Welcome to WANA Wednesday, based off my best-selling book, We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media. This is the day I dedicate to help you guys rock it hard when it comes to social media. For over two months, we have been discussing blogging. If you are new to the blog, I recommend going back and reading the previous lessons. It will save you a lot of time and heartbreak. I am going to assume all of you are clever enough to look to the sidebar to take you there ;).
Sorry for the delay. Texas is literally frozen, and I just now got power. I was blogging by candlelight, shaking in the cold, suffering for you :D.
I actually had intended on stopping after last week’s installment, but alas here we are on Part NINE. There is more to do. Feels like my laundry pile. I just washed all the clothes!
But I digress…
I want to take some time to talk about how we are portraying our blogs to others. Let’s think of it as…advertisement. What are we really telling others about our blogs (us)?
Writing is an emotional business. In the creative fields, we pour our hearts and souls into our work, then thrust it out for display, and hope people like it, even though, deep down, we default to expecting a barrage of rotten vegetables to come hurdling through the screen.
So what do we do to protect ourselves? We emotionally distance, which is bad, bad, bad. We think our comments will get us gratis, but, instead, all they do is alert others to our faults. For instance, “Oh this is just something I threw together.” This (we think) is a cushion in case other people don’t like our content. Yet, all it does (in truth) is draw attention to mistakes that they might not have noticed had we not inserted the emotional bumper.
My goal is for you guys to use blogging to build a platform to support and grow a successful career. We need to think of our blogs as the storefront of our operation. Our blog is the hub where people interact with us and our writing. It is the place where potential supporters/readers form their opinions.
Our blogs influence opinions, positively or negatively. So what message are we sending to others?
If we blog when we feel like it, this is akin to opening the store when we need some cash or because we feel particularly inspired to work that day. I won’t dwell in this too long because it has already been discussed in detail in earlier lessons. Suffice it to say that the better the blogs and the more consistent and dependable, the better opinion others will have of our blog…and of us.
We’ve also discussed content. Focused content builds a brand. It helps form an opinion of who we are as a writer. Content is like the ingredients on the back of a label.
If I hid a certain product from you and merely read off the ingredients:
Organic Tomato Puree (Water, Organic Tomato Paste), Organic Diced Tomatoes in Juice, Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Organic Onions, Organic Sugar, Sea Salt, Organic Oregano, Organic Garlic, Organic Basil, and Organic Black Pepper.
From this list of ingredients, would you feel pretty confident guessing what the product was?
Pasta sauce, right? And likely a high end pasta sauce since everything had “organic” in front of it.
Our blog content tells others who we are as authors (product). We don’t have to post chapters of our book for readers to get a taste of our writing voice, even if we are shifting over from NF (blog) to fiction.
Chuck Wendig is brash and viscerally descriptive, whether it is his awesome blog (which usually talks about writing) or his novels or short stories. When I read Irregular Creatures, I was not thoroughly shocked that Chuck wrote it. His razor-sharp wit, authentic voice and amazing use of imagery made his fiction just as enjoyable as his blog (his blog actually is what sold me to read his fiction in the first place).
If our blog is our storefront operation, then what can customers (readers) expect to be out for display? Important question to ask before launching any blog. If your blog is up and running, does it need more focus? Is it too broad? If you are blogging on broad topics, can you link them with a theme?
But, you guys are smart and know content is important. All of this brings me my most important point, the single largest way people judge us and our blogs…
We tell others how to judge our blog.
What are we saying about our blog? There is one word that I wish I could eradicate from the vocabulary of all bloggers. What word is this? Ramblings. I HATE that word, and when I was new and insecure, I used it too. And, yes, Chuck uses it, but it fits Chuck’s image of a Genius Word Pirate with Tourette’s (and his blogs are actually highly focused).
For the rest of us mere mortals, “ramblings” is a negative word. This is like opening a company that jars homemade sauces and naming the product, “Crap We Threw in a Jar—Hope You Like It.” Words like ramblings and musings tell potential readers that there was little to no forethought put into our content (which might not even be true). No need to argue with me…this is all my opinion.
