Friday, October 11, 2013

Technical Topic -- A Girl and her Blog

Today, I am blogging
Cat available in some other posting
on blogging
which is somewhat iterative,
like the Worm  Ouroboros.

This is a primer on blogging for the writer who doesn't know much about blogging.  If you do, you can just skip to another posting that will probably have cats in it.

(The title is a riff on Harlan Ellison's A Boy and His Dog, except that none of this is bloodthirsty or post apocalyptic and that is all to the good, says I.)

So.  What is A blog?
(I said we were starting from scratch.) 

Blog  is short for weblog. 

"the term weblog to G. Raikundalia & M. Rees, two lecturers from Bond University on the Gold Coast. The term was first used in a paper titled "Exploiting the World-Wide Web for Electronic Meeting Document Analysis and Management."  Popular use of the term Weblog as we know it today is from Jorn Barger of the Weblog Robot Wisdom ( in December 1997. Barger coined the term weblog meaning logging the Web. In 1999 programmer Peter Merholz shortened the term weblog to blog. " Webopedia

Every writer, the marketing mavens tell us, should have a website or blog or maybe even both to keep in touch with the world at large and to publicize since you cannot just shout out the nearest window and expect to be heard.

How to blog:  Lesson the First.

Let's begin with your Kindly Host:

To blog you need a host.  That is, you need a company that puts your blog on the web and saves all the old blogs in an archive where folks can get them and does the magic that translates your desires into pictures and words.  They do all the technical hard stuff so you, the writer, can not worry about it but just go write.

I use Blogger, which is one of several choices.

Look around.  This is Blogger.  The first word in the URL address uptop is 'Blogger', which is one of those subtle clues we writer folks pick up on.  Blogger is owned by Google.  They charge nothing for shaping the electrons into a blog and I have no idea how they make their money which is something I should worry about shouldn't I? 
Blogger is one of the three or four big blog-hosting companies.  Wordpress is another.  Livejournal is both a blog home and a community.

A blog on Blogger doesn't have to look like mine -- all cerebral and peaceful and blue with birds on it.  There are many 'looks'.   At the strip on the top you'll see a button that says "next blog".  Punching that will let you see a few more blogs before it runs into a dead end.  Then you can go back to my blog and do it again.

When you sign up for Blogger they'll walk you through the process of picking a template and choosing the fonts you want.  You have many choices.  You can be artistic.  You should probably expect six or ten hours getting familiar with the system and making all those choices as to how your blog is presented.

Hark -- Who Goes There?

Blogger can tell you how many people look at which of your blog postings.

This is on your Stats Page in Blogger.  How many 'hits' did you get on a particular day or for a particular post? -- Blogger can tell you.  What page did they visit just before they came to your post?  Did they google to come to your blog, and what did they google?  Were they on another site that links to one of your posts?

This stats page  is where you find out what draws the audience to your blog?   What are you, in fact, doing right?

For instance,  even though this is a writing blog, I talk about all kinds of things.  When I look at my Blogger analytics, I got folks looking at the posts on historical knitting and historical aprons.  The posts on historical underclothing are always popular.  And I have a post on where to find public domain pictures that folks consult a lot.

I mean, who knew there were apron fanciers out there?

Now, a writer creates her blog to attract folks who will buy the books.  If they've already bought the books -- and indeed that is why they are at the blog -- you want to encourage them to buy the next one or to recommend the books to their local library or their friends or both.

What should the blog creator write about?

Because you're a writer and an avid reader, maybe you want to suggest good books that you've found.  Maybe one of your blog features will be book lists or reviews.

Or there's research.  Maybe, if you do some interesting research for one of the books, you want to share that research with the readers.
Maybe you want to blog something related to the books.  Don't be shy writing about the Southern wildflowers your heroine is picking or the history of mountain cabins like the one she runs into the escape the storm. 
Folks really are interested in the nuts and bolts of the fictional world you create.

Search Engine Optimization:

SEO is a good thing, like flossing your teeth. 
Read here and here and you will know more than I do.

How Much Work Is a Blog?

Rule of thumb here ... Your blog should have new material added at least twice a week.  This doesn't have to be an 800-essay on Transylvanian wildlife.  It can be 250 words and some pictures.

Blogs love pictures.

But you do need new material.  You will not attract and hold followers if you have a 'dead' blog.
You saw those abandoned blogs as you scrolled through hitting the 'Next Blog' button a while back.   Blog after blog started and given up on.  The overwhelming majority of them have not been added to for a year.  So sad .... those are blogs that lost all the love and work put into them and went defunct.

That's why it's important to write about stuff that interests you.  So you won't get bored.       

You know about this need for new content because you just read the SEO info above.  Fresh blog stuff is harvested more actively by the 'bots.  So do short posting each time, but get the words up there.

Expect to spend an hour or two per week on a healthy, active blog.  If you are a successful writer and promote yourself a lot on the blog, rather than on a website, be prepared to spend more than that.

Smiley lion knows why you're doing a blog
Remind Me Again -- Why Am I Doing This?

Why am I doing this? is a question of general applicability and one I return to again and again.

Before you commit yourself to the time and work involved in opening a blog, ask yourself what you want out of it.

