by Anne R. Allen
Blogging can boost your career in so many ways, as I wrote in my September 13th post, “Does an Author Really Need a Blog?” This blog sure has helped mine.
Plus if you write non-narrative nonfiction like, ahem, How to be a Writer in the E-Age, a blog is pretty essential to your platform.
If you haven’t tried it yet, you’ll find that creating a blog isn’t as hard as you may think.
A lot of blogging advice is aimed at professional bloggers who are looking to make money from the blog itself. They want things slick, flashy, and monetized.
But that’s probably not what you want as an author. You want a personal, inviting place where people can visit and get to know you—a home rather than a storefront.I had to learn blogging by trial and error—lots of error. Tech people always assume everybody knows the basics, which is why the basics are the hardest part to figure out if you’re brand new to all this.
Here’s the stuff I wish somebody had told me when I was starting out…
20 Steps To Becoming a Blogger
1) Read Blogs
If you don’t do it yet, spend a couple of weeks reading a bunch of writing and publishing blogs before you jump in and create your own. See what you like and don’t like.
Blogs written by agents, authors and other industry professionals are great places to educate yourself. They’re like a visit to a writers’ conference available free any day of the week. And like writers’ conferences, they’re also good places to network with other writers at all stages of their careers—people who can help your own career in dozens of ways.
For suggestions of blogs to visit, see my post “What Should A Novelist Blog About?” I also highly recommend Molly Greene, Jami Gold and Janice Hardy’s Fiction University. Their blogs are all full of great information that will be helpful to you whether you plan to self-publish or go the traditional route.
Also, many writer-bloggers have a “blogroll” in their sidebar with a list of other great writing blogs. Start clicking around. If you like what somebody says, click on their name in the comments and you’ll probably get their profile and you can go visit their blog.
While you’re reading, think of things you might like to say in your own blog. Start jotting down ideas for posts.
You’ll want to have several pieces ready to go by the time you launch your own blog.
For non-bloggers who are getting blogposts in their email but may not know how to read an actual blog or see the comments, you can click through the email to the blog by clicking on the header (for our subscribers, it’s the title in blue at the top of the email.) That will take you to this blog in its native habitat at blogspot.com.
The advantage of clicking through is that you can read the comments (just click on the word “comments” at the bottom of the post. It will usually say “28 Comments” or whatever the number is.)
For most of you reading right now, that may sound too beginnerish to mention, but we were all beginners once. I remember when I finally figured out how to comment on a blog. It felt like such a triumph. And I’d been reading them for at least six months. Online sites never come with a manual.
Blog comments have a wealth of information. Some of our commenters know much more than we do! And if you leave a comment yourself, that will help you raise your profile and increase name recognition.
2) Get a blogging ID
You may find it tough to comment on some blogs without the proper ID. Ruth and I have recently decided to allow “anonymous” commenting, so if you don’t have an ID, you can comment here as “anonymous” and then sign your name at the bottom. But many bloggers don’t allow anons because it involves weeding out a lot more spam.There are a number of ways to get an ID.
- Join Google+. It’s an easy, no-strings social site where you can participate or not (just unclick “email me” functions if you want to keep participation to a minimum.) This gives you a “user ID” that allows you to comment on most blogs without jumping through all those hoops. Plus when you comment, your Google profile picture will come up and if people click on it, they will go to your Google profile. If that profile has links to your blog, website and books, you may have just made a sale or got a potential blog follower. If you have gmail, it’s super easy to sign up, and it’s not hard for anybody, even a cybermoron like me. In a guest post written for us by Johnny Base, there’s a video showing you exactly how to sign up.
- Get a Gravatar ID. Gravatar is a universally recognized image that follows you from site to site appearing beside your name when you do things like comment or post on a blog. Clicking on it will lead people to your Gravatar ID, where you can put links to your sites, just like on Google Plus. So when people read a comment, they can click on your image and find you on the Web. ( Although something seems to be weird there right now. When I click on “my profile” it closes the tab. Very mysterious. I assume they’ll fix that.)
- You can also join WordPress without having a WordPress blog. You can sign up for a username only account. Unfortunately, Blogger, which is owned by Google, sometimes doesn’t accept a WordPress ID, so a Google ID is better for a Blogger blog. Tech companies always seem to be at war with each other and they don’t seem to mind the collateral damage.
3) Comment and interact with other commenters on high profile blogs
You only have to say a few words of agreement (or disagreement, if phrased politely), or offer your own experience about the topic.
Commenting on high traffic blogs is the quickest way to get into search engines. Most of my early mentions on Google came from my comments on other people’s blogs.
