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Sunday, March 5, 2017

What does Jell-O have to do with your success as an indie author?

la-fontaine via PixaBay

Over the last six months I’ve noticed hundreds of blogs cropping up, telling aspiring indie authors that Americans read “more ebooks than ever.” Hence, it’s time to publish that manuscript!

Most of these blogs refer to Pew Research Center’s September 2016 study, which announced that the number of people who read ebooks has increased by 11% since 2011. Unfortunately, most of the blogs fail to mention the study’s claim that during the same time period the number of people who read at least one book—in any format—declined by 6%.

Though the Pew Research Center’s study does not offer any explanations why 6% of people have stopped reading books, I am guessing that this number includes people who may have read one or more nonfiction books to learn important professional skills; now they’ve switched to blogs.

Blogging is not only a respected art form, it is also a content marketing tool. Blogging at least once per week helps content marketers to stay in touch with their existing clients, win new clients, and sell product or services.

But it’s only effective when the blogger cares enough about the reader to research the topic and provide valuable information.

Example: The Jell-O campaign benefited both American housewives and the company.

Blogging is new, but content marketing has been around for more than 100 years; one of the early examples is the Jell-O marketing campaign of 1904.

Even though Jell-O has been sold since 1899, it didn’t sell well in stores. American housewives didn’t know what to do with it. Finally, the Genesee Food Company who owned and distributed Jell-O placed an ad in Ladies’ Home Journal offering free “best-seller” recipes. The campaign was an instant hit. The fact that housewives didn’t have to figure out how to prepare delicious Jell-O desserts did the trick.

Public domain, the first publication occurred prior to January 1, 1923.

More recently, content marketing is being used by experts like lawyers, cover designers, and editors to explain to potential customers how they will benefit from using their more expensive services.

For instance, though most authors have at least some working knowledge about the copyright, very few know how to proceed if their copyright is being infringed. The blog of a lawyer who has handled actual copyright infringement cases will deliver helpful information.

Content marketing should be beneficial for both the blogger and the reader. The problem begins when bloggers choose topics they don’t know too much about and also have no vested interest in.

What this means for indie authors and author-bloggers.

Whereas a copyright lawyer’s blog is being written by the lawyer or a law student who interns at their firm and the Jell-O recipes were created by cooks employed at the  Genesee Food Company, there are hundreds of non-experts blogging about indie author topics.

Most recently, I saw an indie author’s blog about how to get book reviews from Amazon top reviewers. The blog contained two traps that will most likely lead to all top reviewers ignoring their request.

The author-blogger suggested to begin the request email by stating something like “I found your name on the list of Amazon top reviewers.”

Problem #1: These are useless filler words.

How do I know? I really am an Amazon top reviewer. Since it takes at least two to three years of steady reviewing to become a top reviewer, it is wasted words telling a top reviewer how indie authors find us. We know.

Problem #2: Too many authors don’t edit their emails for personal appeal.

Many emails seem to suggest between the lines, “I don’t really care what books you like. Since you are a top reviewer I hope you will read and review my book.” Making this error is detrimental to authors’ efforts. Top reviewers read books because they enjoy reading and reviewing books, not because they want  be used as unpaid marketers.   

Obviously, this second problem only arises because the blogger suggests mentioning the top reviewer’s status. It is difficult to mention somebody’s special status and then pretend that this status has nothing to do with why one person contacted the other. As a result, too many emails sound like bad flattery. If, in this case, the indie author would focus only on presenting their book to a person who is known to enjoy reading this particular genre the problem would not even come up.

Hence, following this blog’s advice hinders indie authors in succeeding instead of helping them. Since this blog was shared more than 1,000 times I don’t even want to speculate how many indie authors wasted hours and hours writing and sending emails that won’t lead to positive results. 

The rise of false information.

During the outgoing 19th century no hobby cook who used Jell-O would have published a book or an article about Jell-O recipes; today, even people who have no insider knowledge about a certain topic write blogs about it.

The hundreds of bloggers who advise to use hollow phrases and silly templates have no idea how annoying these emails are—especially when one receives dozens of emails like that every month.

The simple truth is that to write good content the blogger has to be invested in a positive outcome for the reader and for themselves.

The cook who created the Jell-O recipes in 1904 had a vested interest that their recipes come out perfect every time.

A lawyer who blogs about their field of expertise has a vested interest that they present arguments which help potential clients to make the best decisions.

In contrast, author-bloggers who just want clicks couldn’t care less if their blogs prompt thousands of other authors to send emails to top reviewers; since they themselves aren’t top reviewers, they won’t receive this flood of annoying emails.

