Author Blogging: You're Doing it Wrong, but John Locke's Figured it Out

Edit:  Since writing this blog article, I've learned that John Locke left one crucial fact out of his marketing plan, which is that he paid for reviews. Given what I know about the Amazon ecosystem, I'm guessing this had a much greater impact on his sales than his blogging ever did.  So please take the post with a grain of salt.

Thanks to everyone for the thoughtful comments on author blogging and whether or not it’s a good use of time. If you haven't already, you might want to drop by.

As a quick recap, my beef with author blogging is that writers rarely keep target audience in mind. They’re writing fiction for kids, thriller lovers, or [insert some other reader profile], but they turn around and blog exclusively for writers.

Why do writers do this? My guess is because it's hard to define a target audience in fiction, and even harder to figure out how to reach that audience with blog entries. And what works for one author might not work for another author’s audience.

Which was why I was intrigued to hear about a generalizable, “target audience” focused approach to blogging for fiction writers. And because the person presenting this plan was John Locke, self-publishing hero and first indie author to reach one million sales on Kindle, I listened.

Locke shares several strategies for launching e-books via social media in his ebook How I Sold 1 Million Kindle Books in Five Months, but what got me was his focus on target audience. Locke defines his target audience more precisely than most novelists. I think of my target audience as teenage girls, or more specifically, teenage girls who like Tamora Pierce and Kristin Cashore. Locke takes it a step further, working up a detailed psychological profile -- who they are and what they like about his stories. In his book, he writes a profile of the readers in his popular Donovan Creed series.

I'll attempt similar workup of my own target audience here:

My target audience consists of young women, from high school through early 20s. They read to be transported to other worlds, and they actively seek sword and sorcery with female protagonists. They like to read about – for lack of a better term -- girls kicking butt. My readers are attracted to strong, larger than life heroines, and they like reading about my main character Kyra because of the cool things she can do. They’d love to be Kyra for a day or two. My readers shy away from situations that are too cut and dry. They're drawn to moral complexity, hard decisions, and inner conflict. They like a heroine with a dark side (no Pollyanna heroines please), but they still expect good to triumph in the end. My readers want fast-paced action and adventure, with high stakes and lots of plot twists. They don't want to be bogged down with things like setting details and overly flowery prose.

How do I know this about my target audience? It's a combination of knowing the kind of story I want to write and listening to the feedback  I've gotten from my beta readers. In every group of beta readers, there will be readers who love your book, and readers who hate it. Look for the beta readers who really loved the story, and listen to what they have to say. For more ideas about what to ask your beta readers, see my beta reading series.

Once you have your psychological profile, you can come up with themes that resonate with your target audience. In my case, it might be girls kicking butt, larger-than-life heroes, and tough moral decisions. And you’d would write a blog post that encapsulated these themes. The idea is that you write blog posts that resonate with your target audience, making them curious to read your book.

Locke has written several of these blog posts, aimed at target audiences for his two series. Here's one example post titled Why I Love Joe Paterno and My Mom.  It's aimed at the target audience for his Donovan Creed series, which touches on many themes, including everyday heroes, humor, and a strong woman.

Locke credits the majority of his sales to thesese blog posts, many of which went viral. Readers identified with them and shared them with their friends, and many ended up buying his books. I find his idea of viral marketing intriguing, and I’m curious as to how to generalizable it is. My own experience with blogging has been that it's very hard to predict what will go viral. I can probably guess with above-chance accuracy whether a blog will do well, but there’s a huge amount of uncertainty. Sometimes I’ll slave away at a blog post for days, just to have it fall flat, while other times I'll dash off a throwaway post that gets an enthusiastic response. In fact, I only have one blog post that truly went viral, and I actually thought was very mundane when I was writing it.  That'd be an interesting study -- see how good bloggers are at predicting a post's success, and see how much that prediction accuracy increases with experience.

Locke does give the blog posts a push with what he calls Loyalty Transfer. He looks for people on Twitter who are interested in the topic he blogs about, and reaches out to them, eventually sharing his blog post with them after he’s built a connection. For the blog post mentioned earlier, he’d look for people tweeting about Joe Paterno.  Again, target audience.  Looking for people who will resonate with your posts. My hunch here is that  you need to be genuinely invested in the conversations you strike up for this to work. If not, I can see links falling flat, or even getting in trouble with Twitter terms of service for spamming.