A comment right here can put your name in front of 5,000 people in a week. It could take many months to reach that many people with a new blog.
Discussions on big blogs can also lead to discussions on your own. Find yourself making a long comment? That’s a future blogpost. When you post the comment, you can invite people to discuss the topic further on your own blog.
Support somebody’s argument on a high-profile blog and you have a blogfriend. That’s how I got my first followers.
4) Choose a blogging platform
The biggest free blogging platforms are WordPress, Tumblr, and Blogger. But there are lots of others to choose from, like SquareSpace, TypePad, LiveJournal, and Weebly. Medium is a newer site that comes highly recommended. WordPress is the most popular.
You can also have a blog on your personal website, or on a writer’s forum like Goodreads or SheWrites, but these aren’t as likely to be picked up by search engines, so if your goal is to be more visible, I suggest using a blogging platform that’s not buried in another site.I use Blogger (owned by Google, with an address that reads “blogspot.com”) because it’s the easiest to set up and use—and has templates that are easy to customize. But Blogger does have drawbacks. There’s no tech support, so you have to go around to forums asking for help. And you don’t have as many choices.
And scary things can happen, like what happened to me this week. Johnny Base tells me when a blog gets to be the size of this one, with up to 100,000 hits a month, it’s time to move to a paid web host site. So we’ll be doing that in the next few months.But Blogger has been working fine for us for five years and it works for most authors.
If you prefer to start with a free WordPress blog, you can get step by step instructions here from Jane Friedman. WordPress has the advantage of tech support, and a free blog can be easily converted to a self-hosted (paid) blog if you start getting a lot of traffic. A WordPress blog can also be more easily translated into an ebook.
4) Decide on a focus and tone for your blog.
Blog gurus will tell you to address a niche, but that’s not always the best way to start. I think the most important thing is to develop a strong personal voice and be flexible. And don’t plan to blog about writing all the time. There are an awful lot of us out here doing just that and you want to provide something fresh.For more on this check out my post, What Should An Author Blog About?
Beginning author-bloggers form a wonderful community. That community can help you in hundreds of ways, so don’t worry too much about seeming like a “professional” blogger right away. Be real, flexible, open and friendly and you can ease into your niche later.
Remember the most successful blogs reveal the writer’s personality and provide something useful at the same time. Even if you choose to be a niche blogger like me, keep flexible.
Don’t focus on one book or lock yourself into one genre, especially if you’re a newbie.
Zombies could invade the second draft of what started out as a cozy mystery. Or a Victorian romance could veer into steampunk. Romance writer Rosa Lee Hawkins might decide to become dark, gritty R. L. Hawk. She won’t want to be stuck with that pink, lacy blog—or betray her romance-loving followers. You can always add stuff, but it’s harder to take it away.
But note: if you make a big genre change, you can alter everything about a blog—header, name, template, tone—but still keep the original url (blog address.) I suggest you do that so you don’t lose the search engine attention you’ve gained so far.
5) Think of a name and tagline.
Don’t get too creative here. Make sure you put your own name in the title. Your name is your brand. Yes, I know a lot of blogs have names like “Musing, Meandering and Muttering,” but this self-defeating for an author.
Nothing is more annoying than reading a great blogpost and not being able to find out who wrote it. I’m amazed at how many writers are still doing this.Here’s the thing: anywhere you go online, you want to promote your brand, or you’re wasting time (time you could be writing that masterpiece that’s the reason for all this, remember?) It’s OK to be unimaginative like me and call it YOUR NAME’s blog—maybe reducing the ho-hum factor with something like “Susie Smith, Scrivener.”
You’re doing this to get your name out there, so for goodness sake, put your name on the blog.
6). Choose a couple of photos to decorate the blog.
Use a friendly, professional photo of yourself for your profile, and another for the header to set the tone. And of course post your book covers if you have them for sale.Try to keep with the same color scheme and general feel when choosing photos.
And make sure they aren’t copyrighted! Use your own or use free ones from places like WikiCommons, or you could be hit with a big bill from the copyright holder.
Do think about tone when you choose. If you write MG humor, you don’t want your blog looking all dark and Goth, and cheery colors will give the wrong message for that serial killer thriller series. Romance sites don’t have to be pink, but they should be warm, inviting and a little sexy or girly.Also, aim to echo the tone and color of your other social media pages in order to establish a personal “brand” look.
7) Prepare a bio for your “About Me” page.
This is the most important part of your blog. Again, I’m amazed at how many writers don’t have one. It’s why you’re here, remember?
