Category Archives: The Craft of Blogging

The Craft of Blogging #11 Titles

Titles do important work on any writing, and especially on a blogpost. For a blog the title has to work very quickly because, as any blog surfer will know, there are always lots of other blogposts to read. Apparently out of 10 people hunting for interesting pieces on the internet 8 will read the title and only 2 out of 10 will read the content. The question is how to choose titles that entice more of those missing 6 title-readers to read on.

Leopard by Peter Thomas, July 2013 via WikiCommons

Leopard by Peter Thomas, July 2013 via WikiCommons

The work of the blogpost title/headline

All titles need to do these things:

  • Catch the readers’ attention among all the possibilities
  • Announce the topic/content
  • Direct readers attention to the writer’s purposes
  • Invite the reader to read on

In the world of blogging first impressions are the only impression. Words need to do a great deal of work. The title of a post is often the only thing that a potential reader sees, not those enticing visuals you have imported, not that amazing first line. I chose what to read are from my twitter feed, full of competing posts, and email alerts from blogs I subscribe to. And like most social media users I make the decision in a second or two. What makes the potential reader open the link?

The title needs to stand out without being too cute (Robin Houghton’s phrase). And certainly without being tricksy. Nothing is more annoying than being misled into finding the post doesn’t follow through.

Title: How I found a WW2 spitfire in my garden. First line: Haha got your attention. Now read my post about the lambs outside my window.

Shreeja Jamdar suggest that some professional bloggers spend up to 50% of their time on a post contemplating the title. That’s over the top, but indicates how important they consider it. I don’t expect you have the time to do this. I certainly don’t.

Finding a few powerful words that work for you can also bring in readers. I found one recently, which I’ll share later.

What the gurus recommend

Guidance for bloggers abounds. Here’s a list I have compiled from various sources, including those mentioned below.

94 hook

Saying what it is

Being descriptive can work well. Here are two examples. How to write a click-worthy blog title from the blog Molly Greene: Writer, and 10 Blog title Formulae that actually work by Shreeja Jamdar on Crowdfire. Both got my attention. The titles did their job. This approach show how a descriptive approach links to the form of the post announced: a list, a how to …, my take on …, interview, review, round-up, prediction.

For book reviews the title and author seems to be adequate, Whispering Gums said in the comments on the general post on titles: On the tricky topic of titles. I agree.

The number

A very popular approach to titles relies on the attraction of numbers. It needs to have more of course: 10 ways to do something; 5 things I’ve learned about something; 4 good reads. Women’s magazines use this hook a lot. They always have numbers on their covers. According to Molly Greene, the number 10 gets the most hits. I noticed that Shreeja Jamdar’s post on 10 blog formulae misses the 8th formula.

The Question

Inviting a response is an obvious way to hook a reader. Has this happened to you? Would you do this to your best friend?

The How To [solve a problem]

This title says it’s just what the reader needs or may not have known they needed: How to deal with pesky spam on your blog; How to write a click-worthy blog title; How to find great images for your blog. We all need a little guidance now and again.

The How To avoid [a problem]

As above, you may not know that this is your problem, but read on and you will find out it is and how to fix it! How to avoid losing readers; How to avoid six of the most common blogging errors.

The Secrets

The approach appeals to curiosity, although secrets often means ‘How to…’. The secret of my writing success; The secret of good reviews. A little disingenuous really, this word secret, as nothing is secret on social media for long.

The Never titles

Not an approach I use because it is both negative and often at the expense of someone else, who did. But you can see the hook here. 5 things you should never do on your blog. Never run out of ideas for Christmas presents; Never give a dog a bad name.

The directed titles

Reference a group of people to appeal to them: For bloggers who want good titles for their posts; Ten best Victorian mysteries for readers of crime fiction; For fans of Elena Ferrante who want to know the truth.

Using power words.

You can use strong eye-catching words: awesome, mind-numbing, perfect, maximise, incredible, proven. The one that has worked for me is ‘a little rant about …’

And you could, especially if you are commercially minded, investigate SEO. After all, if titles play a major part in getting readers to your blog posts, then those search engines will pick up on the higher hit rate and push your keywords up their list. Success breeds success.

So, over to you …

Be creative, spend a little time and care on the titles and see what works for you. And please share any recommendations for blog titles. And any great examples of the skill

77 Blogging-coverRecommended and related

A recent post on Bookword: On the tricky topic of titles in November 2015

And the two previous posts in the Craft of Blogging series:

#10 Reuse Recycle Reduce

#9 Problems and more problems

Blogging for Creatives by Robin Houghton, published in 2012 by ILEX: Lewes Sussex. 192pp

 

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The Craft of Blogging #10 Reuse Recycle Reduce

Let’s do a good thing with our blogs: Reuse Recycle Reduce

202 RecycleBy their natures blog posts share three characteristics: they are written quickly, include connections to other internet sites and have brief lives. You may feel disappointed when a post in which you have invested time and effort no longer gets attention. One way around this for the busy and productive blogger is to use the principles of recycling – a nice case of what’s good in the real world being good in the virtual one too.

