Wednesday, July 25, 2012

5 Ways to be Better at Blogging

by Stephanie Morrill


Should all writers blog? Well, like they tell you in school, if a question contains a word like "always, never, all, or none," the answer is  likely, "No."

A writer emailed me requesting that I write a post on building a blog following. Which I took as a compliment, because it means I must look like I know what I'm doing...

I'm not convinced that I do, but I've been blogging for a few years now  - both successfully and unsuccessfully - so I'll share what I've learned.

The first blog I ever had was my author blog. I started it a couple months before Me, Just Different released, and the motivations were two-fold:

1. I wanted my publisher to see that I was doing something to promote my book.
2. I had been told that I should have one.

I was smart enough to know I needed to be consistent about posting, so I forced myself to blog 5 days a week every week. I was also smart enough to know that I needed a focus of some sorts ... but I could never come up with anything. So I talked about myself a lot - trips to Costco, diapers, etc. - and as a result, I had some extremely faithful readers: my mom, my husband, my mother-in-law, and my friends Roseanna and Kelli.

I knew that my blog was failing, but I didn't know what to do about it.

After about 8 months of struggling with my author blog, the idea for Go Teen Writers popped into my head. I decided to blog two days a week on Go Teen Writers and keep up my 5 days a week on my author blog. (A choice motivated more by pride than anything else.)

Go Teen Writers grew at a frustratingly slow pace. After about 6 months, it had 17 "followers" and Roseanna and Emii Krii were the only two who ever commented. After a year there were 40, and I was starting to recognize a few more names, like Rachelle, Tonya, and Jazmine.  I felt not only frustrated but drained. I was writing 7 blog posts every week, yet I couldn't seem to gain momentum.

If you blog simply for the joy of blogging then it's fine to blog about whatever you want, whenever you feel like it. But if you're wanting your blog to build your exposure, to grow your readership, here are some things I've learned in the last 4 years:

Blogs work when they serve others


Think about the blogs you read. Why did you start reading them? Why have you kept reading them? The two I'm most fond of are Pioneer Woman Cooks and the MacGregor Literary blog. (Which I read faithfully long before I became a client.)

I started reading Pioneer Woman because I love to cook and she has great recipes. So I went there to find great recipes.

I started reading MacGregor Literary's blog because Chip MacGregor shares good stuff about the publishing industry in an honest, funny way.

Those blogs served a need of mine ... and they've continued to serve with fresh, great content, which is why I keep going back. Consider what need your blog serves (or could serve) and why a stranger would start reading it.

You need a focus and a target audience

We've talked about this some as it relates to books, so I won't spend a ton of time here. It's easy to trick yourself into thinking the focus and target audience don't matter so much for a blog ... but they really do.

It's the reason why I don't talk to y'all about the new schedule I've whipped up for keeping my house clean. I'm very excited about the schedule, and I think it's really going to make a difference around our house ... but Go Teen Writers is a place for teen writer related topics. Wouldn't you have some serious, "Uh, what's going on...?" sensations if you showed up here tomorrow, and I had listed what days I scrub my toilets and how a cleaning schedule can improve your life as a stay at home parent?

Your focus and your target audience are a big part of your blog's uniqueness. While you could argue that I've cut a lot of potential readership by focusing on teen writers instead of writers in general, our focus is what makes the blog stand out.

Pick a schedule that's manageable

I said earlier that with my author blog, I felt like it had to be 5 days a week. With a 6 month old baby in the house and book deadlines to meet, that was rather aggressive. If I were doing it again, I probably would have started at 3 days a week. You want to pick something you can be consistent about ... but there is some kind of sweet spot with blogging so many times a week. Too many posts overwhelms readers and too few makes you forgettable. 

Give without expecting a return

You can't have an agenda of selling something - services, books, memberships, etc. - when you're blogging. It just doesn't work. You have to care more about your readers - much, much more - than you do about their dollars.

This is kind of a weird thing for me to try to explain, but I'll do my best. When I'm writing book proposals, Go Teen Writers is always in my marketing section. It gets counted as part of my platform. And I'm thankful for that, because it's nice to be able to put something in that section, as opposed to when I was first writing and my "platform" was based on the variety of writers organizations I pay to be a part of.

