books with Athena

books with Athena

Sunday, March 20, 2011

7 Dos and 7 Don’ts for New Bloggers

Nathan Bransford has spoken. He says it’s never too early for writers to start using social media. Perhaps one day we’ll all be issued Twitter accounts in the womb.

Since Nathan is a Thought Leader in our industry (according to Klout) I have a feeling a lot of writers are scrambling around this weekend, trying to set up blogs.

If you’re a non-geek who doesn’t have a clue where to begin, I wrote a post last December on How to Start a Blog that people have found useful..

Here are some further dos and don’ts for creative writers who are thinking of plunging into the blogosphere.

DO’S

1) DO read a bunch of other writers’ blogs before you start. Decide what you like and don’t like. There is no one right kind of blog. What appeals to 20-something fantasy readers may turn off 30-something romance readers or 60-something mystery readers. That’s as it should be. You want to attract readers with similar interests to yours.

2) DO comment on other blogs. If you don’t have much blog experience, I recommend spending a few weeks commenting before you start your own. Nathan wrote a great guide to blog comments that will help if you're nervous about joining in. If you get your name known as a commenter first, you’ll have potential blog friends. And maybe you can avoid that awkward phase when you only have three blank-faced followers, one of whom is your mom. (But never beg for followers. Pathetic is not an image you want to foster.)

3) DO remember blogging is about making friends. As Nathan has “trademarked, patented, and paid to have etched into the moon…SOCIAL MEDIA IS SOCIAL.” Offer interesting content that gives something of value to the kind of people you’d like to get to know. Visit people who do the same.  

4) DO put your name in the title. Yes, I know 90% of writerly blogs have cute titles that don’t contain proper names. But think about it: if I enjoy your blog and want to revisit, I probably won’t remember if yours is the one called “Musings and Murmurings” or the one called “Mumblings and Mutterings.” I’m going to remember your name (hopefully) and maybe your subject matter (“Mysterious Minneapolis.”)

But your name is best. That’s what you want people (and Google) to notice. Social media guru Kristin Lamb even recommends changing your title if it’s impersonal. She changed her own blog moniker from “Warrior Writers” to “Kristin Lamb’s Blog.” and says it’s easy. You don’t have to change the address, just the header.

5) DO think of blogging as journalism. A blog is like a newspaper column: more personal than straightforward reporting, but not as confessional as memoir. Posts should be short (300-1000 words) and informative.

6) DO blog on a regular schedule. You don’t have to blog every day, or even every week. But you do need to let people know when to expect a new post from you and follow through. Keep some saved posts in the draft folder for times when something comes up.

7) DO use SEO tags. Yes, my eyes glaze over too when people talk about S(earch) E(ngine) O(ptimization). This is what you need to know: Google reads tags. Those are the little categories you put at the bottom of the post. So if you’re writing about your zombie fiction set in Minneapolis, tag your blog with “zombies, Minneapolis, Minnesota horror stories, and Your Name.” When somebody Googles any of those things, your blog will come up.

DON’TS

1) DON’T use your blog as a personal journal.
  • Or a notebook for your work in progress.
  • Or a message board to beg for critiques or praise.
  • Or a stage to pound your chest and say “look at me!!”
I repeat: you’re looking for friends. Not psychotherapists. Not critics. Not minions.

2) DON’T post unpublished fiction or poetry—unless you never intend to publish it elsewhere. Even if you get loyal followers to read your WIP, you’re jeopardizing your future career. Putting something on a blog is publishing. You’ll never be able to sell first rights to a story or poem, and there will be copyright issues with a chapter of a book you plan to sell later.

EXCEPTION: blogfests and contests. Usually these require only a snippet of a scene and they’re fun and allow writers a taste of each others’ creative work.

3) DON’T start with a barrage of posts. Slow and steady really does win the race. Don’t succumb to the pressure from the professional blog gurus. You’re not trying to be The Daily Beast. If you post every day, it’s hard to cut back. But if you only post every two weeks, that’s what people will expect. You can post more later. It’s easier to give than take away.

4) DON’T be unprofessional. Remember publishing is a business—not that different from manufacturing widgets (alas!) So don’t put anything on the blog you wouldn’t want your future boss publisher to read.  

5) DON’T box yourself into a too-small niche.  If you’re starting a blog long before your book comes out, or even before you’ve written one, as Nathan suggests, you won’t have a clue where your career might take you. But you do know who YOU are. That’s what your blog should be about. Love horror movies? Classic mysteries? Pizza with anchovies? Write about it. You’ll draw like-minded people. When you write your mashup of The Mysterious Affair at Styles with anchovy-loving zombies, you’ll have a ready-made audience.

