Your new writing blog: avoid these faux-pas

Last post I discussed fitting blogging into your schedule. Today, I have a list of common problems with new blogs.

No sidebar

You need a sidebar – a narrow margin down the right-hand edge of the page. For all the stuff I’m going to tell you about in the rest of this post. Yes, the right – it’s easier on the eye. And one only. That’s easier too.

No picture of you

Published books include a picture of the author and blogging is even more personal. We want to know what you look like. And not a cartoon or one of those weemee avatars. Don’t be bashful. Use a photograph.

No email

If you’re worried about spam and your blog platform doesn’t offer an easy email form, write your email address so that bots won’t recognise it – see mine in the sidebar.

No other places to find you

If you’re on Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, Google Plus, put your profiles in the sidebar. Okay, I haven’t featured Google Plus even though I’m on it, but I haven’t a clue what I’m doing there. If you contact me on Google Plus you won’t get any sense out of me. And I keep wanting to call it Circles.

Hidden Twitter handle

Twitter is one of the best ways to share posts. Once I joined, my readership rocketed.

I retweet a lot of posts and like to credit the source, so my followers have the option to follow the original author as well. But I’m less keen to credit if I have to hunt every line of a sidebar to find an ID.

On some blogging platforms, you can include your Twitter handle as part of your username (like I have). And while we’re at it…

Leaving your user name as ‘admin’

Blogs are personal. Even if every post is written by you, readers prefer to see your name, not the default ‘admin’. It’s easy to change if you hunt around in settings for your username. And add your Twitter handle.

Not putting an internal search box

If readers are looking for something, they don’t want to guess where you might have posted about it. Give them a search box.

Not enabling comments

Most blog designs allow comments by default, indeed it’s hard to turn them off. But in the last couple of days I found my way to two new blogs and wanted to let them know I’d enjoyed their posts. Even though they asked in the signoff for comments, there was no way to do so! Make sure comments are enabled.

Not including subscription info

Not everyone wants to type your URL each time, or even come to your site. Lots of people like to keep up with blogs in a reader or by email. Don’t miss out on them.

Leaving the blog untended

As I said in my previous post, blogs need to look inhabited. If I come across your blog and see you haven’t posted for a month or so, I wonder if you’ve abandoned it.

No one minds if you unplug to get on with other stuff, so long as you let people know you’ll be back. In summer I took time away to finish edits on My Memories of a Future Life, so I left a ‘gone fishing’ notice.

Using hard-to-read designs

Some design themes are over-colourful, or light text on a dark background. These might work well for illustrative blogs, but are murder to read if most of your content is text. The trouble is, they look so tempting. I fell in to this trap when my self-hosted blog got hacked and I moved (long story). I went skipping around the WordPress wardrobe and picked something that looked groovy. Oh it was yummy. It went with my hair. You were all really nice about it too. But a few brave souls pointed out it was a migraine to read. The good news is, it was easy to change.

Next time I’ll look at blog design in more detail, including customising, bought themes and an extremely brief discussion of hosting options.

In the meantime, if you’re a seasoned blogger, what faux-pas did you commit when you started? Are there any you didn’t, but you notice on others?

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  1. #1 by Yesenia on January 7, 2012 - 7:59 pm

    Awesome tips. I realized I need to include a picture of myself :) I’m not on any other social network (except for a personal FB page) though. Twitter and FB don’t grab my attention too much and I think it would take too much time away from writing. I’m the kind of person that might give those things too much attention if it turned out I enjoyed them :)

    A while back I had abandoned the blog for a bit. I think three posts became too much and I was in the middle of Nano. Now, I’m doing one post and I feel like that’s a good number considering I’m also in school.

    One thing I hate is the black background/white text. Even if it’s a really good blog, I can’t stand reading like that and I don’t stick around.

    • #2 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on January 7, 2012 - 11:10 pm

      Hi Yesenia! Three posts a week is probably rather a lot and you could shrink to one without offending your readers. We have to remember we’re not the only blog out there – readers have other things to do on other days of the week!

