Updated January 24th, 2020.
You know you want to.
You’ve considered doing it for a while now, but something always stops you. Maybe you’ve already done it once or twice, but it didn’t feel right, so you swore you’d never do it again. It made you feel uncomfortable. Or worse, it turned you into a slave and you couldn’t handle it. All your friends do it, and they look at you funny when you say “I’m not judging, but I just don’t get it.” You’re tempted, but a trusted friend, teacher, or family member advised against it, and their words were powerful.
No, I’m not talking about doing drugs. I’m talking about you wanting to start a blog!
You’re right to hesitate. Blogging isn’t something you should plunge into blindly. But if you approach it professionally and systematically, and you do the necessary preparation work, you can and will be successful at it.
You may have already read my article on platform building (and/or my lessons-learned article where I discuss the importance of platform). In those articles, I mention how important it is to be a content provider. Your content is going to be at the core of your writer’s platform, and your platform is going to be the perpetual motion machine that drives your book sales. But don’t confuse content with blog. Content is the useful information/product you’re offering to the public. Blog, on the other hand, is nothing more than the medium by which you convey that information/product to the public.
First, let me tell you what I’m not going to do in this article. I’m not going to try to sell you on the idea of blogging. I’m going to assume that if you’re here, you’ve already decided blogging is of interest to you.
What else am I not going to do? I’m not going to give you a technical walk-through of the various blogging platforms out there. There are a metric buttload of them, and I could write a series with each article dedicated to a single platform. It’s just too much info. I will mention the two largest platforms later in the article (WordPress and Blogger), because I have hands-on experience with them.
But above all else, what I hope to accomplish here is helping you start out on the right foot and set you up for success.
And it all begins with…
Follow Your Passion
There are many things to write about on a semi-regular basis, so make sure the topic you choose is one you’re passionate about! There are going to be many days when you just don’t want to write another article. You’ll sit at the keyboard and think “I just don’t have it in me.” You’ll feel as if you’re wasting time, and it won’t be much of a leap to decide this whole blogging idea was a lousy one! Passion is what’s going to keep you coming back to the keyboard. Passion is what’s going to take a ho-hum article about whatever subject you’ve chosen and turn it up a notch. Passion is what’s going to build your audience (a process that is very slow, by the way. I’ll discuss it later.) More importantly, your readers will sense the moment your passion ebbs.
Writer’s take note: Nowhere in this section did I say you have to blog about writing. It’s about passion, even if that passion is bird-watching.
You know that saying “no tears in the writer, no tears in the reader”? Well it’s every bit as true for non-fiction as it is for fiction.
Pick A Schedule
You have to know up front what your publication schedule is going to be like. I suspect your choice of topic is going to drive this. If you’re blogging about the latest movie or music releases, that’s going to require a much different schedule than if you’re blogging about the craft of writing. The former changes almost daily (or at least weekly), while the latter changes…well…on occasion. As a general rule-of-thumb, the more frequently you blog, the faster your audience will grow. Also, search engines tend to prefer fresh content. But don’t try to shoe-horn your topic into a daily event when it’s not. Be true to the topic you’ve chosen, because the most important consideration is that the information you provide (or the attitude, or the entertainment, or the product, or…or…or…) is quality information.
This blog, for example, is a “lessons learned” blog wherein I try to help up-and-coming writers avoid common pitfalls. They say you learn something new every day. Well, that sounds nice, but it’s not entirely true when you confine it to a single subject. I just don’t have enough quality information to put out an article every day, so I don’t. Sometimes I write one article per month. But whatever I write, I try to always make sure it’s helping people in some way, because mentoring is one of my passions. And remember what I said about passion? Passion is the lifeblood of whatever article you decide to write.
Keep Track Of Article Ideas
Those of you who write for a living or hobby are already familiar with this. Ideas come to us in the most unlikely of places and inconvenient of times. We can’t always drop what we’re doing and write an article! (“I’m so sorry for your loss, Mr. Smith. Your wife was a wonderful…oh damn…do you have a laptop I can borrow for a few minutes? Your suit just gave me an idea: Grammar is the New Black. Great title, am I right or am I right?”)
I’m not allowed at funerals anymore.
But enough about me. Let’s talk about how I track article ideas. Oh crap…that’s about me.
Anyway, I’m a fan of Google Drive/Docs. I like it because I can quickly access it from any device I happen to have on me at the time. I also use a service called IFTTT (If This Then That). IFTTT is an online (free) automation tool that allows you to do…well pretty much anything…based on a trigger. Triggers can also be pretty much anything. Let me explain: I have a process that basically says “when I receive an email with a specific tag, append the body of that email to a specific Google doc.” In practice, this allows me to quickly send an email to myself that contains my article idea. IFTTT makes a pass on my inbox every 15 minutes, and when it finds that email, it adds the body text to my document that contains article ideas.
