Chip MacGregor

May 29, 2013

How to Build a Blog that Markets for You: a Guest Post by Stephanie Morrill






Stephanie Morrill writes young adult contemporary novels and is the creator of Her novels include The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series (Revell) and the newly released The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet (Playlist). You can connect with her on FacebookTwitterPinterest, and check out samples of her work on her author website.

When my debut novel hit shelves in 2009, words like marketing, platform, and tribe put me in a bad mood. I was convinced that I didn’t possess the skillset I needed for being a good marketer, and that my best bet was to just write good books and hope for the best.

But then I fell in love with blogging. During the last three years, I’ve invested a portion of my writing time into a blog for teen writers called Go Teen Writers. At first it felt like I was on a stage and talking to an audience. As months passed, the audience slowly-but-surely grew. But instead of just looking at me, listening to me, talking to me…they turned toward each other. They looked, listened, and talked.

No longer was Go Teen Writers just me typing and scheduling posts, a drain on precious writing time. Once the teens began connecting to each other, the blog became a place of conversation, community, and friendship.

And a marketing tool beyond my imagination.

Here’s an example of what can happen when your audience starts chatting with each other instead of just talking to you:

In March, my publisher was generous enough to offer my debut novel, Me, Just Different, as a free ebook for six weeks. And, of course, the campaign launched during the one trip I had planned all spring.

I told myself that I had six weeks to promote the book and didn’t need to panic, but I was excited and decided to at least mention the deal on the Go Teen Writers Facebook group, a very chatty extension of the blog that has nearly 300 teen writers in it.

After I posted the deal, I hopped in the car, had some lunch, toured Annapolis, Maryland, and braved security at BWI. In short—I was living life and not thinking about my book, free downloads, or marketing.

But the writers in the Go Teen Writers group were.

Hours later, after I settled into my gate at the airport, I peeked at my email. I discovered that while I’d been enjoying my last day of vacation, the teens had been hard at work. One of the girls had posted on the group wall, “Let’s all work together to promote Me, Just Different and see if we can get it up on Amazon’s Top 100 free list.”

Other group members had responded with enthusiasm. They were all chatting about how they were getting the word out—Tweeting, posting on Facebook, blogging about the free book, emailing their friends who had ereaders.

When I left Baltimore, my book was ranked somewhere around number 1,700 on the Amazon free list. By the time I got home that evening, Me, Just Different was number 44. And other than telling the teens the book was available for free, I hadn’t lifted a finger.

Or I hadn’t that day, anyway.

I’m convinced this wouldn’t have happened had I kept on blogging in a, “I’m the blogger and you are the audience,” kind of fashion. Here are 5 things I did to help Go Teen Writers evolve from being a website, to being a place where people come to hang out and chat with each other.

1. I figured out what my audience wanted and found ways to provide it for them.

After the blog had been going for a few months, I discovered the biggest thing the teen writers wanted was feedback on their work. So I started hosting 100 word contests every two weeks. The judges were all published authors with hearts for helping new writers. Everyone who entered received feedback, and those who placed earned points. The top three winners for the year would receive critiques.

It involved a crazy amount of email, but hundreds of teens entered those contests and the blog grew and grew and grew because they were being nourished. The bonus side-effect was that the writers learned each other’s names. They would congratulate each other in the comments and talk about which entries had been their favorite. They began to bond.

2. Consistency and focus.

The audience at Go Teen Writers knows what to expect.

They know what we’ll be talking about—writing.

They know who it’ll be for—teens.

They even know what days and what time our posts go live, and many have made it part of their daily routine. I heard from a boy in Portugal who reads Go Teen Writers during his school lunch break because that’s when the posts always go live. One morning, when I was ten minutes late, the first commenter said she’d been sitting at her computer refreshing her browser, waiting for the new post to appear.

Because we’re consistent with the time and content, our audience knows that the other readers of the blog are like them and are interested in the same things they are. That knowledge encourages conversation between them.

3. I found a place where they could talk freely. And I protect it.

Because I (try to) respond to almost all the comments on the blog, my readers figured out that they could come back throughout the day and we could have a conversation. And they started interacting with each other, responding to questions, and giving feedback.