Make it intriguing and funny without giving TMI. You can add some more pics—maybe of your dog or your funky car. Keep family out unless it’s a family or parenting blog. Pseudonyms for kids are a smart idea for protecting their privacy. You can learn more in my post on How to Write an Author Bio.
8) Go to a friend’s blog.
If they use Blogger or WordPress, there will be a link at the top that says “create blog.”
9) Click on “create blog.”
Follow directions in the window. They’re easy. In Blogger anyway.
10) Choose a template.
Don’t mess with the design too much, except in terms of color—a busy blog isn’t a place people want to linger. And don’t add animation, really big files or anything that takes too long to load. Keep with your color scheme and tone.
11) Pick your “gadgets” or “widgets”
There are lots. But again, keep it simple. I suggest just choosing the basics like “about me”, “followers”, “subscribe”, “share” and “search this blog”. “Share” is the thing so people can Tweet or FB or G+ your post. You want this to happen.You can go back and add anything you want later. Later you’ll want your archives and most popular posts. Just go to your “design” tab to find more.
Make sure you add links to your other social media accounts. It’s easy if you just add a gadget that will make a link live that gives your Twitter handle (as we do) or says “Like me on Facebook.” You can get a Facebook badge from FB, but mine disappeared some time ago. If you Tweet, you can Google “Twitter buttons” to get a cute one. Don’t get the animated kind, though—they slow your load time. And be sure to put your actual Twitter handle on the blog somewhere so people who Tweet your posts can attribute them to you.
In a little while, you’ll want to install the gadget that posts links to your most popular posts. That makes people want to move around the site and not leave after they’ve read one thing.
I don’t recommend putting your stats on the front page: “42 hits” or whatever. It will only advertise that you’re a newbie. Do keep track of your stats on your own dashboard, but remember it takes about a year to get blog traffic going. So don’t get discouraged. Yes, you will have weeks when you have two hits. My blog had five hits in its entire first three months.
Checking stats privately is a good idea, so you can see where your traffic is coming from and what posts are popular. If you get a ton of hits from one address (and it’s not spam) someone probably posted a link to your blog, so check it out and get a discussion going.
But don’t obsess about your traffic. Establishing an audience takes time. Longer than you think. So relax and have fun.
12) Set up privacy settings.
I suggest making no restrictions on comments on new posts. Don’t make every comment wait for your approval before it goes live. You won’t get a discussion going that way. Monitor your blog yourself instead. I’ve personally found that 99% of commenters are friendly. And the spambot will take care of a lot of the robo-spam.I used to suggest turning off the CAPTCHA word verification thingy, but they’ve improved it so it’s not such an infuriating puzzle, so I’ve put ours back on. Now there’s just a box to check to “prove you’re not a robot,”
But DO have every comment over a week old sent to you for approval. Old posts attract spam and trolls.
13) Sign up for email notification of new comments
That way you can respond to them in a timely way. If commenters give an email address in their profile (always smart) you can respond to them via email, but I prefer to respond in the comment thread to stimulate discussion.
14) Upload those photos.
But not too many. One per post is good. Unless you’re a photojournalist, you’re trying to sell yourself as a writer, not a photographer (or a chooser of stock photos.) And NEVER use copyrighted photos. You may get a bill and it won’t be cheap.If you’re more of a photographer than a writer, you’ll probably prefer Tumblr, which is more about images than text.
And NO MUSIC. People read blogs at work. And on their phones. Even though you’re sure everybody on the planet adores the classic oeuvre of the Archies, some of us don’t. Trust me on this.
It’s that easy. But don’t forget to:
15) BOOKMARK your blog
Or you may never find it again. Remember you can’t find it with a Google search it until the search spiders have found it. I lost this blog for three months after I started it.You’d be amazed how many people set up a blog only to have it disappear into cyberspace. If you’ve done that, it’s worth it to go looking for them use the oldest one as the basis for your new blog: it will have some Google cred by now. Then delete the others. You don’t want people who Google you to find a dead blog from 2007. They’ll think you’re deceased.
These days you ARE your Google search page. Don’t run the risk of looking like a dead person.
16) Sign in.
When you go back to your blog, click “sign in” in the upper right hand corner. And then hit “design” or “new post” to get inside the blog. That’s what they call the “back” of the blog where you do your actual work.Why is the link that opens the blog labeled “design”? I don’t have a clue. That’s the kind of thing that sends a non-techie into a panic, but must be obvious to most techies. It may be called something else in WordPress. Maybe one of the commenters will let us know.
17) Keep to a schedule.