Do you like to write about wine making or the Kyber Rifles or your turtle breeding operation?   If so, your satisfaction will come from just writing.  Book sales are secondary.  Write about horses or mushroom collecting and mention your books from time to time and enjoy yourself,

Are you thinking of the blog primarily as a vehicle to promote your writing when you publish or self-publish?  Then try to pick a theme related to your books.  You write Historical Mystery -- write about famous unsolved crimes.  Write about the history of forensics.  Write about the Bow Street Runners.  Pull in an audience interested in the time and place and theme of your writing and you will attract people who will then go out and buy your fiction.

Post excerpts, talk about your ongoing writing, include outtakes ... everything you can imagine that will enrich the reader's experience of your books. 

When do I start my blog?   I'm not published yet.

It's a good idea to have your blog or website in place and active before you publish, because after you publish you will not have any time.  You should get your blog or website  up and running about the
time you're submitting your queries for the first book.

And yes, you really do need one or the other.
The readers have to know where to go to buy you, and then, where to go buy all your backlist.
Provide covers.  Provide links.

Reviewers need to know if you will give them free copies of your book to review.  Fellow bloggers need to be able to invite you to blog on their site.   Foreign publishers need to know how to get in touch with you so they can ask to buy your Italian rights.  

You keep saying 'blog or website'.  Do I need both?

The publicist at your publisher will say you need both.
And if you are self-publishing, I'd say you need both
But you can start with just one.  And you can pick.
There are advantages on both sides.

A website is more difficult and more expensive to set up.  It requires money to keep it in place and non-negligible expertise to modify it.  But a website requires very little feeding and maintenance once it's up. 

A blog is free, easy to modify, and gives you the chance to interact with readers.  It does the necessary.  It takes more work on your part.  

Will a Blog Give Me a Platform?

Well, geeze, I dunnoh. 

Okay.  Platform is good.  If you have a 'platform' you're more likely to sell that first manuscript.  More likely to get lots of money for it.  More likely to be offered glamorous speaking engagements.  More likely to hit the best seller list when the book does come out.

If you can blog with splendor and excellence and attract many followers, you may find yourself building a platform.
But then, if you can blog that well, your books are probably dynamite and you should be working on them.


  1. Excellent post, as usual. :)

    1. It's kinda purpose-built for folks who don't already have a blog, so almost by definition anybody reading the post doesn't need to ...

      Somehow my life has been like that lately.

  2. Very informative! Thank you!

    1. Thank ye kindly. Hope you found at least some of it sparked a new idea or two.

  3. Oh, no! Now I've got to go *read* those SEO sites. Sigh. I'd tried to avoid that technical stuff. ;-)
    But, I know hard work is good for me...I guess.

    Great post, Jo!

    1. Y'know ... I hate to say this, but the SEO stuff is really important. I mean -- evil, but important.

  4. Great article, Jo. I'll be sharing it. I clicked on the two SEO articles. The second one with the periodic table had my eyes glazing over. Way too much (though essential) information for us author types. I'm in awe that you study your page visitors. I take a look now and then and it always surprises me where my 5000 visitors/mo. come from!

    1. Hi Regan --

      It's almost like there's some rule that technical stuff is written in impenetrable jargon. And, like, hard.

      But the SEO junk is important. Probably one could boil it down to ten things a writer should do.
      But nobody ever does make it that easy.

      I am mainly interested in looking at visitors to
      (a) See what articles get the most traffic.
      (b) See where folks come to me from. Are there keywords that sen people here? Are there referring sites?

  5. As a reader of blogs rather than someone who writes one, I think that a blogger must make it easy for her readers to follow or subscribe to the blog, so that the readers don't have to remember to check for new posts, and the new posts pop up automatically for the reader. How the blogger does this technically I don't know - I think its called setting up a feed, and I think you used to use RSS. But when Google pulled the plug on its Reader I don't know if RSS survived - I was able to import all my feeds into my alternative reader, and I can subscribe to new ones by copy pasting the url so that the reader can search for a feed.

    Just thought I should highlight this point for new bloggers so that they know they need to do this. Maybe it's part of the technical process which the host, Blogger or whoever, takes you through? I hope so.

    P.S. I've noticed that some blogs also give you the option to follow the comments on a particular post, too.

  6. This is very helpful and something new bloggers should know.

    I don't actually do this, I think.

    Hmmmm ....

    1. Jo - I think you do. You have "subscribe" links both on the right-hand side and, for comments on each post, at the bottom. They are RSS feeds.

    2. This is absolutely wonderful to know.

      My RSS feeds are up and running.

      Obviously, Blogger prompts you to do this at some point or offers the opportunity to do this or maybe I tracked down the information on my own and conscientiously applied it and then forgot ...
      as one does.

  7. Interesting post. Thanks, Jo.

    1. Hi Martha --

      I hope you found some useful stuff in here someplace. I am kinda throwing the pasta at the wall, as it were.

  8. I've been blogging for almost three years and I still found this fun and informative.

    1. One can get very advanced about all this blogging. The SEO stuff, in particular, lets you do better marketing without sucking away the time you need to write or cook spaghetti sauce or sit in cafes drinking lattes.

      SEO is very much about blogging smarter rather than working harder at it or longer.

      I should put together something that simplifies SEO. But all this technical stuff is hard for me and, like, boring.

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