books with Athena

books with Athena

Sunday, November 28, 2010

How to Start a Blog: The Basics for Non-Geeks.

A lot of my readers are already bloggers. You guys can skip this—although if you have anything to add, I’d sure appreciate it. My post this week is mostly for the lurkers (love my lurkers!) who know you’ll probably need a blog eventually, but feel intimidated by the whole process.

Lots of sites give tips on how to make your blog successful (Nathan Bransford had a great list of Seven Tips on How to Build a Following Online last week) but it’s hard to find the A-B-C basics for set-up. I had to learn by trial and error myself, making a lot of mistakes along the way. So here’s the stuff I wish somebody had told me.

Before you start, you’ll want to: 

  1. Decide on a focus for your blog. Successful blogs address a niche. Yes, writing is a niche, but the more you narrow your focus by genre and subject matter, the more you’ll stand out.
  1. Think of a memorable name. You might use something that suggests your genre, like “Riding, Roping and Writing,” or pinpoints your setting, like “Hoboken Horrors,” or accentuates your protagonist’s hobby, like “Macrame is Murder.” Or you can be unimaginative like me and call it YOUR NAME’s blog—maybe reducing the ho-hum factor with something like “Susie Smith, Scrivener.” The advantage to using your own name is—
    1. When somebody Googles you, your blog will come up, instead of that old MySpace page you haven’t bothered to delete and the rave Amazon review you gave to your ex-boyfriend's awful PublishAmerica book in 2006.
    2. You don’t get boxed into one genre. (I strongly advise against starting different blogs for different books. One is time-consuming enough.)
  1. Decide what tone you want to set. 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. Romance sites don’t have to be pink, but they should be warm, inviting and a little sexy or girly. Also, if you have a website or Twitter page, aim to echo the tone and color in order to establish a personal “brand” look.
  1. Choose a couple of photos from your files to decorate the blog. Usually one of yourself for your profile, and another to set the tone. And of course your book cover if you have one for sale. Try to keep with the same color scheme and tone.
Now you’re ready to start:

  1. Go to a friend’s blog. If they use Blogger or Wordpress, there will be a link at the top that says “create blog.” I suggest using one of these platforms because they’re easy to connect with other blogs. Blogger previews every blog you follow on your “Dashboard” so you can keep up with new posts from friends. Also if you’ve already got a Google account, you’re half-way through Blogger’s hoop-jumping. Cyber-savvy folks will give lots of reasons why other platforms are better, but, as I said, this is for non-geeks.
  1. Click on “create blog.” Follow directions. They’re easy.
  1. 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 or anything that takes too long to load.
  1. Pick your “gadgets.” There are lots to choose from. But again, keep it simple. I suggest just choosing the basics like “about me”, followers, subscribe, and search. You can go back and add anything you want later. Just go to your “design” tab to find more.
  1. Set up privacy settings. I suggest making no restrictions on new posts. Word verifications are annoying and keep people from commenting. They’re great for screening out spambots, but I’ve yet to meet a spambot in my year and a half of blogging without word verification. But DO have every comment over a week old sent to you for approval. (Old posts attract more spam.)
  1. Sign up for email notification of new comments so you can respond to them in a timely way. (Thanks to Emily Cross and Michelle Davidson Argyle for cluing me in on this!)
  1. Upload those photos. But not too many. And NO MUSIC. People read blogs at work. And on their phones. Even though you’re sure everybody on the planet adores the classics of the Abba catalogue, some of us don’t. Trust me on this.
It’s that easy. But don’t forget to:

  1. BOOKMARK your blog, or you may never find it again. You’d be amazed how many people set up a blog only to have it disappear forever into cyberspace. 
  1. 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..
  1. Write your first blogpost. A post should be 300-600 words (do as I say, not as I do) presented in short, punchy paragraphs. Bulleting, numbering and bolding are your friends. Make a point and present it in a way that’s easy to grasp. As to content, offer information and interesting observations, not navel-gazing. If you have more to say than fits into a few paragraphs—great! You have material for next time.
  1. Go comment on other people’s blogs. That’s how you get people to visit yours. 
Congratulations! You are now a blogger.

More on blog etiquette in a future post.


  1. This is great, Anne! And I could've used it 2 weeks ago before I started my blog. I named it "A Mom in the Middle" but it's not exactly a mom blog. . . although there will be some of that, too.(I think I'm still experimenting with niche.) I'm thinking of copying you and changing it to Nina Badzin's Blog. The domain is already BUT, I like that "A Mom in the MIddle" starts with "A". What's your 2 cents?

  2. This is helpful even for people who have a blog and still aren't quite sure how to use it. Thanks so much for posting this!

