Mary W. Walters: Tips for Bloggers

Why I’d rather blog than submit my articles to magazines

There are at least two types of blog posts. One addresses a current issue, and the issue and the post are likely to be here today and gone tomorrow. This includes most of the blogs in which individuals tell you what happened to them that day ― which are really just extensions of social media sites like Twitter and Reddit, or are places people can write their thoughts with some hope of copyright protection, now that FaceBook seems to own (or at least retain) everything we post over there. They also include posts in which pundits tell you about the latest techno development, the latest way to use Search Engine Optimization, how to prepare your taxes, or what a blinking idiot Romney has been, and posts that have no specific purpose outside of attracting you to the blog (e.g., giveaways and contests).

Other kinds of posts are written to last.

The Militant Writer

I was thinking yesterday that most of the blog posts I write are in the latter category. They are intended to be strong and enduring and meaningful in a “bigger picture” kind of way. I spend hours poring over them, getting every thought and word and sentence as right as I can make it before I press “publish.” The series of posts I write on my I’m All Write blog, such as those I wrote about my trip to India, fall into this category, as do most of my Militant Writer posts. These are the kinds of articles I might have tried a few years ago to find a magazine or newspaper to publish, but now I never much bother with the effort. Editorial staff at magazines and newspapers take way too long to reply, if they respond at all — and if they do, they tend to be dismissive, curt, even rude (not all of them, but a lot of them. They’re busy people, don’t you know?, with a whole lot of crap such as mine to read through). Even if they do publish what you’ve written, you’re only going to get paid a few dollars, if anything. Why bother going to all that trouble? I’ve now got as many people coming to my blogs now as would probably read my articles in a magazine, and from very diverse audiences and geographies. I love the feedback I get from them.

I’d rather have all of my writing on my own blogs (I have three main ones in addition to this little blogging tips one — The Militant Writer, I’m All Write, and a book review/essay blog). More and more people have become regular readers of my blogs and if they are reading me on my own blog page and liking what they read, that will ­— I hope — bring them back to my blog for more, lead them to my other blogs, attract them to my businesses (one of which — btw — is helping people write really effective grant applications, and another helping people write really effective books and articles), and ultimately — I hope — the solid writing in my posts will interest them in reading my books (next one coming soon!).

When you are writing blog posts that are intended to last, it is worth the effort to make the language “sing.”  I try to keep in mind that someone might be reading what I’ve written two or three or 20 years down the road. My blog post, ‘The Talent Killers: How Literary Agents are Destroying Literature and What Publishers Can Do To Stop Them” is almost three years old, but it attracts new readers to my Militant Writer blog every day. The only difference between then and now is that whereas three years ago, most of the new readers were dumping on me for that post (check out the early Comments, LOL!), today most of them agree  with me. Times have changed.

If you’re writing daily updates just to attract people to your blog, you need to post regularly or they’ll stop coming back. If you are writing something meaningful and useful, you can post once a week or once every six months, because readers will subscribe to your feed or to your blog and they will keep coming back.

It is the greatest feeling in the world to develop a loyal following of readers, and even though it does take a lot of work over a period of several years — as I’ve invested in mine, and always with great pleasure — I find it’s a lot easier to do that with my very own series of blog posts than if I am writing for various magazines. This way, people know who I am, and they know where to find me.

Thank you for finding me. 🙂

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Blog yourself a book

Writing blog posts can be a relatively painless way of accumulating material for a non-fiction book – that is, if your blog posts adhere to a specific subject rather than jumping from one subject to another willy-nilly. There are numerous examples of blogs that have served as the basis for books – two I can think of right off the top of my head are Mama in Wonderland by Shannon Tassava, a blog for stay-at-home moms that led to the publication of The Essential Stay-At-Home-Mom Manual, and Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing by Dean Wesley Smith, which led to a book entitled Myth: You Can’t Make a Living Writing Fiction.

