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Using the Blogosphere to Maximize Online Marketing
A blogging tutorial for novices to experts
By Sandy Lender

Originally published in Business Currents, Vol.3, No.6 (June 2008)

Marketing a product or service online takes more than flipping the proverbial switch at Amazon or BestBuy.com. The web-savvy public relations officer creates a vibrant online presence to drive traffic to the places where his or her product is for sale. The old-fashioned method of building a Web site and taking credit card orders is still valid, but you must get customers to notice the Web site. Specifically, the marketer can turn to the blogosphere.

Select a Blog Server
Blog is an abbreviation for Web log and can be associated with a diary or a journal. Thus the online hosting services such as Blogger, WordPress, LiveJournal (which I do not recommend for professionals), Yahoo360, Bravenet, MySpace and others allow users to post electronic journals—blogs. Something to consider when selecting one of these hosting services is its popularity.

What both Blogger and WordPress offer for entrepreneurs is an already established network of bloggers. To leave comments and drive traffic to one another’s sites within the network, bloggers (users) must have an account that is compatible with the respective communities. This is true of communities such as Gather, Shelfari, Ning, Xanga, Typepad (Six Apart), Friendster and others.

Besides size of network, each host service has its pros and cons. For instance, this author has found that Google’s Blogger.com server is a basic, stripped-down hosting service that offers a handful of templates without offering much in the way of confusion or customer service for the novice blogger. When the novice graduates a few months later and wants to add spiffy elements such as columns or widgets to his or her blog, limitations become frustrating. Starting with something like WordPress or Typepad might make more sense for an entrepreneur new because they offer a plethora of mature-looking templates,and the additional features such as blogrolls, widgets, counters and plugins are easier to use and, in some cases, already built in.

Set up the Blog
Selecting a theme for the blog is as important as the blog itself. An auto mechanic that posts tips about car maintenance for three months will start to build a particular audience. If the mechanic suddenly posts an article ranting about the state of world affairs, the audience will be confused. If the next day he posts about genocide during a war, the audience could flee. He loses potential sales.

The key is to get a marketing message and stick with it. For this author, the main blog at www.todaythedragonwins.blogspot.com focuses on writing. Whether that’s promoting and marketing the author’s writing, giving inspirational quotes, interviewing authors, etc., the blog keeps each post somehow related to writing. Visitors know what to expect.

With the theme in mind, choose each word in the building of the blog carefully. These words catch the attention of search engine spiders and bots. The spiders and bots are the entities that search engines send out on a regular schedule to find and retrieve information about updates on the World Wide Web. If the words on the blog have nothing to do with the marketing message, the spiders and bots will return useless information to the search engines. So make those words count. If a detective wants to brand himself as a private investigator, the words “private,” “investigator” and “detective” better be in the description of the blog (if not in the title).

Post for Search Engine Optimization
Once the blog is set, it’s time to post an article. Every blog hosting service allows the user to post articles by clicking a simple link on a dashboard or main page once the user has logged in using his or her username and password. The link will be “post an article,” “post a blog,” “submit a post,” “write” or something similar depending on which service you’re using. By clicking on the link, the user receives a new window similar to a blank e-mail window in which to type. Across the top of this blank window will be tool bars, the complexity of which varies depending upon the host server being used.

To begin, make sure the window is in “visual,” “compose” or “write” mode. Again, the terminology depends on the host server being used. Basically, you don’t want to compose your post in “HTML” or “code” mode yet. The “compose” mode will allow you to prepare the post in a user-friendly WYSIWYG scenario. In other words, you will be able to apply formatting such as boldfacing, italicizing and color by merely highlighting the text to be affected and clicking on the appropriate symbols in the tool bar built into the window.

This author recommends writing your article in Word or Notepad prior to logging onto the blog site, and then copying and pasting the article into the window while in “visual” mode. The programs usually strip any formatting you had applied in Word, so be sure to check for customizations you’d like to apply.

Once the article appears they way you’d like, it’s time to prepare it to attract the search engines. This is where using HTML coding, which is going to be very easy, will alert the spiders and bots that your blog has the search items that your potential readers want to find. First, read through the article you’ve prepared looking for key words that you think readers would use to find you. If the owner of a cleaning service wants random Web surfers to find her, she will make sure words such as bonded, professional, clean, cleaning service, maid, fresh or some combination of the above appear in a majority of her articles. Why? Because those are words home or business owners seeking cleaning services are likely to plug into a search engine like Google or Yahoo. If the cleaning service owner reads her post for the day and discovers none of those words, she can go back into the article and work a couple in. Think of it as reverse engineering if you must, but think of it.