6) DON’T act like a rock star from Mars. Nothing is sillier than an unpublished writer pontificating about an unfinished, unpublished book to non-existent fans. Or blabbering about stuff she knows nothing about to an audience of nobody.

7) DON’T Monetize. Or take advice from blog gurus who do. They’re not talking to you. They’re talking to people who want to blog for a living (a precarious effort these days.) I’ve said this before, but I’m going to repeat it because you’ll read conflicting advice. Maybe later, after you have a following, your peeps will love you enough to tolerate a few discreet ads, but right now you won’t make enough money per month to buy a Venti at Starbucks, and you’ll label yourself a cyber-hooker. Save your purity for your future true love—your own books.

If you want in-depth information on blogging and all things social media, I recommend Kristin Lamb’s book We Are Not Alone—The Writer’s Guide to Social Media.

Anybody out there about to start a blog? Any questions? Fellow bloggers—what advice would you give them?


69 comments:

  1. Really good points to consider, thanks!

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  2. Hi Anne
    I found that check list comprehensive and useful, I wondered about monitizing ;) It didn't feel right so I didn't do it. Thanks for clarifying that point. :D

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  3. A great list Anne. I agree with all the points. It should be read by all writers keen on starting a blog. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

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  4. Fab and funny list.
    I'm printing this out to keep next to my computer.

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  5. These are really good! I recently changed my blog title to my pen name. I love the post on how to write good blog comments. I also agree that you shouldn't post your writing. No one wants to read chapters of your book on your blog.

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  6. *Perhaps one day we’ll all be issued Twitter accounts in the womb.*

    Geez, a hashtag on your birth certificate? How twenty-first Century!

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  7. Great checklist. I wish I had read this when I first started. I've been learning as I go.

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  8. Alex, Matthew, Elaine, Rachna, Dot--I hope you'll share it with friends who are thinking of taking the plunge. I see so many beginners who post their WIPs on blogs, and I want to leave a comment saying 'don't do this!' but I don't want to hurt feelings.

    Clarissa--I noticed how you'd changed your header--very clever. I thought you must be reading Kristin Lamb.

    Ruth--#Humanfail? I do Tweet, but the idea of everybody on the planet doing it scares me.

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  9. I think too, one of the biggest peeves I have is not having a contact address right on your page. Having to click back to the "about me" or "contact me" blurb is a pain. Have your email address right under your name. Or somewhere easily visible.

    Great list. I wish I'd known it sooner.

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  10. All excellent advice!! I wish I had known when starting to use my name in the URL! I've linked everywhere I can though so I think I'm still fairly easy to find.

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  11. Excellent post. Might I add to your list--patience? How many new bloggers sign up thinking they'll get a hundred people wanting to read their blog? It takes time to build a following, nothing is instant or happens overnight. :)

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  12. I recently bought Kristin Lamb's book and highly recommend it.

    And I still wish all bloggers would take off Word Verification!

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  13. I changed my blog URL a couple of weeks ago. It turns out it’s easy to do if you have a blogger account and you won’t lose followers or mess up for feeds if you follow a few steps. I even blogged about how to do it.

    I post flash fiction and poetry (along with my blogfests) but like you say I don’t intend to publish it elsewhere. They are writing samples only.

    I agree one-hundred percent on everything else. Other things I recommend – DO NOT ADD MUSIC that auto plays. Giant turn off.

    As soon as possible customized your site, even if it is just a unique header so you blog doesn’t look like fifty other blogs.

    I second Ann's wish for word verification to be turned off.

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  14. This is a great list, thanks for sharing. And now I feel better about calling mine "Claire's Writing Log". Sometimes I would think it sounded a little boring, but its got my name in it and what it is.

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  15. Thanks - great list. I started my blog about a month ago after commenting lots on The Literary Lab, where I found I had more to say about writing than I felt was polite in a comment, so thought a blog might be the place to do that. The great folks there kindly let me guest-post, which was a good "test drive" of blogging.

    Thanks for explaining the tags - I didn't know that and will be adding them!

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  16. Anne! So many great insights yet again which I believe will help me make my blog better. Certain things I'm seeing I'll have to reconstruct. I look forward to each of your blogs! Thanks for the help.

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  17. Wonderful list and I agree with all of it. Especially the horrible ads! Only I don't have my blog under my name and probably never will. It's complicated. I hope all new bloggers will come and read your Do's and Don'ts!