Back to ramblings *makes sign of the cross*…
Let’s just think about this for a second. Do we like being in conversations with people who ramble? No! We check our watch and hope a friend passes and rescues us. We search our mind frantically for a way to politely disengage from people who ramble. We hide our head in the freezer case when we see them in the grocery store and hope they pass before frostbite sets in.
Yet, I see too many writers tweet about, “Oh, posted some ramblings on my blog.” Why do we think that will make people want to drop everything to come read our blog? We aren’t offering anything of substance. Well, we might be, but we just told everyone that we put no planning or thought into our content. I see too many writers using these kinds of adjectives, and I have to say that there are generally only two reasons to use the words ramble, musing, random, or any variation thereof.
1). We are wanting to emotionally distance from rejection. I started a blog years ago that was “Kristen’s Random Musings.” Gee, I wonder why people weren’t lining up to read my blog. But it was such a huge step to put myself out there, and I was terrified of the digital cabbages I just knew would be lobbed at me any moment. The problem is that the words we use to cushion us from failure are often responsible for the failure. We are being self-defeating.
We are like the person who goes on a date and says, “I don’t know why I have never been married. Most of my dates go great the first time, but then the guy never calls back.” Um, the guy probably isn’t calling back because he figures the dudes before him might have been on to something that he missed. He will be watching every move and paying attention to every mistake made during dinner. Why? Because we TOLD him to.
2) We have no idea what our content is, but rather than commit to something (and risk failure) and make a plan, we cover our lack of preparation with adjectives that sound pretty—ramblings—but, in reality are very negative.
When we tweet about our blog or announce it on FB, we must always be mindful that we are putting our best foot forward. If our blogs aren’t serving others, then this is harder to do. This is one of the reasons that using our blog for an on-line journal or putting up sections of fiction make it hard to advertise a blog. It’s like trying to operate a business that has nothing for sale, nothing to offer a customer. That’s a museum, not a storefront.
Blogs that gain large followings serve our readers; they aren’t monuments to us. By the time our writing is worthy of a monument, we won’t have time to blog, and our fan clubs can erect monuments to our awesomeness. Then it’s less weird.
And, if you are insecure? My best advice is to “act as if.” Often we are our harshest critics, and we think people are actively looking for when we screw up. Really, they aren’t. At least not the majority of people. Just keep writing and keep focusing and as your following grows, your confidence will too. So no sabotaging.
What are some of your bad blogging habits (past or present)? I’ve already confessed to being guilty of all of the above, so no shame here. What instantly turns you off to a blog? What piques your interest? We want to know!
Until next time…
In the meantime, if you don’t already own a copy, my best-selling book We Are Not Alone–The Writers Guide to Social Media is recommended by literary agents and endorsed by NY Times best-selling authors. My method is free, fast, simple and leaves time to write more books.
Also, I highly recommend the Write It Forward Workshops. Learn all about plotting, how to write great characters, and even how to self-publish successfully…all from the best in the industry. I will be teaching on social media and building a brand in March. For $20 a workshop, you can change your destiny….all from the comfort of home.
This Week’s Mash-Up of Awesomeness
Depth of Character by literary agent Donald Maass on Writer Unboxed
A Dialogue On Publishing between Randy Ingermanson and Bob Mayer on Write It Forward
Why Bother with Writing Contests by Jody Hedlund
Storytelling: The Foremost Fundamentals and Elemental Essentials by Chuck Wendig
Get Your Geek on with Peter St Clair’s, Jim Jones and the People’s Temple Part 5 It’s cults! Come on, THAT is interesting!
The Love Doctors–Bayard & Holmes
My History with Perverts by the hilarious Tawna Fenske
A big key I had to learn was consistency. If I got to an author’s blog and they haven’t posted in at least the past week, it tells me they don’t care, so then why should I? I have considered the question of being more controversial. It seems as if those who disturb the waters get more interest.