Regardless of the process you choose…choose a process.
The nice thing about this list of ideas is that when you hit the inevitable dry spell, you’ll have a list from which you can pull and develop an article idea.
Find A Community
This is often the most overlooked aspect of blogging. If you want to be a successful blogger, help other bloggers be successful! Find blogs that cover your topic area and become a community member. Follow those blogs. Get to know the blogger. Most importantly, comment on the articles and contribute (constructively). Perhaps offer a complementary viewpoint that gives readers an angle they hadn’t considered. The more you do this, the more people will discover you and visit your blog.
I’m not telling you to spam another person’s blog with links to your own. That’s a great way to get blacklisted from good blogs. People are smart. They don’t need a link to your blog in the comment body. Your profile information will contain your blog link (in most circumstances. There are exceptions, of course.) When people decide they’re interested in you, they’ll click on your profile and find your blog. And if you happen to find a case where you really do need to post a specific link, see how other people have done this on the blog in question. Maybe ask the blog owner first.
Blogger Vs. WordPress
These are currently the two blog platforms I’m most familiar with, because I’ve used both for A Writer’s Journey over the last few years. Blogger is Google’s free blogging platform. WordPress, on the other hand, comes in two flavors: Free, and a self-hosted version. For the self-hosted version, the software is free, but you’re most likely going to pay a provider to host your blog.
Which is better? That’s a religious war sort of question, so let me answer it by giving you my experience.
When I began blogging, I didn’t really know what I was doing. I was still in the “I don’t know what I don’t know” phase of getting started. I tried to use WordPress and was quickly overwhelmed. I don’t say that lightly…I’m a software engineer. But maybe that’s part of it. I deal with so many technical issues at work that the last thing I want to do at home is deal with technical issues. I just wanted it to work without much technical effort on my part.
Blogger was as easy as can be. The interface was simple, and the learning curve was minimal. I was even able to purchase a domain name and direct it to my Blogger site. It worked wonderfully for more than a year, and I do recommend it as a starting point if you really don’t know what you’re doing (technically).
As A Writer’s Journey matured, and I learned enough about blogging to realize I needed more power, I switched to the self-hosted version of WordPress. WordPress drives the site you’re currently viewing, and I have a host provider that gives me wonderful technical support when I need it (DreamHost). But, there is a cost associated with it. I spend about $20/year on domain names and $10/month on hosting fees. I also sprung for a professionally developed theme (X-Theme…incredible stuff), and that ran about $80, but it was a one-time fee.
[Update, January 24, 2020: My hosting fees are $16.95/month. As the blog grew in popularity, the performance started to degrade for individual users. So, I upgraded to DreamHost’s “DreamPress” hosting solution, which is their usual stellar service but optimized specifically for WordPress. It’s worth checking out! They do everything for me to keep my site running smoothly, and their technical support is the best I’ve encountered in the industry.]
So what’s the bottom line? Well, neither Blogger nor WordPress is the only game in town! Both served me well; Blogger provided me with a wonderful starting point, and WordPress gives me the power I need now that my platform has matured. But there are other blogging solutions out there, and I recommend you do some research to find one that fits. Remember…blogging, like writing a novel, is a marathon instead of a sprint. You’re in this for the long haul, and you’re going to spend a lot of time with whichever technical solution you choose. So make sure you pick one you’re comfortable with. Your reader isn’t going care about the platform you chose.
One thing I’ll caution you about regarding any free blogging solution: read the license agreement carefully. One of the things that turned me off about Blogger was the indication that they owned my content. As a professional content provider, I can’t allow that.
Building An Audience Takes Time
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About Nat Russo
Nat Russo is the Amazon #1 Bestselling Fantasy author of Necromancer Awakening and Necromancer Falling. Nat was born in New York, raised in Arizona, and has lived just about everywhere in-between. He’s gone from pizza maker, to radio DJ, to Catholic seminarian (in a Benedictine monastery, of all places), to police officer, to software engineer. His career has taken him from central Texas to central Germany, where he worked as a defense contractor for Northrop Grumman. He's spent most of his adult life developing software, playing video games, running a Cub Scout den, gaining/losing weight, and listening to every kind of music under the sun. Along the way he managed to earn a degree in Philosophy and a black belt in Tang Soo Do. He currently makes his home in central Texas with his wife, teenager, mischievous beagle, and goofy boxador.
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I always enjoy reading your content Nat. Great post about the importance of blogging, and taking the slow and steady approach to sharing your passion. Thanks again!
Thank you, Chase! I’m glad you enjoyed it.
Have you encountered the blog Harsh Reality yet? Sounds like the two of you could collaborate and make a wonderful primer for those of us just getting started in the blogging world. I’ve been working on following his advice, but some of it was a tad hard to understand. You have done a wonderful job shining a light on these areas. Thank you!