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  18. Good list, Anne. I agree about monetizing. It just isn't worth the effort. Recently I read an AARP article suggesting sources of income for retirees, and one of those ideas was to make money by blogging. That seemed pretty lame to me.

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  19. Susan--I think most of us have been learning as we go. Or worse, taking the wrong kind of advice.

    Anne--I totally agree. I also dislike the kind of blog that only has a few sentences of a post, and you have to click to another page to read the rest. Guess what? I don't.

    Lisa--If you wanted, you could work your name into your existing title the way Clarissa Draper did. "Lisa Gail Green's Paranormal Point of View"

    Darke--You are so right! It takes a long time to build a following.

    Ann-Yes! I'm always screaming about the stupid word verification. I only know one blogger who has ever had trouble with spambots. And if you monitor your blog, you can delete spam easily.

    Holly--Double yes to the music. Your suggestions are great.

    Claire--I felt the same way at first--I've got to think of a less boring name. Turns out we were doing it right.

    Mizmak--I'm one of the people who knew you from Lit Lab, so I went right over when I saw you'd started your own blog. Congrats on your book deal!!

    Bigger--Glad I could help!

    KarenG--Send them this way--maybe save them a little grief.

    Bob--Silly suggestion on the part of AARP. Blogs used to make a little money when there weren't so many, but now--ads are just a nuisance.

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  20. This post was great! I've had my blog for about 2 years, more of a side-thought than anything else, and an easy way to share what I've been up to with relatives and friends. I've already learned from this post a few things I'm doing well, and possibly a few others that I could improve upon. Thanks for the advice!

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  21. Thank you for this posting. I've been trying to get my blog up and running for a while. This gave me some good ideas :)

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  22. You never fail to put up a great post. Each and every week. You have covered all the bullet points. What if the blog and future web page are almost identical? That is to say, if you use your own name for the web page, are you using it for the blog as well?

    My intended web site is how I sign off on my blog ... that's already my name. fOIS In The City.

    Thanks as always, Anne :)

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  23. Exellent check list Anne. And shows that one can always learn something new. That tip on SEO's was new to me, so thanks!

    It's taken me a while to settle into a nice blogging pattern, but what I have seems to be working for me. I blog on Mondays and spend the rest of the week catching up with friends and colleagues blogs.

    The only difficulty I have, and I haven't quite found the solution yet, is how to overcome the time barrier. Most of my blogging community is in the States, so when they're just starting to blog, I'm feeding the family dinner or going to bed!! So actually holding conversations is a bit difficult when I join the chat hours after everyone else. Hopefully I'll find a way to overcome that soon.

    All the tips are great and I'm glad that Nathan is such a supporter of blogging for authors, both published and unpublished. His word carries weight.
    Judy (South Africa)

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  24. Hey Anne, Great list! I'm going to be teaching a class on social media next month, so I will buy Kristin Lamb's book right away! (I hadn't heard of it until now.) Thanks for the recommendation.

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  25. Great advice as ever - although I've broken Do #4 and, well, I guess it's too late to change now. Besides I've found that some people refer to me by the name of my blog, which is kind of weird!

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  26. Skyler—I’m giving tips for a professional writing blog. If your blog is primarily for family and friends, don’t worry about the rules. You may want to start a separate writing blog once you graduate.

    karenlee—Hope this helps!

    Florence—Thanks for being such a great blogfriend. I wouldn’t worry about a hosted website right now. Some agents disagree with me, but I don’t think an unpubbed writer needs both a blog and a hosted website. If your blog is professional and contains all your relevant info, wait until your agent or publisher tells you what to put on your website

    Judy—I wouldn’t worry about the timing. Blogs can be slow, and don’t happen in real time, which is one of the things I love about them.

    Meghan—Kristin is great. Glad I could tell you about her.

    Simon—Multi-published phenom that you are, you may be as well known as the Spellmaker as Mr. Kewin. But if you wanted to, you could call it Simon Kewin’s Spellmaking without a lot of fuss.

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  27. I think a lot of people are forgetting about your DO #3. Sometimes, the blogosphere feels a bit schizo. People talk to themselves, want people to talk on their blog, but they want all their time spent in the social media to be about themselves.

    Another Don't I would put there would be: Don't give writing advice if you never published anything. People who do drive me bonkers and most of the time their advice 1)stinks or 2)is taken from a book.

    Great post Anne, as usual.

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  28. Really great post, Anne. Wish I'd read this when I was just getting started!

