Probably going to be my last post on blogging for a while. Whether you want to listen or not is on your own terms, as always—my qualifications are meager, but then again, I have been studying and observing this blogging things from the perspective of a blogger, rather than another kind of writer. That probably has some value, although not enough to some—after all, what experience do I really have of the “real writing”?
Nevertheless. I am brazen online, so will go out on this particular topic in a blaze.
I’ve always been interested in more “traditional” writing—non-fiction and fiction, you know. I just love words; I just love writing, whatever form it may come in. Even if it comes in the form of technical specifications, and it takes a really special kind of person to love those.
And in general I love writing folks. How can I not? They often have valuable experience to share about the business of writing, which goes beyond just writing. And of course I love the words of so many of them.
But sometimes they piss me off.
A lot of them—maybe it’s just the older hands, although I see some newer ones think this way as well—seem to think that blogging is shallow. That blogging can never be anything more than an ephemeral place for descriptions of events, or news clips, or promotions. That blogging is so shallow that it’s so easy to do, even if you don’t love blogging.
And yet still some of them try to use blogs as promotional devices. You can tell—blogs so focused on their own work that it’s like reading a very long advertisement. They rarely talk about their process of writing, or their day-to-day lives, or their influences—it’s all about their product, and indeed results in that shallowness some expect from blogging.
They misunderstand the marketing aspects of blogging, and it is to their detriment. To be fair, so do a lot of bloggers in general. And if you don’t understand the way of blogging, you can never get past what seem to be its weaknesses.
In the interest of blowing off steam while doing it in a useful way, assuming some people are still with me at this point, here’s some simple principles to blogging promotionally—in such a way that you can actually reach your audience, and perhaps even reach more people. Note that this would work best for authors with established audiences—for those of us without, this is a hard row to hoe indeed.
A General Note and Disclaimer
You don’t have to do this. You are a writer of fiction or non-fiction, a writer of short stories or novellas or books or whatever. This is auxiliary, and I would be remiss in telling you that this is anything other than advice if you want to do this of your own free will.
Never let people push you into blogging if it’s not your thing. Never. A blogger who hates blogging is no blogger at all. But you might still want to read the following, just in case you aren’t familiar with blogging and some of its aspects, and think you might want to try it, and try it at the “next level”. Whatever the heck that is.
Without further ado, then….
The Tao of Blogging for Writers
Way #1: Be Personable.
This may be difficult if you’re not personable in person. But I think if I can do it—for I am about the most unpersonable person you would ever have the displeasure of meeting in this world—it’s possible for you as well. You will need to do this anyways, since you will want to sign stuff, meet your readers in one form or another, and meet other writers. Especially the meet other writers bit.
Learning to be personable is something that comes with exercise and feedback—but it also comes from observation. Read the blogs of personable people—people who are confident without being arrogant, who reach out without being clingy, who are conversant in the strange, asynchronous world of the blogosphere without being neglectful. John Scalzi is a really good example.
Absorb their style and their flow, while keeping your own writing your own—you did that, after all, when you were learning to write in the first place.
Way #2: Reach Out to Other Writers
Scalzi probably knows it, but he does so many things right that people just miss out on.
The easiest way to get notoriety in the blogging world is to reach out to others and share their contributions with your audience. In the blogosphere, this is also known as “linking out”. There is, of course, a balance between mere acknowledgement (which is not enough) and stealing stuff (which is called plagiarism, but I doubt many professional writers would actually go that far).
So read your fellow writers. Go beyond just their books—get to know them. Talk to your favorites at conventions. Read their blogs, and point out entries that you think are especially valuable and/or amusing. Talk to them online, too—comment on their blogs intelligently.
And then, when you talk about on them on your own blog, you’ll be neither shallow nor just link-baiting for attention. Note that I said you won’t be; I didn’t say that you’d just seem to be.
Through following this Way, you will also build your network. Networking is one of the things at the heart of blogging, that carry it beyond a personal journal. Participate in the social web of the blogosphere, even if it’s just the writing and literature part (and be a good citizen too).
There’s something else.
Way #3: Conversation is Key
I’m not sure why people miss out on this, but the thing is, blogging is a conversation. Yes, it can be a faster form of letters through snail mail, but the instant gratification of the net means that the major barriers of conversing with your readers (and vice versa) have been removed—not the least of which is reducing the amount of time to do so to mere minutes. Speed makes the difference.
That makes blogging unique. And is one of the things that brings out the full potential of blogging. Even Neil Gaiman answers questions from fans when they submit their comments through a form, even if he doesn’t have commenting turned on himself.
That reachability is the major key to turning your blog into a reader-gathering engine. Think of Whatever or Making Light; one of their biggest assets is the comments and conversation between the writers and the readers, and between the readers themselves. I’m not saying you need to create a community—community sites can be huge time sinks—but respond to your readers. Provoke them with questions and ideas that induce not only thought but also response—and respond to them in turn. That is one of the most important reasons why you can’t approach blogging as shallow words floating into thin air—that air’s occupied by other people.
Another aspect of the conversational aspect of blogging is that it’s also a conversation between bloggers, between blog entries. That’s why you’ll see things called “trackback links”—links that are generated by some kinds of blogging software when someone else writes an entry and sets it to ping back your site. Blogging software that supports this includes WordPress, Blogger, and Typepad.