To write the code, go up to the top of the window and click on the “HTML” or “Code” link. Then scroll back to the end of your post for the day and type in the HTML code below, inserting your search words in place of the Choices Meant for Gods example I’m giving you.

<a href="http://technorati.com/tag/choices%20meant%20for%20gods" rel="tag">Choices Meant for Gods</a>

For people who break out in hives when asked to type code, there is a code generator at Technorati that will create the code for you. Go to http://technorati.com/tools/tag-generator/index.html and type in the search word you think someone would use to find your site. The generator will automatically give you the code to use. Copy it. Go back to your blog window and paste the code at the end of your article.

Network to Drive Traffic
Using clever search word tags is not the only way to drive traffic to a new blog. Registering the blog with various entities is also wise. In the last section, using Technorati’s code generator introduced the Technorati community to this discussion. This is an online gathering place where users can view and rate blogs and web sites. If you choose to register your blog at www.technorati.com (which this author highly recommends), you will have the opportunity to post your picture, describe your blog’s purpose, list multiple blogs, list other blogs that you consider “favorites,” etc. You could spend hours doing this on multiple sites, but this is one community where the size and authority of the network makes it worth the time and expense (it’s free).

Another way to generate traffic is to let the search engines know you’ve updated your blog. How better to do that than to let an aggregate site do the legwork for you? Sites like Ping My Blog will alert multiple search engines through a process called pinging if you first alert them. This author recommends registering your blog site with http://pingmyblog.com. Then, each time you post a new article to your blog, connect to Ping My Blog and follow the easy instructions for alerting it to ping a list of search-sites for you.

Other online communities such as http://search4blogs.com/, http://truthlaidbear.com and http://www.theweblogreview.com/submit.php are designed specifically to help bloggers find blogs of interest, so registering with them means you get put on good lists. There are tons of those communities out there, but not all of them are free. The ones listed here are. Many services like these request you put a reciprocal link on your site, which is as easy as adding the HTML code on your page. In Blogger, you do this in your template page. In Wordpress, you do this in the Blogroll link.

Use it
New ways to market with the blogosphere pop up daily it seems, and tapping into that resource is a must for authors who wish to catch the attention of the web-savvy customer. Sites like Amazon.com have shown us what a powerful shopping tool the computer has become. Not everyone needs to go overboard and set up multiple blogs the way this author has, but having multiple blogs discussing a subject (your product or service) gives the subject more prominence and more attention when the search engines send out their bots and spiders. Anything you can do to impress them will help garner the attention of potential clients.

Sandy Lender has a 16-year career in magazine and newspaper publishing and marketing. She is the editor of the construction publication AsphaltPro magazine and the author of the fantasy novel Choices Meant for Gods available from ArcheBooks Publishing. With more than 700 posts logged at her main blog, www.todaythedragonwins.blogspot.com, she uses the blogosphere to market her writing.

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Survive the Amazon Marketing Blues
By Fantasy Author Sandy Lender

My fantasy novel Choices Meant for Gods had been available at http://tinyurl.com/CMFGamazon for about a day when a friend of mine sent a message through an online group saying something to the effect of OMGlookatyourrankingonamazonlookatitnow. The note may have been in all caps.

I obeyed her to find my ranking at 200,000+. Well, that ain’t half bad for a then-unknown author with only one book out. But I recalled a warning a fellow writer gave at a meeting in the not-so-distant past. He explained that your book can perform much better in a day than the numbers/rankings at Amazon reflect. Here’s why:

The great and powerful Oz O’Amazon hides behind his curtain and sorts information every hour. He sends all those computer-language ones and zeroes skittering toward their end equations until, at about some point past the hour, according to the presenter, the rankings at Amazon.com change. This is every hour.

It’s enough to make an author bi-polar.

So I looked at my 200,000+ ranking when my friend told me to, came back an hour later to a 100,000+ ranking, and visited that night to find a 68,000+ ranking. I was elated.

I’ve seen numbers all over the board since then. One recent night when I was contemplating the arsenic-laced Kool-aid because my ranking had been down around 1,400,000+, I checked one last time to see what exact figure to include in my suicide note. I found the blasted thing back at 200,000+.

