Though Maria Grace has been writing fiction since she was ten years old, those early efforts happily reside in a file drawer and are unlikely to see the light of day again, for which many are grateful. After penning five file-drawer novels in high school, she took a break from writing to pursue college and earn her doctorate in Educational Psychology. After 16 years of university teaching, she returned to her first love, fiction writing.
She has one husband and one grandson, two graduate degrees and two black belts, three sons, four undergraduate majors, five nieces, is starting her sixth year blogging on Random Bits of Fascination, has built seven websites, attended eight English country dance balls, sewn nine Regency era costumes, and shared her life with ten cats.
We are so fortunate to have the very gifted writer Maria Grace (4 X B.R.A.G.Medallion Honoree author!) join us today to share some thoughts and information about her very successful blog.
Marie, I love your website! I am a fan of your books and always look forward to posts and info you share on your site.
There are so many different types of websites from authors- some work, some don’t. Thank you for agreeing to answer some questions about your author website-
Thanks so much for having me. I am so delighted to be invited to share here!
Your website is “reader” focused unlike many author websites that are “writing/publishing” focused. Why did you choose to go in that direction?
Most of the decision making process on my site came out of research into best practices. When I was about to publish my first book, I read that writers needed websites—ok, simple enough, but what did one put on such a site? Over and over I read ‘those who know’ saying that websites were for READERS not for other authors, so unless you wrote books for authors, then your site needed to be reader focused. So that’s what I did.
Really, when you think about it, it makes a lot of sense. All of this comes done to finding and keeping readers for our work. It doesn’t make sense—to me at least—to put a huge amount of effort into a website that isn’t aimed at doing that. Writing about writing and our experiences in writing is tempting though because it is what we are thinking about all the time. It’s up front in our minds and where we are. So it seems natural to write about it. Trouble is, I haven’t found that readers really care all that much about it, at least not over the long run. YMMV, though (your mileage may vary.)
I’m about to start my seventh year blogging and there have been bumpy times for sure. The biggest issue has been discovering—sometimes simply by trial and error—what my readers are interest in and giving them that.
You provide so much information and background to your Jane Austen inspired books. This must take a great deal of time. How do you manage to find the time?
Time is always an issue in everything. There are only so many hours in a day, right, no matter how we try to multiply them. And not sleeping only works for so long before you face plant into your keyboard and accidentally delete your entire nearly complete novel. Yeah, bad idea.
That being said, I have found some things that help me make the most out of my efforts.
- Probably the biggest thing is the mindset. I go around constantly with one eye open for what would be an interesting blog post for my readers. Keeping that on the forefront starts to open your eyes to tons of possibilities.
- When I research I make sure I save all my resources and label them to find them easily (and make sure I have all the bibliographic info as well.) MS One Note—a free app—is awesome for this. So when I want to write something up, I don’t have to look for sources and I don’t worry about web based sources disappearing.
- When I research I always have an eye open for interesting tidbits or information that I think would interest my readers—I call those research rabbit holes—little distractions I run into during the research process. I keep a running list in my notes of those topics that would interest my readers. If the topic is relatively small, I’ll pause and gather sources into a file on the spot and save it all so it’s ready to write when I am.
- I set aside a day or two a month and batch write history based posts. I’ll write three or four, maybe even five in that time span and load them into the website queue at that point so I don’t have to think about the non-fiction writing for another month. This was a life-saver when Hurricane Harvey hit at the same time as my book launch and I needed history posts written for the blog tour. I did them all in under forty-eight hours because all the reference notes were in files, waiting for me to written them.
- I have a blog editorial calendar that sits on the top of my desk so I’m always staring at it. I posts T-Th-Sat most weeks and have a typical monthly cycle I use including a variety of post types. I batch write posts by types. For example, I have a silly cat post I do once a month and usually will do 3 or 4 of those at once, load and queue them up so they are ready ahead of time.