In some ways, conversing among other bloggers is even more important than having multiple lively comment threads. Don’t believe the hype that the lifeblood of any blog is the comments—the lifeblood of any blog is, and always has been, content. And part of that content is conversation. People aren’t always comfortable commenting—this is especially true when you are a screed-writer like me. As long as they read, absorb, come back, find value—this is communication too, and most important of all, silent as it may be.
Conversation in real life is difficult—online, it’s most difficult of all. No body language or movement to draw the eye of folks, and all that. But heck with that, dude. You’re a writer. You’ve got the intriguing text-only thing covered. You need to communicate what you mean through words—this is the most important skill to have on the ‘net, whether or not you blog.
Way #4: Show Your Depth
If your readers want to know about your next book, they will have known about it likely through book reviews, fan sites, or Amazon.com’s recommendation system. It’s important that you provide this information as well, of course, so that people looking specifically for you can easily find the information rather than just taking the chance of them happening on it.
But your readers are your readers. They may come just for you. Who won’t come if you only talk about your product are new readers. New readers don’t know anything about you—and the net is notably a very fickle place. Now, there are exceptions. Maybe you’re winning a Hugo or a Nebula award. But that’s like so not going to happen for many of us, even if we are good.
So how do you attract new readers, if they are hesitant to learn about your product?
You give them yourself. You make yourself out to be more than just a producer of novels or stories—you are a person with a real life and a real depth. You are someone they can talk to and identify with. Your online persona is sort of a character—a character with your history and personality mind you (i.e., don’t make stuff up. Great way to lose everybody when you’re found out). Personality is a big driver on the ‘net and in the blogosphere.
What would you do with such a character in your story? Well, you’d usually try to get your reader to like them. It’s kind of like that, but honest. A bit weird to think about, but it’s actually very much like that. Get at your interests. Get at your life (without endangering the privacy of others).
Be more than just a name on a cover.
Way #5: Learn About Blogging Without Getting Obsessed
Unless you’d like to stop your writing career in exchange for one of blogging. And blogging really, really doesn’t pay well unless you know what you’re doing and can expend a lot of effort on it.
But at the same time, learning about where you’re writing can be important. Sure, perhaps you’ll never go beyond a personal journal and it’s not like that’s wrong. But if you want to use your blog as a promotional tool, even if it’s just a little one, you may need a little more knowledge.
Still, get that knowledge when you need it, and not before. One day you may have some nasty comments on your blog—learn about comment policies and moderation. Someone asks where your RSS feed is? Learn about how subscriptions work via RSS. Need to caption images? Some people like to provide recipes. Want to reach out through Twitter and StumbleUpon and other social media? Surprise—it’s not just random Brownian motion, it’s something that you can initiate as well, and for the first few months or even years of your blog, you will need to do this.
Keep in mind, though: your bread and butter is your other writing—not your blogging. Usually.
The Rewards of Blogging
For me, the rewards of blogging is… well… basically… notoriety. One day, anyways, maybe, if I do stuff right and luck is on my side and people like my work enough to talk about it to other people and my content continues to improve and all that (sounds a lot like the writing business past book one, doesn’t it).
But yes. I do it for other people. And in doing so, because I like sharing things with other people (when the need calls for it, I make a great secretary and assistant), I also do it for myself. If you don’t like doing things for other people, I hope that you have a different reason that drives you to blog.
Is this just a twisted form of attention-getting? Maybe. Am I sinning as a writer? Probably. Do I care anymore? Well, I care a little, still. Old habits are hard to break.
In the end, though, I achieve notoriety by contributing stuff. Doesn’t seem so bad in the end for either side; we both learn things.
And being a contributor at large is what the big blogging is all about. Understand this and live it. It is the truth behind the best bloggers, even if they never overtly hit the promotion track for their blog.
More Information: The Big Three
In my accounting, anyways. There are others, like Copyblogger, but I have done my learning through these bloggers.
- Darren Rowse is one of the original big meta-bloggers and still is. He has some great topics for newbie bloggers, as well as more seasoned bloggers who want to uncover part of the secrets behind social media, content, and marketing. One of the most personable guys on the blogosphere around, and one of the most knowledgeable. You can find Darren on FriendFeed, where he has some blogger-oriented chat rooms.
- She is your content and blog usability specialist. She’s not actively blogging anymore for the moment, but her archives are rich—veritable caverns to explore about the content-side of blogging. Skellie can also be found on StumbleUpon.
- Maki is a wonderful guy. He talks about marketing—and one of the most important things about marketing is content. It’s not just marketing and website content that he teaches, but social media. And if you want to promote your site, one of the most important things is getting the word out—efficiently and without being spammy. Maki’s also on Twitter, and very conversational.
I’ve been rather adversarial in tone here. I’m not usually this way, and there’s not really any one thing that set me off. I just got tired of hearing some things.
I’ll leave you with three important lessons you should take away from here:
- Blogging is a complex new medium with important social aspects.
- Content is king no matter what you do in blogging.
- Networking is queen if you want to hit promotion.
And one final thing: lots and lots of patience.