I then created the Go Teen Writers Facebook group, a closed group that anyone can apply to join. I thought I would have to facilitate conversation for a while, but instead they were doing it themselves from day one—what genre does everyone write? What story are you working on? How would you pronounce this name?

I quickly figured out my job wasn’t to get conversation started, but to protect the integrity of the group. I made guidelines that encouraged writers to stay on topic and be respectful in disagreement. Most of the time they police the group themselves, and I just get to hang out with them and enjoy the conversation.

This group has teen writers from Iraq to Indiana, and gathering them in a place where they can talk has blessed us all.

4. I admitted it was too much for just me.

When the contests grew to having over a hundred entries each round, and when the audience grew big enough that I needed more than three blog posts a week, I began to feel like I was drowning. I loved the blog, and I loved the writers who hung out there, but I had spread myself too thin and the quality was suffering.

Jill Williamson and I had known of each other for a few years and had emailed a time or two, but we had a chance to become friends during a one-day writing seminar in Chicago. Her heart beat for teen writers the way mine did, her genre of expertise (sci-fi and fantasy) would bring a new skillset to the blog, and I just plain LIKED her.

There was some fear involved—will they like her more than me? Because I like her more than me!—but combined, we’re able to produce a much stronger, deeper blog than I was on my own.

5. We try new things.

Jill and I regularly talk about and implement improvements to the blog, whether it’s a new contest, giveaway, or series of posts. This encourages people to check out the site frequently because they know that we often have new events happening.

While I can’t provide hard numbers for you that say X-amount of blog posts equals X-amount of book sales, I can tell you that when my new book, The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet, released with Playlist Young Adult Fiction on May 1, the first reader response I saw came in later that day from a faithful Go Teen Writers follower who Tweeted that she’d just bought it online.

Blogs, of course, are just one of many tools that can help with marketing. Some of the other authors with Playlist Young Adult Fiction have seen success with Pinterest, Twitter, and Goodreads. What’s something that has worked for you?


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  • Bethany Baldwin says:

    We really appreciate all you’ve done for us, Stephanie! Go Teen Writers has been wonderful for my writing, and I know I speak for everyone when I say we don’t know where we’d be without GTW and you! 🙂

  • Bethany Jett says:

    This was an amazing post – thank you!

  • Jan Christiansen says:

    Great post, Stephanie. GTW has long been a favorite spot for me. Your tips for building a blog that reaches others will be a great help as I grow my FOCB blog. Thanks.

  • Maya says:

    So cool to see your point of view on creating Go Teen Writers! I’ve been reading for a little over a year and it’s really what inspired me to start trying to write instead of keeping my stories in my head. When I found the site, I was so excited. Wait – a real live author has posts about writing? For teens? And she responds to comments? She even has a section of her blog called “How to Write a Novel”!

    I don’t know if you realize what a special place Go Teen Writers is, Stephanie, but thank you for creating it!

    • Hi Maya! I’m so glad Go Teen Writers encouraged you to get your stories down on paper. The site used to feel like just a blog to me – a blog I was excited about and had hopes for, but just a blog. Now that there are so many cool writers hanging out there, it feels like a very special place to me as well 🙂

  • Sybil Bates McCormack says:

    Hi, Stephanie. I am a teen times three (hahahaha!), and I’ve never visited the Go Teen Writers site. But, I am so impressed with your post and the response you’ve received here that I plan to check it out immediately. Kudos to you and Jill for inspiring such fierce loyalty and respect in your “tribe.” Great job!

  • Rachelle Rea says:

    Love this post, Stephanie, because it kinda back memories; I’ve loved being able to watch GTW grow, participate in the contests, and, of course, benefit from the quality posts you and the other contributors post! Thanks so much for all you do for (once upon a time) teen writers like me..

  • Jill says:

    I started reading the Go Teen Writers blog about a year ago and now it is the first website I read every day. I have no idea what I would do without GTW! The blog has done so much for me and my writing and I can’t even explain how much I’ve learned. Over this past year, I’ve noticed so many improvements in my drafts and story ideas…and I probably wouldn’t have improved as much without Stephanie’s amazing blog. I really appreciate the time Stephanie and all the others take to write on the blog and help out teen writers, in addition to working as a published author. Thanks Stephanie!