I’m sure that in these and other similar cases, the authors’ blog posts were not themselves enough to immediately add up to a viable book. For most bloggers, blog posts need to be re-ordered, reorganized and enhanced before they take on the semblance of a book. An outline must be created, and pieces carefully fitted into it. New passages need to be drafted to connect one subject to another. The repetition of information that is necessary to blog posts, where readers may not have read previous posts, needs to be eliminated before the material becomes a book, as does the kind of extraneous material that can easily creep into a blog – references to events that are no longer current, for example.

Still, it is a great surprise and pleasure to realize that you suddenly have the makings of a book when you thought you were merely blogging. In my own case, my recent trip to India produced fifteen blog posts (from “India 1: En Route” to “India 15: Final Thoughts” ) for a total of 25,000 words, plus a lot of photos. I was surprised at the positive feedback I got on them, and the number of people who started following my blog while I was writing the travel posts. I realized that with a couple of months of revision, some editing, a great cover and a reasonable method of producing a book with photos in it that can be read either in paperback or online, I’m set.

So watch for the first volume of my new travel series, Watch, Listen, Learn: India, at your local POD or Kindle outlet. Some day.

If you know of a book that started as a series of blog posts, please add the title of the blog and the book as a “Reply” below. And if you are the author of such a book, tell us what you needed to do to your blog posts in order to make them book-worthy.

Choose your blog-post title carefully

Think long and hard before you post a title on your blog post. You want people who are interested in the subject to be able to find your post on Google and other search engines. It is important to include keywords in the title that nail the subject of your post. Don’t just give your post a cute title such as “The best laid plans . . ..”: if you do, no one who is looking for specific information on any subject is going to read it. They may read it because they like your writing or because the title is intriguing, but if your post is a step-by-step guide to treating shark bites, say so in the title.

 

My first blog post on The Militant Writer, “The Talent Killers: How Literary Agents Are Destroying Literature and What Publishers Can Do To Stop Them” (speaking of sharks 😉 ) still gets several hits a day — long  after it was first published — and a lot of those hits come from people who look up “literary agents” in a search engine.

As is the case with the “Talent Killers” example, you also want the title to be interesting so that when it does show up in a search engine, people are intrigued to click through and read it.

As far as being specific, a good example is the title of this very post. I was going to call it “Choose your title carefully,” because I know that you know that this whole blog is about writing effective blog posts. So why bother to point out that I am writing about blog-post titles specifically? The answer is, again, that people who are looking up info about writing blog posts are more likely to get shown to this site by search engines if I include the key words in the title — as well as in the keyword lists and categories.

A note about the URL: If you look up to the URL box that shows you where you are on the internet right now, you will see that the url includes the title of the specific blog post. In this case it reads, “bloggingtipsbymary.wordpress.com/2011/08/14/choose-your-blog-post-title-carefully/” You want to avoid changing your title after the URL has appeared on the internet — especially after you have posted it as a link on other sites like FaceBook. It is possible to change the URL after-the-fact on some blog sites, like WordPress, but if you do that people who click on your original URL are not going to get to where your post is actually located.

Watch your p’s and q’s

If you consider yourself enough of a writer to have a blog, you should be enough of a writer to care about the words you use and the sentences you use and the paragraphs you use.

Polish the piece as though you were going to submit it to a magazine or a newspaper for them to consider for publication.

Make sure the sentences flow, that they are clear, that they communicate what you want to say. Watch for spelling errors that are not detectable by spell-checker programs.

Make each post not only a post worth reading but also one that is a pleasure to read.

>Get your facts straight

>It takes just a minute to check dates, quantities and names. But if you get a detail wrong, in mere seconds you can blow your audience’s confidence in everything you say.

If you are not sure about a fact, check it out. Proofreading is equally important. Be certain that you have transcribed all details accurately. It is easy to transpose numbers—1998 can turn into 1989 in no time, and your spell checker will never notice.