I haven’t seen that one yet, but I’ll be sure and stop by! Thanks so much for your kind words. If I can ever answer any questions, just let me know!
Right now, I’m still digging through your twitter series. Found you through facebook, and once I come back up for air again, going to virtually hug the poster!
You have a wonderful writing style, and I am very glad to have been pointed your direction.
Well now you’re going to make me blush. 🙂 Welcome aboard!
Blushing is not allowed around here. ::grins:: You do have great content, and I am glad you posted that note to facebook. Now to figure out how to apply it for myself.
Wow, this is a timely post. I just started my website/blog and have been fretting about what to write. Since I’m gearing it to readers and not other writers, I worried that talking about the writing process would be boring. I love your advice to write what you’re passionate about. Thank you Nat! I wish you continued success with your writing.
Many thanks! I’m really glad you found the blog!
Passion is definitely the key. That’s what’s going to keep you coming back to the keyboard time and time again.
Love your posts, Nat, very informative. I have a free wordpress blog, do they own my content same as Blogger?
I’m not entirely certain about free WordPress, but I’m under the impression they do. I’d have to read through their license agreement, but most hosts that provide you with space without charging claim limited ownership of your material (including the right to delete your content based on policy changes…that’s one of the bits that made me shudder.)
My advice would be to comb through the EULA (End User’s License Agreement) to be certain.
From what I’ve read, you own the content at WordPress.com whether you use the free basic service or you upgrade to one of their premium services (which I did). The EULA reads like your typical legal document and is a bit confusing, but I’ve gone through a few forums and everything points to you owning the content, with WordPress having the right to promote, display, etc. (and delete content if it breaks the terms of service, i.e. hate speech, copyright infringements, illegal content, etc.). I pay for the $99 premium service, which I think is a great deal considering WordPress is fairly easy to use and have some decent easy-to-use free themes.
Maybe one day I’ll switch to WordPress.org, but I’m too technically challenged for that right now. 🙂
There’s a related issue about ownership: if you use WordPress or any similar blogging service directly, rather than paying a web *hosting* company (i use Bluehost.com) that lets you *use* the WordPress system, you don’t own the domain URL or your access to it. So if one misunderstanding with the WordPress people take a wrong turn, they can shut off your blog with no explanation. Then all the people who’ve found it will have to re-learn to look for it at whatever new address you find for it.
Which most of them won’t; you’ve LOST maybe years of followers. It’s called “digital sharecropping,” and it’s no way to run a railroad. (See http://www.copyblogger.com/digital-sharecropping/ for more.)
Plus, a URL that’s stuffed with “wordpress.com-slash” before you get to your own tagline just isn’t as memorable or professional as a URL that’s 100% you.
Robert: I wasn’t aware of the $99 service you mentioned. I’ll have to do some research on this so I can answer any questions that come my way!
Ken: Thanks for sharing that article! Reading through it right now, and they’re making some great points. The story of the bookstore is what I feared the most when I was on Blogger. In fact, I still fear it somewhat as an independent publisher using KDP Select. True, it’s a bit of a reach, but I’m not entirely certain what I would do if KDP closed shop tomorrow. I suppose I’d start looking at Smashwords and other distributors, but then that’s simply moving the problem rather than solving it.
Thank you for this. I launched a blog three weeks ago (crackingnut.blogspot.com) and this is helpful. Happy to say I’m off to a decent start thanks to the advice from fellow bloggers.
Best of luck on your new blog, Jessica!
Thanks Nat. Another easy to follow informative article. I always enjoy reading your blogs. You give good tips in a no nonsense down to earth style.
Thanks so much, Joan!
Good post as always Nat. I’ve been blogging weekly about writing for a few months now, but considering changing direction that’s more appealing to readers as opposed to fellow writers, and your post has given me something to think about. Thank you.
You’re very welcome, Daniel. And thanks for visiting the site!
Great post Nat! I just recently started my blog in September. I use wordpress and get my domain name through godaddy.com. At first my blog was very daunting. I have been keeping my posts to once a week. Since my blog is based on book reviews mostly I can’t do much more than one post a week. Thus far I have had only four people subscribe to my blog. This has been hard to swallow for me. After reading about your experience with subscribers I feel a lot better. I have noticed a steady stream of people visiting my site which I think is the most important. Most recently I had the highest number of visitors in one day, over 100!
Your blog posts keep me excited to keep my blog going! I look forward to future posts!
It sounds as if you’re on the right track, Brianne! It can be difficult to get people to hit that “subscribe” button, because the perceived value of the articles has to outweigh the hassle of potential emails filling their inbox. 100 in a day is fantastic for an up-and-coming blog!