    • Jill, I’m so touched that Go Teen Writers is a place you come everyday. And it’s so exciting when you notice improvement, isn’t it? I remember the first draft that i wrote where action beats had clicked for me. That was really exciting 🙂

  • Lisa Van Engen says:

    Awesome, thank you. Following you now!

  • Rachel Leila says:

    I was grinning as I scrolled through the comments, Stephanie, you deserve every nice thing typed about you and GTW! (Jill too! 🙂 )

    It’s also really cool to see how GTWs developed from your point of view, and everything you’ve figured out and tried. There’s no doubt you guys keep things fun, informational, and fresh.

    Thanks for all you do!

    • Thanks, Rachel!

      As I think back on the journey of Go Teen Writers developing, I realize how much pressure I put on myself for the site to be perfect and successful right away. Once I stopped preaching writing to everyone and started paying closer attention to the readers and what their needs and desires were, my view of the site and the vision completely changed. I like how it is now – that we’re a bunch of writers how hang out and talk to each other on a regular basis 🙂

  • Ashley says:

    I’m new to Go Teen Writers, but I already love it. It’s not even just teens, either, it seems! I also love how Stephanie tries to respond to all of your posts. It makes rookie writers like me feel good when “real” authors invest time in us -even if it is just a blog comment.

    • I’m so glad you found us, Ashley! Yes, we try hard to respond to all the comments, but some days we can only get to a few. What’s great now is that if someone asks a question in their comment, usually someone else has answered it before I have a chance to. I love the “we’re in this crazy writing life together” vibe going on over there.

    • Amanda Fischer says:

      I love that, too. It’s awesome. 🙂

  • AuthZH says:

    I love the GTW blog, FB group, and most of all the book! All three have answered so many of my questions about the writing and publication stages (and everything in between) of being a writer. I love GTW!

  • Amanda Fischer says:

    GTW has helped me so very much. I started reading in August last year, and now…like Mrs. Morrill said, it’s a part of my daily routine. Wake up, get dressed, turn on computer, load the blog! 😉 Because of GTW, I’ve learned so much about writing and guess what? My writing has improved! I would’ve had absolutely no clue what I was doing when I finished the first draft of my novel, but now I do. Also, I’ve met some wonderful people there and while I don’t have Facebook, some of us are working together on Google+. I also have some absolutely amazing beta readers helping me out that I’ve met on GTW as well! BIG thank you to Mrs. Morrill and Mrs. Williamson for everything they do! 🙂

  • April says:

    May 28th’s post was fine, but his post has commas instead of apostrophes again. Chip, if you see this, I’ve included a link to a screen shot I made of my computer screen and circled some examples. I only have this problem on certain posts AND only when on your site (never in my RSS reader). Hope it helps.

  • Emii says:

    If I have a friend who so much as mentions the word writing, I’m like, “Mate, you HAVE to go to this place!” Go Teen Writers all the way.

  • Emily Rachelle says:

    #6: They’re great, lovable people we teens feel privileged to talk to! ^.^

    #7: They are funny. And real. And easy to connect with, which honestly surprises me continually, because so many times I feel like I *could* be on the same plane of life as many people ten years older than me, with degrees and kids instead of grades and sports or whatever… but they just aren’t accessible or approachable. Their age sort of makes them close themselves off to ‘those kids.’ Not Steph and Jill. We GTW teens don’t just build relationships with each other: Stephanie and Jill build relationships with us, too, and that’s why we keep coming back.

    • I really resisted starting the Facebook group because I thought it would just be “one more thing” to do, and that I would spend a bunch of time trying to get conversation going on there. I think Rachelle Rea asked me to make one about four times before I actually did it. And now I love being there so much that I have to close out my web browser if I want to get any writing done 🙂

    • Emily Rachelle says:

      Haha kudos to Rachelle then! She’s a really sweet person too 🙂 (Also happens to be my editor…)

  • cait says:

    Go Teen Writers is SUCH an amazing blog! I can’t even count all the things I’ve learnt from it. If I have a question (how long should a novel be? tips for revising? how do I make my dialogue realistic?) there’s probably a post on GTW that’ll help me! It. Is. Awesome. Thanks Stephanie and Jill!! You guys are SO awesome.