Contraversy is great so long as it serves the platform. I say avoid talking about sex, politics or religion–unless they happen to be part of your platform. Talking politics is great for Bill Maher. Bad for a sci-fi writer. If we want to talk about contraversial subjects in the world of writing, I think that is great so long as we are respectful (duh). But the Big Three are just too polarizing. But, sure, shaking things up gets a dialogue going and gives incentive for more people to offer opinions in the comments, which is a sign of a healthy blog.
The politics one is super hard for me to avoid. Not because I want to initiate the discussion, but because others do, and I want to jump in and give my two cents. It’s really hard to reign my opinions in, and remember why I’m on social media in the first place, but I am getting better at it.
I learned the lesson about controversial topics a while back. Most of my family relatives are conservative Republicans (I’m on the other polarizing side of the spectrum). I have to watch what I say because if I don’t, I end up lashing on my uncle (my mom has to tell me to cool down a few times). That’s how I learn to stay away from controversial topics–religion, sex, and politics. If I don’t bring it up, I don’t get into arguments.
My New Years resolution (one of many) was to be more consistent and set a strict blog schedule. I even went as far as to post in the header of my page letting readers know when I will post. This way readers will see consistency and dedication and hopefully realize that I take the same care in the other aspects of my writing life.
Since I’ve adopted this practice I’ve seen a steady increase in my page views and being competitive I love watching that stats line grow! Also, I’ve been trying to tackle the same questions that I have on writing. If I care about then probably other people do to. Even if I don’t have the answers, I ask questions and have enjoyed the feedback.
Stay warm Kristen!
You speak truth! Confidence shows through in writing, no matter whose voice it is. I posted today about what turns me off as to blog design. When it comes to content, though, my biggest turn-off is inconsistency. Bloggers who don’t seem to have a central theme are rarely worth reading. Like you said, if you can’t tell the product by its ingredients…
Thanks so much for the shout out. Terrific post, as always. Great point about the word “ramblings.” The only place I’ve ever seen that word be compelling was the remarkably poignant Tracy Lynn’s blog. She was dying of a brain tumor, and her posts were collections of thoughts about her journey. But they were still about her journey.
Please tell me, what is the address of that place where I can take Grandma to have her washed and vacuumed?
Great advice as usual, Kristen. Actually, I was wondering why my blog’s content was bothering me so much and your post today made it click. I wasn’t focusing on what I love about writing my YA fantasy…the young adults! Once it clicked, the ideas for new blog posts pored onto paper, and I just wrote two blog posts in advance with ease. Thanks so much Kristen! I don’t know what I’d do without you. Oh, and feel free to follow my blog to see your influence (and disregard all previous posts *look*).
I find content the biggest challenge. I’m managing to maintain a consistent schedule. I’m providing helpful information (I think.) So when I have a content issue (what to write about) I try to think about one of my platform issues from the perspective of something in the news and that helps jump start the fingers. Great post and I see signs like these all over town and I want to get out of my car and commit vandalism by ripping off the letters and leaving them on the ground but I don’t. I drive by and wish more people passed English 101. And I breathe long, slow breaths.
Great wrap-up to a terrific series. I’m with you on the ramblings issue. We’re writers. If we can focus our words to create a book, we can certainly focus our blog to appeal to readers.
Why do I get the feeling this is at least partially directed at me and comment on Twitter yesterday… *raises hand* Guilty as charged! But I’m working on changing that! I swear!
If a blog has a horrible layout that burns my retinas, I’ll move away very quickly. I like your rant about the word “ramblings” – too true!
So that’s what was going on! I was wondering if someone should call in the Rangers, ’cause Kristen is NEVER late with a blog ;D (it’s okay, I found lots to do in the meantime. Like writing. And laundry.).
Loved this post. Ever since I re-vamped my blog (after reading your WANA book), I’ve been careful to be professional without being stiff. Because I’m a former academic, research and writing about facts are painstaking processes for me – I have to triple-check everything. It takes nearly a whole day to put together a post, so I’m confined to Monday postings for the time being. (I’m trying to make up with consistency.) Otherwise, I’d never do any other writing.
