Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Why Blogfests, book giveaways, and everything else you've ever been told to do is wrong. (Part One: Visiting Other Blogs Is Dumb)

*(I say most of April because some unexpected
surgery at the end of the month gave me
a reason to quit early to lay around
the house and focus
on American Horror Story: Asylum
on Netflix/not having my face hurt.)
Writing is easy. It's getting people to read stuff you write that is hard.

For most of April I took part in the A To Z Challenge and also gave away free books every day. My goal in doing this was (of course) to build up my readership and get some more reviews of my books to help sales along.  I thought PERHAPS by timing it with the A To Z Challenge, which has something like 2,000 blogs registered to it (although far far fewer actually taking part) I might possibly crack the Amazon Hot 100 Free, which I figured would jumpstart sales of books, if ever I could do such a thing.

I DID NOT crack the top 100, but I learned some things about marketing, and blog fests, and free books, and visitors and comments and the like.  And so for the next few posts on this blog, I'm going to share lessons I learned from my Herculean effort at marketing.  Some of them are lessons I learned before.  Some of them you may dispute.  But if you are trying to sell your books, they are all things to keep in mind.  And, because I like to be helpful, for each one I'll tell you whether I think it's worth doing or what you should try.

These are things that are suggested, mind you, as free marketing efforts, which is the price point I like: it's always possible to simply buy advertising for your book or blog, but I am one of those people who believes that while sure, you have to spend money to make money, first you have to make money to have money to spend to make money. (Got that?)  So I'm focusing in this series on whether the advice people give you that would let you sell your book without investing a ton of dough is worth it at all.

These are in no particular order, so today's lesson is simply the first one that popped into my mind:

1. People who visit your blogs out of courtesy rarely come back.

One of the most common tips I hear as a blogger is that if you want blog visitors, visit other's blogs.  This is something I hate doing, as many blogs don't interest me.  It's a tip I've questioned, too, in that you don't hear it about any other business.  "If you want people to visit your restaurant, visit theirs!  If you want people to poke someone on YOUR Facebook, visit theirs!"  It becomes a chore, reading blogs and leaving a comment -- more of a chore for me, as I don't leave "Nice post" comments, but try to say something thoughtful or funny or both in response.  If you visit a lot of blogs, you'll find that is VERY tough to do.  That's not a knock on your blog, which I'm sure is fine, but it's a knock on the 1,000,000,000 blogs out there that quite honestly are not very well-written or fun to read.

But why question a bunch of anonymous advice from total strangers? So, for April, I dutifully visited not only the blogs I try to read every day, but to visit others, too, going to the big A To Z List and randomly choosing at least one per day and usually 2 or 3.

What I found was that perhaps -- PERHAPS -- 1 in 10 of those people whose blogs I visited came and checked mine out, judging by the comments left.  And of those, I can't recall any who actually came and commented on a later day.

What I found, too, was that of those randomly-selected blogs, one was actually of interest to me and got bookmarked to visit again.

You can do the math, there, but as a method of advertising, commenting on other blogs I think is a terrible investment.  If you spend 10 minutes a day doing it, you'll put nearly a full (work) week a year into this form of advertising yourself -- what PT Dilloway once called "being the most interesting person in the room" -- but the return seems to be far, far less than if you simply took a week and spent time telling people about your book, or your blog, or your whatever, directly.

Because that's what this is, after all: it's an attempt at a sort of viral marketing.  "Hey, I said a thing, so you should go see other things I said," kind of the way those restaurants that gave away huge Groupon deals were hoping that by giving you a free burger you'd become a lifelong patron.

The thing about the "visit other blogs" idea is that it falls apart as a marketing strategy the more you look at it.  So you're going to read someone else's post, hopefully -- I can generally tell if a commenter read a post and put thought into their comment and if I feel like they didn't then I don't care what they said -- and say something thoughtful/funny/unique in response. That's the plan. But who is going to see that clever comment? The blog's author, sure, and anyone who reads the comments left before they got there, which I sometimes do (I skim them), but that's it. And in that comment you will not directly address the real reason you are there!

Imagine J.J. Abrams marketing Episode VII that way: the blog equivalent of going door-to-door, but then not even talking about the film.

*doorbell rings*
Me: Hello?
*JJ Abrams, wearing a sign that announces he can be found at, is standing there*
JJ: Hey, I just happened by and overheard you talking about your garden and I thought it was kind of funny. I had a garden once, too. I might stop by again sometimes to hear other things you have to say!
Me: *confused* That's... creepy? Or great? I don't know.
JJ: *runs off, shouting over his shoulder that I could pop in on him sometime to see what he's up to.*

So my advice? Read the blogs you want to read, comment on every blog you read because that's polite, but give up on reading blogs as a marketing device.  Instead, maybe try a blog hop yourself -- go to the person's blog directly and ask them if you can post something on their blog.  It will achieve the same goals -- notifying that person that you exist and allowing you to say something on their blog -- while simultaneously allowing you to reach their readership.


It's just a nonsense word.
Don't try to find meaning in it.
Briane Pagel, when not undergoing reconstructive surgery on his sinuses, writes books that he'll give you for free and then complain about you not taking enough of them for free.  Find more about him at Thinking The Lions, and some of his writing at lit, a place for stories.


  1. I kinda sorta agree. I mean, I think there is a person that has managed to leverage their blog into an empire of sorts that has been a huge success for their books.

    But it takes dedication (and time) the likes of which few of us have. I still want blogging to be fun , but I can only so much in the 15- 45 minutes a day I have free.

