Saturday, July 9, 2011

Blogging for Writers - Some Thoughts

Blogging for writers is kind of a love/hate thing.

On the one hand, we're these crazy people who sit alone and live in an imaginary world. Antisocial, reclusive, hermit-like, shy, introverted, whatever you may wish to call it. On the other hand, what we do is all about communication. We're all about talking (since written words are just a very recent development in the evolution of language). It's like we're hard-wired to be shy extroverts, or non-shy introverts.

On a practical level, writers blog to reach out. We may be reaching out to readers to promote our books, or to other writers to keep from going insane alone in our garrets. Or we may be just, you know, writing. Writing is what we do, after all, and blogs are a creative outlet too. A different kind of outlet from fiction, but definitely a part of that calling.

No matter what your original purpose, though, in the end your blog becomes your baby. You want it to thrive. And you want it to fit into your life in a way that's never a chore.

That's one thing I can say about this blog, unlike the other blogs I've had, even writing ones, it has never been a chore. It has been difficult at times, keeping the beast fed, but I never lose track of what this blog is about, because it's right there at the top of the page -- the definition of a novel dare.

It's nice to have subscribers, but this blog is not about getting subscribers. It's nice when someone buys a book after they read something here they like, but this blog isn't about promoting my books. It's nice when somebody learns something or is inspired by something I post, but that's not the prime directive here either.

This blog is an open journal of my writing life. Thoughts, fears, and most especially progress.

But with that, things come full circle. The key component of a writing dare is the public reporting of progress. The more people watching, the more public the success or failure, the better it all works. So in the end, I have the same goal as those who blog as a marketing tool:

I want this blog to succeed.

With that in mind, here are strategies I've been musing about lately.

1.) Blogging regularly.

Because of the Novel Dare basis of my blog, I chose to post daily here. And that is supposed to be a key to building your blog's ranking and popularity, too. It sounds challenging, but I find it's actually easier to keep up, than posting two or three times a week. Why? Because if you have to post something every night before bed, you never forget. It becomes a habit. When it's intermittent, though, that habit disappears.

But daily blogging also works against you for two reasons: the blogger gets tired, and the readers get tired. This past Tuesday night, I meant to type up a quick variation of this post, and my mind simply went to guacamole. It happens. So I went for the blogger's secret weapon, videos of cute kittens and puppies.

This spring I started a new strategy: using a regular schedule so I could prep post ahead, and limit how much heavy lifting I have to do. I think that was starting to work, and I will go back to that when this write-a-thon is over. But I am rethinking the daily blogging aspect....

...Well, I'm rethinking daily blogging in theory. Not in practice yet. "Hey, I should cut back on posting!" says I, and then I sort out what I really want to post: I like to write about three "think pieces" each week. And I want to continue the interviews, and I definitely want to do the story day and the story notes, and preview of coming posts ... gee, that's right back to seven days a week.

Still, for Fall, I'm looking at ways to consolidate what I'm doing. Maybe my stories and story notes should be blended with the "think pieces." I'm thinking of continuing the series with The Misplaced Hero, where I blog my decisions as I go. But this time, I'd post the chapter itself the day before the main post. However, I want to finish writing the whole thing before posting any of it, so people can read the whole thing if they want. Because preparing for the ending is a part of the process and I don't want to subject people to spoilers without them having a chance to read the story first. (I also think it might be interesting for people to see me planning for one ending and then changing it.)

In the meantime, I will be cutting back more severely on this blog for the next couple of weeks. (I'll mention more about that tomorrow, when I post a preview.) Not only is there too much going on in my life, but I feel the need for a reset. I suspect readers need a break sometimes too.

2.) Time of Day for Posting

I've been watching traffic patterns, and thinking about how when you post, news goes out, via RSS, and on people's Blogger Dashboard. And on many blog rolls, the links are in order of most recent post. So maybe midnight to 3am EDT is not the best time of day to post. I am going to experiment a little with scheduling posts to happen at 8am EDT instead.

And there is the related question of when I tweet or announce a post on a forum: different times of day get different traffic. I like to do this as soon as a post is up, because it's convenient, but I'm thinking about that.

I don't know how many others think about this, but since Google allows you to schedule posts, I don't have to post just when it's most convenient for me. I can just schedule it then and let it post while I sleep. It would be nice to have a little data.