On a side note, do you think that women are more prone to self-abnegation? You know, that cultural code that some of us were brought up with, where it’s not okay to be confident and self-promoting? Just wondering.
I think you’re definitely on to something about women being more prone to self-abnegation. Obviously, that doesn’t hold true for everyone, but I think its probably common. My family is very conservative, my grandmother was the mild Japanese housewife and the men in my family tend to be very chauvinist, and I always feel a need to apology for almost everything I say before I say it. And this, despite the fact that I’m a perfectly capable adult with a Master’s, and I KNOW I shouldn’t be apologizing.
Yami, that makes a lot of sense, and I’ll bet there’s a lot of folks out there who feel the same. It’s almost like a reflex, isn’t it? I found myself hitting the backspace when composing my original comment, because I was putting in a lot of qualifiers: “hope,” “maybe,” “trying to,” “sort of.” It’s insidious.
“Knowledge is Power” was a suffragist slogan, for good reason.
That’s an interesting observation and I hope one of you blogs about this, LOL. Albert Berg had a blog not too long ago where he talked about how he had to start paying attention to how apologetic he was about his writing. I tried to find the blog, but maybe Albert will help us out. I know it was good enough to make the MUOA (Mash-Up of Awesomeness). I think creative people in general are afraid of rejection. We are already being non-conformist by doing something creative, and because of this fear of judgment, we are apologizing for our existence before we ever get started. All we can do is be mindful and not sell ourselves short. Our society is addicted to information and entertainment. Might help if we take a minute to remember that we are the suppliers for this increasing addiction ;).
How interesting that I’m reading this now. As I’ve been editing my new book I’ve had to delete a lot of apologetic language. It’s good to know others have the same problem.
It’s funny you say that. When I first started drawing, my boyfriend at the time, took one of my drawings and showed it to all of his friends. I felt really uncomfortable and couldn’t take the compliments. I wasn’t ready to show the whole world my drawings. He was tooting my horn and I was hiding in the corner…LOL
This was a great series. Not only was it great for the content, but you also linked a couple of new-to-me blogs that I’ve now got listed for daily reading. That kind of useful content (especially the kind that branches out) is definitely worth stopping in for! Thanks!
I’ve read WANA, and I think my blog and social media presence reflect your advice, but I’m still unsure about the direction I’m taking.
My background is in oceanography, and I work as an environmental consultant, so naturally I started a blog about ocean science. I like it, it’s what I know. Folks seem to like it, it’s getting noticed. Many of my Twitter and FB followers are either writers or ocean buffs. So far so good.
Here’s the rub: I feel like my online presence is great for a non-fiction writer, but has very little connection to my life as an aspiring fiction author. I write sci-fi fantasy, and my current WIP has an ocean theme, so that would seem to work, but am I misleading my followers? Will non-fiction followers be interested in fiction from someone like me? Should I be including some fiction-oriented stuff on my blog, and if so how? Right now it’s pretty science heavy, so I fear that readers are not getting to know me as an author.
Does any of this matter? If I’ve created a good online presence with something related, should I be content with that and trust that loyal readers will follow me into fantasy land when the time comes to publish fiction?
In a recent post Bob Mayer talked about using a blog to outline and write a non-fiction book. Would that apply to fiction writers as well? Maybe that’s the direction I should go in, while I’m at it, since I’m writing so much NF. (I would love for you/him/both to expand on that idea in a future post…)
Thanks – I love your posts and take your social media advice as gospel (which is why I’m unburdening myself on your blog 🙂
LOL….feel free. Bob is correct as far as using a blog for a NF work. For fiction? Nope. The point about blogging is to offer others something of value. For you, your unique platform is oceanography. As your presence grows, people follow your blog because they like the content. Eventually that content makes us like YOU. Who cares if you write circus midget romance? If I follow your blog and support YOU, I am going to buy your book because I like you. You (your blog) has served me for FREE for X amount of months, and my little way of giving back is to buy your book, regardless if it is fiction or non-fiction. Why? It’s the least I can do.
