Here is another post in my WRITERLY WISDOM series I first ran back in 2013. Five years later, I’ve updated the material and made sure it still applies to today’s writers. I was first introduced to Beth Stilborn when I participated in Tara Lazar’s PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month) in November 2011 and I consider her a good friend.
To Blog or Not To Blog: A few thoughts on writer blogging, the hows, whys, pleasures and pitfalls
By Beth Stilborn
As writers consider how to “build our platform,” we often ask, “Should I have a blog or a website? What should I blog about?”
Blog or website? I suggest you start with a fairly simple blog, one that allows for “pages” behind tabs. You can move to a full website later, if you choose. An example is Julie Hedlund’s website. Julie started out with a blog but as her career in writing expanded she had a website built which includes her blog and much more.
What platform should I use? Many companies provide blogging capabilities, and each has advantages and disadvantages. For most bloggers, I think either WordPress or Blogger is simplest. Both offer free blog-hosting and are customizable.
Blogger offers Google Friend Connect, an easy way for people to follow your blog, flexibility in pages and add-ons, and good statistics information.
Sylvia Liu has suggestions to make your Blogger blog more like a website.
WordPress is comparable, but without Google Friend Connect. I found WordPress.com to be limited in widget capabilities (which allow for lists, and other add-ons along the sidebar.) It provides some flexibility, and good statistics.
WordPress.org is the paid version, which gives widget capability, but few statistics, and less flexibility for post appearance. It’s a seesaw of positives and negatives, whichever you choose.
What url to choose? I advise you to use your name for your blog address, in the way it is (or will be) used on your books. That allows a reader, editor or agent to find your blog easily. Purchase your name’s url even if you’re not ready to set up your blog or website.
Content: The content of your blog is the most important consideration. It is what you write that will attract people to your blog and keep them coming back, not the appearance.
What do you have to share? What will show your area of expertise? Does much of your writing focus on a topic such as sports or science? Incorporate that. You don’t have to stick exclusively to one topic, but let that special interest show through so that a reader – or editor or agent – sees the basis for the focus in your writing.
Joanna Marple has a particular interest in endangered animals, and Miss Marple’s Musings highlights this in many creative ways. Patricia Tilton’s blog, Children’s Books Heal, focuses on special needs kids.
You may say, “I have too many interests to narrow my blog so much!” So do we all, but for building a platform it’s best to highlight one or two areas.
Some people, like Susanna Leonard Hill, find ways to reach out and involve others through their blog posts. Her Would You Read It Wednesdays and Perfect Picture Book Fridays allow an eclectic platform.
Cautions: It’s great to blog about the writing process, but leave giving actual writing advice to the experts.
It’s best not to post your manuscripts (in part or in whole). Besides the potential for plagiarism, many editors consider something to have been published once it’s on a blog, and don’t want to publish something that’s already freely available. To demonstrate your writing abilities, it’s better to use writing that you don’t plan to submit.
Copyright: Simply stated, if it isn’t yours, don’t post it on your blog without permission. This applies to photographs and artistic images as well as writing. Just because you can find a photo through google images doesn’t mean it’s okay to use it on your blog. Use a site that offers images for legal free use or a service such as Fotolia through which you can purchase licensing rights to images.
To read more of what I’ve learned about copyright, check out my three-part blog series.
Brevity: This post notwithstanding, brief posts are best. The sweet spot is about 500 words, although sometimes a post will be necessarily longer.
It’s easier on your reader’s eyes if the paragraphs are kept brief.
Scheduling: Schedule one, two or three posts a week. If circumstances prevent you from blogging, give your readers a heads-up.
Overkill: You may have many things you want to say in separate posts, or many books you want to review. Space these out over the weeks. Six or seven blog posts coming in from the same person over a period of a couple of hours can cause a follower to delete without reading after a while.
Format: You’re competing for people’s attention with thousands of other blogs. You need to catch their interest with a hook sentence and keep their interest with a good post.
Keep your font simple, not too large or bold, easy to read. Note: light text on a dark background is very difficult to read. A “busy” background or sidebar can detract from the overall effect of your blog.
You can learn much about format at Laura B. Writer’s blog. (Search for the word critique in her blog’s search box.)
Comments: Comments are one of the perks of blogging. It’s common courtesy to respond to comments left on your blog. (When you get to the point that your posts have a couple of hundred comments on them, we’ll cut you some slack!) Comments build friendships, community, and that all-important platform.
Some people use Disqus for the comments on their blogs, which allows them to respond both on their blog and via email. I’ve heard positives and negatives about Disqus, but have not used it myself.
It is also crucial to read other people’s blogs and comment on them. The more you involve yourself with others’ blogs, the more they’ll involve themselves with yours.
Purpose: A personal blog can be random. A writer’s blog needs to have focus.
What do you want your public to know and what is it not necessary for them to know? They don’t need to know that you cleaned the bathroom yesterday – they do need to know what sort of a writer you are, what drives your imagination, what you read.
What would you want an editor or agent to see if they checked your blog? Heed this agent’s post – don’t air your dirty writing-laundry on your blog.
For more about blogs, check out Kristen Lamb’s post on blogging in which she calls it “an author’s most powerful social media tool”, and Robert “My Name is Not Bob” Lee Brewer’s blog.
Joy: Blogging can be, and usually is, a joy. It is a great way to hone your writing skills. It is a way to build community as you interact with your readers and reach out to other bloggers. I wish you that joy!
Beth Stilborn lives in a prairie city, and writes in a converted bedroom in her apartment, but she’s often elsewhere in her imagination! Most, but not all, of her writing projects (picture books, chapter books, middle grade fiction, adult fiction) include a focus on the arts, particularly theatre and music.
Beth blogs about “reading, writing, the arts and life” at By Word of Beth. She is a member of SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators), CANSCAIP (Canadian Society of Children’s Authors, Illustrators and Performers), the Saskatchewan Writers Guild, the online Children’s Book Hub, and 12×12. Along with Emma Walton Hamilton, she is co-host of the Children’s Book Hub Facebook Group.