Today I interview professional blogger and best-selling author Frank Viola. Viola has been interviewed in TIME magazine, Enterepreneur.com, and many other publications. In addition to writing, blogging, and speaking on Christian topics, Viola consults authors, bloggers, and entrepreneurs. I caught up with Viola to ask him some questions about writing books and blogging:
Phil Cooke: My first question is for authors, those who have written a book or who want to. To date, you’ve written 11 books published by major Christian publishers and 11 digital books that you’ve self-published in a fairly short period of time. That’s a lot of content. So what’s your writing process exactly?
Frank Viola: More than 75% of Americans want to write a book, but most of them don’t know where to start. Process, then, is critical. There are three ways in which I write a book. But I’ll summarize one of them since I don’t want my answer to be too long.
After I have a book idea, I open a Word document and sketch out a very tentative Table of Contents. It will change over time, but it’s a beginning that gives me a map of where I’m going. I then start adding content to each chapter in the Table of Contents. Not necessarily in the order in which they appear. This process is like throwing paint on a canvas. It will include paragraphs, links to other articles, quotes, etc. The Word document is open at all times on my computer. I’m a plodder, which means I write a little each day. I often write in the mornings, but I also add to the canvas throughout the day as ideas or inspiration hits me. After a few months of plodding like this, I will have created some very rough chapters. Then the refining work begins. I rewrite, cut, and edit. And I keep doing that day after day. The whole process is like throwing clay on the wheel and then shaping, reshaping, shaping, and then reshaping more.
Eventually, a clean book emerges. There’s more to it than that, but that’s a brief sketch. The point being, you’ve got to have something to work with, so start jotting down your ideas now. Write first, plod, then edit later. That’s one of the three ways in which I do it. A quick P.S. — Sometimes I get “blocked” during the process. But I’ve discovered 7 ways to overcome writer’s block — all of which have worked for me, anyway. (Your readers can see the list here, if interested.)
Phil Cooke: A few years ago you became a professional blogger. What tips can you give to other bloggers in order for them to “go pro,” so to speak?
Frank Viola: I spent several years reading everything I could on how to earn my living through blogging. I sifted through reams of the best information available. I took courses, watched videos, read tons of articles, and asked questions. I then applied all of it for an entire year, only continuing to implement what worked and scrapping the rest.
I suspect most of your readers already have a self-hosted WordPress blog, but if they don’t, they should get one. I keep seeing blogs which are on the free WordPress.com platform or the Blogspot platform, and quite frankly, these platforms aren’t doing you any favors. They need to be upgraded to WordPress.org. There are many reasons for this.
There is also what I call the trinity of blogging. The trinity is as follows:
Design – this is huge. And you’ll get the best design on a WordPress.org blog.
Content – also huge. You’ve got to write compelling blog posts and do it consistently.
Community – also huge. You’ve got to know how to build a community of loyal readers who consume and spread your work.
None of these three elements work without the other. All are critical. So when people say, “content is king,” I think they are partially right. Because content without community or design will be read by few people. The same with all the others. Each component is “king,” so to speak. Consequently, you’ve got to invest in being educated on how to master each aspect if you want to “go pro” — or even if you just want to write a blog that people actually read (besides your mother and best friend!).
Phil Cooke: I agree with this completely. If you could point out the number one problem that hinders authors from being successful and bloggers from getting a lot of traffic to their blogs, what would it be?
Frank Viola: Simple: Failure to invest in training. I see authors and bloggers investing enormous amounts of time and energy on creating content, but zero on learning how to build a community of readers who will consume and spread what they’ve produced. They don’t want to invest in learning how to do this, so they end up spamming people via email and in Facebook groups, and the result is pretty horrible.
For example, there isn’t a week that goes by where successful bloggers and authors don’t get emails from strangers telling them about their new book or blog, never thinking how their email is coming across. (On that score, here’s an important article on how to write to successful bloggers and popular authors.) In short, those emails get ignored because their approach is all wrong.
I liken the problem to a baseball hitter who only invests in learning how to hit fastballs, but refuses to invest in learning how to hit curveballs. The result is repeated strikeouts. It’s the same way with authors and bloggers who only specialize in writing their books or blogs, but won’t spend a penny on training for how to get people to actually read what they’ve produced in non-spammy ways that actually work. The result is repeated strikeouts.
It puzzles me because their hard work ends up being wasted, and it doesn’t have to be that way. To change course and see results, authors and bloggers must invest in some training.
Phil Cooke: How about social media for promoting a person’s blog or book? Are Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn etc. effective with this?
Frank Viola: To quote James Nance Garner, “they’re not worth a warm bucket of spit” when it comes to spreading your work. You’re lucky if you get 5% of your Facebook and Twitter followers to see your updates. In addition, you can waste a lot of money on Facebook ads if you don’t know what you’re doing. (Using their ad program effectively is quite complex.)
And just for good measure: it’s typically a bad idea to promote your book in a Facebook group. Many will view it as spammy. And for those who don’t, it’s not very effective. In short, social media is pretty ineffective for generating buzz.
That said, I have created a simple system for social media that has worked tremendously. Time and space won’t permit me to give away the store here, but the system teaches authors and bloggers how to build a team that cross promotes each other’s work intentionally. This causes one’s updates to be seen 10x – 20x more than if they did it on their own. It’s not automated, but it takes less than 10 minutes each week and the benefits have been astonishing.
But again, social media is not the main venue for building effective community or originating buzz. It’s a only a supplement when used correctly. This gets back to being trained on using the most effective ways to spread your message in our time. And it doesn’t begin with social media, which many wrongly assume.
Phil Cooke: I know that you and others cover a lot of this in detail and “give away the store” (so to speak) in the Buzz Seminar Master Class which has presentations by A-list blogger Michelle Schaefer, renowned copywriter Ray Edwards, best-selling author Jeff Goins, 20+ times New York Times Bestselling publisher David Hancock (Morgan James), and others including yourself. I’ve gone on record about this course saying that the future is not advertising, but buzz, and this is the most comprehensive resource available that gives people the tools to create it. How can people learn more about the course and is any of it free?
Frank Viola: Yes, to the last question. I participated in a 3-part audio seminar called Secrets to Having a Breakthrough Year in Writing which is completely free. It gives away a very small, but valuable percentage of what’s in the actual course.
Interestingly, a major publicist and media expert told me recently that he has many friends in the media field who are looking for extra income. Many of these people have great writing skills so he felt that the Buzz Seminar Master Class would be a great investment for them as well. I’d recommend it to anyone who has a message or a mission. I just wish it was available when I started writing books and blogging. It would have saved me years of frustration, disappointment, and spinning my wheels in the mud.