Be Relevant: How to Blog about Your Book-to-Be

I was a pretty big fan of “American Idol” when Simon Cowell was still a judge. The reason I liked him was the reason a lot of people liked him: He wasn’t afraid to tell it like it is. I like to fancy myself the Simon Cowell of editors, although I’m gentler than he is. One of my favorite pieces of feedback from him had to do with people being “irrelevant.” When a person was confusing or presented in a way that didn’t fit the music choice, he’d often say, “I’m sorry, but I just found the whole thing to be totally irrelevant.”

In the spirit of Simon, I want writers to know what they’re getting into if they want to get published—and for their writing, proposals, and platforms to be good enough so that they are met with success when they start shopping their work. The course I’m teaching at She Writes this month and next has pushed me into Simon mode where blogging is concerned. I’ve found myself thinking, and even saying a few times, “This is totally irrelevant!” And this lack of relevance—where there is too little connection between book and blog—is far too prevalent among aspiring authors.

Too few writers, I’ve found, understand the purpose of a blog. If you are a writer who wants to get published, a blog is not a place to practice being a better writer. It’s not a place to tell people what you’re thinking about today, or to share a story about your kids (unless you’re writing a book about your kids). Your blog might have started out as a place to share with family and friends, and that’s fine, but the moment you decided you wanted to get published, everything changed. Your blog is now a platform-builder. Your blog should be turning you into the go-to person on the subject of your book. If it’s not accomplishing that, and if your posts have nothing to do with what you’re writing, you are being irrelevant. And it’s going to work against you.

I recently told one of my clients that I wanted her to imagine putting on a pair of glasses whenever she blogs. The lenses would be comprised of the themes in her book. Being an author blogger is all about focus. If you’re writing a travel memoir, for instance, your blog needs to be about traveling. I have rejected manuscripts before based on the fact that an author’s blog has nothing to do with their topic. Maybe once upon a time this travel author had a travel blog, but then the trip ended, and so there was no more travel going on. So the blog turned into all the things she loves about living in New York City and the foods she likes to eat. As soon as an editor sees this, they will be confused. And that travel writer has likely just lost her shot at a book deal.

So what could she have done? She could have continued to write about traveling—about other people traveling or her love of traveling or missing traveling. She could have written posts about her time abroad and stories which, even though they’re not at the forefront of her daily experience, have to do with her book. She could have posted short little excerpts from her memoir, maybe a line or two that would have served as a lead-in to blog about travel in a thematic rather than specific way. If she had done these things, an editor might have gone to her blog and found something cohesive. Something that made sense. Something that was relevant.

A great example I always give to my clients about someone who did this whole using-a-blog-to-build-a-platform thing really well is Jenny Block, author of Open, a memoir about open marriage. Jenny effectively made herself the go-to person on open marriage. She set up Google Alerts so that she would be notified about what was happening online on the subject of open marriage. Any time anything happened in the media that had to do with open marriage, she did a blog post about it and put in her two cents. Even before her book was published, the media was contacting her to comment on stories.

And don’t think you can’t do this because you’re a novelist. You can. Let’s take the example of Sarah’s Key, just because I happen to be trying to finish that novel this week. That’s a book with many themes: the Vel’ d’Hiv round-up in France during World War II, discrimination against Jews, an American woman living in France, late-in-life pregnancy. If this were the mid-2000s and this author were toiling away on her novel and looking for more exposure, I would advise her to blog on these topics. There is a lot to say on any one of these topics, and it’s okay to bring relevant issues back to your characters. She could have done a blog post about the Vel’ d’Hiv round-up for starters. She might have set her Google Alerts to troll for content about late-in-life pregnancies and written about women who were making that choice, putting it into context for her readers by writing that the protagonist in her novel faced a choice about whether or not to have this baby after having gotten pregnant by accident.

The bottom line is this: It’s better to blog on topics that have to do with your book than to blog often. Cohesion is better than quantity. Staying on theme is better than writing for the sake of writing. Don’t do throwaway posts just because you think you “should” be writing. It’s a waste of your time and it doesn’t contribute to your platform.

If you’ve been doing all the wrong things, don’t fret. It’s not too late to change course, and it doesn’t mean you should delete your old posts. Don’t do that! Just set your sights on the subject matter at hand and put on those theme-colored glasses every time you sit down to blog. With Google Alerts as your constant companion, you’ll wonder why you ever thought there wasn’t enough to blog about! And you’ll be able to write with your head held high knowing that you are absolutely relevant.

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