Posts Tagged blogging for writers

Because I started a blog – 10 years as an accidental citizen of cyberspace

This time a decade ago, I was starting a blog.

I was rather surprised to be doing it.

I was not an online person. I did not tweet or Facebook. The internet hardly touched my daily life. I was fully and gainfully occupied without it. It might as well have been a separate and mythical dimension, like hyperspace.

But on a wet evening in February 2009, I was with a friend who had a worldwide reputation in his creative niche. He ran this thriving empire through the ether, from five well-visited blogs.

When he said ‘let’s make you a blog’, I said yes.

I was suspicious of the blog thing, because I am never an early adopter (see above) and also because I disliked the word ‘blog’. (Still do, if I think about it.) But I’d just come out of a mind-whirling experience (you’ll know this if you’ve read Not Quite Lost).

My blog helped complete the transformation.

Before the blog, I was an author in limbo. Skip this paragraph if you know my origin story, but in 2009 I’d just found an agent for my first novel. Before that, I’d ghostwritten novels for other people. Now I hoped I’d be published as me and start my proper career at last.

Alas, publishers wanted New Real Me to be like Old Ghostwriter Me because that was profitable. (Psst…. if you want to be like Ghostwriter Me, you might like my professional course )

And so I remained, both published and not; an author but not really – unless I denied my own creative drive.

That changed when I became a blogger.

  • On my blog, I could be whoever I wanted, and I would decide who that was.
  • On my blog, I did not have to wait for anybody’s permission.
  • Once I had a blog, I had a place to invite people to, a room of my own, a gallery to say who I was. I could go to other blogs and chat – anyone’s I liked.

Through my blog, I made many friends. I grew confident in my own aesthetic judgement as a publisher. I gained the confidence to publish books on writing, my novels and to vary my genres because I could bring readers along on the journey. (Contemporary fiction, speculative fiction, travel diaries… what next? Whatever I like.)

Bloggers have a gung-ho have-a-go mentality.

Because of this, I discovered I could speak on podcasts without microscripting everything first. As I am a fanatical polisher and editor, speaking off the cuff was squarely in my discomfit zone. Eek! Spontaneity! But bloggers feel the fear and do it anyway. This became professional speaking and teaching gigs both in indie world and beyond. Which I discovered I rather enjoyed.

So this blogging anniversary is significant. A marker of big life changes.

Now in 2019, is blogging still as powerful for authors starting now?

Maybe, maybe not. We still need ways to gather readers and discover common ground, but I think much of this now happens in the speedy, flitty public spaces such as Twitter and Facebook. I think blogs are still read because subscriber numbers are still growing (thank you, guys!) but the commenting is no longer as fervent – if I look back at old posts I’m astonished to see hundreds of comments on one topic, which now seems inconceivable. I feel authors still need a website as a home base and a blog to show they’re alive, but the more settled communication now happens in email newsletters (psst … here’s mine).

(And is that a new book you see there? Indeed it is. Hop onto the link to find out, straight from the horse’s mouth.)

What do I expect in another ten years? I have no idea. I’m not a goal setter, except for individual projects where my goal is simply to finish them well.

I could never answer that question in job interviews. ‘Where do you see yourself in x years?’ A truthful answer would betray that I hoped to have graduated far beyond their job, doing something that was much more ME. Though I couldn’t have said for sure what that was.

Now, though, I’d say that in another x years I hope to be doing this, or something like it, and doing it better, and finding other related activities I can add around the edges.

I’ve found what I was looking for. Creative integrity, confidence and independence.

Which I think shows that 10 years of blogging has been a jolly good move.

Do you blog? How long have you blogged for? If you’ve been blogging for a while, have you noticed any general trends? What has it brought you?

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Writing: a journey in music – guest post at Helen Hollick

tuesdaytalkYou may recognise Helen Hollick as a recent guest on The Red Blog, where she stirred up a storm with raging seas and black-hearted doings, all devised with the music of Mike Oldfield, among others. She’s also a bestselling author who’s hit major charts with her pirate novels, so that’s probably a better reason why you might know her.

After she guested for me, she was curious to find out more about how I use music and how I developed the idea of The Undercover Soundtrack into a blog. Especially as it’s been going for more than two years now – and contributors are now lined up into July!