But even though Go Teen Writers gets listed in the marketing section, I don't approach the blog with, "How can I market myself here today? How can I make people want to buy my books?" It's nice, of course, when people like the blog and because of it buy my books, but that's not a motivation of mine when I'm creating content or interacting on the Facebook group. Does that make sense at all...?


If something isn't working - cut your losses and move on


When Go Teen Writers started to grow, I made the very difficult decision about ending my author blog. You would think it'd be an easy choice, seeing as Roseanna was basically the only one who left me comments, and coming up with posts 3 days a week was torture, but it was very hard on my pride to say, "This isn't working. And I'm going to admit that it's not working."

If you haven't already, install Google Analytics - it's free - and monitor your traffic. What posts do well? Which don't? I know well (too well) that the numbers can be depressing, but eventually I decided that it was better to know than to waste my energy pouring into something nobody read.

A great additional resource on blogging is from the MacGregor Literary blog. Awhile back, literary agent Amanda Luedeke posted about 7 Ways to Grow Your Blog's Readership and Blogging as a Fiction Author. I encourage you to read those as well for thoughts on how to title posts and format and all that other good stuff.

Anybody have questions I can attempt to answer? If you blog, what's something that's worked for you?

29 comments:

  1. I've been thinking about this more since you posted the article about why unpublished writers should have a website. It's still a confusing thing for me,
    My main question/hesitancy is that I only have so much writing time and should I be putting that time into writing and editing my books or promoting myself & building a readers, ya know? Like will I get attention from publishers and agents if I already have a following and then book or does a good book still reign?

    I do have a blog, it's nothing special. I review book because I like free books and the ability to talk to authors. When someone makes a comment about it being bland I have to remember why I started a blog. To read books and talk to authors.

    Other than that I don't know what to blog about, my life is very boring and I don't know what I'm doing, maybe that can be my tagline "I don't know what I'm doing!"

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    1. Tonya, sadly the balance of when to write and when to market will probably never go away.

      There are a couple ways you can approach it. (Have I done a time management post on here yet...?) With the stage you're in now, I would recommend spending 10% of your time studying the business/making connections, like I know you already do. Maybe another 15% studying writing (either through craft books, educational blog posts, and reading a variety of fiction) and 75% writing.

      For nonfiction, platform is key to getting published. With fiction, it's very, very helpful, but a good book can still win them over.

      Is that helpful at all?

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    2. Helpful, thank you! I want to establish some sort of routine/system before I get too far into writing and pursuing publication so I don't become frazzled when it does happen.

      I've been reading more of Amanda's posts. Im starting to really like her :) she has some good stuff to say!

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  2. I can't figure out how to use Google analytics for my blog... how do you install it? I tried the plugin but nothing showed up on my dashboard (I have WordPress) and I'm confused... If you don't know it's not a big deal :)

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    1. Margaret, hmm. I don't know about Wordpress. I'm sure you could find the answer here: http://support.google.com/analytics/?hl=en

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  3. Great post, Stephanie...I read Amanda Luedeke's post, too, and really enjoyed that one as well.

    Lots to think about now!

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    1. Amanda is wise... So glad you enjoyed it, Olivia!

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  4. I have a blog, although it's not much. I don't really care if it flourishes or not, it's more personal than exposure-based. I'd be a book blogger, but I'm not very good at that sort of thing. The reason why I started a blog was more self-motivation; like, it was for me, as opposed to for others. The first, started out for me but turned to be for others, so I quit that. Although I'd be happy if I had fans, mine is mostly just a way of expressing myself so my family doesn't have to keep hearing my frequent revelations and excitements about writing (of which I'm sure my sister's secretly very tired by now).

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    1. Lol, Katia. I have a cousin who blogs mostly as a way of keeping in touch with everyone. Nothing wrong with that!

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  5. Thanks for the post Stephanie! I'm getting ready to switch over from my personal blog to a dedicated YA blog this fall (new format, name, graphics, etc.), and your post helped me sharpen those ideas even more :)

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  6. Thanks, though I don't blog too much I vlog through my YouTube channel and the same sort of concept applies :)

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  7. My sister and I are both bloggers -- and book-writers. We upkeep the same blog and we love it! We blog about writing and reading and books. But we DO post everyday. Do you think that's too much? There's 2 of us...but will we drown our readers?

