Tonight’s blog post, on the topic of blogging is brought to you by me.
To blog or not to blog, and how to do it
By the time you read this, I’ll be on my way to (or possibly at, I like to be early) The Poetry Cafe, Covent Garden (London) to do a talk about blogging for the lovely Agnes Meadows and Loose Muse. Seeing as many of you live outside the UK, or do live here but won’t be there, I thought I’d share my notes with you. I hope they’re useful / interesting. Because I mostly use WordPress I’ll be primarily referring to that ‘platform’…
A Blog: Why start one?
- You write and want to tell people that you exist;
- Writing blogs are usually read by other writers and readers and it provides you with a community;
- You’d like to invite other writers to take part in your site;
- You want to provide useful information to others;
- You want to sell your writing and you know you need an outlet.
What do you have to say?
- You want to share your writing – put up poems, short stories, novel extracts, non-fiction pieces;
- You’re writing your first novel and want to let others know how you’re doing;
- You surf the net and find articles of interest want to share the links;
- You want to learn about writing so you have guests discussing various topics.
Specific or general?
- Should you make it general (you as a writer plus your other hobbies etc.), one topic e.g. you as a writer, or even more specific and be just about your book.
- It depends.
- If you’re a writer and, say, a painter then you capture two audiences.
- I’m consumed by fiction so I made my first blog (http://morgenbailey.wordpress.com) writing-related and some visitors already find it overwhelming without adding anything else.
- I have five writing group blogs where I post four 15-minute writing exercises (poetry and story prompts) every weekday and guest content (for feedback) when I receive it at the weekends.
- I also have a blog where I post a short story a day.
- Two sites (one WordPress and one Blogspot) just carries the interviews I’ve been doing and they post at 6am and 6pm each day, the WordPress current and Blogspot c. a month behind.
- I have also just started a blog which is just about me and my writing because although I am active on the other blogs, the emphasis is about my guests not me, although it’s certainly done no harm in getting my name out there – hence me being at The Poetry Café (thank you, Agnes!).
Why I started one
- I’m infamous for ‘cutting a short story long’ (although most of my short stories actually end up as flash fictions!) so I won’t go into detail but basically, I had a website (http://morgenbailey.com) that wasn’t doing much (it still isn’t actually as it just points to the blog). I’d heard blogging was a good idea and then I was volunteering at Oundle Literature Festival mid-March 2011 and one of the speakers (philosopher Nigel Warburton) said he had 1,000 hits to his blog a day. I thought, “I want some of that” (or something to that effect) so my blog was born two weeks later. My best day, by the way, was last Thursday (7th March) with 551 hits so I’m half-way. And how did I get 551 hits (when it’s normally 200+)? I don’t have a clue. 242 of those were within an hour (9am-10am UK time) and I didn’t do anything special. That day’s interview had gone up at 7am, an American author who was still asleep, so he wasn’t touting it so I’ll never know, but with over 2,000 posts of varying topics on the blog there’s plenty for people to choose from.
- So, to the content, I started a bit of everything (mentioned above); writing-related things that interested me and a bit about my writing. I’ve been writing since being hooked at a college evening course in 2005. When I started the blog I was already interviewing other authors on my podcast but they’d take up a day to record, edit and upload so I did one or two a month. Then in June 2011 when I was invited to do a text interview, via email… light bulb moment. I could do as many as I liked. So I didn’t take on any more for the podcast but devised a questionnaire and put shout-outs online for authors. And they came flooding in. Late last year I had a nine-month backlog, which (at one interview a day) was crazy, so I created an interview-only blog, posted three a day and am now up-to-date.
- Once I started posting the interviews, other items developed; author spotlights, guest blogs, guest flash fiction / poetry / novels in instalments, competition / submission / event information. You name it, it’s on there (if it’s not, let me know!).
How often should you post something?
- At least once a week. You don’t have to do what I do and post 3-4 times a day because you’d have no life and really, would you have enough to say? I don’t – I get everyone else to do it for me.