Why reuse or recycle?

Why would you reuse or recycle material? Haven’t your devoted followers read the content before? How do pick items or content to repost?

Apparently about 10% of your posts go one being read, are ‘stayers’ or ‘sticky’. Do you recognise this from your blog stats? Looking back over 200 posts I can see which the stayers are: mainly book reviews, including some surprising ones. In the six months since I posted a review of Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock, for example, it has never been out of the Bookword’s monthly top 20 most popular reads. Another is The Last September by Elizabeth Bowen, a lovely book and my review was one of the first I posted. Neither needed any promotion on twitter to maintain their readership.

Most of the other 90% can be categorized as ‘decaying’. Again, if you keep track of your stats you have probably seen the pattern of early popularity followed by descent into very small or nonexistent readership. And some bump along with a very few reader each month, not quite decayed. I predict that this post on recycling will fit that picture.

What to choose?

202 recycle 2Among your blog’s decaying posts will be some that you may want to reuse in the same form or to recycle the material with revisions:

  • perhaps the topic is good, but the content needs tweaking,
  • perhaps there is a special event that could suit a post’s reappearance,
  • you may want to introduce a post to your new readers,
  • perhaps you just thought it was so darn good you want to publish it again,
  • or perhaps you feel the post would do better with a thorough revision.

I have now posted more than 200 posts and over the last few weeks I have been considering which ones could be scheduled for recycling. On the whole I have chosen posts that did well initially and have largely disappeared but still get a very few readers. I have also been serendipitous and chosen reviews of books that I am rereading for my book groups.

There has to be something new or relevant about reposting whatever I have chosen.

Some Examples

A post scheduled for recycling in October fits both categories (did well at first, and I have just reread it for a book group): it will be Anne Tyler’s The Accidental Tourist. It is also timely as she has been shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2015 for her most recent book: A Spool of Blue Thread. The winner will be announced on Tuesday 13th October.

In the near future I am going to revise and recycle a post on Short Stories. I love the form and I have a few new collections to bring to people’s attention on the revised post.

Recently as part of Women in Translation Month (#WITmonth on twitter) I recycled The Mussel Feast by Birgit Vanderbeke. Such a good book deserves to be widely promoted.

Reusing and recycling posts

202 recycle 3

My schedule for posts extends over the next four months. I have included several recycled posts. If any readers find this annoying please say so when you spot them.

And reduce?

154 BFW

Maintaining a blog can be time-consuming. Recycling can reduce the amount of time you spend preparing posts and reduce the stress of maintaining the flow and high quality. Here’s advice from Robin Houghton’s Blogging for Writers who extends my practice by suggesting recycling material not originally designed for the blog:

  1. You may already have an archive of great content, perhaps you have written an ebook or a course. There’s a lot of great material just begging to be reused! All content can be reused, recycled, revisited, repositioned, and refreshed with new examples and different points of view.

  2. Don’t worry if you don’t have any ready-made material – after you’ve been blogging for a while you will have plenty.

  3. Don’t let a great blog post die – link to it from your home-page (“Popular Posts”), make it sticky or repost in a few months time, slightly updated if necessary. (157)

I could do more of her first suggestion and consider the third. Make it sticky!

77 iphone

Some posts in the Craft of Blogging series

# 9 Problems and more problems (July 2015)

#8 Review of Blogging for Writers by Robin Houghton (February 2015)

#5 How I write my blog slowly (July 2014)

#1 … the medium (February 2014)

 

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The Craft of Blogging: #9 Problems and more problems

I love the daily tasks of blogging: having ideas, drafting posts, researching images, making links, replying to comments and so on. I have been heard to say anyone who can access the internet can easily learn to blog. But recently I have come close to being defeated by some problems, and even thinking, shall I stop? I could stop.

Hacked!

A reader contacted me saying there was a rude message on the blog, a couple of months ago. Whatever they saw (“just below the picture of the books”) didn’t appear on my laptop so it was hard to know what they were referring to. I investigated a little but since the problem seemed limited and was invisible to me I first suggested that it was on their pc and then ignored it and hoped it would go away.

But two weeks ago the message appeared on my iPhone (although still not my laptop), and at the same time another reader emailed me to say that there was something strange on the title. This time I could see for myself that it was offensive, unwanted, sexual and very rude, and likely to put some readers off. It was spreading. Action was needed.

185 laptop macbookIt took some time to work out what to do. I am not naturally technical, or methodical. These two things may be related. I tried to find some source of assistance, a help line perhaps, but as I was away from home it seemed very risky to do anything more than tour the behind-the-screen mechanics of the blog.

