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.

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