Some of you NYN old-timers might have heard this tale before, but in case you haven’t, or you want a brief intro to my fiction, or you want to see where Helen lives on line, head over to her blog

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Our friends electric – writing bloggers rock! My post at AE

Are you fed up with established, old-school-published writers complaining about self-publishing bloggers in the national press? I think it’s time we celebrated the well-informed, curious, generous, adventurous, innovative, pioneering, rule-busting community we’ve built with all our blogs, websites, podcasts, Facebook groups etc. If you think so too, come over to Authors Electric, where I’m posting today, and say ‘aye’.

(Or if that’s a click too far, say it here 🙂 )

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Blogging for authors – should you be self-hosted? Part 2: two bloggers who favour self-hosting

Yesterday I discussed why an author might not want to self-host their blog and how to make the best of platform-hosted blogging. But many authors strongly advocate self-hosting – so today I’m going to ask two of them why.

First up is author-entrepreneur Joanna Penn of The Creative Penn. Joanna has built a formidable following among writers who want to take charge of their publishing careers and make the best of what the internet can offer. She also develops multimedia courses and she’s hit the bestseller lists with her two thrillers.

Joanna, why did you chose self-hosting?
I have control over everything – including affiliate sales and plugins that you can’t use on free blogs. Google takes you more seriously so you get better SEO results and rank better on Google.

You use a paid-for theme, don’t you? Why?
I use Thesis, which has SEO design in the back end and is very easy to customise so it looks professional. I model success and all the top blogs are self-hosted and use premium or custom design themes. Why look like a second-rate blog?

Is self-hosting and/or using a paid-for theme more hassle? Do you need to be more tech literate?
I have Joel the Blog Tech guy as help but once the site is set up, the back end is the same as WordPress. So no, you don’t have to be tech literate.

How much does this all cost you?
My hosting is less than USD $10 per month, my premium theme was USD $70.

How much do novel-writers need to worry about search engine optimisation (SEO) and what key things should they do?
You need basic SEO – good site design, so that spiders can crawl you. Free themes have a particular SEO rating and my first blog was really crappy for this until I learned about it. Then you should use an SEO plugin. I use All-in-One SEO. Also you should use consistent keywords for your niche and have a lot of relevant content.

My second self-hosted blogger is Jane Friedman, web editor for the Virginia Quarterly Review. Jane is a former publisher at Writer’s Digest and a prolific and respected speaker on writing, publishing, and the future of media. Her expertise has been featured by sources such as NPR’s Morning Edition, Publishers Weekly, GalleyCat, PBS, The Huffington Post, and Mr. Media. She has consulted with a range of nonprofits, businesses, and creative professionals, including the National Endowment for the Arts, the Creative Work Fund, and the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati.

Jane, prevailing wisdom seems to be that self-hosted is always better. Why is this?
Because not self-hosting means:

  • You’ll have a weaker functioning site overall (customisation is usually quite limited)
  • You rarely have access to advanced analytics unless you’re allowed to install Google Analytics (which can be important, see below)
  • You’re not fully in control of what happens to your site. Over time, services ARE discontinued, bought, changed, etc.

Are these considerations relevant to novelists?
If you’re planning to be a novelist for life, yes. You should be concerned about the long-term potential, growth, and stability of your site.

Whether self-hosted or not, why might authors use a paid-for or upgraded theme – apart from being able to look distinctive? How much does it generally cost?
The cost is very little (generally less than USD $100), given that a premium theme offers robust or improved functionality, as well as better looks (and often better readability). Also, premium themes generally have better SEO tools.

How much do novelists need to worry about SEO? Do readers really find them through Google searches?
If readers buy your book, or hear about your book through any medium, they might be likely to google your name – in which case, your site should be easily found. Often, you don’t have to ‘worry’ about SEO for this to happen as long as your site meets basic standards (usually the case with any premium-theme sites) and you don’t have an exceptionally common name.

I like to say that if no one can find you through Google, it’s like you don’t exist.

Is Google all there is to SEO? What key things should writers do to increase visibility?
Not exactly, but Google is 70% of the search market. The best thing to do is to use a premium theme that focuses on SEO, which will help ensure your site is looking its best when search engine crawlers visit.

