Monday, November 19, 2007

Advice for beginning bloggers

Have you just started a blog? Are you wondering what to do next? How to publicize it?

I've been blogging for about six months... and here's a few things I've picked up so far. I hope these tips help you. If you're looking for specific advice about being a children's literature blogger- look towards the end of this post.

Blogging is fun, scary, exciting and incredibly rewarding. Congratulations on starting a blog! It's a gutsy step. The hardest part is to keep it going after those first few initial posts. Keep it up... you can do it!

Don't apologize
It's hard to blog consistently. It takes a lot of time. All blog readers know that. When you have a chance to blog, don't write posts apologizing for not writing. Instead, just write a post saying something you haven't said before. Some people blog daily, some blog weekly, some blog monthly. Find a schedule that works for you, and don't be embarrassed by it.

Be proud of what you write
Don't say that you're rambling or incoherent. Your voice and opinions are valid, whatever it is that you have to say. The more you knock yourself down, the less likely a reader is to take you seriously.

Find a topic
Decide on the general subjects you want to write about. For example, Wizards Wireless is about three very specific things: Children's books, comic strips and Harry Potter. I try to keep myself limited to these topics because it carves out a niche and lets a reader know what they'll find when they visit my blog. If it's not related to one of those three things, I'll mark the post as off-topic (which I try not to do too much). And if you have too many topics to chose from, don't worry, you can always start another blog on that subject.

Find a mission
Why are you blogging? To advance your career? To tell family and friends about what's going on in your life? To become a better writer? To talk about topics that you're passionate about? All of these are valid reasons... just figure out what you hope to achieve by blogging. That will inform almost every other decision you make. For example, a person blogging for professional development reasons is much more likely to use their real name than someone who wants to let off steam about work.

Above all, write about what you want to write about, not what you think you have to write about.

Contribute original content
There's no need to post every news story on your blog. As a reader, I come to your blog for original content, not recycled information. If there's a big announcement, chances are I've already read about it somewhere else. The exception here, of course, is if you have something to say about a news story or if it's relevant to your subject matter. For example, I wrote quite a bit about J.K. Rowling's announcement that Dumbledore is gay. (The posts are here, here and here, if you're interested). Obviously, people read about it elsewhere... but since I write a lot about Harry Potter on my blog, I felt it was relevant and I had opinions I wanted to discuss.

Steal from yourself
Coming up with new things to say can be difficult. Why not post something you've written in the past? Whether it's a blurb, an annotation or a paper, you can adapt it into a blog post (if it fits your topic and mission). For example, I took excerpts from a paper I wrote for graduate school about The Man Who Walked Between the Towers and posted it on my blog. I changed it and edited it to make it appropriate. It remains my favorite review to this day, because I worked for weeks on the original paper and I'm proud of the writing and research.

If you've written something that's been previously published, make sure you say where it's been published, and make sure you own the rights to it before posting it. Otherwise (if possible), post a link to it.

Tell people that your blog exists
Let your friends and family know that you have a blog. If someone in your real life mentions an interest in the topic you write about, give them the link to your blog. Mention your blog (if it's relevant to the topic being discussed) on listservs and electronic discussion boards.

Join the Community
Connect to the community of bloggers who write about the same topic you do. There are communities of book bloggers, parent bloggers, etc. They link to each other, promote each other and toss around new ideas. Be part of the discussion. Find out who else is in your community.

If someone leaves a comment on your blog, respond to it within the comments section. Most blog programs have an option that will e-mail you whenever a person comments on your blog. This is extremely helpful... particularly when keeping track of comments on old posts.

Leave comments on other people's blogs. If you do, post under the name of your blog. It helps you build a reputation.... and it's a great way to join the discussion in the blogosphere.

If someone links to your blog, add a link to theirs.

Remember that ANYONE can read your blog
Your neighbor, your third cousin, your ex-boyfriend, a potential employer, the person in the next cubicle who drives you nuts... all of these people are potential readers of your blog. It's on the web, it's unbelievably public. Don't insult other people... they'll figure out who you're talking about.

The best advice I've gotten is to write your blog as if your boss reads every post you write.

Protect yourself
Some people put their full names on their blogs... some don't. It's a personal decision. But whatever you decide to do, take steps to protect your family. Unless your blog is specifically about parenting, you may want to refrain from mentioning your kids' names or providing pictures. Don't reveal that you're going out of town until after you come back. It's okay to be vague about who you are.

Publish your e-mail address
Include an e-mail address on your blog. Obviously, it's not a good idea to post your main e-mail address because of the potential for spam, but I highly recommend that you create an e-mail account just for your blog. Go to Gmail to set up a free account which you can forward to your regular e-mail you read all the time. Keep it simple... such as: thenameofyourblog at

Why is it important to include an e-mail address? So that people with legitimate questions and compliments can contact you. For example, I'm in the process of writing a paper for graduate school on blogs written by children's librarians. I would love to ask bloggers for their permission to be included in my paper and get a bit more background about why they are blogging. But on the majority of the blogs I've been reading, there is no way to contact the writer. It's not really appropriate to leave a note in the comments, it would be extremely off topic.