Once I had returned home I installed more security, which identified the problem as a corruption of the theme (that is the appearance of the website). With much reluctance I changed it and so the blog looks different, but most importantly the rude message has disappeared.nice work badge DSC00129

And then the Analytics disappeared

No sooner had I solved the rude message problem than I had another problem. Google Analytics disappeared. It has been a useful tool (don’t ask me whether it’s a widget, plug-in or add-on) to monitor readership of Bookword. I have used it to see how many people land on the pages, which pages, how long they spend reading them, the proportion of readers who are first time visitors and where they come from. Since I have done a quick statistical analysis every Monday I can see trends and learn more about how Bookword is received.

138 google logo

For example, I know that book reviews are read as much as other posts but that they attract fewer comments. I know which posts are consistently read over months and months, which ones make a brief and popular appearance and then sink without trace, and how the readership is rising or falling.

Without the daily statistics I have to rely on feedback of a different kind: comments on posts, retweets on Twitter and the number of subscribers. These are useful in their way, but the continuous picture of the last eighteen months has been interrupted, and since I can’t seem to fix it, possibly permanently lost.

And then the bitly disappeared

An added irritation is that the short code, bitly, so useful for tweeting, no longer appears on the post. As a result it is harder to tweet from my iphone with a link, although with a little technical tweaking I could probably make it as easy as it from my laptop, frankly I’m fed up with trying to understand the technical language that explains (not) what to do.

And I don’t like the new theme as much

77 ipadI liked and was familiar with all aspects of the previous appearance of the blog and some aspects of this new one are not growing on me: the display of quotations, the presence of the sidebar on the posts, no bitly display. Again I’m fed up with trying to understand the technical language that explains (not) what to do. I may change the theme again in the near future.

I do like the fact that the rude, offensive and intrusive message has gone.

Continue blogging?

Waking early this morning, these problems and this post were doing unproductive loops in my head. I began to consider a break from blogging. I would be shot of all problems and the frustrations of the technicalities.

49 blog writingBut, dear reader, I like blogging and despite the distractions all stemming from the original hack, I will continue for now. Not only do I not like being beaten by the pointless and probably random activities of bot makers but I like blogging.

Any feedback would be welcome. And any advice

 

Some related posts in the Craft of Blogging series

#1 The craft of blogging … the medium

#4 The Liebster Award and the craft of blogging … Why do it?

#5 How I write my blog slowly

#7 Finding readers

 

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The Craft of Blogging #8 Blogging for Writers by Robin Houghton

If you are a writer who blogs you might want to consider looking at this book. Robin Houghton published Blogging for Creatives in 2012. I referred to it a few times in earlier posts about blogging. Now we have a version specially for writers: Blogging for Writers: how authors and writers build successful blogs.

154 BFW

What’s it about?

It covers some of the same ground as the earlier edition, including retaining some of the important considerations about blogging. For example, Robin Houghton asks writers why they might want to blog. What’s in it for the writer? She notes that before the internet most writers found it hard to get any kind of readership. They had to get through the almost impermeable barriers created by the complications and demands of publishers. Today it is different, Robin Houghton observes.

On your blog, you are the publisher – you are in total control of what you put on it and how you present it. You could use your blog to try out new ideas for writing projects, asking for comments, or calling for contributors. Or perhaps you will post sample chapters, or work-in-progress, or write about the writing process, or about what you are reading and what is influencing your writing. Blogging gives you the potential to reach out to a worldwide audience. (8)

She may exaggerate the group function of a blog when she suggests that yours could become a kind of online writers’ group, ‘a place where you can draw support and inspiration throughout the ups and downs of what can essentially be quite a lonely occupation’. It’s an ideal, and I expect there are places where this happens. But it is not guaranteed.

What are the qualities of this book?

Blogging for Writers shares many of the qualities of its predecessor. It is updated and is more specifically aimed at writers and their blogging needs.

145 old handsIt is very good on the step-by-step processes of setting up a blog, especially for people who don’t warm to technical stuff. It’s not that technical in Robin Houghton’s account, and it’s well illustrated so you can see what should be happening and what other writers have done on their blogs. It is as attractive as many handicraft books, good colour photos and no assumption that you know what is meant by a widget or a plug-in.

It’s also good on the craft of blogging – what makes a brilliant post (headline, topic, photo, length, readability, etc); types of post (lists, interviews, reviews, stories, polemics, etc). And it is realistic about how to manage the practicalities of planning and maintaining a blog. On frequency and length of posts, for example, she has some useful things to say, but is not prescriptive. Instead she suggests the advantages and disadvantages of different pratices.

She’s helpful about how to get your blog noticed, and to keep things going. One of the traps for bloggers is addiction to statistics. She suggests thinking of them ‘as indicators rather than absolute measures’, helpful in setting goals – if you like that sort of thing. And she suggests the tools that can help.