    So, you're probably almost entirely right. It just makes me sad.

  2. I don't mean BLOGGING is a waste of time. I mean specifically "going to someone else's blog, skimming their post, leaving a comment, and then hoping that they come to your blog and do the same" is a colossal waste of time, as the people who visit your blog simply because you visited theirs (or because you're on the A To Z Challenge or because you are in the IWSG or whatever) are amazingly unlikely to visit more than one time, period. If you get 1 repeat blog reader for every 100 'courtesy' readers I would be surprised it was that high.

    Also, sorry for posting this on the last day of A to Z, my calendaring is off.

  3. The only one who really benefits from these massive blog hops are those who come up with the idea. I think I got one or two random people and there were a few on this blog, but when you're like #1065 out of more than 2000 you can't really expect much.

    Still, when I was hardly blogging at all in February and March my sales nosedived; maybe there's a correlation.

  4. See? So blogging might work, but blog hopping to get people to read your blog sucks.

  5. I no longer seek out blogs to read in hopes that the author of those blogs will reciprocate. It's a waste of time. I have a select few blogs that I visit at least once a week and comment on the posts that move me to do so. I've developed a small network in doing so. I've found a few blogs through Triberr that I've added to my daily/weekly reads. They need to consistently interest me though. (not 100% of the time - I don't ask for perfection)

    I look forward to reading your thoughts on other free marketing efforts.

  6. There's more that I could say about this than I have time for at the moment, but I'll say what I can.

    1. Participation from a-to-z, judging by the data I have and many of the comments I saw, was way down from previous years. It's like everyone signed up and just waited for everyone to come to their blog without hitting any other parts of the list. I also saw a LOT of comments (on other people's blogs, not mine) that said, "Visiting from a-to-z" with a link to their bog, and you KNOW those people didn't read the post that they were visiting, and that's just... well, it's rude.

    2. A blog is not really a good marketing tool at all. Okay, yes, when you are just starting out, you probably need to use your blog as a marketing tool; however, visiting other blogs in order to boost your blog and, thus, your book sales is just a poor time investment. In actuality, as your book sales grow, your blog will grow, too. It becomes a connecting point between the author and the fans, not a tool for generating sales. Mostly.
    (As an example, I had 0 sales on Magic Cookies even though I released it in the midst of a-to-z. Not a single person actually bought a copy though.)

    And that's my time.

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  8. bought your, and PTs, and Rusty's, books because I knew about your blogs and liked what you wrote on them, and so was willing to give the books a chance. So in that respect, it helps, I think. I also have a Beer For The Shower book and I think a Nigel Mitchell book out there.

    A huge selling book would no doubt get you extra blog hits, but those people would probably check out the next book on the basis of liking the first. I don't really read author blogs, even from authors I like a lot, like Nick Harkaway. I've never even looked up a blog from some authors.

    I've seen no real link between blogging and book sales, though. So "blogging to build an audience" should probably be number one on this list

  9. Wow. I think I just talked myself into not blogging.

  10. I aagree that the one who benefits from the bloghop being the one who came up with it. But even if you have people visiting your blog, most of them won't buy your book anyway. I try not to use my blog for marketing too much, and I don't visit other blogs hoping they'll visit me. I long ago realized writers trying to sell books to other writers isn't the way to go. Like Rusty said, some bloggers have found success this way, but that's just led to a lot of other people trying the same approach and blogging has become very mercenary.

  11. Blogging is the most time consuming social media of all. Not that it isn't fun once in awhile. I like to read blogs that are talking about writing and publishing. Also personal stories of writer friends are interesting too. However, I have trouble reading blog posts that are too long though because I just don't have enough time.

  12. That's true Pat. At one time I visited hundreds of blogs and didn't notice much of an uptick in comments and visits. That's the problem with blog hops that are built on getting you traffic. You end up with a bunch of people who are ONLY in it for what they can get and don't give anything back. In the end, just do what you feel comfortable with. Cream rises to the top.

  13. I should add to all of this that most of my actual book sales (people who paid money for the book, not picked up a free download) and subsequent reviews have come through my blog, so I do think a blog is important when you are starting out. If you have to get some people somewhere to take a risk on your material and a blog is a good tasting room (of sorts). However, the blog should be a means not an end, and I think a lot of the blog activities that get thrown out there are aimed at making the blog the end result. Of course, if you are blogging for fun, then the blog -is- the end result, so maybe that's why things like a-to-z are so popular. For people who are just bloggers, it can be a great thing. If your blog is a tool to attract readers then not so much.

    (@Maurice: When you're dealing with milk, sure, the cream rises, but that's not really true anywhere else. There are plenty of excellent writers that never make it big whereas people like Stephanie Meyer do. So, unless your saying that Twilight is the cream, that's not how it works in the publishing industry.)

  14. I think you hit it, Andrew: blog for your blog. If your blog is fun/a hobby, that's why you do it. If your blog is your product, do it for that reason. But blogs are a poor tool to sell other stuff. I wonder how Liz's blog works to sell her Etsy store, for example?

    The point of this post, though, was that specifically trying to go to other people's blogs to get them to read yours is pointless. Doing the A To Z in order to gain readers (or any other blogfest/blog hop to gain readers) is a waste of time. Doing it for fun is up to you.

    Reading other people's blogs to get them to read yours is a waste of time, too. Reading them for fun, as Cindy does, is up to you.

  15. Dang it, Sweetie! LOG OUT ONCE IN A WHILE!