Think of it this way. I know you are a long-time follower and fan. If I announced on the next blog that I had a spy thriller for sale, wouldn’t you consider buying it? I think many people would, even though I blog primarily on writing and social media. I know that I have done it many times for other bloggers. They didn’t post sections of their novel. Most of them blogged about writing. But when presented with an opportunity to purchase their book, I was eager to repay them for their efforts. I would think I am not alone in this spirit of giving back.
Danielle, I am so glad you posted this question and thanks, Kristen, for giving such great answer. I’ve been blogging on writing and have written two NF (the 2nd due out soon), but I’m getting ready to write a fantasy next. I had the same question, so it was wonderful to see the answer here. Thanks again.
Kristen, I agree with this. I’ve also purchased books just because I like the author and follow their blogs. Otherwise, I would try to find a book in the library before I bought it. I guess I like to help support people who are putting themselves out there to make something of themselves on their own.
Uh oh, I’m definitely guilty of the “ramblings” and other closely related adjectives! And you’re right as to why writers use that – we are insecure. I recently shut my personal blog down because I really had no focus i.e. I didn’t know what I was selling. I also had that same issue with my publishing company’s blog that I’ve been tasked with managing. Even though I’ve been blogging in other areas, I’m having a very tough time with this area because it is the closest to my heart and was establishing that emotional distance you spoke of. Thank goodness for this blog series for pointing out these things so I when I hit my blogging reset button, I’ll be good to go!
I just realized that next month YOU are teaching a Write It Forward workshop on “Building Your Author Brand.’ I am signing up NOW!
Appreciate all your wisdom! During the great snow-a-megnon of 2011, I downloaded tweetdeck and managed a post taking several suggestions from you. Lets hope for more responses. Will be figuring out the poll application next. If you want a peek, http://thiswritelife.wordpress.com/2011/02/02/greatest-art-show-on-earth/
My bad blogging habits eight years back–too political, not blogging regularly, not putting tags, ranting. Pretty much all of the don’ts you told us not to do. I recently came back to blogging after you told me what blogging is all about. Thanks!
It is definitely a journey of trial and error. Even if you guys apply all my “lessons” there is still the trial and error ahead of “finding your voice.” But, I do believe you will get there quicker if you’re not distracted with blogging time-wasters. And, if you are a fiction author, arguing about politics is doing zip nada to help your platform. So change the blog or start writing political books :D.
I’m actually glad you repeated some important info on successful blogging. I’m still humdrumming it around to get a better focus for my blog which I initially started to get my butt in gear and just write again. It is at least accomplishing that much again. I appreciate the tips you lend and digital butt boot. Thank you!
Oh Kristen Lamb, you do bring the hot sauce. Funny you should throw “musings” into the ramblings mix. I recently modified my tag line based on a comment from Ireland. She told me how she enjoyed my “quirky musings.” I loved that phrase so much (maybe because I give extra points for Irish accents) that I changed my tagline to “Quirky Musings of a Pop Culture Professor.” Subscriptions instantly increased in the following couple weeks, so here’s my point.
I agree with you that “Random crap I feel” is not good. I also know that I struggled (and am still not done yet) with branding. The key for me was getting the pop culture professor out there. That’s what has new people contacting me. So I still have a focus that can be detected off the bat. But to be safe, I also have a page header right on every page that says “Life. Culture. Education.” That sums me up as well.
Great thoughts as always. I love how you make me think. And yes, Wendig is a rock star too.
Musings is better than ramblings. I will grant that. Just make sure content is focused and don’t “tweet” that you are posting musings. Feel free to post “musings on the changes in publishing” or “musings about what makes a great character” but just make sure it is, above all…focused “musings” on some subject. “Ramblings” is my big beef, but y’all got that already :D.
I sank further into my chair as I read each paragraph in this post. After I finished reading it, I immediately went to my blog and removed all traces of “random”, “ramblings”, and “musings” from descriptions and SEO’s. I’m sure I missed some :). I’m trying to focus my blog, but it’s tough. I have so many interests that I want to write about, it’s painful to nail down a common theme.
Thanks for this series! It has been eye-opening and very helpful.