I make no money out of my blog, but I expect that the advice on this is good too.

Throughout the book there are screen grabs of lots of writers’ blogs, and also short quotations about some aspect of their blog.

Do you need copies of both Blogging for Writers and Blogging for Creatives?

154 BFCWriters starting from here would not need the earlier volume. Blogging for Writers is both more up-to-date and more targeted. The examples are especially helpful. I responded to the sidebar that featured Molly Wizenberg and her food and writing blog orangette.

What my blog does is force me to show up. That’s huge. A lot of writers and creative people have said things along the lines of “showing up is 90% of the work,” and that’s certainly true for me. Sometimes, the last thing I want to do is sit down and write. Blogs help us show up, and that’s priceless.

I want my blog to keep me excited about writing. I want it to be a place that forces me to keep writing and practicing, and to be a cattle-prod to me to keep cooking and working. I want my site to reflect what I’m excited about. (161)

I understand this as turning up and writing interesting posts has contributed to my learning as a writer and as a blogger.

Some previous posts in the Craft of Blogging series

#3 My checklist for blogposts

#5 How I write my blog slowly

#7 Finding readers

Blogging for Writers: How authors and writers build successful blogs, by Robin Houghton (2014) published by ilex press. 176 pp

Do you have any ‘how to blog’ books you recommend?

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The Craft of Blogging – (7) Finding Readers

Is anyone out there? Is anyone reading my blog? I sometimes wondered, especially when I started, but even after nearly two years I check my blog readership most days. One reason to blog, for me, is because it is a kind of ‘citizen publishing’. So there’s no point unless I find readers.

138 google logoThanks to Google Analytics I know quite a bit about how many people read my blog each day, what they are reading and whether they are new readers or returners. I know that if I write about books, the physical objects, I get many comments. Acquiring books, arranging books, decluttering books, art made from books and books for prisoners – these have always provoked responses. My most recent post on this theme is Abandoning Books, which is still attracting interest.

Last SeptemberAnd I also know, thanks to Google Analytics, that some of my book reviews are ‘stayers’, that is that they are read steadily – every week they appear in my top 10 most-read posts. Occasionally another review will join the standards: recently my comments on The Last September by Elizabeth Bowen became even more popular than the evergreen review of Mrs Palfrey in the Claremont by Elizabeth Taylor. Other reviews rise and then fall away again, like Good Morning, Midnight by Jean Rhys.

mrspalfrey greenThis feedback is very helpful to me to understand the blog’s readership. The statistics are useful, especially as I am not interested in simply maximising the number of readers, for this is not a commercial blog. Rather I want to know which posts are being read.

Getting readers

Here are six things I have learned about building readership in two years of blogging.

  1. Quality matters

138 Oblique bookshelfThe advice from successful bloggers is to post quality items at regular intervals. One reason I am a slow blogger is that I want to be sure of the quality of my writing, after all writing is the subject of my blog. Not only do the books I write about deserve good attention but so do the readers of the blog. Sloppy writing on a post can easily put readers off. I have not returned to blogs where I have suffered this.

And good quality posts include interesting pictures and links.

  1. Post at regular intervals

Regular intervals? Well, I am not sure about this. Do they mean frequent? I’ve said I am a slow blogger. I vary posts irregularly between five and six days. I don’t have any evidence that the variation affects my readership. Some people say that there are good days for posting. Certainly I know that the day fewest readers visit my blog is Saturday. But I doubt whether the day of posting makes much difference to bibliophiles.

  1. Have a subscription button

138 subscribeI encourage readers to subscribe at the end of every post. [Have you signed up?] This means that a steady group of people receive notifications of new posts.

  1. Use twitter to promote the blog

I follow and am followed by many more people on twitter than on my blog. Many of them declare bookish interests. I use hashtags to promote blog-related tweets including about my posts and often they pass them on … hooray for social media. The bookish ones I use are described by blogger Paula Read Nancarrow. I also use #readwomen2014 because I like to promote women writers. I blogged about that here.

  1. Use other connections

When I started blogging two years ago I sent all my friends the link via email. I now have an http link in my e-mail ‘signature’ which I rarely remove. Sometimes I send a friend a link to a post I think will interest them. And I do the same with my reading and writing groups. I try to comment frequently on other blogs. After all I can’t expect comments on my blog from readers unless I do.

  1. Other suggestions – websites, wider social media eg Facebook,

You will read advice to get yourself listed on bookish websites that list blogs, and to use other social media (especially Facebook). I am sure these can be useful. Anyway, I think they may be beyond my current technical capacity!

The young Jean Rhys

The young Jean Rhys

Bloggers with large followings: what have you done to promote your blog? What advice do you have to give bloggers who want to reach more readers? What am I missing?