How much of a difference will a mistake like this make to your credibility? Think back to the last time you noticed a factual error in someone else’s writing. Did you skim right past it, anxious to get on to the next bit of information the writer had to offer you?

No. You stopped reading and you thought, “What kind of dolt thinks Lisbon is in Spain?” Or “How can anyone say a spider has six legs?” The next step in your thinking? — “How can I take someone’s advice on how to sell a clock on eBay [or where to invest for my retirement, or how to use Twitter as a branding tool] who makes mistakes like that?”

You might have wondered whether to write a comment. Maybe you did write a comment. But even if you didn’t, you were distracted and disillusioned. The writer had lost your attention, interest and confidence.

For those who do not know us personally, our writing IS us. Its flaws are our flaws. And that’s okay – that’s one of the things that makes individuals unique and leads to interesting discussions. But if we make stupid basic errors that we should have caught, we can look like fools. And that is not the image most of us are hoping to project.

>Give value to your readers

>Before you press the “Publish Post” button, ask yourself whether you have given your readers something that will bring them back to read your blog another day. Your obligation to your audience can be compared to filling their travel mugs with rich, aromatic, deeply satisfying coffee rather than a watery instant caffeinated drink: you want them to come back to your coffee dispenser for regular refills.

Every single post you write should have some value for your readers. If you are selling a product or service, this may be a useful tip, information about a product update, a business-related contest or advance notice about a sale. The value may also be pure entertainment — an interesting news story related to your mutual line of work, or an update on a story you’ve been telling about your company.

The only way to draw people back to your blog again and again is to do the best you can to give them information they are glad they acquired — every single time. (You won’t actually be able to do it every single time, so cut yourself a little slack. But it’s definitely the goal to aim for.)

>Add spaces between paragraphs

>Online type can move around depending on the browser and the computer through which your readers view it. You may have taken great care to indent each paragraph before you posted, but even substantial indents may show up only as tiny zags of text when posted, or not show up at all.

Make it easy on your readers’ eyes—and also help them to keep track of their location in your text (especially if they are reading you on a PDA or cellphone)—by adding the extra space.

>Keep your paragraphs short

>Keep your paragraphs to two or three sentences maximum in a blog. Reading text on the screen is not the same as reading it in a book or in a magazine or newspaper.

If your readers see chucks of information that they are going to be able to absorb one block at a time, they will be more inclined to keep reading. They will also get your meaning more rapidly.

Even paragraphs of only one sentence can be effective.

Or just one word.

Seriously.

(As long as you don’t do it too often.)

>Don’t set yourself up for failure

>There is no point in announcing on your website or blog page that you are going to post daily or weekly if you are not going to do it. Who are you really talking to when you make a resolution like that anyway? Just to yourself. When it comes to promises to yourself, it is wiser to record them in your private journal, or to make a commitment to a close friend who is also writing a blog and wants to make a similar commitment re: deadlines.

Just post when you feel like it. You are not a national media outlet with thousands of readers, and unless you work for one (i.e., are getting paid to write blogs), you don’t have to post with any particular regularity.

Let your blog remain something you want to do. If you want to post twice in one day, go ahead. If you don’t get around to writing a new post for a month, who cares? The fact is that there is already way too much information on the Internet: if you post only semi-occasionally, your followers are more likely to look forward to reading what you have to say than if you post every day, or even every week.

>Stay on topic

>Choose a topic for each blog post and stay with it. Make sure the title reflects the content. If you want to describe how useful you find a new application you have just discovered for your personal digital assistant, it is not necessary to meander into explaining why you bought the particular PDA you did. Save that for another post.

The nice thing about the Internet is that you can always add another entry on a related subject, and you can even link it back to this one if you want to. The shorter and more to the point each post is, the better. Your readers will learn to trust that you are going to talk about what you said you would talk about, and then let them move on–and if you do that for them consistently, you will keep them coming back.

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