QueryTracker Blog

Helping Authors Find Literary Agents

Monday, January 17, 2011

Should I Mention My Blog in My Query?

When should you mention your blog in a query, and when shouldn’t you? That’s today’s question:

If you have a well written blog that you work hard at, and are proud of, but the number of official “followers” is low, should you mention the blog in your bio or list it on your query? [I think mine is] funny and engaging. People who do read it seem to really enjoy it. But, I don’t have a high number of followers (at least that I know of). Or, should I mention it, but take out the follower’s box, so [an agent] can’t see how many I have? I notice some blogs don’t even list how many followers they have. I am on [Blogger.com].

Tracking Followers and Subscribers: Feedburner

Let’s start with finding out how many followers you actually have. The “Followers” widget in Blogger only shows people who have clicked “Follow” within the widget. It does not count people who have subscribed in other ways, e.g. by putting your RSS feed address directly into their preferred feedreader.

What you need to do is “burn” your feed using Feedburner, which is a free service (now owned by Google) that lets you track subscribers and post views. You can use it with Blogger, Wordpress, TypePad, and other blogging platforms. The instructions on the Feedburner site are pretty clear (just start where it says Burn a Feed Right Now!), so I won’t repost them here, though you are welcome to ask questions in the Comments if you have any trouble.

Once you’ve burned your feed and are getting subscriber results, you will need to add the number of subscribers you see in Feedburner to the number of Followers you see on your page. (You may find it reassuring that it seems to be pretty common to have, say, 3 times more subscribers through Feedburner than through the Followers widget)

Is Your Blog Related to Your Product?

Agents and editors may be interested in learning about your blog, but only if it relates to your story or book. What publishing professionals are looking for is a built-in audience that will (they hope) purchase your product (ie your book). In other words, if your blog is primarily about your life – family, friends, day-to-day activities and events – and you’re not writing a memoir or narrative nonfiction, you should leave your blog out of your query, regardless of how well it’s written. Likewise, if you have a huge blog on, say, mountain climbing, but your book has nothing to do with mountain climbing, you don’t have the built-in audience an agent or editor is looking for, and mentioning your blog will look like a non sequitur.

Many authors, however, have a blog related to their book’s topic. Granted, it’s easier to do this if your book topic is nonfiction, but expertise and a following in an area related to your novel can be useful. If you’re writing historical novels set during the Civil War and you have a strong history blog in which you regularly talk about the Civil War, that’s worth mentioning. Especially if your work on the blog gives you access to Civil War buffs who might be interested in buying your book – for example, by helping you find speaking engagements, or giving you the credentials you need to publish articles in Civil War magazines.

The whole purpose of mentioning your blog, then, is to prove what a nice big audience you bring to the table. For that reason, there’s no point to mentioning the blog unless you can also offer numbers, the higher the better. The minimum number of subscribers I’d mention is 1000, though I have seen books on platform use 10,000 as an example of a really strong number. “Strong” does depend a bit on your topic. If you have a niche market, a few thousand subscribers is good; if, however, you’re targeting a saturated market with a topic that has widespread appeal (a fantastic new diet or exercise program, for example), you’ll need significantly higher numbers (and probably some kind of professional certification or degree).

Increasing Your Followers and Subscribers

So what if you have a blog that relates to your book’s topic, but you still don’t have a lot of followers and subscribers?

I’m going to give you several tips, but I want to emphasize that this first one is the most important: You need to give the audience something they want or need with each post. If you’re a big celebrity, people won’t care what you post – Angelina Jolie could post what kind of toothpaste she uses and some people would be riveted – but the rest of us have to provide something valuable to readers.

What Would You Enjoy Reading?

Think about what kind of information you’d like to see in your feedreader. What would you find riveting? That’s the kind of material you need to produce, because even if you only post once or twice a week (with a couple days off for major holidays), you're looking at 50 to 100 posts in a year. You need a topic that you’re going to continue to be enthusiastic about for years to come if you're going to generate that many posts.

Finding (Valuable) Post Topics

If you don’t have extensive knowledge on your chosen topic, let the experts guide you. Take the time to research your posts – read books, magazines, and scholarly journals (if there are any) and newsfeeds on your topic, and then explain what you’ve learned to your readers. (Remember, emphasize how they can use that information rather than that you learned it. It’s all about your readers and what they’re getting from your blog!) Interview experts, other authors...people who can provide your readers with something they find valuable.