All in all, Locke presents an interesting approach to blogging as a way to sell fiction, and it's definitely worth taking a look for an in-depth case study of one author’s (very) successful marketing strategy.

Now you tell me. What is your target audience like, and how might you reach them?

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  1. Another writer who's doing the blog loop, and social media thing, right? PAULO COELHO, hands down. He creates material on his blog, facebook, twitter, website, and video channel aimed at his target audience. And they keep coming back for more. I'm gonna go work on my ms instead of profiling his target reader, but in my opinion, that's why his books are as big as they are. Just follow the threads of his social content. Coelho's platform literally supports and bolsters his books.

    Great posts and perspective about author blogging, Livia!

  2. Lots of good points in that post on author blogging. You're right from the standpoint of blogs DIRECTLY generating sales.

    But it's important to remember they INDIRECTLY affect your career in a big way. (I think Sierra Godfrey stated that well in her comment to that post.)

    It used to be that you reached an audience by getting bookstore clerks and librarians to handsell your books. Now you get fellow writers to handsell your books--both are indirect routes.

    John Locke found a way to directly reach his audience, and that's brilliant if you can do it. I think more writers should give it a try. (Or do what I do and write books for and about writers :-) ) But if you write underwater basketweaving mysteries, then blogging directly for underwater basketweavers every third post or so would make a lot of sense.

    Still, getting known by other writers means you're getting known in the book world--and the value of that isn't to be underestimated.

    Also: a whole lot of readers are also writers.

  3. Great post with a lot of good reminders! Now, how to find the time to blog and still write the next book while marketing the current ones and keeping up with the day job...

  4. thanks, Livia, we are always learning in this brave new world!


  5. Anonymous -- Thanks, I'll check him out.

    Ann -- Well, there's different levels of indirect as well. Librarians and booksellers have direct contact w/ readers, whereas othehr writers may not necessarily. If another writer plugs your book on her mailing list directly to fans, that would help alot, but if the other writer plugs you on her blog that is primarily aimed toward writers, then that's less direct. There's no doubt that an indirect method is better than nothing, but given that everybody's time is limited, each writer will have to decide which efforts are worth it.

    Pamela -- It's always the time juggle, isn't it?

    Scott -- Thanks for dropping by!

  6. I've been debating about this for a while. And I still haven't come to any conclusions. I don't think what worked for Locke will work for everyone. We can try though. :) Many of my blogger friends write for children and children just don't read blogs. Which then means my target audience would be parents, teachers, and librarians. I do think a website can be geared toward your target audience. And if I happen to come up with a great idea for a blog that will go viral and create loyalty transfer, then great.

    I'm not saying Kristen was right or wrong. her bold statement definitely has merit. We are all forging new paths and trying to figure this all out!

  7. Profiling a target audience is a great strategy for marketing. I'm not ready to start doing that, but I'm tucking the tip away for future reference. Thanks!

  8. I am a voice from minority. I’ve shown I can reach my target obedience – my question is whether I can grow it big enough for sustainability. I once believed my readers were mostly male, but for every 20 comments or e-mails I receive, the overwhelming majority are from women. I take transgendered themes of male-to-female transformation, often by force or manipulation, and with erotic undertones, and strip out all the sex and seaminess. What’s left are vignettes about life itself, about alternative kinds of female-male relationships, some of them still in the significant-other mold, but others more the girlfriend variety. I paint the people in my world with sensitivity, using humor and irony to never once ask the question why such gentle, loving souls as us could ever be so reviled by so many of you. My readers seem to love it. My biggest problem has been expanding past adult-only venues to find more readers for my wholesome fare.


  9. Hi Livia,
    John Locke's book also resonated with me. When i started blogging I had a non-fiction book and I was just learning by doing. Now I have an audience of authors and writers as you say. Some of them have bought my fiction but I realize it's not my target audience. A while ago, I started in order to reach other thriller writers and that is having some success, but John's book has convinced me to start a more personal blog around things my readers might enjoy. So that is my actionable item from Locke's book - it is currently in build and I will have it up and running before my next book comes out - with the aim of building more of a reader hub.
    I guess it all comes back to personal branding.

