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Self-Marketing Part I: Blogging 101

Originally published at Through the Tollbooth. Please leave any comments there.

Ask most published authors how much their publishing house did to market their books and they’ll probably say, “Not much.” And it’s true: Unless you’ve established that you will make your publishing house bazillions of dollars, or they’re willing to bet that you will (first-time authors with huge advances, anyone?), you’ll probably get a standard marketing plan. Though this standard plan varies greatly from house to house, I think it’s fair to generalize and say it boils down to “Not much.”

So, what can we as authors do? Market ourselves! First, let’s talk author blogs. I’m no expert in this arena, but I have in the booth today YA author and blogger, Nova Ren Suma, to lend me hand.

Nova is the author of Imaginary Girls (2011) and Dani Noir (2009), which is being reissued as Fade Out for the YA shelves in June 2012. Her next YA novel is 17 & Gone, due out from Dutton/Penguin in 2013. She can be found at novaren.com, on her blog distraction99.com, or on Twitter as @novaren, distracting herself endlessly.

Nova, your blog has such a cool name! Care to share your inspiration?

I started my blog distraction no. 99 in 2005, before I wrote YA fiction, and before I published any novels. I named the blog for the fact that I was so easily distracted, figuring the blog would be one more distraction I didn’t need (and, imagine, this was before Twitter)!

How long have you had your blog, and what was your impetus for starting it?

At the time I started blogging, I was a recent MFA graduate struggling to publish literary fiction for adults, and I used the blog as an outlet for myself and as a way to connect with other writers. I most often blogged about writing itself—the process, the low points and the high points—and sometime during those years my identity as an unknown, struggling writer shifted. The blog has been witness to me discovering YA, becoming a ghostwriter, publishing my first book under my own name, finding my first literary agent after I thought I’d never have one, publishing my first YA novel, and then promoting my books.

Promotion, you say? Can you tell us a bit more about how you use distraction no 99 for promoting yourself and the work of other writers?

It’s when promotion came into the mix that my interest in the blog and its focus shifted again. I would much rather do anything else—even a sink full of dishes—than be actively promoting myself. We all know how dirty that can feel. So when promotion started ruining blogging for me, I decided to reinvent distraction no. 99 into something else. Now I continue to talk about my writing process (as much as I can talk about, since so much now needs to be kept under wraps), and I talk about things like writers’ colonies and integral publishing moments, but what I most like to do is focus on other writers and their books. I never do book reviews. Instead I interview authors and feature them in my themed blog series.

Building a community is so integral to the process of blogging. How have you gone about working with other authors to do so?

Over the years, I’ve connected to many other writers who blog, and a community naturally formed among us. Now on distraction no. 99, you’ll find author interviews, including in-depth “writer-to-writer” interviews with authors I admire about books I’ve loved, and a new debut interview series featuring short Q&As with ten debut YA authors per season. The next round is coming up in April, featuring ten Summer 2012 debuts I’m excited to read. (I’m keeping which books I chose a secret until April!)

Plus I’m doing blog series on different topics, with featured guest blogs on themes like “What Scares You?” for October, and “What Inspires You?” during NaNoWriMo. The current blog series I’m running is called “Turning Points” and features different authors (mostly YA, but other writers, too) revealing the turning points in their writing careers. It just started this January, with inspiring posts from Gayle Forman, Sean Ferrell, Saundra Mitchell, and many more. It will be ongoing, with new guest blogs three times a week, into the spring, or for as long as I have authors’ stories to publish.

From a self-marketing perspective, how do you feel your blog has helped you build a group of potential readers and, dare I say, fans?

I didn’t expect this, but somehow all that passion and writerly angst and self-musing I pour into my blog appears to resonate with people. I’m often contacted by people who discovered me through my blog and then went out to buy my books. Somehow, some post I wrote on my blog made them think they’d like my fiction, too. How amazing is that?

I’ve noticed that there are some things that keep people coming back: Reveals, for one. (My blog about exploded the day I revealed the Imaginary Girls cover.) And giveaways. People love giveaways. But I don’t like having just a giveaway and throwing books at people, so I try to time them with important moments or connect them with the blog series. Many of the authors involved in the current Turning Points blog series are including giveaways with their posts, and I do hope this will entice some people to come over who may not necessarily have visited my blog otherwise. And of course it’s important to tease and publicize new content on Twitter and Facebook—otherwise, you’ll be missing many readers who might not find you.

But in general, I’ve noticed that readers seem to respond to honesty. The posts that most resonate with my blog readers aren’t the posts where I’m telling people about what book event I’m doing next or what journal reviewed my book or whatever. They’re the posts that pull the curtain aside and show the real person behind all of this. Those are also the author blogs I most love to read.

A blog is great for self-marketing, but you’ve used yours for so much more. What would you say is your favorite part about blogging?

I wouldn’t keep blogging if it was to only market myself and my books. I keep the blog because it’s been a part of my life for years, and I can’t imagine being a writer without it. Blogging is a creative outlet for me and, more and more, a way to talk about authors I love and books I want to read. I’m excited about being a part of the YA community, and these new features on my blog are my way of showing it.

That said, I hope anyone who comes across this interview will consider checking out the Turning Points series that’s currently running. I love plugging it, because these posts aren’t by me—they’re by other authors, and I have to tell you, I think they’re fantastic.

You can follow the guest blogs in the Turning Points series here.

Thank you so much for having me on Through the Tollbooth and asking me such great, thought-provoking questions!

You’re welcome, Nova. Thanks for stopping by! On Wednesday, we’ll chat with Debbie Gonzalez, who runs a business making school and discussion guides for books ranging from picture books to young adult. In the meantime, do any of you blog? If so, how do you use your blog to self-market? Or, conversely, how do you use it just to have fun and meet other authors?

–Teresa Harris