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    1. Nope, I think you're good, Cait. Your blog is super cute by the way. Makes me want a sister :) And to eat a peanut butter chocolate milkshake...

      http://notebooksisters.blogspot.com/2012/07/a-chocolate-and-peanut-butter-milkshake.html

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    2. Your blog looks awesome! I'm following. :)

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    3. Oh thanks! That's really encouraging! :)

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  8. I really loved this post. :) I've been trying to come up with ways to be a better blogger, and am also considering starting a new one as well. This couldn't have come at a better time.

    I don't think it was in this post, but once didn't you say something about once you started thinking of GTW as a a ministry and praying about your blog, it grew much faster than before? That's what I'm trying to do with my blog(not pray just so I can gain readers though!) but place my blog in God's hands and ask what He wants me to do with it. :)

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    1. Clarebear, I have said that - just not ON the blog, I don't think :) I think I said that on a Novel Rocket interview.

      In late 2010, when it seemed like the blog SHOULD be growing but wasn't, I started praying about whether or not I should keep going. Within a week I had the idea to start doing contests and also to do the step-by-step writing a novel series. Both of which were a big draw, as it turned out. Since then I've prayed regularly for the current readers of GTW as well as future ones.

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  9. Yeah, I feel like I'm not taking my blog seriously.... I only post when I feel inspired. :P Followers probably hate me for it. :P But yeah, I like the blog and feel like, while it isn't growing, it isn't loosing people either.... So that's good? :/

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    1. Allison, it's all about how much you want to invest in it. It may not be time yet for you to get serious about blogging, and that's okay :)

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    2. That's good to know. :) Because I do like my blog, I'm just not serious about it, like you said. :)

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  10. Hi Stephanie,
    I am a new follower. I just found your blog today, but I must admit I am completely amazed with the information you have laid out here. It's helpful, interesting and informative. I have thoroughly enjoy everything I have read, so far.

    Blogging can be a hard thing. It's hard work, that's for sure, and when things get slow, it can be disheartening.

    Thanks for sharing your story and "adventure" of blogging.

    PS. I haven't been a teen for long time, but I think I'll enjoy your blog...anyway.

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    1. So glad you found us! There's a decent number of us who haven't been teens for a while, so you'll fit right in!

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  11. This is a great post! I just started two blogs (two totally different subjects) and have started realizing the best way to get people to come to them is to offer returns whether they're pictures or how-tos!

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  12. Great tips! I have found that my beauty/lifestyle/faith blog does much better when I post frequently. I used to get upset when I thought no one cared what I wrote. Now if I go a week without posting, I have all these messages telling me to come back! (:

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  13. Very helpful post; thanks, Stephanie! I'm definitely noting some of these ideas for future reference. For me, my worst enemy is trying to keep up with other people's blogs, but I'll redouble my efforts in that category :) . Plus, it's too hard for me to try to post every day. Do you think posting once a week but being extremely consistent is okay?

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  14. Of course you know what you're doing...that's obvious. It's the reason we're all here. :)

    I love that you never actually said "be patient" but that's part of your advice from the get-go because you learned all that you did over time. Thanks so much for sharing your story, Stephanie. Very helpful post.

    I really understood what you said about offering readers something. My followers started multiplying once I started hosting giveaways. :) Go Teen Writers is one of the three blogs that I follow (as in read-every-single-post-follow) regularly, besides friends' blogs, and it's because I find such great writerly advice here and enjoy the contests so much.

    By the way, thanks for that shout-out! Honored to be one of the first 40 or so. :D

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  15. I found this article helpful, as I just recently started my first blog in order to build a following and gain experience as a fiction writer. I was wondering what suggestions you'd have for marketing. I chose my topic (homeschooling, from the student's perspective) and my target audience (conventionally-schooled kids and parents considering homeschooling) because I thought it would fill a need and be interesting to people, but I'm still not sure how best to tell people about it. Thanks for all the advice!

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