Impression Management: A Great-Looking Blog is Appealing

Once you’ve developed a plan for strong content, double-check that your blog looks professional – not too fussy or busy, not cluttered with things that will distract from your message (e.g. unnecessary widgets, unrelated things you like). This may seem like a small thing, but just as you make a particular impression with your physical appearance, so your blog’s appearance makes an impression. Make sure it’s a good one!

Social Networking

Now that you have 1) solid blog content that 2) intrigues you and offers you plenty of blogging possibilities and 3) a great look, it’s time to get the word out! You will want to include your blog address, along with your blog’s name and a short descriptive tagline (e.g. ours is The QueryTracker Blog: Helping Writers Become Authors) every place you can think of, including

  • Your email signature/s
  • Forum post signatures
  • Social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn
  • Business cards (Yes, you should have some. I’ll explain how to make some – or have some made – inexpensively in an upcoming post.)

If you have additional tips or places people should share their blog address, please share in the Comments section!

Carolyn Kaufman, PsyD's book, THE WRITER'S GUIDE TO PSYCHOLOGY: How to Write Accurately About Psychological Disorders, Clinical Treatment, and Human Behavior helps writers avoid common misconceptions and inaccuracies and "get the psych right" in their stories. You can learn more about The Writer's Guide to Psychology, check out Dr. K's blog on Psychology Today, or follow her on Facebook!


Anonymous said...

This is an interesting topic. I love how you've spelled things out. Thanks!

Stina said...

I don't mention my blog in my query as part of the bio. The blog address is part of my signature, along with my email address. That way, if the agent is interested in checking it out, the info is there, but I'm not dwelling on it, especially since it has nothing to do with my book.

The advantage of my blog is that I have a lot of YA writer followers, which is the genre I predominantly write.

Danyelle L. said...

Great advice, Carolyn!

I do the same thing Stina does. :)

Matthew MacNish said...

Excellent advice. Only problem is my novel has a lot of magic and martial arts it in. Since I don't do those things in real life it's tough to blog about. Oh well, it's the story and the writing that are going to sell or not in the long run.

Lydia Kang said...

Me three, as far as what Stina does!

Roni Loren said...

I'm about to hit the 1000 mark, but I put my blog in my query letter all along because it was focused on writing. My agent said she liked that I had a web presence--didn't matter that I only had about 500-600 followers when she signed me. It showed that I was computer savvy enough to put a blog together, that I was taking this writer thing seriously, and that I was developing social networking relationships that could help me hit the ground running when I release a book. Imagine how much harder it would be to set up a blog tour if you don't start a blog until after you get the book deal?

So I'm not sure I agree with the leaving it out of the query letter. As long as there is nothing damaging on your blog, I don't think it can hurt you to include it. Who knows? You could be querying an agent like mine who immediately checks out all web presence if she likes a partial. :)

Erin Edwards said...

I'm thinking of starting a blog soon and this was just the advice I was looking for. Thanks!

Kathi Oram Peterson said...

Great advice. Now to roll up my sleeves and get busy.

Shannan Martin said...

This is something I've always wondered about. Thanks for clearing up the fog! Great tips.

Gabriela Lessa said...

This was great advice, but mostly focused on those writing nonfiction. What about fiction writers? Any suggestions?

Patricia JL said...

I've been wondering this very same question. Thanks for answering, now I have a new tool to try.

Carolyn Kaufman | @CMKaufman said...

Hi Roni -- that makes sense, and you're right, 500 to 600 is a nice number. It's hard to target a number -- as I said, the number I often see in published books talking about the issue is 10,000, which seems enormous to me.

It also makes sense that you included yours since it was about writing. I was thinking more about how some writers spend most of their time talking about family and personal issues, and so have a smaller number of followers b/c those followers typically know them.

Hopefully the overall advice -- targeting an audience with a specific goal and a solid blog -- will hold up well over time, though! It certainly sounds like yours did the job!

Carolyn Kaufman | @CMKaufman said...

Gabriela - while it is easier to target a blog toward a nonfiction market, my overall advice works for fiction writers as well. Think about what you would enjoy reading *if you were someone interested in the kind of book you hope to sell, including fiction.* Maybe you'll write about writing in the type of universe you've created.

The thing I think you have to be careful of -- and I'm sure some people will disagree with me -- is that you don't do the same thing everyone else is doing. A lot of people talk about their daily struggles with writing without providing something valuable to strangers. That is, they're writing a personal journal, a daily diary, rather than blogging for an *audience.* I think you have to keep your audience in mind at all times if you want to build one. They don't need to dictate what you write, but you do need to think about what they can get out of your posts.

The trick, of course, is figuring out what will draw them in. Probably what would draw you in...