HOW NOT TO BLOG: Beginning Blogging for Authors Part II

This is a continuation of last week’s post “HOW TO BLOG.” It's aimed at authors who are trying to build platform. If you’re only blogging for yourself and your cat, skip this—you and Pufferball can go watch that Hallie Berry DVD again. I’ll also repeat what I said last week: This is not meant to be taken as dogma. (Seriously. I hate to step in a pile of dogma myownself.) This is just what works/doesn’t work for me and successful bloggers I admire. But there are exceptions to every rule, and creative people are all about being exceptional. If something different works for you, go for it! 

HOW NOT TO BLOG: 22 Things for New Bloggers to Avoid

1. Ignoring comments. If somebody comments, respond in the thread. Personally, I did not know this for, like, months when I started out. If any of you who commented two years ago are still reading in spite of my cluelessness—I apologize. Email responses are good, too—but responses in the thread stimulate discussion and further comments. And if you want comments, turn off the %&@! CAPTCHA, word verification, people! Your spamblocker blocks 95% of spam without it. The other 5% you can delete yourself. 

2. Crying in the wilderness. Social Networking is SOCIAL. Nobody coming to your party? Go find one. Visit other blogs. To have a friend, you gotta be one. Follow and comment. It’s called social networking. Go out and be sociable!

Tip: Looking for stuff to post about? Respond to other people’s blogs on your own. Instead of leaving a long comment in that anti-prologue thread, write your own post on the pros of prologues and leave a link.

3. Using your blog as a personal journal. “Today I went to the dentist, picked up groceries and cooked my husband’s favorite meatloaf,” will snoozify even your immediate family. It’s OK to post personal stuff if it’s funny or newsworthy—like how Pufferball won the “ugliest pet” award. Or how many Kardashian-wannabes you spotted yesterday at the mall. But don’t use it like a private diary if you’re blogging to build platform. 

4. 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/reviewer 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. Poopy-Brain.

5. White text on dark backgrounds. Ouch! My eyeballs. Seriously. Every “how to blog” article says this, but still, half the blogs I visit have dark backgrounds. They are a big “go away” sign.

6. Posting unpublished fiction or poetry if you ever hope to publish it. And don’t post creative stuff if you’re just trolling for praise. Want a critique? Try, or writing community forums like Nathan Bransford’s. For some reason, people don’t tend to read fiction on blogs (even by famous published authors.) Save the fiction for the occasional blogfest or contest, but otherwise, keep your WIP to yourself, especially if you’re a newbie. You don’t want that sucky first draft hanging out there in cyberspace. Trust me on this.

Besides, you’ll be seriously limiting your future publishing options. Listen to agent Meredith Barnes

“Many writers serialize their work on their blogs. I cannot encourage you strongly enough to avoid that. Authors nearly always list "getting an agent" as the reason they put "teasers" on their blogs. But there is already a mechanism for showing your work to agents: the query. If you choose to do so anyway you may put yourself breach of the warranties and indemnities clause of the publishing contract that you haven't even signed yet.”

Exception: blogfests and contests. A blogfest is a non-competitive mass sharing of work. One blogger will announce a topic, say “first-kiss scenes,” and anybody who wants to join in signs up. On the given day, everybody reads each other’s posts and makes comments. It’s a fun way to meet new writers and get acquainted with their work. A blog contest can be anything from a random name draw from a list of commenters to a competition for the best cat-related haiku. Prizes are usually a book or maybe a critique from the blogger. Rewards for the host blogger are an increase in traffic and more followers.

7. Writing snoozifying headers. “It’s Wednesday” or “So Sorry I Haven’t Been Blogging” won’t snag a lot of readers. If you want examples of good headers, browse Twitter and see what YOU would want to click on. You need to think like a copywriter—as Joanne Tombrakos blogged on Jane Friedman’s blog this week. Certain types of headers typically draw in readers.

·       Lists: 10 Lies That Work Better than "My Dog Ate My Homework"

·       Questions: What if the Dog Really DID Eat Your Homework?

·       Answers to Questions: A how-to is usually a grabber: “How to Sell Homework-Excuses on E-Bay”

·       Search Engine Optimized: Use keywords potential readers might use in a search to bring new readers. Nathan Bransford explained SEO way better than I can in his post What You Need to Know About SEO on his blog this week.
8. Pointless tags or none. Tags are the little words and phrases at the bottom or top of a post that tell search engines what’s in the text. Use as many tags as possible. This is how Google finds you. Tag your posts with names of anybody mentioned, plus your main topics. (More SEO.)

