Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Blogging About Blogging is... oh, you know.

Kevin put up a blogging tutorial.

I think I'll add some thoughts to that. Most of mine parallel Kevin's, so I may be duplicating him here to some extent. Sorry. I hope I add enough to his thoughts to be useful to someone.

First off, I don't recommend getting your own host until you're sure you want to keep blogging. Yeah, having a website is nifty, but if you are an absolute beginner, just try the stuff before you dive in. Both Blogspot and Livejournal are really good places for beginners to go to give blogging a try. I'm going to go into them a bit more in a second, but my recommendation to new bloggers is to dip your foot in the pool before trying to be a lifeguard. Yes, it's a lousy metaphor. But you probably get the idea.

Livejournal... Kevin doesn't recommend it for blogging, and neither do I. But I do recommend it for a certain personality type. Namely, people who crave feedback. If you start on some other system, you are unlikely to get an audience as quickly as if you start on Livejournal and comment on other people's posts. As Kevin says later, commenting (on topic, NOT spam) on other people's commenting systems is probably the number one way to build an audience. With LJ, it happens faster. Livejournal also seems more suited to personal stuff, which is what I post on my LJ. Yes, you are allowed to have multiple blogs for multiple topics. Don't limit yourself, but don't stretch yourself too thin, either.

Ahem. Anyway, if you are a person who can endure shuddering silence from your audience for a long time, possibly years, before you start getting feedback... then I say you might make it as a blogger. It takes a great deal of time to build an audience on a regular blog, and it's easy to lose their interest as well. More on that in a bit.

Blogspot is still the easiest and fastest way to set up a blog... and it's free and has a decent interface as well. So I recommend starting there. Set up a basic blog using one of their templates (which you can edit later as needed), test the interface, play a bit. If you like it, keep doing it.

Now, as you might know, I play Blogshares(B$) on a regular basis, and one of the main things I do in B$ is remove dead blogs. Dead blogs, or "clogs", are blogs that haven't been updated in the last six months. And there are a LOT of them. People start out without knowing what they plan on doing with their blog, and end up abandoning it, usually fairly quickly. Do not become a Clogger! Blogging isn't difficult, but it does require persistence. If you don't plan on persisting, don't start. You can still build a good reputation as someone who just comments on other people's blogs. Don't start blogging unless you've got enough thoughts bouncing around in your head to last you for awhile.

Now, I'm not saying you have to have ideas for 2 gazillion posts right now in your head! I'm just saying you've got to be a person who has something to say, and think you can say it regularly. One way to prove that... I'm going to go on and on about this point... is to post on-topic comments on other folks' blogs. If you keep commenting, people will start to recognize your name, and eventually they might even start to wonder why you haven't started a blog.

Ok, so you decide to start a blog. What do you need to do to build an audience? Well, we've already covered getting your name out by commenting on other people's websites. You can also put your blog address in your signature when you post on message boards and such. If people like the message board posts you make, they are likely to check out your blog. If they see posts like, "READ MY BLOG! I AM AWESOME!" they will never visit your blog, and you'll probably get banned from the message board. That's because of another major part of building an audience: content.

There are a LOT of good writers out there blogging. I place myself in the lower half of active bloggers as far as talent is concerned, but at least I have some writing skills. The vast majority of clogs I remove from B$'s listings are very poorly written screeds that say nothing of interest to anyone but the writer. Remember, this is a PUBLIC website, which means that people will be visiting, reading, and thinking about what you say. If it makes no sense to them, they won't come back. You've lost a part of your audience.

Concise writing is hard. Good writing can be difficult as well, but it's mostly just a matter of re-reading what you've read after you write it to make sure it makes sense. For instance, this post I'm writing right now will be re-read at least five times before I post it. Typos will still sneak through. But I'll fix most of the horrible grammatical errors and logical leaps before I post it. Most of my posts I just re-read once or twice before posting.

Also, don't pass by on the basics: write in complete sentences (mostly), use proper grammar (unless you're making a point), use a spell-checker (unless you are a spelling bee champ). Don't use slang except in small doses. Don't use "cute" spelling tricks or AlTeRnAtInG CaPs. They are hard to read and, unless they are the message, they distract from what you are trying to say. Punctuation and capitalization matter.

Then there is the matter of what you are writing about. Kevin makes the point well, I think, in establishing that you need to have something interesting. If people know that your website offers some sort of reading they cannot get elsewhere, they will come back. This applies to all blogs, not just comic book bloggers. Write about what you know, and make it interesting!

Now, we can't all be an awesome stuffed bull who loves comics, a doctor who examines the medical aspects of comics, or a retailer with a sense of the absurd fun of comics, but it sure helps if you've got an angle. Like Kevin says, let your personality shine through. Otherwise, you come across as bland (like, um, me).

The third part of building an audience, in my opinion, is posting regularly. Once a month isn't enough, unless you are already a master writer with a huge following. Once every two weeks... not enough, unless you are simply incredible at writing. Once a week isn't bad and will suffice for a standard blogger. Multiple times a week is better. Once a day is pushing into the blog-addict stage, and may be too much for some folks. Multiple times a day is fine only if you have a lot to say. The whole point of this is that people can expect new content when they visit your blog. If you post at least once a week, people know they can visit your blog once a week and find something new. Then everyone is happy. Long, unexpected delays between posts loses audience. And, like B$ points out, if you haven't posted in six months, your blog is dead.

Ok, so you've been blogging for a few months, have an audience, and now you want to make some money at it. Pardon me for a second while I go in the other room... *sounds of laughter from other room* ...ok, I'm back. You say you want to make money blogging? Well... don't expect too much. True there are some bloggers who hit a chord and gain an audience quickly. They can run fund drives or get advertisers and make real money by blogging. But most of us poor schmucks are not going to get anything from this. It's a hobby, not a job. Some of you may make it to the point where you can make profit from words. Most of you will not.

And yes, I have been offered a paid blogging position. It was not something I was interested in, and I turned it down (it also wasn't very much money, so don't think I was turning down a full-time job or something!). I've been offered places in group blogs as well. But I'm not reliable (despite the evidence to the contrary) and I refuse to join a group blog on the grounds that I will let everyone down. Only you can know whether or not you want to take such opportunities as they come to you. And if you blog long enough and well enough, they are bound to eventually come to you. And who knows, I may accept the next offer that comes to me, if I think I'm up to the challenge!

On another track, you've been blogging a few months and want to get your own host. Well, go read Kevin's recommendations. You can still post from blogger to your own host, or set up Wordpress (which isn't half bad either). If Blogger is working correctly, you can even move all your old posts over, if you choose. I admit to knowing very little about web hosts, but I'm learning very rapidly. Nowadays, setting up your own host is no longer too expensive or too difficult. So it's certainly a good option if you intend to keep blogging for awhile.

So, you still want to try blogging? Oh c'mon... give it a shot. Or at least start commenting on other people's blogs. Join the discussion. There's a lot of fun to be had. I know I've gotten a lot out of it these last four plus years.