Decide how often you want to blog—I suggest once a week to start—then do it. Preferably on the same day each week. Most blog gurus will tell you to blog more often, but this is a pretty highly rated blog and I have never blogged more than twice in one week.I like to do what some people call “slow blogging“. It’s like the slow food movement. Quality over quantity.
Joining the Slow Blog movement is simple. Start a blog and announce you’re planning to post on alternate Tuesdays, or every full moon, or whenever. Or if you already have a blog, next time you miss a few days, tell yourself you didn’t FAIL to blog; you SUCCEEDED in joining the Slow Bloggers. All you have to do is skip those boring apologies, and you’re in.
18) Write some blogposts.
As I said above, it’s a good idea to write several pieces before you start the blog, so you have time to get into a rhythm and you don’t fall into the trap of so many one-post would-be bloggers who have those deceased blogs floating around in cyberspace.
If you have four or five posts lined up, you’ll give yourself a running start.
I personally write in Word, save it in my documents, and then copy and paste into Blogger.This is because the auto-save is slower than Word’s. I learned that the hard way.
But if you compose in Word and paste into Blogger, turn off the “smart quotes” (the curly ones) in Word. It’s not that a post won’t go live with smart quotes, but they seem to interfere with the rss feed, so your followers won’t be able to read the blog in their feed. I’m too much of a cyberemoron to tell you why, but for some reason the rss elves prefer stupid quotes.
So how do you write for a blog?
- A post should be from 500-2000 words presented in short, punchy paragraphs. (If you post more often, you can make the posts shorter.)
- Bulleting, numbering and bolding are your friends. Make a point and present it in a way that’s easy to grasp.
- Use subheaders! That means going up to the toolbar and choosing a format from the drop down menu. In Blogger, you can choose “Normal”, “Header” “Subheader”, or “Minor Header.” Formatting is important because search engine spiders notice properly formatted subheaders and get your post into Google faster.
- Make sure you link to your sources. And choose good anchor text for those hyperlinks. Don’t just say “for more information click here.” Say “you can find more information in the article How to choose Anchor Text” and highlight the whole title. (Those aren’t actually live links) That’s so the search engine spiders will find you. They are looking for live links that tell the search engine something. “Here” doesn’t say much.
- Don’t navel-gaze. Offer information and interesting observations. Direct your focus outward, not inward. (And don’t expect to get as much traffic for fiction and poetry. People are usually looking for nonfiction and information in blogs.)
- Don’t feel you have to say everything in one post. If you have more to say than fits in one post—great! You have material for next time.
- Keep to one topic per post, because that stimulates conversation more effectively. If you have dozens of short things to say—Tweet them.
- Ask a question of your readers at the end. It makes people feel involved and stimulates discussion.
19) Go tell those blogfriends you’ve made that you’ve got a blog.
Hopefully, a few will follow. Don’t despair if you don’t get a lot of followers right away. I had maybe ten for my first six months—consisting of my critique group and my mom.Twitter is one of the best places to promote your blogposts, so if you’re not on Twitter, consider joining. Then RT other posts on the same subject you’re blogging about. That way you’ll get a core of Twitter followers who will want to read your posts.
Facebook is also a great place to promote your blog. If you sign up for Networked blogs, they will post a link to your FB page automatically (as long as you use stupid quotes: their elves don’t like smart quotes either.) Google Plus will post a Blogger blog automatically if you link it to your Google Plus account. (But don’t link your comments to Google Plus. Then only Google Plus members can comment.)
Any social medium is good for blog promotion. We get a lot of hits from Pinterest, and we’re not even on it. We’re grateful to followers who post links for us. Thanks!
20) Congratulations. You are now a blogger.
Really. It’s that easy.
What about you, scriveners? Do any of you regular bloggers have suggestions for newbies? Newbies, do you have any questions? If you’re a blogger, what do you find the hardest part of blogging? The easiest??
posted by Anne R. Allen @annerallen October 6, 2014
Anne R. Allen is the author of ten books, including the bestselling CAMILLA RANDALL MYSTERIES and HOW TO BE A WRITER IN THE E-AGE, co-written with NYT bestseller Catherine Ryan Hyde.
BOOK OF THE WEEK
“Canny cultural observation that brings to mind two of my favorite British authors, Barbara Pym and Penelope Fitzgerald. Yes, the humor is there and sometimes spew-your-cocktail funny, but the character depth and plot fulfillment go so far beyond the humor. I felt I knew these people. I felt I was there.”…Debra Eve at The Later Bloomer
“I applaud Allen’s consistently genuine voice, with accuracy that spells ‘that could have been me’. Behind the humor, she is gracefully revolutionary.”…Kathleen Keena author of The Play’s The Thing.