 

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The Craft of Blogging (6) Why be a Slow Blogger?

I’m a slow blogger and proud of it. Why? And what is slow? The term has been borrowed from the Slow Food movement. Slow food is the opposite of fast food. The work of growing, harvesting, preparing and eating is lingered over to preserve the qualities of the food. It’s seasonal, eaten as close to the source as possible. Carlo Petrini started it in Italy in the late ‘80s, reacting to deaths from adulterated cheap wine and the proposal to site a fast food outlet near the Spanish Steps in the heart of Rome. It is now an international movement with local Slow Food groups all over the developed world. Here’s a quotation from their (indigestible?) Manifesto:

Against the universal madness of the Fast Life, we need to choose the defence of tranquil material pleasure. Against those, and there are many of them, who confuse efficiency with frenzy, we propose the vaccine of a sufficient portion of assured sensual pleasure, to be practised in slow and prolonged enjoyment. (Slow Food Manifesto 1989)

125 slow food logoWhat is slow blogging?

Slow blogging applies the same principles to a blog: practised in slow and prolonged enjoyment. First it means not posting every thought and idea, not treating it like twitter. Raising the number of hits is not the goal. The emphasis of slow blogging is on the quality of what is being written and on people getting something from reading it.

Slow blogging also has a manifesto, by a Canadian, Todd Seiling, in 2006.

Slow blogging is a rejection of immediacy. It is an affirmation that not all things worth reading are written quickly, and that many thoughts are best served after being fully baked and worded in an even temperament. (Slow blogging Manifesto, item 1. 2008)

However, unlike the Slow Food movement slow blogging has no organisation. Todd Seiling makes it clear that the manifesto is his, and we can write our own. He does not appear to have posted recently, which is fine if he feels he has nothing to say. The blog’s strapline is

It happens when it happens.

Why is Bookword a slow blog?

Books are slow. I mean the actual hold-them-in-your-hands and turn-the-paper-pages kind of books. Books are slow …

  • in conception
  • in writing
  • in production
  • in publishing
  • in absorbing or reading
  • in their influence.

Bookshelf DSC00106I accept that some aspects of E-books are also slow. But one of the virtues that kindle-owners relate is that you can get books anytime anywhere. This depends on the internet connection I imagine. But you get the idea. Quick. Quick! On a book blog, if it’s worth writing and worth reading, it’s worth mulling over. So I post every five or six days. In blogging terms, that’s slow.

Some slow bloggers advocate writing only when you feel like it. But I like the discipline of a schedule, a pattern to my posts – even if readers are unaware of them. I have to ensure I have enough time to mull over what I want to write. That explains why I am constantly rewriting the schedule – ready with one post, not far enough along with another. This one’s on time.

Snail: Katsushika Hokusai (葛飾北斎) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Snail: Katsushika Hokusai (葛飾北斎) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

. . . and two other thoughts

First, slowness is no guarantee of quality, of course. Some things are spoiled by over working (soufflés for example and other dishes involving eggs).

Stopwatch by Wouterhagens (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Stopwatch by Wouterhagens (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Second, the bots that mindlessly roam the internet are the antitheses of slow blogging. They infest blog in-boxes with messages like larvae, or stains, wherever they go. Knitters: think moths and you have the idea. Thank goodness for Akismet which saves me from thousands of the blighters. This blog is not a vehicle for cut-price rip-off handbags, sports shoes, and dubious medications.

A last word

Being a slow blogger does not prevent me from checking my statistics every day. I may go slowly but I want readers and comments. I believe that these depend upon the quality of the posts. But is there a connection? What do you think?

This is the sixth post in an occasional series on the Craft of Blogging. Please visit the first 5 posts:

  1. The medium
  2. Types of posts
  3. A checklist for blogposts
  4. Why do it?
  5. How I write my blog slowly

 

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The Craft of blogging (5) … How I write my blog slowly

We all blog in our own way I’m sure, but writing a blogpost for me is not very different from any other writing: fiction, short fiction and non-fiction. I know that I need to think about purpose, audience and my main points. And I need to draft it and revise it and revise it again several times. This post is for bloggers who want to think about the process of writing a good post.

People who know me will not be surprised to read that I plan ahead. I have a flexible schedule for my posts that currently takes me to mid-November. I have recently learned that I am a ‘slow-blogger’. This means that I only post about every 5 or 6 days, not every day. (For more on slow blogging you could read the NY Times article: Haste, Scorned: Blogging at a snail’s pace.) Apparently the normal pace is to post every day. I don’t think I have bookish things to write every day. I’m going for quality on this blog. And sometimes I need to write the damn things!

Here is my typical process to write a blogpost.

Stage 1. It starts with a bright idea.