  2. #3 by Callene Rapp on January 7, 2012 - 8:35 pm

    Good advice. I’m still trying to figure out the blogging thing, but this is very helpful!

  3. #5 by Tony on January 7, 2012 - 8:50 pm

    Sloppy writing. Especially if you’re blogging about writing. I’m guilty of that.

    Well, I /was/. I’d like to think I’ve cleaned it up.

    • #6 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on January 7, 2012 - 11:11 pm

      Ho ho ho, Tony. Never hit ‘publish’ just after you wrote something! And thanks for sharing your tip- that’s really important.

  4. #7 by Adult Satires on January 7, 2012 - 9:12 pm

    I have one thing to add, people should run their blogs and not let their blogs run them. 2 good examples is to be yourself and say what you wish, there is an audience for every style of writing.

    Another example is, don’t let your blog consume your life (Internet addiction) which I myself fall victim to more than I would like! lol

    I see a lot of talented people here on wordpress and I’m truly awed! I sometimes ponder how many people write for others (Falling inline with social ediquette) but keep silent what they really want to say. ;)

    • #8 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on January 7, 2012 - 11:17 pm

      Internet addiction?Yes, we could easily all be victims to that. As for ‘what we really want to say’… I feel I say what I really want to, but you obviously sense a self-censorship. Are there any posts you saw that made you think the writers had wimped out? Not necessarily here

  5. #9 by Sharon on January 7, 2012 - 11:00 pm

    But I like my cartoon avatar, another blogger actually drew it for me, I won a comment contest. It’s sentimental. ;)

    • #10 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on January 7, 2012 - 11:17 pm

      Put it lower down your sidebar, if you have to use it. And get your photo on there. Even if it’s you in the distance, doing star jumps.

  6. #11 by Adult Satires on January 7, 2012 - 11:39 pm

    I guess over the years I have seen some posts and articles at random. The way I view it, we’re all human and sometimes would love to rip out an occasional rant on a particular subject, but some people won’t do that. I can be guilty of that myself despite my harsh writing! lol Sometimes I like to whine and resist doing so :)

  7. #13 by Lara Schiffbauer on January 7, 2012 - 11:53 pm

    After reading your post, I finally succumbed to putting my “About me” feature back on the top of my ride sidebar, complete with photo. I also deleted the left sidebar, got rid of some things, added a search box and a sign up by e-mail. I have to say, it looks a whole lot better. Thanks so much for the good advice!

    • #14 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on January 8, 2012 - 10:10 am

      Great, Lara! It’s so insanely satisfying isn’t it? Like changing your bedroom around when you’re a kid.

  8. #15 by never2late2write on January 8, 2012 - 12:19 am

    Wow! What did I stumble upon? I love your blog. I don’t have a current photo of myself. I’m using a black & white drawing for now.

    I’m new with the whole writing scenario. I’m writing my first novel and I also started up a blog. Do you recommend having a novel blog, where you post your novel (or snippets of your novel) as you write it?

    • #16 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on January 8, 2012 - 10:16 am

      Thank you, Janet!
      Personally I wouldn’t post snippets of a novel in progress. For one thing, in the course of editing those snippets might change. Also, as a reader I find excerpts very jarring. Most novels are designed to be snuggled down with and enjoyed in generous chunks. Snippets are too disjointed for me and don’t do the book justice. If the purpose of the blog is to connect with readers, it’s probably not your best way. Better instead to publish informal articles which are like having a chat with you.
      There might also be ramifications if you want to get a publishing deal later on. An agent or publisher might be put off.

  9. #17 by Carol Riggs on January 8, 2012 - 12:27 am

    Good stuff! I agree with all of this. I actually can’t find your email, though, on your sidebar. :D

    I try to keep my blog as simple as possible. Any more blog awards and I’ll have to put ‘em on a tab, however (gettin’ cluttery). A LOT of people hate white/light text on black/dark backgrounds. Me included!