  • Carilyn E. says:

    Hi Stephanie! It was great to read about how you started GTW. That’s a great idea – getting to the point where your readers interact with each other. I’ll have to keep that in mind.

    Soooo… I’m another GTW-er. Anybody that’s reading this, you should seriously check out GTW. I entered a few contests last year (actually, was it only 2??) but I ended up winning a signed book! And then I recently joined the FB group, and the community on there is so fun!

    • Carilyn, I think if you don’t try to connect the readers to each other, then when the blog continues to grow, it becomes more and more of a drain on the blogger. Now, even though the blog and the Facebook community continue to grow, I don’t feel the pressure of, “It’s all up to me.”

      The blog’s growth has definitely made contests more challenging, but we’re trying our best to figure out ways to make those work 🙂

  • Tonya says:

    Without GTW I probably wouldn’t have grown as much as I have. I don’t know if I’d have completed a book. I wanted to write and I tried to write but there was so much it was confusing and overwhelming. I remember when I looked at GTW the first time, it was just before Stephanie started posting seriously because the most recent post was talking about the new year. She was doing “Write Now” and said she’d post three days a week documenting her proccess of writing a book. I was so there! Other blogs talk bits and pieces but being taken through an authors proccess from step by step?! It was a goldmine! I was thrilled for the first post. And it just so happens that you’re honest and genuine. It makes it easier accept my mistakes because hey, multi-published author owned up to them 🙂

    • Hi Tonya! I remember when you started commenting and hanging out on the site on a regular basis! I could probably re-do that “how i write novels” series every couple years since my system continues to change with every one I write…

      it’s funny you should mention the honest/genuine thing because I feel like that’s something that blogging has helped me to grow in. I feel like I’m a much more authentic person because of blogging.

  • JeanneTakenaka says:

    Stephanie, what a wonderful post. I loved reading how GTW came into existence and has grown. I have two friends with teenaged daughters who have a passion for writing. I am going to refer your site to them.

    I also appreciate your blog post. As a fairly new blogger, I’m soaking up everything I can to learn how to do this well. Thanks so much for sharing your passion and your wisdom!

    • Thank you!

      The early days of blogging can be SO lonely. I’ve spent hours perfecting and publishing a post that only my mother bothered to read. But I gleaned a ton of information about blogging from this site, so you’re in the right place!

  • Clare Kolenda says:

    In an attempt to make this comment not toooo long, I’ll just say the biggest thing that GTW has done for me out of the many fine examples I can come up with.

    It helped me believe in myself and my dream as a writer.

    I found out about the site about two years ago this summer(I can’t believe it’s been that long!), and not only did I find helpful posts that seemed to apply nearly every time to my situation, but I truly felt that there were other people out there, whether fellow teens or Stephanie or Jill, that really believed in my dreams. Its helped me be far more courageous and bold when it comes to my stories than I ever thought I could be. It’s what made this crazy thing called writing not just a hobby, but a absolutely positively wonderful passion I know I’ll always have.

    • Clare, I feel like Go Teen Writers has done similar things for me, to be honest. When I went through bad spells with writing, my thought cycle was often something like:

      This stinks. I should just give up writing.
      Except there’s Go Teen Writers. I can’t just stop blogging.
      Okay, I’ll keep blogging, but I am DONE with writing.
      Except I can’t really moderate a writing blog but give up writing. Not only is it hypocritical, I’ll go crazy if all I’m writing are blog posts.
      Fine. I’ll keep writing.

      You guys helped me be strong 🙂

  • Allison Perdue says:

    Where do I even start about reasons I love GTW?
    1. I met my best friend in the FB group.
    2. I met my beta in the FB group.
    3. I’ve learned SO much about writing and I’m in love with the contests and such. I loved the writing spaces one and I’m excited for the GTW ‘store.’
    This site is so great, guys, I’ve learned so much; keep it up. 😀 And… Can I say that GTW is one of the first things I check when I get up in the morning? There’s usually always a new post up by the time I get up. 😀

    • Allison, I love the connections that are taking place in that group. As a teen writer I was SO isolated, so it’s really fun that the site has evolved into a place of community.