Who do you use to maintain your website? You make changes and additions so often, is it costly to do this?
Who do I use for the website? Me, Myself and I. Seriously, I do everything. I know some disagree with me, but I feel really strongly that in the new publishing world the more an author is able to do for themselves, the better off they are.
I keep costs to a minimum by using as much ‘free’ stuff as I can, but I do pay for webhosting, which means my site is mine and I am not at the whim of another company. Facebook, twitter, free blog hosting, those can all disappear tomorrow because we don’t own them. But if you have a self-hosted site, that’s not going to happen.
Personally I use Host Gator for my site and DomainIt to purchase my web addresses (domain names). I’ve been very happy with them and the price is very reasonable, under $15 a month for the hosting and under the same for yearly upkeep on the web addresses.
Managing a website can be very simple or very complicated, but for the most part, if you can post on Facebook, you can handle a blog. I think it’s best for an author to have something they can handle themselves rather than something fancy and complex that has to go through a third party. Again YMMV.
Using your deleted scenes and background info is very clever, I know it was one of the things that drew me to your website. Do you think this works in getting readers to buy your books?
This is an interesting question, primarily because it is very difficult to gather hard data on it. But if I have to come up with an answer, I’d say yes it does. I’ve gotten a lot of comments from blog readers that say the deleted scenes whet their curiosity and now they want to read the whole thing.
I work hard to create the history posts to be friendly to search engines (SEO) so that they will bring in people who might potentially be readers. I often hear of readers who find the site that way. From there I offer free short story ebooks as well as deleted scenes and previews of coming books to give them a chance to discover my fiction. Some definitely have.
Another important consideration for a website is to continue to engage existing readers. It takes time to put out new books, and I don’t want my readers to forget about me in the meantime. So the blog posts are also aimed at staying fresh in the minds of my current readers so they are beating down the door when the next book comes out.
You have quite a list of subscribers for your posts. How often do you send out messages? Do you think you can ever send out too many messages? Do they only go out when you have something new that’s been added?
My blog set to automatically send out an email notification of each new post. I researched the issue of how much is too much recently and the general consensus by ‘those who know’ was that three times a week was idea for maintaining high readership. Less than once a week and you tend to fall off the map. Again, YMMV.
I see that on your blog you occasionally post more personal things and pictures about yourself. How important do you think it is to make yourself accessible to your fans or don’t you think this is necessary? How personal is too personal sharing?
This is a difficult question, really. I am pretty private and really don’t like to post too many personal things. Really I’m just not that interesting and don’t want to bore readers.
On the other hand, being perceived as accessible is also important. So I try to strike a balance. When I do a live event or participate in a genre related event, I post about it because I know my readers are interested in those sorts of thing. Beyond that, I usually keep my personal posts to one a month and try hard to post about something that will interest my readers, not necessarily something I’m interested in. Hopefully those two things overlap.
I’ve done more than average personal posts recently because of Hurricane Harvey. I was in the middle of a book launch in the midst of it, and a number of my writer friends picked up the banner and really helped publicize the launch while I was without internet. They also posted a bunch of status updates for me as the floodwaters rose and threatened our home. Since it was pretty much all over social media, it felt like I should write about that in more detail. But I think that’s more an exception to the rule.
I don’t share a lot of very personal details or controversial opinions since those are not the things I write about or things my readers really want to come to my site to read about. That’s not to say that no writer should do that ever, but one really needs to consider whether such posts are appealing to their readers. If they are, go for it, but if not …
What have you done to attract readers to your website? I know you have visitors subscribe to your site for updates but what do you do to get visitors there in the first place?
Attracting readers is always a big issue. There are a number of things I do to bring eyeballs to the site. First, I took some time to learn about what pulls search engines to a site (SEO) and try to write my posts to maximize that. The better my site shows up in searches, the more likely I can get new visitors. Posting fairly frequently has helped as well.