    • #18 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on January 8, 2012 - 10:17 am

      Hi Carol. I’ve taken your advice and moved the email. See if you can find it!

      The cluttered sidebar? Yep, it’s so easy to add more and more. I have a regular cull.

  10. #21 by Jason Runnels on January 8, 2012 - 3:08 am

    Hi Roz, great stuff. I probably should add my Twitter and email accounts. Who knows? a frustrated agent might be lurking on my site looking for my contact info ;-)

    One tip to add to the list would be not having a clear message for the blog. What is the blog all about? If your readers don’t know what to expect and when to expect it then that could also be a problem. I saw you did this when you created a separate site for your fiction.

    Love your advice, by the way.

    • #22 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on January 8, 2012 - 10:26 am

      Jason, you never know who might be reading.

      That’s a great point about the blog’s message and focus. The way I see it, a blog is like a magazine. Magazines have strict parameters about what they publish and what they don’t, so readers know what they’re getting.

      With my fiction, I felt that posts about the novel wouldn’t always fit here unless they were useful to people, and also it needed its own URL anyway. Then it grew into the Undercover Soundtrack series which I love hosting.

      Your avatar is great – it says more about you than the proverbial thousand words. But it’s not on your blog!

      • #23 by Jason Runnels on January 8, 2012 - 3:34 pm

        That’s funny about my photo. Initially, I thought it would be great for Twitter, but I should have a more “friendly” and “professional” one for my blog. Until now, I never realized that Twitter and my blog, etc. are all connected — one and the same. I’m going to change it right now.

  11. #25 by lilbitcraze on January 8, 2012 - 6:19 am

    good advice thank you

  12. #27 by Dom Camus on January 8, 2012 - 10:56 am

    Very good list of tips, to which I would add:

    * Be clear on the purpose and topic of your blog.

    Personal blogs can be good, work log blogs can be good and marketing blogs can be good, but mixing and matching between two or even all three is usually a bad idea because different people want to read these things. Most of the blogs I unsub from its because they start as something I care about and lose focus.

  13. #29 by Deb Atwood on January 8, 2012 - 3:58 pm

    Hi Roz,

    Egads, I thought I had a sidebar until, after reading this post, I looked at yours. So impressive! Thank the universe for children whose primary obligation to humankind is to help technophobe parents. My daughter’s coming today,and she will be persuaded to make a mini photo of me like yours for leaving comments. I believe they call that an avatar…

    It’s interesting what you noted about an email address. I just assumed everyone would leave messages in the comments section and never thought about email. Also, I hope everyone takes your advice about the dark backgrounds with white writing.

    Thank you for the nudge.

    Deb.

    • #30 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on January 8, 2012 - 7:57 pm

      My pleasure, Deb – and glad you like my sidebar. Playing with it is one of those addictive activities I can lose whole afternoons in.

  14. #31 by Hazel Anaka on January 9, 2012 - 2:08 am

    So many questions, so little time….Is all you’re recommending do-able with the Fusion theme from WordPress that you’re using? Is Fusion free or do you have a souped-version? If I switch themes will I lose my content?

    Thanks for addressing this topic. Very timely for me with the blog a few months old.

    • #32 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on January 9, 2012 - 9:34 am

      Hazel, I’ll go over all this in a forthcoming post but to answer quickly – everything I’ve done is with the free Fusion theme. No upgrades, no costs. When you change your theme you don’t lose anything – all your content stays. But the widgets often get shelved into the ‘used’ widget area of your widget dashboard, so you have to haul them out and reposition them.

  15. #33 by Tina on January 9, 2012 - 3:56 am

    I love the google+ comment: “I keep wanting to call it Circles” Ha! I don’t know if I have room for another social network right now anyway– although hootsuite makes it pretty easy to update many at once.

    Thanks for the checklist. Sometimes it’s the simple things– like adding an email. People dig into my profile and find it, but they have to DIG. Changing it now.