There are other ways authors can manipulate their Amazon ranking. First, I would ask if it’s worth your time and energy. Second, I would caution you against unscrupulous agencies preying upon the insecure or inexperienced in our industry. Beware of PR companies that want to charge a few thousand dollars to get your Amazon ranking up to No. 1. Look closely at what they’re going to do:

  • What gimmick or free give-away are they offering when someone buys your book? Maybe you’re cool with a bedroom toy for a free giveaway if you’ve got an erotic romance to promote, but, for the sweet romance couched in my fantasy Choices Meant for Gods, a French tickler would definitely be over the top!
  • Who are they going to align you with for promotional purposes? I’ll keep politics out of this article, and you probably want to keep political affiliations away from your romance, memoir, sci-fi or mystery title, too.
  • What sort of discount off your book are you going to have to take? If you’re just interested in building audience with a first book or a new genre, maybe giving up a small royalty in your contract is no big deal. For Choices Meant for Gods, I was so pleased to get my foot in the publishing-industry door that I didn’t fear the industry’s warning cry that I’d make no money on the first book. I went in with both eyes open, knowing this is an audience-building venture.
  • How much are you going to have to pay? You have to weigh this marketing idea against other promotional and marketing weapons in your arsenal. In this day and age, few publishers hand out copious amounts of cash to authors for promotional efforts. Promoting and marketing your book is your responsibility. Luckily for me, ArcheBooks Publishing has some technologies in place to help its authors and the man in charge is a wiz when it comes to creating banners, flyers, ads for print or web, etc. Also in my favor: ArcheBooks Publishing has a stable of authors who have done this before and they could warn me against the predators who would seek out a fledgling author and scam her with an Amazon-rank-hiking scheme.
  • Is your No. 1 ranking guaranteed? Just what will the company you’re paying guarantee to do with your Amazon ranking? Is it guaranteed for an hour? When is that hour—at 2 p.m. on a Saturday or at 3 a.m. on a Wednesday? Or is the No. 1 ranking guaranteed for a day, which I personally define as 24 hours.

These things are often a scam. Let me emphasize that for you. These things are often a scam. Please use your hard-earned money wisely and protect your hard-earned reputation carefully.

Now here’s something you can do to improve not just an arbitrary number, but your sales as well: get some good reviews. Do you know people who have already reviewed books on Amazon.com before? Those are good folks to talk to because they have a track record. Politely request they read and review your exciting new breakthrough novel. Now, a person who already has a few reviews under his or her belt will carry more weight than your Aunt Edna who’s never heard of Amazon before, but, hey, if Aunt Edna’s the only person biting right now, she’s better than no review at all! (unless she pans it…)

Beware of site owners who are paying for reviews. Potential buyers will start to pick up on that and get turned off. You’re better off selecting your own reviewers who are doing it because they love stories, love to read, love to offer their opinions and love to get home-baked cookies in the mail. (I’m joking. I’ve never sent cookies to a reviewer…yet.)

Here’s an interesting fact for you. When a five-star review goes up on Amazon, the book’s sales are supposed to increase by 38 percent. That’s nice.

So manipulate the ranking at Amazon.com (or B&N.com) however you wish, but don’t let it rule your life. Seeing it at 200,000+ at 6 p.m. doesn’t reflect the 45 books that sold at 10 a.m., or vice versa. The great and powerful Oz hasn’t perfected a system to make you look good for the whole day with numbers, but, you know what? I think you look good because you have a published book. Hooray for you!

If you’re still working to get your book to that stage, there are tips and tidbits from interviewed authors at my blog, Today the Dragon Wins, to help you pursue that goal. We’re all pullin’ for ya.

“Some days, I just want the dragon to win.”

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First Live Twitter Interview Features Authors

In the first live online interview via Twitter in Internet history, Fiction Author Jamieson Wolf, Ottawa, Ont., interviewed Fantasy Author Sandy Lender, Naples, Fla., Saturday, June 20, 2009, from 9 to 10 a.m. EST. Technorati called it the first Tweeterview. The Twitter accounts that made history are http://twitter.com/sandylender and http://twitter.com/jamiesonwolf.

These two established authors broke cyber ground with this Tweeterview event sharing writing and writer’s life information in pithy 140-character Q&A segments. The purpose of the interview was to bring attention to Lender’s debut fantasy novel, Choices Meant for Gods, from ArcheBooks Publishing, Cape Coral, Fla., and her June 2009 online book tour.