    Thanks as ever, Joanna

  10. I loved your first post on this and this is a brilliant post too. Thank you! This rings more true to me than most writer's blogs writing to writers.

    (Side note, I do, however have huge admiration for the writers who have poured so much of their soul into helping other writers ala the wonderful Joanna of The Creative Penn. I just think that it's not the right path for every writer and you can only have so many blogs doing the same thing. An example of a writing blog taking a different spin on things is Justine Musk's The Tribal Writer. She write about being a writer, but it's not a cut and dry style. She goes deep and puts heart and soul into it. And that is what makes a writer's blog a must-read for me.)

    Okay, back to my point, I feel like the approach you describe above is what I've tried to do on my blog, intuitively perhaps. I'm just being me and living out loud while I also happen to have a dream of being a writer and I hope to attract kindred spirits this way.

    But I struggle with the high expectations people have of getting a bajillion followers just by putting themselves out there. It's too easy to buy into the hype. To get something to "go viral" you have to work your butt off! And as a person with a day job in addition to being a writer, I don't have much to invest in being a social media madwoman right now.

    So the bottom line is, my blog is an outlet for me, an experimental playground, a place to express myself, and hopefully a chance to connect with fellow creative souls.

  11. Laura -- good point that children don't read blogs. Perhaps another approach would be better, say Facebook or some kind of multimedia website.

    Linda – glad you found it useful!

    Penelope -- sounds like you're doing a good job. Have you considered reaching out to LGBT groups in high schools and colleges?

    Joanna -- I'm in awe of your energy and how you're constantly reevaluating your platform. Keep us updated on the new blog!

    vmichelle -- so true that going viral often involves a lot of work :-) it's kind of like how overnight success sometimes takes years to achieve :-)

  12. i'm excited about this both for my non-fiction and fiction endeavors. I feel I've really defined my non-fiction target audience (parents, working either in or out of the home, who have chosen to enroll their children in daycare and have issues, concerns and have trouble communicating with their child's teachers). My fiction audience is a little more like this: "me, at age 12-15." Ha! Gotta flesh that out a little more I guess.
    Anyway, I love the idea of writing it out and tacking it up somewhere when i need to pull my eyes away from the screen and reflect on the bigger picture of the fiction work. Great post. thanks so much!

  13. Must be something going around the internet today. I blogged about this very thing too--What (non-writing) READERS Want From an Author Blog. It really is a challenge trying to figure out how to transition from a writing blog to something with more broad appeal. I think your approach with the psychological profile is a great one. :)

  14. I decided to focus on writing and researching all things historical. Sometimes it's about my historical novels. Other times the non-fiction pieces I do. I write about research, family history and have guest authors. It's broad enough to interest different groups of people and gives me an opportunity to share my love of history.

  15. I love the section where you describe your target audience. I'm not in the demographic, but it still made me want to read your books.

  16. It depends what you want to do. I write because I enjoy it. Sure, it's nice to earn a living, too, but if I wanted to earn serious money I'd go and flip burgers.
    And that is true of the vast majority of published writers out there.
    So I do what I enjoy, and blogging, especially on The Good, The Bad and The Unread is fun. As well as a privilege.
    Marketing is an inexact discipline (it certainly isn't a science) at the best of times. If it was a science, we'd be able to apply a formula, and all be selling millions before the year is out. It doesn't work like that. Someone will do something successful and everyone will flood in that direction, and the effect is diluted. People, it only works once. Twice, if you're lucky.
    Enjoy the journey.

  17. Great stuff. I love the idea of an indepth psychological profile.

    I just finished a long blog post about how fiction writers can find their target market. Now I'll have to go back and update it with links to your post here and John Locke's book. Thanks.

  18. I'm going to repeat the comment I made on Alan Rinzler's post here because I think there are several things you haven't taken into consideration, Livia, and want to make sure readers of your blog see them. I should also say that the first thing I do when working with authors or publishers is insist that they create a blog strategy and think about at least three subject areas they can blog about. Those can be other interests, they can be easy link round-up posts, or they can be about their experiences doing readings and workshops, books they're reading and loving, or about the process of writing. But a blog that's supposedly part of a marketing strategy that doesn't itself have a strategy is probably a waste of time.

