AUTHORNOMICS Interview with Judy Dunn
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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.