“Sandy’s been an author friend of mine for three years now so I didn’t have any trouble coming up with questions for her,” Wolf said. “I’ve read her work, including her upcoming release, and am qualified to ask dozens of questions about the world she’s built as well as the publishing process, which held the interest of a wide audience.”

“And Jamieson’s been an author friend of mine for just as long, so I had no trouble following his Twitter-style questions,” Lender said. “This was a new use for Twitter and brought new life to the staid interview process that readers can become hypnotized by on the Blogosphere nowadays.”

Combined, Lender and Wolf have multiple books available in both print and electronic formats and offered a wealth of information about writing and publishing to Twitter followers who checked in June 20.

Fantasy enthusiasts will recognize Sandy Lender as the author of Choices Meant for Gods and What Choices We Made, as well as new release, Choices Meant for Kings. She is the editor of a national trade publication headquartered in Missouri, but resides in Southwest Florida where she spends all the time she can helping with sea turtle conservation. Read more about her at her site www.authorsandylender.com.

Jamieson Wolf is a speculative fiction writer with more than 20 titles to his credit in multiple genres. He lives in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, with his adoring husband and a personable cat. Learn more about his work at www.jamiesonwolf.com.

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Researching What Isn’t Real
By Fantasy Author Sandy Lender

The elements an author puts in a fantasy novel usually don’t come from the real world. For instance, you can’t pick up an encyclopedia and find the origination of my edras demons from the Choices Meant for Gods series. They came from a dark place in my imagination. Be that as it may, research for building a world out of the imagination can be done, and authors who employ a variety of techniques meet with the greatest success.

As an English major attending a liberal arts university, I wrote many research papers during my four years of study. Upon graduation, I entered the magazine publishing industry where I ended up writing articles that required interviewing and researching sources. That’s more than two decades of practice at research, so it comes easily to me when I need to research something for my fantasy writing. Research for real, modern topics in journalism versus research for made-up fantasy realms with dragons and wizards and a Sandy-created form of magic take two different mindsets. Let’s focus on the research I do for fantasy novels.

First, I devour books with titles like The Elements of Old English and Sweet’s Anglo-Saxon Primer. These books (and many more) formed the foundation of my research for the Choices series because I include a medieval flair in my epic fantasy tales. Let’s start with the name of the land where most of the action takes place: Onweald. Onweald is an Old English word that means “power.”

The names of gods, goddesses, villages, and rivers in the land of Onweald are reminiscent of Old English words and people. Symbols all over the series hearken back to Old English themes of exile, ring-giving, serfdom, and loyalty to one’s leader that send me to the research books from time to time. The problem with checking on something in, say, Beowulf or The Battle of Maldon, is that I get sucked in and end up reading the whole thing. The next thing I know, I’ve used up my writing time for that evening.

Now, having waxed poetic about my love of Old English, I have to say I didn’t make everything medieval in my early series. For instance, the “hero” of Choices Meant for Gods is a lady. And I’ve brought all the characters’ lodgings forward in technology. Being perpetually cold myself, I couldn’t stand the thought of putting the characters that I love in the drafty huts and stone buildings that the Angles, Saxons, Jutes, Picts and Celts lived in. (And I needed good ductwork to connect the fireplaces in the fancy Taiman family home.)

Of course, there’s more to writing fantasy than researching the time period from which I want to borrow themes and symbols. I’ve been reading fantasy literature since I was a youngster so I’ve got a familiarity with the general elements that fantasy enthusiasts expect in their novels—magic, sorcerers, wizards, elves, faeries, dragons, trolls, dwarves, the hero’s journey, magical items, prophecies, prophets, etc. I needed to select which elements I’d include in the world I created, but I had the luxury of recalling great fantasy writers such as Tolkien, Weis, Goodkind, Brooks, Hobbs, and Eddings to look to for inspiration and influence whenever I doubted myself.

Other than that, it all comes from my slightly off-kilter imagination. My research books for Onweald and the Choices series currently consist of tons of spiral notebooks, file folders full of stories and legends and character descriptions on the computer, a recipe box full of vocabulary words, and a bunch of other papers and notes and napkins with scribblings. My research includes a huge desk calendar with the phases of the moons of Onweald mapped out so I know exactly when both are full and when both are waning.

And that’s a good way for an author to research something that isn’t real—combine techniques. I borrow from the Anglo-Saxon past, keep track of what I’ve made up, and double-check the traditional elements against the pros when I can.

“Some days, I just want the dragon to win.”