If you want to know what happens when you simply find your niche as a blogger, read Smoky Trudeau Zeidel’s success story. She claims to have floundered around as a blogger. Then she moved to California and struck gold not only with her blog but with her blog-to-book deal—after just a few months of blogging on a new topic. That’s how she became the author of Observations of an Earth Mage.
What process did you use to find or choose the blog posts that went into your book? And out of how many posts did you have to choose?
My book that originated from my blog is titled Observations of an Earth Mage. It’s a collection of blog posts—essays, poetry, and photography—about my interactions and explorations with nature.
I had no focus when I started blogging. I floundered about, looking for an angle, for a topic that would entice readers. I wrote about the novels I had published already, and gave writing tips. I wrote funny little stories about experiences I had, like the time I saw a naked jogger trying to get into the public library on a Sunday afternoon when it was closed.
But then I moved to the Los Angeles area from Illinois, and I was totally floored by how much wilderness was out here. I had been of the idea that Southern California was nothing but concrete. My fiancé then, husband now, took me on wonderful expeditions into the mountains, to visit the tide pools on the ocean, and out into both the low and high deserts. I was enchanted. I had to share this beauty and my love of California on my blog. And I found the more I blogged about our adventures, the more my readers demanded I blog! If I went more than a week without posting about an adventure, inevitably someone would ask, “When are you going to go somewhere again?” I had found my niche at last.
Vanilla Heart Publishing, my publisher, noticed the attention my blog was getting. They came to me and asked if I was interested in collecting the nature blogs into a book. Needless to say, I was thrilled. Because I had been blogging only a few months, I had only a few dozen posts to choose from. I chose all of them! There are 38 in all.
How did you then organize them, or did you keep the flow that you originally constructed?
The organization fell pretty naturally. Some of the posts were reminiscences of trips I took with my family as a child. It seemed right to blog about these adventures in my past, because they were what made me the Earth Mage I had become. So I started the book with those. Then I organized the posts by date, by experience.
My father, who was such an inspiration to me, died while I was compiling the book. I knew he was dying; he’d had a stroke. So he was mentioned in some of the blogs toward the end of the book. I’d write about how he would love to explore the tide pools with me, or how he would love the desert scenery. My book ends with the eulogy I wrote for his funeral.
What percentage of your book ended up repurposed posts as opposed to new content?
None of the book was new content. Every essay, every poem, had been posted as a blog prior to the book coming out.
What kind of editing did you need to do to make the blog posts work in a book? Did you need to add transitions, revise for flow from one post to the next or rewrite?
I really didn’t have to do any editing. I may have changed an essay title one or two places, but in browsing through Observations of an Earth Mage, I can’t see off the top of my head any place I did that. The only real difference between the book and the blogs are the photographs. While there were always at least one or two pictures with each blog post, my publisher wanted many, many more photos in the book. There are several pages that are nothing but photos that had not previously been posted on the blog.
Did you take your readers input (comments) into account before the manuscript went to press?
If it hadn’t been for my readers comments, there wouldn’t have been a book. My publisher noticed how many people were vicariously traveling to these places of beauty and wonder through my words. They noticed when people would beg me to go on another adventure and write about it. Without my followers’ comments, there would have been no Observations of an Earth Mage.
How did booking your blog make you a better writer?
Writing my essays about nature strengthened my powers of observation, which were pretty keen anyway, given my childhood adventures with my family. Because of this, my setting descriptions in my books are more vivid, more real. You can see where the stories are set, yes. But you also can feel their texture. You can smell them; you can taste them. I’m frequently told my setting descriptions are one of the most powerful aspects of my novel writing, and I believe that is true. Setting nearly always plays a thematic role in my novels.
Did booking your blog make you a better blogger (and how)?
I don’t think it made me a better blogger specifically, but any writing I do makes me a better writer. As with any art form, you get better with practice, practice, practice.
What advice would you offer to aspiring writers who might want to turn their blogs into books or blog a book?
Quite truthfully, I don’t recommend it unless you have a specific focus. I had that—my relationship with Mother Earth. This was a unique topic; not that many bloggers write about going out into the wilderness, or finding nature in their back yards. My blog had a unique angle, a unique focus, a unique subject matter that people were eager to read about, often because they were unable to see these places for themselves or because they were afraid to venture out on their own. They could do it vicariously through me from the safety of their living rooms!