Link to blogs
Link to other people's blogs and find out who is linking to you. Technorati is a great way to keep track of this. Sign up for a Technorati account (use your new blog gmail account to sign up for all of these various accounts) and claim your blog. Once you've done this, you can see who is mentioning your blog. If someone does link to your blog in a post, go to their blog and thank them. It's always nice to add a reciprocal link to their blog if it's relevant to your blog's topic.

Check your links
Whenever I add a new link, either in the sidebar or in a post, I click on it to make sure that the link works. It's frustrating to a reader if you have broken links.

Create a feed
Burn a feed for your blog. This isn't nearly as scary as it sounds. You may have heard of an RSS feed (which actually, just stands for Really Simple Syndication). A lot of people (myself included) read blogs primarily through feeds.

Do you subscribe to My Yahoo? Then you already know all about feeds even if you don't realize it. Feeds are the headlines that keep appearing on the page, such as the most recent stories from CNN, or the current top sports headlines. I subscribe to blog feeds on my page, so that in addition to seeing what the New York Times Bestseller list is, I also see the most recent blog posts from Fuse #8 and What Adrienne Thinks About That (and many, many others). When I see a new post that I'm interested in, I click on it. You don't have to use My Yahoo to subscribe to feeds. You can also use blog readers such as Bloglines.

The important thing is for you to create a feed for your blog, so that people who prefer to read your blog through RSS can subscribe to it. How do you do this? Go to Feedburner. The instructions are fairly simple. After you burn a feed for your blog, BE SURE to add a graphic on your blog for people to access your feed. How to do this? Once you have a Feedburner account, go to Publicize and follow the directions from there about creating a chicklet. Pick the simplest one, the top one that is a generic "Subscribe in a Reader." I also recommend selecting PingShot and SmartFeed (both available on the Publicize menu).

Once you have a feed, log back into Feedburner regularly so that you can see how many people access your blog... what searches they use to locate it and what sites they're being referred from.
Another great (free) source for statistics is Google Analytics.

UPDATE: Google has purchased Feedburner. You still need to create your RSS in Feedburner, but it no longer tracks statistics. Use Google Analytics for that.

Also, be sure to subscribe to your own feed. That way, you can see if it works, and you can see how often it's updated. Sometimes my feed is updated a few hours after I post, sometimes it takes a day.

If you blog about children's literature (which I do), the community of like-minded bloggers is called the Kidlitosphere. It's a vibrant and wonderful group of people who love children's books and includes librarians, teachers, professors, booksellers, editors, authors and illustrators. They do multiple blog efforts such as the amazing Robert's Snow posts organized by Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.

Every week, bloggers from the Kidlitosphere join in Poetry Friday and post fantastic poems on their blogs. One blogger each week volunteers to post a round-up of all the Poetry Friday links. See this round-up at Big A little a for an example.

There's even an annual award given by kidlit bloggers called The Cybils. Nominate your favorite children's books from the past year today. Literally. Nominations close November 21, 2007.

How do you get involved with this wonderful community? Head over to Kidlitosphere Central to find out about the various activities of this hardworking group. And then join the Kidlitosphere listserv on Yahoo Groups. Once you've been approved, be sure to introduce yourself and add your blog to the Blog Directory. And then, join the discussion!

If you're a Kidlit blogger, I highly recommend joining JacketFlap. It's a terrific resource for anyone involved in any way with children's books. You can read other people's blogs though JacketFlap... and be sure to add your blog to their list.

What's the point?
Why bother with all this technical stuff? Because blogging takes a lot of time and effort and creativity. If you're willing to do all of that, and put yourself and your ideas out there, it's worth it for people to see what you have to say. And it allows you to get feedback and be part of the blogging community. But, no one is going to know about your blog unless you publicize it a little.

If you make it hard for people to link to you, locate your RSS feed or e-mail you... they're not going to. And the more that other people link to you, the more your rank rises in Google and other search engines. This means that your blog will come up closer to the top of search engine results pages, and more people will see what you have to say and be able to use the information you provide.

So, take the time (it really doesn't take long)... do the technical things described above. If you're overwhelmed, you can do them slowly, one piece at a time. But let your voice be heard.

And once, again... welcome!


  1. Thanks for the advice, Susan. I didn't even realize that my email was not visible on my blog! Love reading Wizards Wireless!

  2. This is a great post (love your blog by the way). I've just begun blogging recently, and I found your advice about joining JacketFlap and the Yahoo! kidlitosphere group very helpful indeed. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Thanks for the valuable information! As you know, I'm just getting started, sort of easing myself in one toe at a time. This post shows me what I've still got left to do! (Besides, um, actually post content...)

  4. Anne- You're very welcome. I enjoy reading So Tomorrow!

    Laura- Thank you! Definitely join JacketFlap and the Kidlitosphere group- they're both terrific.
    And because you commented- I just discovered your blog, which is terrific. Anyone who can say new things about David Wiesner gets my attention. I just added Library & Literary Miscellany to my list of blog links.