9. Failure to link. Don’t be afraid you’ll send your readers off to read somebody else if you include linkage to other sites. Linking is friendly and it also gets the attention of those search engines. A weekly round-up with links to some of your favorite blogposts of the week is a great way to get readers and notice from the Google spiders.

10. Blogging too often. If you have nothing to say, don’t say it. Yes, I know blog gurus tell you to post once a day or more, but creative writers have other priorities. (You’ve got that novel to write, remember?) I suggest once a week, with an occasional mid-week post for important announcements. Most blogs burn out after two years. But you want yours to be a platform to support you for the long haul.

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

11. Blogging erratically. Keep to a posted schedule. Most agents say they’ll look up your blog before they request a partial. If you have an abandoned blog hanging in cyberspace, this says—1) you don’t stick with things 2) You don’t have much to say 3) You don’t have the platform needed to sell your work to an editor.

And if you’re a self-pubber who doesn’t update your blog, you’re abandoning your fans. They don’t tend to like that.

It’s fine to take blogcations, but if you have to skip a few posts, leave a message letting readers know you’ve got big things in the works and when you plan to return. And—if you do lapse for a while, don’t post a long list of excuses when you get back. Bo-ring.

If you started a blog six months ago and haven’t done anything with it—delete it now and start over when you’re ready. Really. Right now. Especially if you’ve got queries out or a book for sale.

FYI: Wednesday and Thursday are the biggest blog traffic days. (Worst days: Saturday and Sunday—which I didn’t know when I started a Sunday blog. Sigh.)

12. Monetizing. If you sign up for Google ads, you have no control over what they advertise, and many of the ads will be for bogus agencies or scam vanity publishers. Besides, they won’t pay you more than a few pennies a day and they’ll make your blog annoying. You’re after bigger fish. Like followers, readers and maybe a book contract.

13. Acting like you’re a rock star from Mars. Don’t pretend you have fans when you’ve never published a book. Talk to your readers as equals, not adoring minions. Don’t assume all your readers are newbies who don’t know the basics. Or they are fans come to worship at the feet of your greatness. And it's kind of creepy to make oblique references to your characters as if the reader has been living in your head.

If somebody disagrees with you in a comment, argue respectfully, or delete their comment if it’s offensive, but don’t say— “When you’ve written a whole novel like I have, you ignorant pipsqueak, you’ll know I’m right.” You may be talking to a bestselling novelist—or an agent’s assistant who’s about to read your query.

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

15. No contact info. 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 dangerous cyberstalker, or you're living under a repressive regime and posting stuff that could get you arrested, there's no reason not to provide a contact email address. That's the whole reason you've got the blog--so people can find you. I advise setting up a separate email account for your blog.

16. 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 in a box.

17. 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.

19. 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 blogged about it, by all means mention it. But it has to be relevant to the discussion.

20. Writing posts that are too long, dense, or address more than one topic. I’ve read that 79% of web users scan rather than read. Break up posts with lists, bolding and lots of white space. If you want to write about several topics, use separate blogposts.

21. 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.

22. Forgetting the #1 rule of blogging is the Golden one.  Offer the kind of content you like to read. Keep it short, sweet, informative and reader-friendly, and pretty soon you’ll have a bunch of friendly readers. Want followers? Follow. Want commenters? Comment. This is social media, get it?

For more on the importance of blogging for authors, checkout Roberta Trahan’s blog this week. She says:

“An author blog is the single most effective forum for building a bridge between you and your audience. You have a soap box, and your readers have a way to interact with you.”

What about you, scriveners? What have I left out? Do you have any pet peeves that make you avoid certain blogs? What's most likely to send you clicking off into cyberspace?

Next week’s post will be a refreshing one to those of you who are on the fence about traditional vs. indie publishing. I’ve asked romance writer Roni Loren, who has a novel about to debut with Berkley Heat/Penguin to talk about her experience as a traditionally published author and weigh the pros and cons. She agrees with me that the us-vs-them mentality with trad. vs indie publishing is silly. We’re all in this together!

Labels: , , , , , , , , , ,