I keep a bright ideas file. Sometimes the ideas for a topic are triggered by events: for example the centenary of World War I was the original idea behind my next post on women war poets. Or I might just get an idea when I’m out walking. Or I read a book I would like to tell people about.

114 ScheduleStage 2. Scheduling.

I usually have two or three posts on the go, the closer to scheduled publication date the more advanced the post. I try to include a book review about every three weeks or so, including one that features older women in fiction every two months. The next one of these is on the schedule for mid-August: All Passion Spent by Vita Sackville West. Some posts are scheduled to coincide with events: such as the publication of our book. It’s mostly very flexible, so I can respond to things quickly, even if I am a slow blogger.

Stage 3. Scavenging.

As the publication date approaches I collect material: my own notes on a book, a review I have read, related articles, links, leaflets, and I often jot down notes on scraps of paper which go into the files.

Stage 4. Now comes the writing.

I usually start with a rough outline based on the main points I want to make. Then I draft the post in full, revise and revise and revise. And I decide on the tags that I will use to attract a readership to the post. If I am writing collaboratively I will often have noted the main points during a conversation. For some reason these often happen on a train. I send the draft to my collaborator and she returns it with revisions and so on.

114 ResearchStage 5. Researching.

I like this stage. It’s like scavenging but with more purpose. I often need to take photographs for the post: book covers, poppies, places associated with my topic. I look for links, other reviews, relevant articles, associated websites. This activity often runs parallel to the writing.

Stage 6. Final polish.

I read the piece aloud, check for directness, humour, opportunities to be generous where I can (this is a feature of blogging I especially like), where I need to avoid being too clever. I am looking for the hook, the call to arms. I’m using the checklist I described in a previous post in this series: my checklist for blogposts.

Stage 7. Publish and promote.

I press the PUBLISH and subscribers receive an email alert of the new post. I also use Twitter to promote the new post. Then I check on Google Analytics for number of times the page is read. It’s hard not to be addicted to those Google Analytic stats. Even harder to keep away from the real time stats.

77 laptopStage 8. Respond to comments.

Another pleasure is reading responses to the blogpost. Some are from loyal readers, others from blow-ins (That’s not intended to be a rude phrase). The thousands of spam comments are filtered out by a widget, thank goodness.

So lots of planning, outlining, researching, redrafting and revising. Just like any other writing. And to finish here’s a summary of Olivia Fine’s wise advise – Essential Blogger’s Tips from the British Library website. (You can find the link to the full version here.)

  1. Be yourself
  2. Address the reader
  3. Keep it simple
  4. Include pictures
  5. Can you skim read it?

Have any of you bloggers noticed you do things differently? Do you have any comments on my process. Any tips for me or others?

 

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The Liebster Award and the craft of blogging (4) … Why do it?

Some time ago Norah Colvin nominated Bookword (among other blogs) for the Liebster Award. Many thanks Norah. But I have delayed in meeting the obligations of the Liebster Award: answering some questions and then nominating others and asking them questions in turn. It’s like a chain letter, and it promotes less well-known blogs.

88 liebster2I have decided to delay no longer, and to flunk the Liebster test. Instead of the normal nominations I am identifying a few blogs that I enjoy and inviting them to answer the question of this post: why blog?

Please visit these blogs and see what you think:

  1. Jon Stein – a writer and musician and fellow member of a writing group. Jon wrote a guest post for me on being a writer in Andalucía. He also makes interesting comments on my posts.
  2. Norah Colvin – already recipient of Liebster Award. Such a lively blog about life, education, writing with added antipodean perspective.
  3. Annethology – for a great mixture of reflection, comment, and original writing. Anne is also the recipient of the Liebster Award, also nominated by Norah. Both Norah and Anne are frequent visitors to Bookword. I feel as if I know them, like members of a reading group!
  4. Anna Lodge Consulting – this is my daughter’s blog. She encouraged me to start with social media, being experienced through her consulting business. I like her human approach to setting up her own business. I wish she would post more on her own blog! Go Anna!
  5. And finally two for all booklovers, although they are probably too big to qualify for a Liebster Award I am sure – Vulpes Libris.
  6. Shiny New Books – a new blog subtitled what to read next and why.

 

Why blog? My answer

Citizens’ publishing, that’s what blogging is. Micropublishing, that’s another phrase I have heard used. It’s so hard for writers to get anything published in the traditional way these days, so doing it yourself is an obvious response. But also because the internet makes this democratic behaviour possible. There is an associated challenge in that there are few quality controls (unlike traditional publishing), so we have to hone our discriminating faculties. So the first answer to my question, why blog? is: I can publish my writing, so I do.

But this is far from the full answer to my question, why blog? I began because I planned to pitch for a blog to promote our book* (see below). The submission required familiarity with WordPress. At that time I had rarely read a blog, and so started it to gain the necessary experience. Another part of the answer is: to learn something new.

