books with Athena

books with Athena

Sunday, December 12, 2010

How to Blog Part III—14 Blogging Pitfalls New Bloggers Should Avoid

I’ve had such great responses to the first two posts in this series, I have to take a minute to welcome all the new blogfolk—and thank everybody who has commented and/or retweeted the links. I’m also very honored by the shout-outs I’ve had from media professionals like Gary Canie and Kaze and Ras at the 3:17 AM blog 

Mr. Canie says the blog is your #1 marketing tool. It’s the face you present to the world. Use it well. Make it a “hub” for your online presence, as Writers Digest editor Jane Friedman suggests. Here are some pitfalls you might want to avoid if you want to keep that hub professional and sustainable..

1) Starting to blog too soon. I don’t agree with the people who pressure every newbie writer to fritter away precious writing time on the Interwebz. Don’t get me wrong: in order to be a marketable writer, you DO need a blog or interactive website (one you can control yourself vs. paying a professional geek every time you want to update.) It’s how you establish your “brand.” But until you’ve been writing for a few years, you probably won’t have a clue what that’s going to be.

What if zombies invade the second draft of what started out as a cozy mystery? Or a Victorian romance veers into steampunk? What if Rosa Lee Hawkins decides to become dark, brooding R. L. Hawk? Now she’s stuck with that pink, lacy blog—plus the betrayal her romance-loving followers will feel.

You don’t need a marketing tool until you’ve got something to market. Don’t worry about a blog until you’ve finished your first novel and/or had a couple of stories published.

2) Trying to maintain too many blogs. One is plenty. Two if the other is a group blog. Anything more and you probably won’t be able to keep them up. If somebody visits your profile and randomly clicks on one of your five blogs and it hasn’t been updated since you posted that weepy eulogy for Heath Ledger—you just stamped “unprofessional” next to your name.

3) Not listing an email address on your profile. A blog is essentially an advertisement for you as a writer. Why advertise a product that’s not available? Unless you’re being actively pursued by a cyberstalker, there’s no reason not to offer contact information.

4) Making commenting difficult. Those word verification things are a barrier to commenters. I’ve never used them and never met a spambot. If you monitor your blog regularly, you can remove spam yourself (I think I’ve had three spammers in a year and a half of blogging.) And as for insisting on moderating all comments—especially if you don’t get around to them for days—that’s pretty much saying, “I don’t need no stinking comments.” Unless you’re currently battling major troll attacks, don’t do this.

5) Mundane, unfocused blogposts. “Today I went to the dentist, then picked up some groceries and cooked my husband’s favorite meatloaf,” will snoozify anybody who isn’t a member of your immediate family. Remember this isn’t a personal journal.

6) Whining. Resist posting rants about the unfairness of the publishing industry. Or how lame that famous writer’s work is compared to yours. It’s OK when you’ve had a big disappointment to ask for the emotional support of your friends, but don’t give specifics and never rail against the agent/editor(s) who spurned you. Remember the first thing an agent will do if she’s interested in your query is Google you. She probably just had lunch with that editor you called Mr. Poop-for-Brains.

7) Making the blog about one book and/or posting cute observations from your character’s point of view. Yes, I know some bloggers have managed to sustain this kind of tour de force for a while—but what happens when your editor has you change the character’s name? Or that series doesn’t sell and you move on to something else? You want a blog to establish your career—not lock you into a box.

8) Mommy, Mommy look at me! Make sure everything you post has a purpose beyond begging for praise. If you do post creative work, ask for criticism (although, as I said, writing forums are better for this) or use it as an example of how you worked out a knotty problem.

9) Blogging too often. Blog gurus tell you to post once a day or more, but their advice isn’t aimed at creative writers. We have other priorities. I suggest once a week, with an occasional mid-week post for important announcements (like when YOU SIGN WITH AN AGENT! Yay Sherrie Petersen!) Most blogs burn out after two years. But you want yours to be a platform to support you for the long haul. (And believe me, the road to publication is one loooonng-ass haul.)

I’m relieved when my favorite bloggers cut back to a few posts a week. That way I have some hope of keeping up.

10) Focusing on follower numbers. Go for quality not quantity. This is about making friends who (hopefully) will become loyal fans. If you treat people as a commodity, they’re not going to care about you, either.