    'Writers – like everyone else these days – need a web site, and rather than wait six months to get one designed, a simple blog pointed at (or to, I can never remember which it is but I’ve done it and still have the instructions on how to do so) your author domain name is the fastest and cheapest way to get a web site up quickly. This also means you don’t have to pay constantly to have someone else update it – or take a course in writing .php yourself. You can so easily add events, your Tweetstream, news, where to find you on Goodreads (and you can add Goodreads widgets so people looking at your site will see what you’re reading – at least, it’s easy to add the widget on Blogger) – as well as all the other things people have suggested in the comments – and the updated content keeps you high in Google search engine rankings, which is what you, as an author, want when people are looking for you.

    It doesn’t have to take away from your own writing time any more than brushing your teeth or showering does – truly. And the other thing is that a blog is a place where you can show a little bit more of your personality and your enthusiasms, which is a subtle way of connecting with people on a variety of levels. If you’re a novelist who also loves soccer or a novelist and knitter or a novelist and golfer, you expand awareness of yourself as a writer by connecting with people via your other enthusiasms. And perhaps the soccer fans, knitters and golfers aren’t readers themselves, but they’ll be sure to think of you when they’re buying books for the readers they know.'

    Ruth Seeley

  19. Ruth -- All good points. If an author is able to put up a charismatic web presence and make connections without having it interfere with their writing, they should definitely blog. The key is, as you say, to have a solid plan for the blog, and to think realistically and critically about what your blog is doing for you. Every author's mileage will vary.

  20. The enormous amount of time it takes to find - capture- turn to followers on blogs is enormous. I prefer the old-fashioned way. A paper route to 300 neighbors. Everyday, I write a page, print 300 copies and distribute it up and down the 6 square blocks around me. Those 6 blocks lead to 36 blocks. Leads to 36x6. etc. Some even want milk delivered and knives sharpened.

  21. Barry - Not only will you sell books, but you'll lose 20 pounds!

  22. You might want to check out Sharon Kay Penman's blog and Facebook page. She writes deeply researched historical novels based on real historical figures. Most of the discussions on her pages are about the history, extensions from her books, updates on her progress on her current books, answering questions raised by her books, etc.
    Readers are not just fans, but fans of her historical period, and the discussions are often fascinating. Readers/fans post pix taken at the scenes where her books are set.
    Also, she sometimes recommends books by other authors, which posts are followed by fans posting that they have just bought/ordered/downloaded the recommended book.

    She's definitely selling books, and posting very interesting material, which is what keeps her readers coming back to books, FB page, and blog.
    Haven't seen anything aimed at writers, how to write, etc.
    I'd say Sharon is doing it right.

  23. After I read John Locke's book I realized that I've been doing it wrong. My blog has been geared toward other writers, but there are so many other interesting issues to blog about. I'm looking forward to the change.

  24. Excellent post, Livia. Thank you for your insightful analysis.

  25. Very insightful, Livia. I've thought about it since I first went public with my blog--it's one of the main reasons I rarely write about, well, writing, and why I review YA books that I love on my blog. Because people who love YA books will be reading them, and I tend to fall in love with books (and thereby recommend books) that are similar to mine in one small way or another (whether it's style, characterization, paranormal, humor, depth, etc.). You can't help but be drawn to books that you also wish you had written. Hopefully this draws people who would like my books to my blog. But, too, I blog about random things in a similar style to my fiction. I guess I'm hoping that people will like my voice enough to be curious about the novels I put out. It's all a crapshoot, though, which is why I also don't spend too much time blogging. I still need to write.

    All in all, I have no idea if it'll pay off. It's important that if you're going to blog, you're at least driving some some sort of satisfaction from it (pleasure or catharsis), as that may be all you get.

  26. This is my first visit to your blog, and I've enjoyed reading it. As a new author with his first book coming out in 2012, I've definitely struggled with finding the balance between writing and blogging.

