Zachry Wheeler, Science Fiction Novelist

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Embrace the Trinity of Ownership: Website, Blog, and Mailing List
Posted on November 19, 2020
Category: Zeedub Inkwell
Zachry Wheeler, Science Fiction Novelist

In a previous post, I outlined my decision to abandon Facebook (and why you should too). I cited numerous reasons, one of which was ownership, i.e. focusing on the marketing venues that I can actually control. In the online world, that amounts to three primary arenas: website, blog, and mailing list.

Behold! The Trinity of Ownership! (lightning crashes)

Anyway, you get the idea. Power and whatnot.

While it does make sense from an oversight perspective, I did not provide much detail on how they work, what their benefits are, and how to leverage them. So as a follow-up post, I thought it would be useful to highlight their core values.

Website

If you’re a published author without a website, then you’re doing it wrong. I say this as a Web Developer with decades of experience creating branding sites. Strangely enough, what should be an obvious statement is anything but. I have met several of my fellow wordsmiths who only have social media accounts. This is not only insufficient, it’s flatly unprofessional. Websites are the modern day equivalent of business addresses. They are the digital foundations from which everything else arises.

Whenever I give presentations on marketing and branding, I hammer this point home with a simple test: “If a teenager in Sweden cannot find you within a 10-second Google search, then you do not exist.”

First and foremost, a bad website is worse than no website. Ask yourself, would you trust a product from a clunky and unusable website? Of course not. Now put yourself into the shoes of a reader who is navigating a piss poor author site. If you can’t be bothered to polish your online presence, then why should they bother reading your books?

Pro tip: resist the siren call of a free subdomain (YourName.NotYourWebsite.com). They stink of afterthought and lack of personal investment. You need a proper domain and a reliable host (YourName.com, bought from a registrar, pointed to a hosting site). As an example, I currently use NameSilo and Hostek. I like the former because they offer free WhoIs protection. I like the latter because their plans offer some serious bang for the buck.

Web hosting is really cheap these days, so it’s not going to break the bank. People are often surprised to learn that my entire website cost is less than $100 per year, which includes all domain renewals and hosting. I do save design costs as a web developer, but once you’re up and running, there isn’t much maintenance to worry about. Most people use a CMS (Content Management System like WordPress), which takes the mystery out of web development. But if you don’t know what you’re doing, it pays to hire a professional. I could devote an entire blog series to proper web design, but for most authors, it’s much easier and more cost effective to hire a developer.

Furthermore, if you only have a social media account, then you are losing valuable traffic. Saying “find me on Facebook” only benefits Facebook. The primary goal of social media is to keep you on social media, hence the links to a billion other things that are not you. Personal websites, on the other hand, are all about you and your works. You control where visitors go, be it to your blog or book pages. Plus, if you can get reliable traffic on quality content, then you can start earning additional income from ads and sponsors.

Blog

Speaking of content, this is where your blog comes into play. It’s useless to say “find me at AuthorName.com” if you have nothing there to offer. Blogs are giant depots of personalized content that you can serve to fans. It’s where you offer peeks into your writing world, be them stories, insights, advice, or guides.

Your blog resides on your website and is technically just an extension. But, visitors will always view them as separate entities. It’s easier to think of your website as “skin” and your blog as “meat.” (Or perhaps something less graphic, but you get the point.) Your web developer will know how to set this all up, at which point you can log into the CMS and post whatever you want. It’s an easy way to generate content that boosts your visibility, especially if you write about something that people find useful or interesting.

For example, a large chunk of my website traffic comes from a single article: An Author’s Guide to Comic Cons. It has gained a sizeable following, thanks to its numerous shares and inclusion in a published anthology. Comic cons are valuable promo outlets for authors, but little was written about the subject before my blog post. I saw an info void that needed filling and the Internet rewarded me with a reliable flow of traffic.

Sharing is where the blog truly shines. Whenever you post something on a forum or social media, make sure that it’s linked to a blog post. It’s kind of like fishing, in that you’re hooking traffic onto your website, where you have full control over the experience. Have you noticed that this post is linked to numerous other blog posts? That helps readers navigate the depot while also improving my search engine rankings (a common SEO tactic).

That said, I do have one suggestion that goes against the grain: for your own peace of mind, disable comments. If someone likes a blog post, they will likely share it on social media and comment there. The vast majority of website engagement will come from spam and bots, which are not worth the moderation headache. Addons can only do so much, as bots will always find ways around them. Best to save yourself the hassle.

Mailing List

Much to my own detriment, I resisted the mailing list for longer than I should have. I owned and operated several online ventures in the past, which gave me a distaste for newsletters. I knew how to leverage them, but I really hated the chore. This was due to numerous factors, including the subject material and lack of automation tools.

Today’s mailer world is vastly more efficient. There are countless services that make sending mailers all but effortless (and dare I say … fun). I started with MailChimp, which offers a very powerful free service up to a certain threshold. This allows you to get comfortable with the tool before hitting the first paywall, which is a nice learning buffer. There are a ton of other services that offer similar packages, so it pays to do a little research in order to find the one that works best for you. Once I outgrew the free account, I migrated to MailerLite to take advantage of its small business features.

The primary benefit to newsletters is noise reduction. As a simple example, let’s say that you have 5000 Twitter followers, but only 500 contacts in your mailing list. Twitter may seem like a more valuable target, but that’s a mirage. Your followers on Twitter are following numerous other accounts, so anything you share is likely to get lost in the churn. However, your mailing list is focused entirely on you. Your contacts have signed up to hear directly from you. It’s a laser-focused promo tool with reliable dividends. In the ever-changing online world, a social media account is fleeting, but an email address is forever.

Newsletters are unique in that they solidify connections and shape a persona. You can share intimate news, comment on current events, and give fans something valuable that they can’t get anywhere else. It’s a lot like joining an exclusive club where the cost of membership is a valid email address. I have actually grown to really enjoy sending my monthly mailers, which also reward me with kind responses from actual fans. It’s a refreshing contrast to the barking madness of social media.

Control the Landscape

Embracing the Trinity of Ownership can be a complicated endeavor and I hope this post has provided some useful insights. Much of it only scratches the surface, as each silo has its own deep dive into effective practices. In any regard, I think it’s more valuable to control what you own than fight what you don’t. Social media is unreliable at a baseline. Platforms come and go and the rules are constantly changing. One day, Facebook and Twitter will join MySpace in the lands of irrelevance. And on that day, I hope to barely notice.

Previous post:
No, I’m Not on Facebook (And No Author Should Be)

Read more:
Reclaiming Ennui: A Referendum on Social Media Usage
My Big Fat Social Media Marketing Experiment
Rethinking Author Branding: Why Social Media is Marketing Poison

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