Writing Articles to Promote Books

When I got back into self publishing around seven years ago, I thought that writing articles for large circulation magazines and websites would be a pretty good way to promote books. I did get some articles published in large circulation magazines, prestigious in the area I was publshing a book, and likewise with some authority websites. I didn't see any boost in sales, but then again, I did a number of things wrong. My worst two mistakes were getting a book excerpt published in a magazine a full year before the book was available for sale and not noticing the magazine had made a typo in the "about the Author" info that referred readers to a website that didn't exist!

Many authors focus almost exclusively on article writing to promote their books, and I've seen instances where it works pretty decently with magazines and newspapers. Newspapers, in particular weekend human interest inserts, have a surprisingly welcoming policy to thinly veiled promotional material, as long as you get on the editor's good side. I lack the people skills for that sort of thing, and I've never been enthusuastic about generating one-time pops in book sales. Grinding out article after article or repreposing existing material and trying to pass it off as new is too much like, well, writing a self publishing blog.

What triggered me to post about article writing today were two requests this morning from websites who wanted permission to repost some of my articles. I turned them down, as I always do, for a number of reasons. For one thing, granting permission to somebody else to use your material always opens the door to abuse. I'm not a lawyer and I don't want to have to hire one every time somebody asks for permission to republish my articles; it's easier to just say no. If it was the Wall Street Journal or the New York Times, I'd give them permission in a heartbeat, but I'm not going to open the door to some unknown business run by unknown people.

Another issue is duplicate content penalties. Although this shouldn't be an issue as long as they include a link back to the original, you never know how the search engines may change their algorithyms in the future. There's also the issue of mission creep on the part of the republisher. I don't want to have to check their site on a regular basis to see if they are using my material in accordance with whatever agreement we've reached. The potential upside simply doesn't outweigh the potential downside to me. If you want to write some articles for other websites to help you get off the ground when you launch, write original content that fits their site better than yours, and in addition to avoiding duplication, the article will generate more traffic (and visitors to your site) then something that doesn't quite fit.

There's an even better reason than any of the above not to pursue writing articles for website distribution, which I'll call "focus." If you're focused on building your own authority website to promote your books and build a platform for the future, you should focus on doing that and not get distracted by the fools gold of "free" publicity. There's a reason why publishers of other websites are interested in republishing your articles, and it's not to send you traffic. It's to increase their standing and draw more traffic themselves. To some extent, the Internet, and even the publishing world in general, is a sum zero game. In some cases, a browser on another site might follow a link to you, but most traffic is driven by the search engines, and people tend to stop looking when they find what they want. Do you want them to stop on your website, or somebody elses?

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