  • Alexa says:

    I love GTW! I wouldn’t be in the place I am with writing right now if not for that blog and the FB group. And besides that, I’ve met people and made friends. Though the main focus is writing, we help each other with more than just that, but life in general, too. It’s pretty awesome! 😀

  • Adriana Lister says:

    GTW FB group and Blog has helped me a ton! My writing has improved since I joined and I have made multiple new friends through the FB group that are Teen writers like me and the Posts are AMAZING and VERY helpful.

  • Sarah Faulkner says:

    Stephanie, you have no idea how much of a blessing you’ve been to me through Go Teen Writers. Giving back to you and Jill for all the time and effort you pour into us is only fair. I’m really thankful for GTW and glad that it’s helped you through your publishing. Thank you!
    And we don’t all like Jill more then you.
    ~Sarah Faulkner

  • Rosie Wilson says:

    Go Teen Writers has helped me SO much and has answered SO many questions. I don’t know what I would do with out the GTW FB group or the posts Stephanie, Jill, and occasionally Roseanna put into the blog.

  • Erica Vetsch says:

    I have loved watching GTW grow. The FB group is so vibrant and encouraging. You’ve created a safe place for young writers to study their craft, build each other up, and explore this wonderful world of writing.

    Oh, and I LOVED The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet. Can’t wait for another installment.

    • Thank you so much, Erica! I owe a lot of that growth to the writers like you who gave up time to judge the contests. I’m very appreciative!

      And thank you 🙂 It was so fun to write….

  • Rajdeep Paulus says:

    Yeah!! For hearing about your journey and parts of your story!! If I were a teen, I’d be all over your site. I am not a teen. But I love your site, anyway! You have made me a better writer, Steph!! And I am into Ellie! Can’t wait to hear what she does next! -hugs- Raj

  • Rick Barry says:

    Although I’m no longer a teen, I appreciate good YA books, so thanks for letting me join Go Teen Writers, too. I’m now polishing my third YA novel, and being a member of the group helps to keep my brain plugged into the target audience. Thanks, Stephanie, for founding GTW, and thanks to Jill Williamson, the friend who made me aware of it.

  • Jill Williamson says:

    Also, Steph and I got to know each other at the first MacGregor retreat. Someone had talked about cross promoting, and we brainstormed a bit on that. Cross-promotion is AMAZING (when you find the right group of authors), because you have others who love you and you love them and you’re all thrilled to help each other out. Marketing is hard work, and having help is a HUGE load off. (Sorry, Chip, for my all caps words. I know those are your favorite…)

    • That’s TRUE. It WAS the MacGregor retreat. (I was not aware of Chip’s love for the all caps words…)

      Agreed – cross-promoting is an excellent strategy. I know I’ve bought at least one book (You’re Already Amazing by Holley Gerth) because of cross promotion, and there have probably been others too.

  • Jill Williamson says:

    But I like you more than me, Steph! LOL

  • Roseanna White says:

    It’s been so awesome to watch GTW grow! I run into teen writers (or moms with teen writers…or just NEW writers) left and right and always refer them directly to Go Teen Writers. So much there to feed them, and you’re right–it’s about much more than the posts themselves. It’s a community, and that’s incomparable.

    • Well, thank you for encouraging me along the way 🙂 And for being The Person who talked to me on there for the first few months when I was trying to find my groove. (And for judging so many contests! I don’t think we would have grown without those.)

  • Katelyn Shear says:

    Go Teen Writers is amazing. You’ve been an incredible inspiration to me, and I’m so happy you started it.

    • Katelyn, it’s only cool because talented teens like you hang out there! I’m so glad you’re a part of it 🙂

    • Jill Williamson says:

      The Go Teen Writers audience is amazing! As much as you guys tell us how helpful and inspiring the blog is, we say the same thing about all of you. (But I’m also so glad Steph started the blog. *grin*)

  • I have a teen writer/illustrator (manga), and I can’t wait to show her your site!

    I’m just now starting to see some conversation in my own blog, and I love it! I really need to get some contest/giveaway type of stuff in there though, that’s a really great idea, thanks!

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