearing your sage advice when I attended the marketing and promotion panel at the conference.

  29. Kirby Riebow says:

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