    Lisa- Your blog's content is great and has been a lot of fun to read. That's really the most important thing... everything else is just icing on the cake. And I LOVE the name Under the Covers for a blog about books.

  5. These are great suggestions! You've covered a lot of important areas for new bloggers to explore.

    One thing I would add is information on how to join a Carnival of Children's Literature. A carnival is a collection of links to blogs from all over that posted on a particular theme like picture books, short stories, holiday books, etc. There is usually one every month, hosted at different kidlit blogs. Here's a link to the last one at Charlotte's Library. Another one that is up this week is the Bookworm's Carnival at The Armenian Odar Reads. Anyone can join in by just submitting a link to one of their favorite posts. The next one is at Mother Reader's she says, "For this month I want a tip as a reader, writer, illustrator, reviewer, publisher, or editor of children’s literature. I want a lesson learned from a teacher, librarian, author, or parent with regards to kids’ lit. It doesn’t have to be a post that you did in November or October, though you may consider tweaking and re-posting an older entry to use. You can pick a post from any point this year. The deadline for submission is Saturday, November 24th, and I’ll post the Carnival on Wednesday, November 29th."

  6. cloudscome- Thank you so much! I completely meant to post about the carnivals of children's literature. Thank you so much for doing it so thoroughly.

  7. This is excellent information for anyone starting a blog. I am getting ready to do a presentation on blogging at an upcoming conference. I will surely point people in the direction of this post for information.
    Great Job!
    Megan Germano-
    Read, Read, Read!

  8. Megan-
    Thank you so much for those kind words. I had a lot of fun writing this post, so I'm glad it's useful.
    Your blog is great- I just added it to my list of blogs.

  9. Merci- I am doing the same as well! :) (Adding you I should say)

  10. Nicely said. :) I particularly like your advice about not worrying if you can't post every day and having confidence about what you're writing. Those are important things, but people don't talk about them much.

    In my case, my boss *does* read my blog every day; it's a good thing to be aware of. You also have to be ready to hear, say, that your friends' parents are checking in or old teachers are reading. I've been surprised at how many people in my extended life keep up with my blog.

  11. Thanks, Adrienne! You're absolutely right, it's always so surprising to me how many people in my real life read my blog. It's great, and quite amazing.
    My boss doesn't read my blog (at least I don't think so... hey, maybe he does)... but I know that at least one colleague does read it.

  12. Thanks for the tips! You certainly brought up some things I never would have thought of (I'm off to set up my feed when I get home tonight...).

  13. These are good tips for beginning and continuing bloggers.

    While I keep in mind that everything I post could be read by a potential employer, I'd forgotten that comments could be traced, too. A couple of times I've accidentally posted under my real name (Farida Dowler) and sure enough, those comments came up in internet searches.

  14. Abby- I'm glad the tips were helpful for you! Your blog looks great... I just added it to my list of blogs.

    Alkelda- that's an excellent point. I had also forgotten that comments on other blogs could be traced too until a recent Google search. I finally added Saints and Spinners to my blog list... something I've been meaning to do for a while.

  15. Thanks for this post! Very helpful, as I'm new to blogging. (I especially like the no need to apologize for not posting advice. After all, blogging should be fun... who needs more pressure?)

  16. Jennifer- I'm so glad this post was helpful! Welcome to the kitlitosphere! Your blog looks terrific... I love all the original illustrations you've posted. I just added Art, Words, Life to my list of blogs.

  17. So how come you know so much so quickly??? This is what I needed when I started, and it's still darn helpful now. Thanks...

  18. Liz- I got a lot of ideas for this post from the Kidlitosphere conference... it was really a crash course in blogging.

    And some of it was just what has been helpful for me.... and things I learned the hard way. I didn't think I knew so much about blogging, having just started and all... but the post got much longer than I ever expected it to be!

    Your blog is great- I just added Liz in Ink to my links.

    And cloudscome- A Wrung Sponge is on my list now too. Sorry, I forgot to say that earlier.

  19. Thanks so much for this post--I have just added a feed reader thingy to my blog, following your careful advice. I've been blogging almost a year, and it never occurred to me....

  20. Charlotte- you're very welcome! I'm glad this post was helpful.

    And I just subscribed to your blog, because now you have a feed reader thingy. =) Your blog is wonderful and I just added Charlotte's Library to my blog roll.

  21. This was such wonderful advice! I've been blogging for over a year now, but I even found new tips. Thanks!

  22. Alyssa- thanks so much! I'm so glad it was helpful. Your blog is great. I just added The Shady Glade to my blogroll.

  23. Thanks for this article. I've been working on a children's books blog a little at a time and will definitely reference this information over and over. The technical stuff is a little overwhelming, but it seems to be so helpful for getting the word out.

  24. Wow, thanks! I'm new to blogging and was getting totally overwhelmed. I was starting to feel like I just couldn't do it but your list makes it so much less daunting.