  3. Nina, since your blog may veer off the subject of parenting, you might want to change the name, especially since you already have the domain name. "A Mom in the Middle" could be your sub-heading. I've spent my life at the head of the alphabet, and I've never seen a big benefit to being an "A", but maybe I'd feel differently if my name were Zelda Zimmerman. But what's more important with a blog name is a keyword.

    Jessica--I'm so glad you find it helpful. I think it's silly that Blogger and Wordpress don't provide a little more help for newbies. I stumbled around in the dark for so long!

  4. Good post! That last bit of advice may be the most overlooked... I remember when I first started blogging back in May, I didn't read pointers like these until after the fact...

    Great minds really do think alike because I wrote a "similar" post today. :]

  5. LOL Amanda! Your post is funnier than mine. Check out Amanda's "how (not) to blog" post at All That Good Jazz.

  6. Anne, I took your advice. And I feel SO liberated. I came up with that first name to stay at the top of the alphabet. But this one feels more ME. Literally. I think the tagline gives me some wiggle room for now. Let me know what you think. AND THANKS FOR YOUR ADVICE EARLIER TONIGHT! HELPED A TON.

  7. Thanks for a great post :)

    I am lucky to have as cyber-brat in my daughter. She helped me get set ... "Maaaaa, why do you want a blog, anyway?"

    So in one year and two months I have learned much of what you talked about. I've met great people and visit many interesting blogs.

    This is good information for anyone starting, or for people who've been writing for a while and need a professional plateform.

  8. So glad I found your blog! Just subscribed/joined. Keep the good info coming :)

  9. Great post. In case you write a blog that's controversial (or covers a topic that causes people to lose their marbles and start foaming at the mouth (which is what I run into on my blog when I write about the Hideous Los Osos Sewer Wars--local readers will know the topic well)Google's Blogger, so far as I know, doesn't have any way to identify and permanently block "certain cranks" and so keep them away from your comment section, short of blocking all comments or having to visit your blog many times a day to delete each awful, stupid comment from the Crazies, or having to read through every single comment before posting & etc. (which in the case of the Sewer Crazies would result in wrist-slitting time on my part. Sigh.) So, be warned if you stir up certain trolls . . . Hopefully, a writer's blog won't attract such loonies. And if it doesn't, then the idea of an "open" comment section is good since having to go get a (even free) account & etc. does stop a lot of folks from participating.

  10. Thanks for posting Anne! I have been thinking of starting a blog. This gives me a good jumping off point!

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  12. I guess I spoke too soon. I just had to delete my first spam. But I don't think it was from a spambot, so word verification probably wouldn't have helped.

    Nina--love the new blog look! Glad I could help.

    Florence--You're very lucky in having a cyber-brat. I thought of qualifying my header with "non-geeks w/o teenaged children" but it took too much space.


    Anon, too. You'll be able to use your own name once you set up the blog.

    Churadogs--Yeah--you've got a whole lot more going on over on your blog than most bloggers have to deal with. I think that's partly because it was a newspaper column first, and partly because you're in Los Osos, where people can't agree on #$&!

  13. Good, well-organized advice and ideas.
    Like #13 -- my favorite part of blogging is the Regular, Consistent Practice.

  14. Awesome. You know how well I follow directions :)


  15. Wonderful post, Anne! Its full of useful advice. Wish I had come across this post before I had started blogging. But my poor mentor Lia Keyes, founder of Scribblerati, gave me all this advice via facebook chat for over two months before I plunged into the world of blogging. Thanks for sharing this.

  16. Thanks for the advice! I love the look and content of your blog.
    Donna V.

  17. Carson, Donna, Rachna, Irishoma--thanks! I wish somebody had explained this to me a year and a half ago. I was such a blogmoron!

    Rachna, Scribblerati looks interesting!

  18. Great tips... very helpful! I know when I first started, I completely disregarded #15... I thought people would just magically appear ;)

  19. What a coincidence, I spent yesterday simplifying my busy-looking blog. This is great advice.

  20. Anne, it would be lovely if you join Scribblerati. We all look forward to seeing you there.

  21. Good post: intuitive and user friendly. I think it's coming up with a memorable name part that's the most difficult. I've been a part of starting up three blogs over the years, and none of the names came easily.

  22. WritingNut--that's the one nobody ever tells you, isn't it?

    Elaine--love the new look!

    Rachna--the holidays are eating my time. But I'll check it soon.

    K.M.--"Wordplay" is a great name. Sounds effortless. But I know that sometimes effortless is what takes the most work.

  23. Great tips, Anne! I wish I'd known more when I opened my blog. Would've made a few changes. *sighs*

  24. Thanks for posting this.It may actually get me off my butt to do something about my own blog.You make zingy seem easy.


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