11) Spamming other bloggers. Visiting random blogs and saying, “This is a swell blog. Come visit mine” is creepy. If there’s a discussion going on about prologues and you’ve just written a post about how Nathan Bransford says prologues are an annoying form of procrastination, by all means mention it. But it has to be relevant to the discussion.

12) Writing posts that are too long, dense, or address more than one topic. 79% of web users scan rather than read. Long posts are off-putting. Break them up with lists, bolding and lots of white space. If you want to write about several topics, use separate blogposts.

13) Letting blogging take over your life. You CAN’T read all the top publishing blogs and comment on all your friends’ blogs every day. Choose one or two days a week and let go of the guilt.

And as for your own blog, remember two words: SLOW BLOGGING. Here’s a link to the SLOW BLOG MANIFESTO See my post on the subject here. Feeling burned out? Going on vacation? Just post a notice that you’re taking a break. You can keep your blog alive without giving up your own life for it.

14) Apologizing for not blogging. I don’t read on if a post starts with, “So sorry I haven’t blogged since September, but my mom came to visit and we had the kitchen remodeled and the dog ate my mouse….” I'm not your third grade teacher. I don't care. Next time you miss a few posts, tell yourself you didn’t FAIL to blog; you SUCCEEDED in joining the Slow Bloggers.


A writer’s blog should exist in service to your creative work, not the other way around. To quote the late, great Miss Snark: “Your job is to write. Blogging is not writing…There's a lot to be said for sitting down with your ownself and writing. Nothing, literally NOTHING replaces that.”

39 comments:

  1. I did apologize that I didn't visit as many of my fellow bloggers as usual during NaNo last month, but other than that, think I'm good on everything else!

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  2. Excellent points all around! I'm especially fond of #1 since I think so many new authors get caught up in the idea that they MUST BLOG EARLY. I'm very glad I waited until just a few weeks before my book deal came through. If I'd started earlier, everyone would have been dragged through all the whiny, dreary crap I went through along the way (which is a lousy way for a comedy author to brand herself!)

    Tawna

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  3. By the way, I just got a word verification notice with my comment (which you mention not doing in #4). The only reason I bring it up is that Blogger did the same damn thing to me, switching on the word verification at some point without my knowledge. I only discovered it when one of my commenters mentioned it.

    Tawna

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  4. OK Alex, you're allowed a NaNo apology. Actually, WriMos should probably issue a blanket apology to everybody they know on Dec. 1, in any case, since they're bound to have offended somebody.

    Tawna, thanks so much. You have one of the best author blogs around, so I'm really honored! I actually was going to cite you on this point, but the post was getting too long. Anybody who wants to learn how to use a blog to promote books AND entertain, go read Tawna's.

    And Yikes! Thanks for telling me about the word verification. Now I have to figure out how to turn it off.

    Elle--thanks. And thanks for following.

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  5. This post made me do some serious thinking about my blog, especially your point about having a one book themed blog. That would be me. Thinking...thinking.

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  6. Gretchen, I just checked your blog (very nice look) and see it's for a nonfiction project with a lot of local interest. In your case the separate blog is a good idea. The subject alone (local history) will bring a lot of readers. If/when you start on a different book, you can add a page if it's a similar nonfic book or a fiction project using the same setting. I'm usually addressing novelists and forget the rules are often different for nonfiction.

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  7. Anne, Great points, again. I especially love no. 14, "I'm not your third grade teacher." :)

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  8. Loving this series . . and such good timing for me with a 3.5 week old blog! I felt pressured to write 2 posts a week. (or more!) But you've liberated me!! There's NO question that in the last few weeks since I hopped on the blog train, I've neglected my WIP and short stories. I'm going to stick to once a week for now on. I don't see how I'll continue with the fiction otherwise. Thanks for another great post!

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  9. GREAT points, all. I also have reduced my posts to once a week, with special posts on Mondays and Fridays (and I list that I do, on my blog). Otherwise, I don't get any writing done! I'd prefer to write one more thought-out post a week than 5 frittery, insubstantial ones. We're all writers and busy people.

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  10. Thanks Cristi, Nina and Carol--I'm glad to recruit some more SLOW BLOGGERS and bring a little sanity to the blogosphere.

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  11. I have dropped a couple blogs recently for too many negative remarks about agents, and them sounding too much like the "look at me" type. Be proud of yourself when you publish, and tell your process, but please, at some point remember the rest of us are still plugging away at our own pace and style and don't need the slap in the face for not getting there yet. (ok, end rant)

    My posts do go a little long at times - especially my shout outs - but it is ONE topic, and I only post a couple times a week.

