Author Blogging 101: From Content to Web Design

Image courtesy of Green Pilgrim

In many ways blogging comes naturally to writers. After all, writing is writing. But in other ways, when you take writing off the page and put it on the Web, it becomes a whole different challenge—one that carries rewards for both novice and experienced authors.

On and offline, focused content is central to writing. Freelance writer Kelly James-Enger says, “Make sure you’ve identified the your audience and your purpose before you jump in [to blogging].” That way readers know what to expect when they visit your site. “There’s nothing wrong with blogging because you’d like to write and sell a book,” she continues.

In addition, author Eleni Gage says, “Write about things that interest you, not just to plug your book.”

Author Lillian Brummet highlights an aspect of blog writing that is often different from the topic-focus required by book writing: content variety. “Make your posts interesting and change it up a bit so that you don’t appear boring and repetitive.” To balance the variety with reader usability, use tags and categories to help readers find information on a given topic—much like the index of a book.

Laura Hazard Owen at Paid Content gives writers several ways to vary their content and engage readers. “Do new things with data. Don’t assume people know what you’re talking about. Write about something nobody else is willing to talk about.”

Amid determining content strategy, author Rochelle Melander cautions readers not to forget that good writing matters. “Read a few of your posts aloud. Does the writing reveal your unique personality? If not, keep writing and revising until your posts sound like you,” she says. And just like good print writing, “create titles that rock. People click on titles that stir their imagination, capture their attention, or clarify something.”

Similar to finding the right pace in fiction, timing is a challenge bloggers face—how frequently should you post? First, Brummet says, “Choose the frequency you plan on having posts published on your blog and stick to it—this way readers know when to expect new content.” It also helps you as an author manage your workload and define your expectations.

Gage says, “The more you blog the better, but I think any little bit helps, as it gives your readers more opportunity to interact with you. I had dreams of blogging three times a week, but life gets in the way, so I’ve re-evaluated my expectations and now aim for once a week.”

“Ours is a daily blog,” Brummet says, “so there is a lot of behind the scenes activity.”

No matter what audience, purpose, frequency, or writing style, entertainment blogger Jane Boursaw tells writers: “Have faith in your abilities and your message, whatever that may be.”

One of the biggest ways blogging is different from print writing is the level of reader interaction. Brummet advises bloggers to “respond to blog post comments so that people who write a comment feel like they’ve been heard.” And pass the benefits of interaction to readers—”Utilize Facebook and Twitter buttons so that others can share information they’ve read.”

Successful bloggers also interact with other writers. Boursaw says, “Network with other bloggers and people in your niche as much as possible. Spend time on Twitter and Facebook and join groups with like-minded bloggers. If there isn’t a group for your niche, start one.”

Gage suggest a way to get more mileage out of your work as you connect with other bloggers:  ”A mentor of mine once said ‘write once, publish often.’ Guest blog on other blogs, then repost on your own (acknowledging that it’s currently on the other site), for example. I often repost my blogs on the Huffington Post if I feel it’s a relevant topic.”

Just like writing a book, it can sometimes feel like blogging takes over your life—or your writing career. “One of the hardest things for people who make their living as writers is justifying making the time to write for free, as opposed to working on the assignments that pay your rent,” Gage says. “So it’s important to make sure that all the writing you do is personally fulfilling. I love blogging because on theliminalstage.com I write about folklore, rituals, cultural connections, and conflict—all topics I’m obsessed with in my daily life.”

“What I find helpful,” Brummet says, “is taking a day every two weeks and devoting it to developing a week or two worth of blog posts at once, prescheduling them for publication. Then I’ll drop into the blog once a day to respond to comments and check on the stats and quality of the post that day.”

Many writers aren’t equipped for the technical side of blogging—but that doesn’t have to be a hindrance. Gage says, “I’m not a programming expert or web designer, so I hired someone who vastly improved my site—you can’t always do it all yourself!”

Gage hired Rachel Gogos of BrandiD to create her website and Thoma Kiki designed her logo. Gage, Gogos, and Kiki worked together to create a cohesive look for her site. “Rachel Gogos urged me to do some personal branding work first. That really helped me see the links between my book writing, journalism, and blogging, and to understand what set me apart as a writer, regardless of the genre I’m working in—a step that helped a lot in developing my blog.”

If you’re hiring a professional, Gage says, “You’re paying for custom attention and a sophisticated look that you couldn’t create yourself, so make sure you’re working with someone who gets your style and voice or will take the time to get to know them. Look for someone who has designed websites for disparate types of clients, and created a number of websites that are impressive but also unique, which shows that they tailor their work to the client as opposed to fitting the client into their own aesthetic.”

Brummet adds, “Web designers can vary greatly in the price they charge and the results they can muster, so be sure to check out their references. To limit time-related costs be sure that you have your content ready—know what you want to say and how you want to say it—and have your images ready. Then contact the designer with your ideas and files of content to work with.”

Never lose site of the purpose of blogging: tangible results. Brummet uses her site as a piece of a larger promotional plan. “The blog is reaching something like 300 readers a day—whereas the radio show is reaching nearly 3000 people every 2 weeks. The blog supports the radio show and main website by referring readers to those sites in every single post.”

Gage says, “When I started out as a journalist, there were more outlets for publishing personal essays. Now that kind of writing is harder to place in magazines, but I’m able to showcase it on my blog. Since I’ve been blogging, I’ve been assigned a number of personal essays for magazines, newspapers, and websites by editors who knew I could do that kind of writing just because of my blog.”

“I’ve also set up Skype book club meetings with clubs who contacted me through my site,” Gage continues, “so I have to assume it has resulted in new book sales of my novel, Other Waters, as well.” 

 

About MAW

Melissa Anne Wuske is a freelance writer and editor. She is also the communications director for Stop Traffick Fashion where she writes about human trafficking.