    • #34 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on January 9, 2012 - 9:36 am

      Hi Tina! I might have time for Circles if it was on Hootsuite, but it’s not. So alas, although I keep being added to circles I’m bumbling around muttering to myself.

  16. #35 by Graham Dinton on January 9, 2012 - 6:52 pm

    Thanks Roz – really helpful tips and helpful series on blogs. I’m already altering mine.

    A question you may have covered or will be covering – is it ok to include links to other blogs and should I be asking permission first to do so? (i.e., is it courteous to ask?)

    Thanks for your great blog.

    • #36 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on January 9, 2012 - 9:28 pm

      Thanks, Graham! Including links is a very good move. As I understand it, Google takes more notice of sites that have links to other sites – though I don’t know enough about it to tell you why. You can link on a blogroll and also in posts – which is also useful to the reader. No, you don’t have to ask permission – you’re doing the linked site a favour anyway!

  17. #37 by Teresa Cypher-Willowlive on January 12, 2012 - 1:35 am

    First time reading your blog. Thanks for this post. I like the idea of how you handled avoiding bots recognizing your email address. I will finally post mine. And the search box–never gave that a thought. Will have to explore how to do it.

    • #38 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on January 12, 2012 - 9:55 am

      Thanks, Teresa! Putting a search box on is easy in WordPress. Just look through the available widgets and you’ll find loads of the goodies I mentioned

  18. #39 by S J Hughes on January 15, 2012 - 3:34 am

    I love my theme but it doesn’t support a sidebar. Also, I’m a neat freak and side bars stress me out so all of my widgets are at the bottom. Should I shorten how many posts appear on a page so it doesn’t seem that far down? I would love your advice!

    • #40 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on January 15, 2012 - 10:29 am

      Your blog looks lovely, with so much going on visually that a sidebar would be too much. Putting the widgets at the bottom is a good move and they seem clear and sensibly organised. There’s a danger that people won’t know to look that far down, though, so yes, if you can, I’d reduce the number of posts on the page. Thanks for stopping by!

  19. #41 by LM Milford on January 15, 2012 - 11:10 am

    Hi Roz,
    Great advice! I’ve just made some of the changes you suggested and it looks really good. I’m new to all this blogging stuff and it’s quite exciting, but it’s good to have advice from someone who knows what they’re doing!

    Many thanks!

    • #42 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on January 15, 2012 - 12:48 pm

      Your blog looks great, Lynne – love the header with that arched ironwork. I see you’re also a journalist in another life, like me! What I’ve learned from years on magazines has helped me with my blog and I’m sure you’ll find there’s a lot of crossover too. Enjoy your blogging and don’t forget to find time to write!

  20. #43 by mentalchew on January 25, 2012 - 1:07 pm

    This is so helpful! My blog has been up and running for almost four years and I just made some tweaks. My biggest weakness is focus and I wish I had more time to write well. Ultimately, my blog is about gardening, food and family, but I have let other things slide in (like Pinterest tutorials after I printed some dream garden clusters via Pinterest and peaked some of my readers’ interest). Any feedback would be GREATLY appreciated. Currently, I am on Blogger but I would love to switch to WP, it is just a time issue.

    • #44 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on January 25, 2012 - 9:06 pm

      Thanks! I’ve dabbled with Blogger, and while it has some pretty widgets I feel WordPress is more professional looking. You can alwasy jazz it up with creative use of templates. And WordPress seems more reliable than Blogger. Quite often I’ve tried to leave comments on Blogger sites and haven’t been able to save them, and I’ve heard others say the same. But no one’s ever made that complaint about WordPress. More tips soon and thanks for commenting!

  21. #45 by jofurniss on January 26, 2012 - 12:20 pm

    It all seems so obvious when you put it like that :-) I’m going to do some tweaking to my current blog and I have to launch a new one for the Professional Writing Masters I’ve just started – so your tips are very timely, thanks!

    • #46 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on January 26, 2012 - 12:41 pm

      Thanks, Jo – and enjoy many hours of creative dabbling! Not too many, though… see the previous blogging post…

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