    I have to totally agree about the followers obsession. I've seen peoples blogs with 400-600 followers, and only 10 or 12 comments - if that many. Thats scarey to me, cuz that means people only join for special posts - like blogfests or contests - and when the event is over, they never come back.

    Excellent post Anne. I appreciate the time and effort you are putting into this series.

    .........dhole

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  12. Anne, this is yet another post that is good for all bloggers to read.

    Love the part about whinning :)

    I'd better find out about how difficult of not it is to leave comments. Good point.

    Thanks once again :)

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  13. Thanks Anne, you're a font of knowledge.

    I'll tell you my secret. I used to blog 5 days a week. Then I went down to 3. I get more comments now, I get more discussions now. I feel like I'm back to the good old days when I only had less than 50 followers and we were friends instead of cyber stalkers.

    I'd like to slow blog, but I feel I have to communicate a few times a week. I need the interaction (I don't get any in the real world.)

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  14. I just discovered your blog. It's great! I will check back often.

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  15. These are really great tips. I just started blogging again (I was blogging while in an MFA program and then decided recently to revamp it). I'm in the middle of writing my first book, so I guess I've failed in terms of blogging too early. However, I have been writing for a couple of years now and know my focus (Contemporary YA). I love the idea of slow blogging. Right now I'm blogging three times a week but I might shorten it to two if it becomes too distracting.

    Thanks for all of your helpful advice!

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  16. Donna and Anne--you both have great blogs and I'm not suggesting you change them unless you're feeling burned out.

    Anne--I have noticed more interesting discussions happening on yours since you cut back on frequency of posts.

    And all readers--if your blogging is a necessary part of your social life and not an obligation that's burning you out, then blog away!

    Florence--it's good to check. Until Tawna pointed it out, I didn't know Blogger had reset my "word verification" setting.

    Jenny--welcome!

    Ghenet--I think if you're certain of your genre--and my goodness, you have an MFA!--you know yourself as a writer pretty well.

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  17. Another excellent post. I've been guilty of a number of these - mainly #2 and word verification (which I'm removing now :) )

    Well done on the shout outs

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  18. One more to add here-- and this is something several writing bloggers have seen a nasty rash of recently -- Do NOT, under ANY CIRCUMSTANCES WHATSOEVER, use your followers (Google or otherwise) as a mailing list and email them with announcements related to your blog, or your writing, or anything else. It is illegal, and will lose you followers and respect faster than you can click anything.

    This has happened to several people I know recently, including myself. It is not okay to do this. Does not matter if it's an email strictly related to your blog. Do not do this.

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  19. Thanks Emily. Here I'd been preaching against word verification and didn't know I had it on my own blog!

    Sierra--MAJOR POINT! Subheading under #11: DON'T SPAM OTHER BLOGGERS via email either. Even worse than spamming the blog. Don't send mass emails to addresses you've gleaned from your follower list. (Sounds like a lot of work, anyway.) I think people may think this is OK because some internet marketers push the idea. But it feels invasive and and in the writing community it's a big NO NO.

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  20. I agree with you. Especially #13. I've been putting so much pressure on myself to post every day and then deal with the guilt of not catching up with everyone's blog and commenting. But, I just can't do it. So, I'm doing what I can and trying to focus on writing.

    CD

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  21. Clarissa--It's hard to fight that pressure. So many people say you MUST blog every day. And keep up with Twitter, Linkedin, Goodreads, RedRoom, etc, various forums and of course the privacy-invading gremlins at Facebook.

    Plus you must write brilliant novels and of course, keep your day job and be the perfect parent/significant other.

    But note that none of the people who are pressuring you to do all this stuff actually do it themselves. They usually have one blog from which they pontificate. Ignore them. Good writing is the only part that really counts. Oh, yeah and the family/day job thing. Enjoy the holidays!

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  22. I'm relieved to know that "slow blogging" is acceptable. Albeit, my main focus is fashion, I like to write about it creatively, which means I really don't focus on "what's new". I was feeling a little down about it, but now i'm reassured that it's perfectly fine to post at a slower pace. I agree with the point on Spamming other bloggers, it is creepy...makes me think you didn't read a word I wrote! Great tips!