    I just launched my blog in June, so it may be unfair to judge yet how much time it will take, but to date it has taken a HUGE chunk of time away from my writing. But as I get in the groove, I see dedicating 3-5 hours a week to it. The challenge it to not let it and the whole social media marketing get addictive. I know I've already spent too much time checking Google Analytics and watching my "like" count on Facebook. How ironic is it that now in addition to facing that blank page with stamina and shear perseverance, writer's now face another time-sucking, confidence-shaking enemy called social marketing?

    Regarding the discussion of targeting, I think any author who hopes to make even a modest living as a writer must answer the question, "who am I targeting with my book?" Yes, some may argue that by targeting your book it loses its authentic voice and artistry, but I disagree. What is a voice if it can't be heard? My novel has a voice, and I know who is my bullseye target. As a marketer by profession, I know realize for something to go viral, it must hit a nerve. In striking that nerve, it will create a fan base that will act, that will share, that will proselytize. My job as a blogger is to create some of that initial momentum and then to nurture it along the way. Well, at least that's what I think for now. It's my first time launching a book, so I'm sure I'll learn a whole lot!

    Thanks again for the great post!

    Bruce Bradley

  27. Hi Livia, thanks for this thought-provoking post. Finding your target audience is a popular subject among us writers right now, and this concept is pulled right from the Marketing 101 handbook. Like you, I find it curious that some writers spend alot of time marketing to other writers (it's something I blogged about recently to a non-target audience, just to get it off my chest).

    Perhaps I benefit from being a marketing professional, in that capturing a target audience is a concept that comes naturally to me. My fiction readers (at least I think these are my readers, I'm still beta testing) are middle- and upper-class women aged 30+ who are into art, culture and travel. From day one I've been trying to reach them on my blog (which was originally called Artsey Fartsey but has since changed names) with thought-inducing blog posts about, among other things, stolen Egyptian artifacts, underrated independent films, and the privacy vs. security issues of TSA body scanners. I've picked up a few readers by going this route, but still, like eveyone else here, I'm a work in progress.

    Heck, aren't we all?

    Keep posting and best of luck with your writing.


  28. writing for writers is not a target audience? If I could be that specific about whom I write for — i wouldn't write at all!

  29. You've given me a lot to think about. Thank you so much for introducing me to John Locke's process. Finding blog topics is difficult for me, but maybe this way of thinking will help me narrow down my focus.

  30. I absolutely love you for writing these two-part posts on author blogging. You've given me something very good to think about.

    I admit to occasionally falling into the blogging for other authors trap. Thankfully I had a reader send me a comment asking for more story-related posts or tiny fictional tidbits instead.

    You've also given me something to think about while I go do the very mundane dishes. I also appreciate the tip on how to realize who your target audience is by listening to people that like the story, such as your beta readers. I have trouble figuring out who I'm targeting because my only real goal is to write a story I like. So I suppose I'm targeting someone like me but not a specific age...

    Either way, thanks for the wake up call before I write way too many blogging for other authors posts. I definitely appreciate it, and your sharing of John Locke's process.


  31. This is something I've been thinking about for a while. I think the answer is, if you are an artist, to have actual art on your blog, and if you are a writer, to have stories. So not as much self-promotion but more craft (if you're looking to connect to your audience anyway.) Thanks for the insights and thoughts.

  32. Wonderful advice, I think is the best way to focus your ideas and save time by starting any project based on a blog

  33. Coming in late to the discussion ... it's very interesting. I must say that blogging has been nothing but extraordinarily helpful for me as a writer. First, the discipline of writing almost every day for my weblog helped me to strengthen my "writing muscles". It boosted my courage as a writer. I also learned about how I write best, and so was able to change the focus of what I wrote and find success that way. And when it came to publishing my books, it wasn't so much having a premade audience for them but a circle of friends who were willing to help me with promoting the books, which was lovely.

    I know quite a few people whose blogging has taken them on to publishing deals. I think the key is to write from your heart, and the audience you attract will want to buy any book you write because they have enjoyed your blogging - but they will also be friends. Also, as I said above, friends are more likely to spread the word about your book, and say nice things about it. (Although the best thing about them is that they're your friends.) Besides, when you write from your heart, you benefit, and other people benefit, even if you never sell anything.

  34. I think define you target audience may change your way of writting. Nowadays is important having a free way to write no matter who are you writing to