But as I have gained experience I have learned some of the additional pleasures that keep me posting every 5 or 6 days.

Connections

25 Stone AngelI love having connections with people who share my passion for books and read the blog. The most read of all the posts on Bookword is my review of The Stone Angel by Margaret Laurence. I read it because I had asked for ideas read older women in fiction. Litlove, from Tales from the Reading Room suggested it. I hope I have encouraged a few other people to read it as well. I’m glad I didn’t miss that one!

 

Improved writing

A number of people, including my two writing collaborators say that my writing has improved since I began the blog. They should know. I think revising the book* with my co-author and with the guidance of editors, has helped. You can argue that in reverse, so I guess that I can conclude that writing helps writing. Or, as many people have said (according to Google searches), all writing is rewriting.

Persistence and achievement

I have recently posted for the 100th time. I began about 18 months ago, and I have kept going at a regular pace. (Guidance on blogging always says you should be consistent. I don’t know if readers respond to consistency, but I am pleased to have achieved this.)

The number of visitors has risen steadily, along with the number of subscribers and those who add comments.

I’ve got a schedule with 20 ideas pencilled in, and a file filled with further ideas. And people keep publishing books. And I keep reading them. Why stop?

So finally: I blog

  • above all because I can share my love of reading and writing, and
  • to publish my writing
  • to learn new things
  • to improve my writing
  • and because it’s an achievement.

*And the book I refer to will be published on 24th July: Retiring with Attitude, by Caroline Lodge and Eileen Carnell. Published by GuardianBooks. (See also previous blogpost.) Much more in subsequent blogs about this book and the process!

101 RWA fan

So I’ve said why I write my blog. Why do you read it? Comments please!

 

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Filed under Books, Publishing our book, The Craft of Blogging

The Craft of Blogging (3) … my checklist for blogposts

OK! You’ve thought about what it means to write on-line, and you’ve sorted out what kind of post you are planning (this one’s another list). And if you haven’t thought about those things see my previous posts on the subjects. Now, here’s a checklist of 9 things I’ve learned to look out for in every blogpost, having now posted 94 of them. Please add your recommendation to bring it up to a big fat 10.

94 hook1. The hook

Entice the reader in, after all they have access to so many blogs. Often your hook is a question, sometimes an intriguingly presented idea. It should entice the reader and not lead to disappointment. The topic may hook readers in by itself – like this one?

2. The title

Your title may be the hook, but either way it should give the reader a clue to the content. Readers have so much choice that they may not spend time on a page, and they don’t want their surfing to be wasted by a misleading title.

3. The first paragraph

Your first paragraph is all important! It tells your reader or confirms the main theme. You can’t expect a reader to wait to the end of the post to find the rabbit in the hat. They just wont. This is true of most writing.

94.links4. Links

Hyperlinks are easy to apply and offer the reader the possibility of going somewhere they never imagined, connected to your theme. Some bloggers manage audio links as well, or links to Youtube, but I haven’t yet, and not found it necessary. I like blogs that do. ‘Links between sites are the fuel of the web*.’

 

94 Blog on tablet5. Visuals

I did my first writing in a world limited to typewriters and pens. Even biros were newfangled before I reached my teens. Much later I graduated to a word processor. I know almost nothing about the technology that allows such easy inclusion of images into blogs, but you’d be a fool not to take advantage of this added dimension. Watch those copyright issues however; copyright exists to protect the creative.

6. Length

I’ve seen it argued that the shorter the post the better. As Bookword focuses on books, reading and writing I think I can stretch my readers to about 1500 on occasion. Anyway I often find I have that many words to write. It depends on the content – more images may mean fewer words. I always edit to remove surplus words. The post you are reading is just short of 900 words.

94 tape

7. Lightness of touch

For a writer who spent 20 years in academic writing and publishing it comes as a great pleasure to be able to use humour and lightness of touch in blogposts. Of course, not every post lends itself to hilarity, or even a wry smile, but many do. I think that a blog is much more like conversations with friends than addressing an audience of students.

Lightness of touch means thinking about your readership. They are reading on a screen, want to quickly get a sense of what you are saying, absorb it in short paragraphs, without dumbing down, and with headings to guide them.

Here’s a list of points for making the text easy to scan on screen:

  • Be concise and to the point
  • Halve the word count of conventional writing
  • Keep your sentences short, and read aloud.
  • Make one point per sentence.
  • Use bulleted lists for quick reading
  • Emphasise keywords with bold (avoid CAPITALS, because they LOOK LIKE SHOUTING)

This list is from the University of York Writing for the Web pages which you can find here.

Wittiness needs to be without being too clever. (Most of my editing is to remove those over-worked, over-blown ideas I thought would include to show how clever I am. I am currently working on not including them in the first place!) These all help with readability. And you have probably developed your own style (that’s house-style Eileen).