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  29. Brilliant post as usual Anne, I'm sure be great help to alot of people starting out :)

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  30. Excellent advice, Anne. If only I'd read it BEFORE I started my blog, then perhaps I wouldn't have initiated the crazy trend of writing six posts a week, only to devolve into one every week or two. Oops. Ah, well, live and learn... uh, right?

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  31. Excellent List... totally agree.

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  32. Ben--I agree with your addendum. Maybe it could fit under Don't #6: Don't act like a star and give advice about stuff you know nothing about.

    Jennifer--Me, too!

    Emily--send them my way!

    Laura--I remember when you posted every day. Great stuff, but I kept wondering how you did it.

    Austin--thanks!

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  33. Fabulous post, Anne. In fact, I'm going to tweet the link. I regularly get asked about the ins-and-outs of blogging, and I'm in full agreement with your list (and with the "DON'T have music playing!" suggestion). I especially appreciate your caution against being unprofessional. Just like in real life "face-to-face" conversations, if a blogger come across manipulative, needy, self-absorbed, or too cool for school, people won't stick around for long. It scares us. ;-)

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  34. Great advice. I'm going to pass this onto a friend of mine who is struggling to come up up with her blog content. Thanks. :D

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  35. Christine--you're so right about the music!

    Stina--Glad I could help. As Kristin Lamb says "your brand is YOU."

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  36. Good advice. Not a thing I'd dispute. Even got me thinking about changing my blog title to my name.

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  37. great list of Dos and Don'ts. Great advice

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  38. You nailed it again Anne! I am SO happy I followed your advice when I started my blog in November to put my name in the title. And I COMPLETELY agree that writers shouldn't post unpublished fiction/poetry on their blogs.

    I'd add (hope I didn't miss it up there) DON'T turn on the comment verification thing. Though I'm pretty sure you've discussed that in other posts.

    Going to RT now. ;)

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  39. Cyber-hooker?! HA - I totally agree. Thank you for another great post! I think I'm on track based on your Dos and Don'ts...

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  40. I agree with all of the above.
    My advice to new bloggers: don't compare yourself to others. Its hard not to but its dangerous and silly to look at their blog and wonder why they get more comments, what they have that you don't etc.

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  41. great list. thanks! (i found you through m.christine weber) can i ask a question though? what to do though if i am blogging on an entirely different topic (mommyhood) than my WIP? i dont think of my blog as a platform for that writing project necessarily, maybe i need to? should my name still be available on my blog even if its unrelated? i do have a bit of a following but, not sure if i like to think of potential editors making a decision about my me or my WIP based on my blog....ergh. will they think my blog about random motherhood musings silly? etc.
    hmmmm.

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  42. Thanks, this really helps. I've got blogger-block at the moment, pretending it doesn't exist. This is what I've needed to find the energy to log back on and re-engage with my love of wild mushrooms (it is nearly the season again, after all!)

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  43. Great read! AS someone starting out it's always good to have someone break down the dos and don't on going about blogging. I sometimes try to get post out quickly or fail to edit through my post. Reading through your post will definitely help me become a better blogger. Thanks!

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  44. I'll be honest. I just want to blog so I can make .gif images that the world can enjoy....and by world I mean other employed adults who spend 30% of their work days on blogs and or social media.

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  45. jr--Kristin Lamb is really emphatic about the need to put your name in your title if you're building platform.

    Lynda, Kittie, Melody--thanks!

    nina--yes! I should emphasize that again. Turn off your word verification! It comes on automatically w/Blogger, but it's easy to turn off. You'll double/triple your comments.

    Leighann--Great point. Everybody starts at the beginning. People with a lot of followers have been around a long time. You'll get there too. Don't despair. (And don't whine.)

    sophie--I think blog block can come from too much blogging. It's OK to take a hiatus.

    Sara--it sounds as if my tips may not apply to you, if you're not primarily blogging to promote your writing. Mommybloggers are a separate category. One writer-mommy blogger who comments here (Aisha) is now agented, so she's started a separate writer blog.

    HD--Glad if I can help!

    Anon--It sounds as if my guidelines don't apply to you. I'm just writing about writers (mostly) If you have a photography blog, don't pay a bit of attention. We need those LOL photos to keep us sane. Keep it up.

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  46. Ms. Allen-
    I'm @inkworknow from Twitter. I've been reading your blog all morning, no kidding. Your tips and advice are incredible help; you're teaching me a lot, and I've been blogging on and off for a long time. I think I may just be harvesting all of your blog posts and utilizing their excellent points for my writing blog - which, as you've said before, I will start slowly.