- The advantage of having so many guests involved is that they give me the content and they are always so appreciative of having a platform to share the news about their latest book.
When should you post something?
- Probably without exception, most of your traffic will come from the United States so you’d want to post your items at a time that will catch most viewers. I post interviews at 7am so it catches late night US traffic and pre-work UK traffic then another post (or two) in the evening to catch the US lunch-timers and UK evening traffic. It also means that most posts are at the top of the home page for 12 hours meaning everyone gets a chance to see it. I have menus at the top of the blog so the links to everything I post is accessible. This helps visitors, guests and I get to keep a track of who’s doing what when. It also fits in with my ‘working day’, although it’s easy to post items in advance.
Which platform (host) do you choose?
- I have nine WordPress blogs, one Blogspot (Blogger), and a Weebly site. I also build (and maintain) blogs for other writers, so you can guess which one I recommend.
The advantages of WordPress include:
- automatic posting to social networks (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Yahoo Groups and Tumblr). It’s worth joining all those just to have your posts mentioned there;
- you can have as many ‘tag’ keywords as you wish whereas Blogspot limit to 200 characters, which is about 30 words. Keywords are very important because it’s how Google searches pick up on your posts. And use keywords that people are likely to search by.
- Some people find Blogspot and Weebly easier to use (Weebly is probably the simplest because it’s quite limited – you don’t even get a search box on the free version) but like anything it just takes practice.
This takes me neatly on to my next point…
How much does it cost?
- It can cost nothing. To-date I’ve posted over 2,000 items on the mixed blog and 700 interviews on the interview blog and various on other blogs and it’s not cost me a penny. All the WordPress blogs have ‘WordPress’ domain names e.g. http://morgenbailey.wordpress.com, which some authors wouldn’t want. For around $20 a year you can choose your own domain name. I didn’t because by keeping http://morgenbailey.com I have two sites for internet users to find me. I may change this as you can’t put any advertising on the free versions, or you can let WordPress put advertising but it would be their choice. They can (and technically do) that already but I’ve only ever spotted one item on a random (old) post and I can’t even remember what it was for.
So, how do you compile your blog?
- There are two ways of creating your blog; (1) you could have a static front ‘home’ page, like a website, and moving blog page or (2) a rolling home page and static other pages. I favour the latter because at least half of my visitors go to the home page so readers want new content, and most of my posts are guest related so they want to see their pieces proudly displayed.
- I won’t go into how you actually compile a post because that’s a topic for another talk but it’s basically; text, pictures, and links on the main input area, tick-box categories (for example, short stories, novels, poetry, eBooks so visitors can select posts just for those topics if they wish) and the ‘tag’ keywords I mentioned earlier. Then when it’s ready you can post it there and then or schedule it for a later time / date.
Pros and Cons
- PROS: I’ve already mentioned a blog as giving an outlet to not only yourself but to other writers and out of the 760+ authors I’ve interviewed, I’d say 95% of them give ‘marketing’ as their answer to ‘What’s your least favourite aspect of your writing life?’ (their ‘favourite’ is usually the same as mine; the creating process; we are writers after all). Marketing is seen as a necessary evil with self-published authors knowing that they have to do all the work and traditionally published author still have to do the majority because their publishers don’t have the budget to invest. I’ve only had two authors say their publisher does all their marketing but those authors are still active online (Twitter, Facebook etc). It’s part of the ‘job’.
- CONS: Is there a downside to blogging? Not really. If like me, it takes over your life, then that could be seen as a downside time-wise, and it has affected my writing, or lack of it, but it’s been a wonderful experience and I’ve ‘met’ SO many people (authors, editors, agents, publishers, readers) because of it and other than a better balance of blog-time and writing-time, I wouldn’t change a thing.
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I welcome items for critique for the online writing groups listed below:
Morgen’s Online Non-Fiction Writing Group
Morgen’s Online Novel Writing Group
Morgen’s Online Poetry Writing Group
Morgen’s Online Script Writing Group
Morgen’s Online Short Story Writing Group
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