On Blogging: Tips For Newbies

Taylor Rogers, Publicity Assistant at Charlesbridge Books, interviewed me for a course she's taking on marketing at Emerson College. With her permission, I share my answers to her questions about promotion and blogging with my Fire Escape visitors.

1. Why did you decide to start blogging? What purpose does your blog serve?

I love to rant and rave about all kinds of things, and I've always kept a journal. I also wanted to ruminate on my way of seeing things as an immigrant writer in the children's book world. I started the Fire Escape for fun and continue to write it mostly because I love it.

My blog's goals are to (1) SERVE educators, parents, and young readers who might be interested in reading and writing "between cultures," (2) PROMOTE books by other authors trying to stay afloat in the huge sea that is publishing, (3) INFORM visitors about my own books and events, and (4) INTRODUCE readers to my voice and heart.

2. How often do you blog? How often do you think it's good to blog?

I blog 5 days a week, M-F, at least one post a day. Providing fresh content is important, and this frequency is quite easy for me to maintain. I take breaks during vactions and holidays, but always let visitors know when I'm returning. That being said, I don't think daily posts are a requirement for everybody. Regularity is, though, so if you post, maybe do it weekly -- every Monday, for example -- so your readers know when to come back for new content. If I were posting once a week, I'd call my blog something like Mondays with Mitali, to send a message to readers: "TUNE IN EVERY MONDAY!"

3. Do you receive galleys or review copies? If so, how many? How many do you blog about?

Yes. A lot. Probably 10 books a month. I blog about 2-3 of them; the books I love and feel are relevant to my niche.

4. How important do you think blogs are to publicizing a book and why?

For one particular title, I'm not sure a blog is helpful. It wouldn't hurt, I'm sure, but I think blogging at best is an avenue to promote yourself as a professional rather than pushing a particular title.

As an author trying to establish a "brand name" in the business, a blog is a way to present yourself as a trusted voice; to give readers insight into your life and dreams and writing and thinking. The culture is hungering for intimacy and authenticity, and a good author blog can provide both. You don't have to share too personally if you're a private person, but you can still be authentic or funny or insightful. After all, we're writers, right? That's what we're supposed to be doing with words.

5. How has your blog helped you in your career as an author?

I'm not a big name and was previously known only marginally as a "multicultural" author. The blog has given me a chance to introduce my humor (or so I call it), views, and vision more widely; I'm convinced it's brought down walls, erased preconceptions, and opened hearts and minds to my voice in fiction. I've also made lots of contacts in the industry via the Fire Escape with other bloggers, authors, editors, and librarians.

6. What do you suggest to authors who want to tap blogs as a publicity outlet?

First of all, you have to ENJOY it or it becomes the pet you never should have bought but still have to feed. If blogging sounds more like an onerous chore than something that might be fun, go back to writing your next great novel, which is perhaps an author's best publicity outlet.

Second, pick your blog title carefully. "MITALI'S AUTHOR BLOG" is not as interesting (I hope) as the Fire Escape theme I use to define my virtual presence, trying with that image to convey my perspective of life from the outside looking in, and to present myself and my books as a safe place from the heat.

Third, try to make it look as professional and snazzy as possible. Blogging tools are amazingly easy to use, but if you need to, why not pay a graphic design student a bit of a stipend and credit him/her on your blog?

Fourth, practice the habit of leaving comments on other blogs and try to make them as pithy and encouraging and relevant as you can on the fly (no pressure), linking back the comment to your blog. Remember, this platform is a showcase for your voice -- it's the perfect way to convince people that they should read your books because you're making them think, laugh, or feel something intensely via your blog. Comments, too, should be in line with your voice.

Fifth, always think about serving others -- the golden rule works as well in cyberworld as in the real world.

If all this sounds too intimidating, consider teaming up with a few other authors to create a group blog. The best group blogs have a unique niche or focus that brings readers back daily or weekly. Last but not least, as in all things, don't set the bar too high, keep it simple, throw perfectionism out the window, and pat yourself on the virtual shoulder like crazy.