This is my SEO strategy – how does it look to you? I write attention-grabbing headlines with key words, and use plenty of tags, including my name, my book titles and keywords for my subject area (in this case ‘writing a novel’).
This looks fine! There are other steps, such as making sure your site’s meta title, meta description, and meta tags are appropriate for the type of reader you’re trying to attract. These things are also adjustable on a post-by-post basis if you’re blogging. When you get a premium theme focused on SEO, generally these fields are available for you to adjust as needed. It helps you customise what exactly appears when your single posts (or when your site) comes up in Google search (site title, site description, brief description of post, etc).

How can writers check how well their measures are working?
You can tell whether your efforts are working if you improve your search ranking for your name or book titles (how high in the listings you appear), and/or if you see your organic search results increase—something you can watch, over time, in Google Analytics.

……

Thanks Joanna and Jane – and thanks also to Catherine Ryan Howard for helping me argue for platform-hosted blogs yesterday.

Anything to add? Cautionary tales, theories…. has your mind been changed by anything you’ve read here? I’m sticking with WordPress hosting for now, but Jane’s suggestions have sent me back to my site descriptions to make them work harder at grabbing readers. If you’re going to do anything new, tell me in the comments!

If you’re new to blogging and want some basics, you might find this post of mine helpful – How I get time to blog as well as write  and Your new writing blog: avoid these faux-pas.

If you are thinking of upgrading to a bespoke theme, you might like this by Dan Blank – How I redesigned my website.

Joanna has scores of helpful posts about blogging – starting here. (And we’ve joined forces to create a multimedia course How To Write A Novel. More than 4 hours of video and audio with 86-page transcription and slides)


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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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How I get time to blog as well as write

I’ve had this question from Cindy Richard: I have been toying with starting a blog because I would like to have a platform when I finally finish my novel. I am worried about having the mental energy for it, since I have a full-time job and am deep into writing my first novel. I have a great idea for how to focus my blog and what to write, but I am worried about starting it and then having it fizzle out because I don’t have the energy to give my best. Do you have any suggestions for making it more manageable starting out?

Great question. Here are my tips to make sure your blogging resolution doesn’t end up a sad forgotten thing, like December’s festive trees blowing down a January pavement.

Treat blogging as part of your writing work

You’ve probably got a routine for your writing – or you wouldn’t have got so far with your novel. Carve a little of that off for blogging. You can’t possibly steal more hours from the other things you have to do, so take it from your writing time.

I designate a day a week on which I am allowed to do blogging tasks – including posts, guest posts elsewhere, scheduling Undercover Soundtrack pieces. Even though those are written by guests, they are fiddly to publish. This all takes time and you need to schedule it properly so you make a good job of it.

Write a ton of posts in advance?

It’s not a bad idea to have posts prepared, but some people schedule months of them and leave the blog to fend for itself. I wouldn’t recommend that because when they end you’ll have to interrupt your writing schedule to cue up a load more – and that’s painful. It’s better to get into a regular routine.

If you do cue in advance, be prepared to rejig if you spot a trend you could post about. Often these gain more hits, more readers and more discussion.

Whatever else you do, answer comments ASAP. Blogs have to look alive and responsive – readers like contact and conversations.

Keep blogging time in check

Blogging is addictive. I could spend endless hours on design fiddles, tweaking widgets – as is probably evident in my greedy number of blogs (you’ve already seen this red one, and there’s also my website). It’s even worse when your blog is oh-gosh shiny and new. Aside from answering comments, don’t let yourself do blog stuff on other days.

Prevent blogging burnout

Many people start a blog and then find they run out of ideas. Find something you can genuinely talk about forever and you’ll never run dry. But more importantly…

Short is better

A lot of new bloggers try to cram too much into one post. Posts don’t have to be the definitive, exhaustive essay, unlike articles or reports outside of the blogoverse.

Nor does that make blog posts superficial. You can still be brilliant, useful, provocative, evocative – whatever you like – in 500 words or so.

And computer screens aren’t the easiest medium for reading – another reason why shorter posts are better.

If you think you can split a post in two, nobody minds that. The more times people come back to your blog, the more familiar they get with your blog furniture, your writing voice. That’s why people have favourite newspapers – they know where to find what they want, quickly.

And as I’ve already gone on too long, I’m going to take my own advice. I’ve got a list of fledgling bloggers’ mistakes – but that’s for another post.

In the meantime, tell me – how do you make time for blogging?

 

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