Equally, the bloggers who encourage others to write a book because Americans read “more ebooks than ever” without mentioning that the number of people who read at least one book—in any format—declined by 6% don’t have to face the consequences because they are not publishing the books. They just want to hook aspiring writers.

Don’t be that blogger. Don’t be that blog reader.

How to find great blogs.

Though at this point it may not be obvious, I really love blogs—great blogs that is. As an author I am aware that books cannot be updated every six months to include interesting new information. Writing a blog gives indie authors the opportunity to present additional information whenever an opportunity arises.

The fact that I love blogs is also the reason why I call out bloggers who write wishy-washy blogs just to make sales, instead of writing blogs that create value.

So, what can blog readers do to avoid acting upon incorrect information?

1) Remember the First Amendment

When reading a blog always remember that in the United States the First Amendment guarantees people the right to write, even about things they know nothing about or can’t prove to be true. Therefore:

2) Check the blogger’s background!

Every blogger features a short resume at the beginning or the end of their blog. Always study it; if need be—verify it. Don’t hesitate to ask poignant questions. If anybody asks me why I give advice on how to contact top reviewers, I will be happy to provide them with a link to my top reviewer profile.

3) Check the date!

If a blog is older than six months, chances are at least some parts may be outdated. Things change quickly these days.

4) Do the math!

Add the number of shares the blog received on all social media platforms. Because not everybody shares blogs, multiply that number by 30. Since probably no more than half of the blog readers acted on the blog’s recommendation divide that number again by 2. Then, evaluate if the presented concept will work if this number of people do what is being suggested or recommended.

As a practical example: A blog suggests that authors should contact all reviewers who read their book’s genre with an email that begins with the words, “Hi, I saw that you reviewed (title of book). I just recently published a book that is similar...” The blog was shared 450 times on all social media platforms.

450 x 30 = 13,500 : 2 = 6,750. Of the 6,750 indie authors who may have contacted reviewers and bloggers, about 30% may write romance novels. That means that a reviewer who reviews this popular genre might have received already between 750 and 1,500 emails stating the same silly sentence.

Do you believe that if you do the same, the reviewer will reply, “Sure, please send your book”?

5) Get some Jell-O

Then—sit down in your favorite chair and ponder the blog you read while slowly eating the Jell-O dessert.

Kids will tell you that the best thing about Jell-O is that you can see through it.

It’s the same for blogs. A great blog has a see-through concept. The blogger explains why their idea will work and list facts and sources. A great blog can be sliced and diced and each part will be good. A great blog will be revelatory even without any decor.

If you evaluate all blogs by this standard, you won’t waste time and you’ll achieve much better, sweeter results.

~~ *** ~~~

Gisela Hausmann is the multi-award winning author of "BOOK MARKETING: The Funnel Factor: Including 100 Media Pitches" and "NAKED REVIEWS How to Get Book Reviews."

Her work has been featured in the SUCCESS magazine, in Entrepreneur, on Bloomberg (podcast), on NBCNews, and in other fine publications.

Gisela is a mass media expert who graduated from the University of Vienna, which, founded in 1365, is the 22nd oldest university in the world. She also worked in the industry for six years.

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© 2017 by Gisela Hausmann 


  1. You hooked me with Jell-o. You kept me reading with great content. There are a lot of "formulas" and "templates" out there for would-be bloggers and authors. I completely agree that the reader must check credentials, use logic when being told "just do this to be a success!". I enjoy thoughtful, well-written blogs with fresh ideas and content rather than re-hashed, tired advice that sometimes is more harmful than helpful. I appreciate your take on this, THANK YOU.

  2. Thank you @Jay Warner.
    Trying to do my share by adding 'original' content.
    THX again :))

  3. Interesting that you mention checking blog dates in your article, Gisela. After a week of work to get it right, I am now showing both original publishing dates and modified or updated dates on all my articles on my Just Publishing Advice site. You're right. Things do change quickly, so it is important for blog readers to know that advice is current.

  4. Thank you @Derek, but even more importantly, BLOG READERS have to check up on bloggers.
    The biggest problems is that the non expert bloggers do serious damage to their respective industries.
    I'd love to know exact numbers of Amazon top reviewers who (like me) deleted their email address from Amazon.
    My Inbox is not the garbage can of the world. Hence, once hundreds of authors following incorrect advice sent me the same stupid I had to delete my email address.
    I know that other reviewers did too.
    So, that's how these wanna-be experts do extensive damage to entire industries.

    1. I always hide my email address with a HTML mailto tag, Gisela. Even better to have a contact form on your blog. But even with these measures, I still get so much junk email and Wordpress spam everyday. It seems it comes with the territory.