I run a monthly giveaway of one of my backlist ebooks every month. That always draws in some new faces and helps bring some attention to my backlist.
After that, I share posts to Facebook (where my readers tend to hang out) on my profile and page, and in appropriate groups that welcome such post. (Make sure you know group rules before you share/post to groups!) I’ve got something of a network that will help me share those posts to increase their reach and I return the favor for my network. (As an aside, giveaway posts tend to get more shares than average so those are good for getting in front of fresh eyeballs.)
I’m still finding my way around twitter, but I share the posts there as well and I’m working out how to translate my blog over to Tumblr. Keep tuned for further adventures there.
Random Bits of Fascination (my blog) is also linked to my profile on Goodreads and Amazon so my blog posts automatically appear there as well. That helps put them before more readers.
My website address is in all my books and on every guest blog post that I make and I invite readers to visit there. And I’m not above tempting them with free short story e-book, either. Those have been very popular on my site and on a group site I do.
I send out a monthly newsletter (well, more or less monthly) with links back to the site. About every other newsletter I try to offer some special content or a poll or question for subscribers to respond to on the site to encourage them to visit and poke around.
I can’t tell you which one of these works ‘best’, but I can tell you that this year I made a point to up my website/blog game. The combination of all these effort has resulted in adding about 30% more to my blog subscriptions and monthly visitors to the site. So something in all of that seems to be working. I’m still trying to sort out the impact on book sales for all of this.
How active are you on other websites – such as other authors or period sites?
I have two specific groups I post in, English Historical Fiction Authors, which I do a monthly history post and a genre group, Austen Variations which is an author group blog and Facebook group. I serve as an admin for that group and usually post on that site monthly as well. These sorts of groups are really helpful to help expose you to a wider group and help you to form a writer’s network.
When I publish, I often arrange a blog tour on genre and period related sites. I have a list of maybe two dozen sites that I might approach, depending on the specifics of the book. When I guest post on these sites, I try to offer content that the reader might be interested in (rather than just book advertising posts) and pay particular attention to good SEO practices. I’ve been told that these posts will often get hits years later, and they all have links back to my site and my books—so the gift that keeps on giving, right? (Added bonus, these types of posts usually get recycled into posts on my site six months to a year after the blog tour.)
Lastly, do you think the work you put into your website pays off with book sales or do you do it more out of love for this period and personal satisfaction?
I do get a certain amount of satisfaction from the website. I love creating something from nothing and seeing it grow. I also love having a place where I can hang out with my readers and connect with them without worrying that some is suddenly going to change the rules on me. (Not like that’s ever happened, right?)
Ultimately, I don’t think I could keep it up if I didn’t think it played a crucial role in my overall marketing efforts. It just takes too much time and energy to justify for something that is just for fun.
Some final parting thoughts. Just yesterday I had a conversation with a new writer having issues figuring out what to do with her blog. Several of us chatted with her and it came out she was a culinary student and romance writer, aimed at 30-40 year old female romantics. It was pretty obvious from there what her blog focus should be. Food and Romance! Exactly the place her interests and her readers’ intersected.
If a writer can invest in getting to understand their readers and what they are interested in (oddly, most of mine are cat lovers as well as fans of romance, history, particularly the Regency era, Jane Austen, and interested in odd eclectic bits and the occasional bit of fantasy and science fiction …), then focus in on where their interests overlap with their readers, you’ve got exactly what you should blog about.
Thanks you for sharing Maria and thank you for providing me with such an enjoyable break in my day with a visit to your website!
Thanks so much for having me. It was wonderful coming by to visit.
You can find out more about Maria Grace, her wonderful books and contact her at:
Her website: Random Bits of Fascination
English Historical Fiction Authors
I enjoyed the perspective of this interview and found it very interesting. Thank you for sharing. And I must day, I love Maria’s stories.
Excellent insight into maintaining an effective blog/website. Thanks for sharing!