8. Call to arms

Some bloggers recommend a call to arms, usually a question. I can see the point for campaigning posts (like mine on books for prisoners, which asked people to take some action about the restrictions on books for prisoners. Come to think of it, it’s as good a time as any to mention the campaign on Books for Prisoners that you can find at the Howard League for Penal Reform. At the very least you can ask your readers to subscribe to your blog. (See the couple of lines at the end of this and every recent post!)

9. A little bit of passion

A blogpost is better for a bit of passion, not necessarily splurging over the page, but readers like to know that you are enthusiastic about your topic. Enthusiasm and expertise are very attractive. The best blogs inspire one to more: links, reading, ideas, action, enthusiasm …

If you want perfection you could check out this infographic of THE PERFECT BLOG POST. Thank you Social Triggers.

69 ten_logo10 …

And here’s the cta: please add a 10th item to my checklist.

* according to Robin Houghton (2012) Blogging for Creatives, published by ILEX: Lewes Sussex. Her book is highly recommended for novices.

 

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Filed under The Craft of Blogging

The Liebster Award – paying forward

Thanks to Norah Colvin for the nomination for the Liebster Award. I’ve been very slow to complete my responses, partly because I have been busy with things but also because I haven’t yet found the nominees that I want to promote. But I’ll do a separate post rather than delay any longer.

88 liebster2

The purpose of the Liebster Award is to:

  • provide encouragement for new bloggers with a following of fewer than 200
  • promote communication between bloggers,
  • recommend blogs to others.

Nominating others for the award is like paying a compliment forward.

Norah’s blog – live, love, laugh, learn – is one I visit frequently and I leave comments there sometimes. I am enjoying her flash fiction, for example, at the moment. She asked me some questions, and since Bookwood is a book blog I shall try to answer bookishly. Despite everything being transparent on-line, I prefer to keep quite a bit of my life private. I have adapted Norah’s questions somewhat as she allowed. Here are my responses:

  1. What do you value most in life?

No question – my daughter. Since her childhood we have shared books and responses to books. And now I am reading with her children, and the older one is at the point of reading for himself. Exciting. He has been enjoying Roald Dahl. The younger one enjoys ‘reading’ the Aybeeceedee book with me.

88 ABC

  1. What activities do you enjoy and why?

Reading and writing, and talking about both with other enthusiasts. Not only do I belong to a reading group and a poetry group (but do not intend to write any) but also at least two writing groups. My published writing tends to be collaborative, and that too is a joy. Writing with someone else means I go deeper than I would on my own. Plus we laugh a lot.

  1. What is something you wish you had more time for?

Reading and writing fiction and non-fiction. Actually it’s not so much time as ability to fit all the things I love in my life. I can’t spend all day reading and writing. Well I can, but I have other things I like doing as well.

  1. What is one change you would like to make in the world?

World peace. Seriously. Or in bookish terms, access to books for everyone. I blog about how books and writing change lives. Access to books, not just to the internet would make so much difference to people in less developed countries, as well as to those in poverty and depressed area in this country. We must save our libraries. World peace and libraries. One of the delays to this post was the need to draw attention to a new policy making books conditional on good behaviour in prisons in the UK. I did this through twitter and on my previous post. Books, I know, are a force for good in the world.

  1. What surprises you most about your life – something good in your life that you hadn’t expected, dreamed of or thought possible?

That it goes on getting better, that I go on learning, that there are so many amazing people in the world and I know some of them. There are so many books to read. I can read and write about this, I can talk and tweet and blog about this, and other people will respond. And make recommendations.

  1. What “big” question do you often ponder?

How can articulate and intelligent people inflict direct and indirect suffering upon others?

  1. What sorts of things amuse you?

Unintentional meanings in things like the sign “uncontrolled pedestrian crossing” in London.

  1. What sorts of things irritate you?

There are lots of things, and one of them is the pervasive idea of favourite books and writers in tweets and blogs. It’s such a simplistic, reductionist concept that I try to avoid it. I added this question, just so I could indulge in a favourite whinge.

  1. What is something you can’t do without?

See answer to question 1.

  1. What is your earliest memory?

Someone threatened to steal my little sister. It was an early experience of a quandary: if I went to get adult help she might get taken, but could I make sure she was safe on my own. I was scarcely 3 and she was newborn.

44 diarey

I can’t remember my earliest book. I can’t remember the earliest book I wrote, although it might have been the ‘diarey’ I found when I moved last summer and featured on a blogpost She’s leaving home. Books and writing have been in my life as long as I can remember, thanks to my parents.

I don’t know what anyone will have got from these answers, but I have enjoyed writing them. Thanks Norah. And my own nominations for the award will follow shortly.

 

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Filed under Books, Reading, The Craft of Blogging