    Thanks for the encouragement! Can't wait to get started on this crazy writer's journey again.

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  47. Great article...I haven't been using SEO tags on my blog, so I'm glad you mentioned those! And here I thought that using my name in my title was just uncreative...I guess I'd been doing something right with my new blog. ;)

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  48. Veronika--Thanks. It feels good to know my advice is helping people. Others have said so, which is why Catherine and I think it needs to go in a book.

    Ranae--I thought I was being uncreative, too. And my name isn't anywhere as memorable and cool as yours.

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  49. I completely agree, Anne. There are a lot of "self-help" books about writing and blogging, but none quite so definitive and easy to access as your recent series.

    If you need a copyeditor, drop by my site; I'd be happy to take on your project!

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  50. Good post. I just changed the header on my blog and added my name. Thanks!

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  51. As usual, an excellent post. Love the "Don'ts"

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  52. Ellis--I think it's a good idea. Kristin Lamb has been hammering this all week. She doesn't even think writers should use pen names. Her mantra is "your name is your brand."

    Thanks Liz--you've got a great blog, so I appreciate that you agree.

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  53. Anne, as a girl, I always hoped that a cool last name would be one of my future husband's attributes. Really lucked out, didn't I? Rose is much more memorable and romantic than my German maiden name, which people were forever mispelling! ;) lol

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  54. Oh my, I guess this is the 0ver 400 followers list. Reading through all these do's and don't's... just look at all those comments!

    ...Good reminders.

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  55. Wonderful post. I'm putting a link to it on my blog. Thanks!

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  56. Ranae--Rose is great, but so is Ranae.I've never seen that name before and it's lovely.

    Jacqueline--I know. I'm amazed, too.

    Kathleen--Can't thank you enough. Your link got picked up by the Dallas News! (Odd, since you're in Gloucester Mass.--oh the wonders of the Internet!)

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  57. A question - I have two deleted scenes from my unpublished mystery that I was thinking of posting. They were cut to increase the pace of the book, but are good for atmosphere. Would these be okay to post, or would they also cause problems?

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  58. I didn't know about the verification in Blogger so I'll be turning that off as soon as I find it (thank you!) but otherwise I seem to be on the right track (fingers crossed anyway).

    I've got my own domain for my blog so my name is tied in there but I'm considering changing the title per your other suggestions here [name]'s [catchy title]. We'll see.

    Other than that though I'm finding it difficult to find topics to blog -about-. There's a lot of information out there but much of it I'm simply not interested in, and I'm not going to blog about a subject that I don't care about A: that's boring and B: it would attract the wrong audience for me.

    I do a lot of art, play a lot of video games, and read a lot of books. After reading I'm beginning to to think that blogging about art and video games may just be an ok thing to do. I write every day and I edit work from my friends who also write every day- given time I guess the writing topic will make itself known in my blog.

    Thank you for sharing!

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  59. Gayle--They generally tell us not to post fiction if you're unpublished and fairly new to writing, because 1) you're going to get better, and your future self might be embarrassed. 2) Fiction doesn't get read much on blogs. 3) When you do get published, those scenes may turn out to be necessary after all, and then you've messed with your first rights.

    But if you're published and well known, extra scenes can be a lot of fun for your readers. I'd suggest putting them on a separate "page" for that book. Just make sure the scene won't work into something else, like a short story, because you are giving it away.

    Tami--I agree that it's getting harder to provide new content, with so many writers starting blogs. Writing about writing rules and how to get an agent is pretty much covered. Blogging about the books you read is a different matter. We always need book bloggers, especially if you have a specific niche. Video game reviews are probably welcomed, too.

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  60. Thanks, Anne,
    I'm previously published in romance, but this is my first mystery. I'm sure the scenes won't embarass me, but it may be better to save them for when the book is published, as extras. I'm just trying to create an intriguing new website. Thanks for clarifying.
    Gayle

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  61. Gayle--I LOVE your website. Gorgeous scene of Paris. But yes, I'd save the scenes for fans of the book after it's out.

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  62. thank you for the tips. my blog has been around for a few years, but, because of this post, i just put my name in the title!

    best, deb.

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  63. Great insight. Many important pointers to bear in mind! All new Bloggers should keep these in mind... Myself included!

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  64. Thanks for the blog. A group of fellow YA writers and myself just started a blog. This post couldn't come at a better time for us.

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  65. Thanks for the great post. I'm a newbie blogger and I found your information invaluable!

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  66. Great tips! I'm off to make mental notes as I giggle about cyber-hookers...

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