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  23. Hmm I am a blogging and I will admit my first blog was wholly childish and I took it down because frankly I am an adult now and that was just embarrassing to say the least, but I don't blog about my writing. I blog about Politics and the like. But I'm not even sure how to start a blog about my creative writing or what I should put on it. Advice about that would be great.

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  24. Great post, Anne. Loved all the tips and the advice. Thanks for alerting me to few mistakes (which I am sure I have made) in my blog. I try to stick to writing and everything related to publishing.

    I loved the advice to go slow. Currently I blog twice a week. But I love the idea of once a week.

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  25. Thank you for this information. It makes me feel better knowing that I don't have to post as much and not have a wordy post on top of that.

    I have done my best in making it as user "eye" friendly as possible with pics and a great design. I believe my content is helpful and I get a lot of visitors but not a lot of comments.

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  26. Well, this gives me hope! Victoria Heckman

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  27. Eclechick--what an elegant blog! Like a magazine. Very sleek.

    DrtySouthDiva--Thanks for the suggestion on another blogging topic!

    Rachna--you have a fascinating blog. I'm sure it will still work with either once or twice a week posts.

    Serenity--It's very true that the number of comments is not an indication of how many readers you're getting. Some super-popular bloggers like Victoria Strauss get only a handful of comments. And I've discovered that my post popular posts (according to Google Stats) often have the fewest comments. Go figure.

    Victoria--You do a lot already: teaching full time, publishing two successful mystery series, not to mention giving the Christmas party of the year. If you start blogging, take it slow.

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  28. all really really great points. I especially like the 'slow blogging' one. That's pretty much the point I'm at now and it is important to let go of the guilt.

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  29. Creepy--yeah, letting go of the guilt is so hard isn't it? Don't know why. What has guilt ever done for me?

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  30. Another fab post! I've been wrestling with the comment guilt and a few other points as well, so this is timely. The length of post is also interesting - most days I write around 500 words, crafted to make sense, and get a reasonable number of comments. Today I posted about 100 words and a picture of my tomatoes and everyone has an opinion! You can't win...

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  31. More great points Anne. It always surprises me how often people leave the CAPTCHA tests switched on for commentors. I've lost track of the number of times I think I've commented somewhere, shut the page down and later found my comment has vanished, because the page came back with a "now type in these character" challenge.

    Anyway, enough blogging, back to the writing ...

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  32. Pink Fibro--what posts will get comments is always a crap shoot. Sometimes I ask questions and nobody answers at all. Other times, when I don't expect many comments, dozens of people have something to say.

    Simon--I've just found out that Blogger turns those word verification tests on at will, so you have to ask friends to tell you if it's been turned back on. Blogger isn't as bad as Facebook in changing your settings without notice--and I don't know if other platforms do it--but there's a whole lot of Big Brothering going on.

    Yeah--go write. That's what I'm going to do today.

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  33. Some excellent points! I think I'm going to try to turn off the Blogger word verification test!

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  34. Ash--It's pretty easy to find the box to uncheck. But check back periodically to make sure the Blogger elves haven't decided to turn it back on!

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  35. Great post. I love #13 and I'm trying to let go of the guilt.

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  36. Anne, number 13 jumped out at me because I see so many bloggers in my genre (food) who post every day or nearly every day and who are on Twitter and Facebook and who knows what all! Plus they have a full-time job. I want to know when they sleep, when they interact with their family and friends. I post just once a week and am only on Twitter and don't send tweets as often as many do. So I enjoyed reading the Slow Blog Manifesto. I like to live life in general(not just the blogging and writing part) at a slower pace--maybe I should write the Slow Life Manifesto!

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  37. Yep, these were my mistakes when I blogged a few years back. Not making them this time...hopefully.

    Fantastic, Anne; thanks so much for your purpose, honesty, and guidance. You're great!

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  38. Wow! This is a freeing blogpost. I started blogging at Family Archaeologist last November to share my discoveries in family diaries and letters that dated back to 100 years to the date I made my first post. I was posting at least twice a week -- and it WAS taking over my life. A month ago I decided I couldn't do more than once a week and have stuck to it - same day every week, and the pressure is SO reduced. I was feeling that I should be doing more -- and you've made me realize -- this is fine! I can actually get ahead and keep it up. I'm going to take out the word verification thing too. With everything else -- I'm pretty well with you on all your points! Thanks for the validation -- and good suggestions!

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