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.”

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