If, however, you have a unique perspective and a focused topic, you may be able to write a successful book from a blog. I know of a blogger who writes about beekeeping, for example. I think her posts could make a good book. Turning a blog of writing tips into a book, though, probably isn’t a good idea, because it isn’t focused enough. But a blog about how to do research for a novel, or how writing a mystery differs from writing mainstream fiction, might work well.
Focus. Unique Perspective. Those are what you need.
Do you have any tips you can offer on blogging books or booking blogs?
Be careful what you blog. People read; people remember. I often see blogs where people bash other writers, or publishers, or complain about not wanting to pay to have their book edited, or how hard it is to get a publisher. But you know what? I know for a fact before my publisher offers a contract to a new author, they do a Google search to see if that author has a Web presence, and what kind of presence they have. If they find a lot of negative things, they won’t get a contract. And that doesn’t go only for blogging—it goes for tweets and Facebook posts, too. If you can’t write something positive, don’t write anything at all, because it just might come back and haunt you some day.
What one thing did you do that increased your traffic or brought in more unique visitors?
I asked my readers to repost the link to my blog. Funny, people don’t always think to post links on Facebook or Google+ or Twitter unless you ask. But it you ask, they’re happy to do it! Exponential marketing, it’s called. Say you post a blog and 100 people read it. You ask them to post the link on their Facebook page; perhaps 40 of them do. But let’s say those 40 people bring 10 more readers to your blog—that’s 400 more readers! It grows and grows. Never be afraid to ask, nicely, for people to tweet and Facebook your blog links!
What’s the most important thing a blogger can do to get noticed in the blogosphere and build an author platform or fan base?
Read other blogs. Comment on them. Bloggers are more likely to follow you if you take an interest in what they are writing, too. Learn to use appropriate tags! Never underestimate the importance of tagging. If you’ve written a blog about, say, how to create compelling antagonists, or “bad guys,” in your books, tag the obvious—“characterization,” “antagonists,” “bad guys.” But also use tags such as “blogging,” “writing,” “writing tips,” and “editing.” My blog readership exploded when I started using “blogging” as a tag every time I wrote a new post.
Edit your posts! I am shocked by the number of blogs I read where blatant spelling errors slip by the writer, or that aren’t properly punctuated. If you want to call yourself a writer, you have to learn to write well, and that means editing. I see people write “lightening” where they mean “lightning,” or “too” where they mean “to.” So many mistakes, and your spell checker won’t catch them. Edit your posts! Every single time. You won’t be taken seriously as a writer if you don’t do this.
Join Twitter, if you haven’t already done so. Don’t tweet only “buy my book, read my blog” type of tweets—that gets boring and irritating very fast, and there is no better way to lose readers than to bore and irritate them! Show tidbits of yourself. Let people get to know you. I’m much more interesting in reading the blog or buying the book of a person I know something about than someone who drones on and on “buy my book, read my blog,” and says nothing else about themself. You have to be willing to share yourself. But, as I wrote earlier, be careful what you say. Say only things that won’t come back and hurt you down the road. Write positive things, not negative things.
About the Author
Smoky Trudeau Zeidel is the author of three novels: The Storyteller’s Bracelet, The Cabin, and On the Choptank Shores; a collection of short stories, and the new Smoky’s Writer’s Workshop Combo Set that contains her two books for writers: Front-Word, Back-Word, Insight Out and Left Brain, Write Brain, 366 Writing Prompts and Exercises; and a photo/essay collection about the beauty of the natural world, Observations of an Earth Mage, all from Vanilla Heart Publishing. She has published short stories and poetry in literary journals such as CALYX and online e-zines such as The Foundling Review, and was a 2003 Pushcart Prize nominee. She was the lead editor for Vanilla Heart Publishing’s 2010 Nature’s Gifts anthology.
A native of Illinois, Smoky succumbed to her bohemian spirit and need to live near the mountains and the ocean and moved to Southern California in 2008, where she lives with her husband, Scott, and an assortment of animals, both domestic and wild, in a ramshackle cottage in the woods overlooking the San Gabriel Valley and Mountains beyond. An ardent outdoorswoman with a deep reverence for nature, when she isn’t writing, she spends her time hiking with Scott and their little dog, Tufa, in the mountains or desert, camping in the Sierras, splashing in tide pools, and fighting the urge to speak in haiku.