3.) Search Engine Optimization? Nah. (Well, okay, some.)

I did SEO writing for a while, and the one thing I learned is that, unless you're trying to sell crappy products to suckers, most SEO techniques are pointless. Google is always changing the algorithm, and working to counteract manipulative techniques anyway.

And besides, if you do some research on keywords related to fiction, you'll find that there just is no optimum way to use keywording to capture the bulk of the audience.

Which isn't to say that SEO plays no part at all in building an audience for a blog. After I wrote the rough draft of this post, a relatively new blogger posted on Kindleboards about his successful efforts at SEO. He was using a technique that Google considers to be mildly "blackhat" (so I'm not going to describe it unless I do a post which can go fully into the pros and cons) but he wasn't taking it far and he was getting some extra search traffic from it. Not enormous search traffic, but more than a blog of that age should get.

And he was tapping into what search engines are really about: subject matter.

4.) Subject Matter.

Write about things close to your heart, and odds are those things will be close to the heart of your core audience. One caveat for writers, though: It's easy for writers to obsess endlessly about things like, oh, that great controversy -- whether to put two spaces after a period or one. Most readers don't give a flying hoo-ha about such things. You do that all the time, and you will only have writers for your readership.

Which isn't to say you shouldn't write about writer things. I write about writer things, and will continue to do so, but it's always good to remember what interests you as a reader as well as a writer. Characters, plot twists, favorite books. If you're reaching out, then reach out.

And if you write about an interesting variety of things -- especially if they aren't subjects with hot keywords -- readers will find you via search engine on those oddball topics.

One thing I'm planning to do as a more regular thing is talk about food and writing. Cooking and eating have a lot in common with other creative endeavors and they also make a great model for your relationship with the customer. People want food for more than the caloric intake: it's an event which occurs in their mouths. Just like fiction is an event which occurs in their heads.

This not only should connect with writers and non-writers alike, but the fact is, many mystery readers are foodies. That's why there are so many food related cozy series. It's always good to trust your gut. What you love, people who are like you will probably love it too, even if the connection isn't obvious.

Anyway, tomorrow I'll post more about my upcoming blog break, and the next day about creating my new cover.

See you in the funny papers.


R. Doug Wicker said...

Another nice blog, Camille. You do good work.

I do blogs on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. That schedule seems to be pretty manageable to me. If I do any blogging on the "off" days, it's usually just a small blurb and perhaps a link to someone else's blog or perhaps to an online article.

As for subjects, I do almost nothing pertaining to actual "writing," per se (although I'm thinking of highlighting some of my writings in a three-part series for next week). Instead, I try to gear my blog towards many varied interests to attract an eclectic cross section of readers—photography, travel, wine & food, book & movie reviews, humor, and some other stuff. The diversity also makes blogging more fun and less of a chore for me, and if I get bored I get to change things up a bit.

The Daring Novelist said...

Blogging is the new magazine. The general interest blog is a great way to go.

The key is finding an identity so the audience can find you. I suspect search engines will be a good source for you as time goes by -- People looking for any one of your topics are likely to be interested in most of them.


Jagged Writer said...

I just recently started my own blog. Very recently, two days ago in fact. So, it's probably too early for me to be worried about traffic, but you're post did give me some good ideas about pacing myself. Just starting out, I'm wanting to be ambitious, or at least more ambitious then I usually am with my writing, and post weekly short stories, or story chapters, as well as daily poetry. It's something I've not done before, and I hope it will force me to be more consistent in my writing. I'll make sure to try out your prep-work idea though, so that I don't get too bogged down. Thanks.

The Daring Novelist said...

Jagged Writer: a blog is a great tool to challenge yourself. Just don't be afraid to fail. As a matter of fact, try different things and see what works for you. (And remember Dean Wesley Smith's motto: Dare to be bad!)

It can take a long time to build up traffic - so the first thing is to use the blog in ways that works for you.

Daily blogging worked for this blog because when I started, I was just doing updates. "439 Words today" "Whoo hoo! 2300 Words!" Which doesn't get you much traffic, but it does keep you on schedule.

If you don't have something easy to fill your days with, though, it's probably better to do like R. Doug and pick a few days a week to post. Otherwise the blog will consume all your writing time.

On the other hand, if you pubilsh short fiction and poetry, you can then go publish that. And then the blog time becomes your writing time.