I’m new at this, so I haven’t found a direction that really clicks with me yet. I do have theme days on my blog, but I’m not sold on them and still thinking about finding new roads. It’s a learning process, but I hope in the near future, I will have a direct focus, which also makes me feel happy about what I’m writing and which will attract people to want to stay on my blog.
You do have a theme…you are a writer. I blog on all kinds of things here…procrastination, GF eating, goal-setting, but I always tie it back to writers and writing. Even if you blogged about a trip to the aquarium, you could just add observation about how writers see the world differently…notice details others miss. One of our biggest obstacles (creative people) is we tend to make stuff harder than it needs to be. Blog on your passions and then tie them to writing and the writer’s world and I guarantee you will have an audience. If you find a theme beyond that, great. But this is a start ;).
I see your point and I didn’t think about it that way. A new twist for my mind to ponder upon! 🙂 I still am not sure what (of value) I have to offer my readers. Only a small pool of folks would be interested. I need to figure out how to tie my passions into something with a little bit bigger of an audience.
I’m dropping by for inspiration, since I determined (following your advice!) to be a regular blogger, and I’ve reached the Night Before Blogging with no idea about tomorrow’s post! I’ve confessed that my blog has diverged, following the twin subjects of my family’s emigration and my own career as a playwright, but I haven’t taken the plunge and split the blog yet. For one thing, I’m not sure how that’ll work, and I’m worried that one of the two blogs will be the poorer half. The funny thing is, there’s a symposium by a writer’s group about social network usage, but it’s not for another fortnight. Two more blogs to write before I get more expert advice….or I guess I could flick back through YOUR blog and pick up some more tips.
Oh, I feel your pain – that chill in the pit of your stomach (for me it’s Sunday night – I blog on Mondays). What the heck am I gonna say that isn’t a load of %$#@?
But I think your unique combination of experiences are a plus. Why not be a playwright-from-an-emigre-family blogger? Perhaps alternate theme days: you wear the “playwright blogger” hat at certain times, and the “emigration blogger” hat at others. If there’s consistency and predictability, it should work. Then, later, if you want to split them, you’ll have an idea of how popular one is vs. another.
Best of luck!
If you ever get in too tight of a pinch, just repost one of mine. Just cite that I wrote it, and give a hyperlink to my blog. I dig the exposure :D.
I don’t understand why you don’t pan outward a little bit. Your own career as a playwright is, by nature of the subject, limited in readership, but people all over the world love plays. Discuss plays, review current ones, discuss plays that are timeless and why? What makes writing plays different from writing a novel? Similar? What goes into producing a play? What is the history of the stage play? The evolution from Greek tragedy to passion play to Shakespeare to the modern productions we now enjoy? I think that is much more reader-centered and would attract much more traffic. It also has a LOT better chance of getting a nod from major magazines and publications. Good luck!
That’s a good point. As a former English major, I would totally check out a blog that discussed Shakespeare and other playwright greats.
P.S. – Thanks, Kristen, for your generous offer. I’ll give you a heads-up if I take you up on it! 🙂
Very good post and I can identify with it. I catch myself from time to time saying something that might undermine my blog–like the person on the first date. This can be a challenge if you’re not a self-promoter, but your comments are right on the money. I like what you said about a blog being a museum or a storefront. If we really focus on our readers (customers) and provide them value, what a huge difference that makes.
thanks for sharing these articles.
I like your analogy to a first date. Blogging can feel like being on a perpetual first date!
Wow! I enjoyed ever word you wrote and it all made sharp sense. The best and the hardest part is taking criticism where creative people suffer from a persecution complex. It’s like as if the world is out to nail our work with glee. But just as you said most people could be reacting naturally.
I also like your tip on focus and ramblings. Worse than focus are ramblings. When you get into most blogs they have stuff like , ‘ How her ex made a cake and how much she loved it.” Most stuff seem to be about personal feelings and mundane content.
I am curious to know. Why are you giving away all this knowledge out for free? Yeah I know you’re confident and don’t want to be selfish. It’s a great service you’re doing. Thanks.