Great article. I just came back to blogging after quitting my previous blog three years ago. I write about movies (old and new), and I found it really stressful to have to constantly provide content. It got to the point where I didn’t even want to watch movies anymore because I’d get so stressed out about writing about them! Now I’m trying to take it easy on myself: one or two reviews a week with a little fun filler content (photos, etc.) thrown in to keep it active. I only write about movies about which I actually have something to say. Whereas before I felt obligated to write up a review of every single film I saw, now I just skip the ones that don’t grab me.
I’ve only been back at it for a little bit, but something that’s been bugging me is the lack of traffic. Honestly I expected all the people who used to read my old blog (which was quite popular) to immediately find me again and visit/comment/subscribe. But that hasn’t happened. I’m realizing I really need to build up my content again and not just expect people to remember what I USED to do. It seems obvious to me now, but it took me about a week to come to this realization.
It sounds like you’re taking the right approach this time, Caroline. And you’re correct in that it will take time to rebuild your audience. Even people who follow blogs regularly eventually decide to stop in order to pursue something else. When it comes to entertainment, people have a serious case of ADD. But, that works as much for us as against us, which is a great thing!
A couple of things:
First – its “first,” not firstly. Nor is it secondly or thirdly or lastly. No “ly” when they are used as introductory words. Actually, I can’t think of any accurate use of those words with ly after them.
Second, I never encourage people to blog about one topic or one passion. It is a good way to start, but it is a bad way to continue because most every theme will eventually run out of subject matter. Also, many writers get tired of writing about the same thing. I encourage people to consider branching their topics to anything that is important to them.
Sure, start out writing film reviews, but be ready to write about the television commercial that annoyed you or your experience adopting a rescue dog. Even julie, readers will care more about you and your personality ( assuming one has a personality) and that makes it more likely they will care about your take on this year’s Oscar field. The point is that limiting your theme means limiting your readers.
Third, and this one is not a disagreement, I started out using Blogger and, after maybe four years, I had very few readers and had written very little that was encouraging to continue. However, once I switched to WordPress, I found it much easier to connect with other writers and build an audience.
After 5 years on blogger I had about 50 followers. After 5 years on WordPress I now have about 3700. I will accept that it might be more about my growth as a writer than it is about each platform, but all I can do is share the numbers.
Happy new year.
If you’re going to be a pedant and attack me in my own home, you should at least do your research and make sure you’re correct. Protip: you’re not — http://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/grammar/british-grammar/first-firstly-or-at-first
Don’t like Cambridge? Here’s Oxford: http://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/us/definition/english/firstly
Don’t like either? Google is your friend.
I never used “Firstly” in this post. In fact, if you search the entire page, I believe you’ll find the only person who used “firstly” (until this reply) was you. But just for giggles, I intend to use it more often in the future. (P.S –I could be wrong, but I’ve done a CTRL-F twice and searched for “firstly”. Yours is the only usage that popped up. So…what up with that, dude? Yes, I used “what” instead of “what’s” on purpose…because reasons.)
But let’s suppose I had used some incorrect grammar. Lord knows I do from time to time. Consider the words of Elmore Leonard: “Or, if proper usage gets in the way, it may have to go. I can’t allow what we learned in English composition to disrupt the sound and rhythm of the narrative.”
Congratulations on 3700 followers. That’s an enormous accomplishment! I’ve been more successful as well since I moved to WordPress. I got to a point where I simply outgrew what Blogger had to offer. WordPress gives me a lot more options for design and publication, and it has a much larger community.
If you’re taken aback by the tone of my reply, please see my point under “Firstly” above. You never get a second chance to make a first impression, and this wasn’t the best way to introduce yourself to this community. We try to help each other here and do our best to build one another up. We don’t nit pick when people *do* make grammatical errors (and a cursory glance of the blog will reveal many in comments, some of which are mine. I ain’t gonna cry when people dun goof in an informal environment like this one. I write gud but I talk worser. And none of us walk on water.) This community is about finding a home with a group of people who feel just as lost as you do. It’s about guiding people who have no idea how to begin on the journey of pursuing a new (or old) passion. It’s about taking a subject that is fraught with fear and self-doubt and demonstrating that there’s nothing magical about the process. It’s about learning. It’s about growing. It’s about making friends and colleagues. And it’s about having fun in the process.
For those who are interested in the general wisdom on ordinals: the upper limit on using the “ly” form of the ordinal is best kept to no more than four, though even this is nothing more than a suggestion and comes down to personal preference.
You may have caught me at the end of a hard day’s work. All the more reason to not come out of the gate committing the error in “Firstly” above.
Welcome to the community. 90% of the above was written tongue-in-cheek (I’ll leave it to you to figure out which 10% wasn’t). We look forward to your future comments. And don’t be an asshole.
Or…at least be our kind of asshole. 🙂
Sorry about some of the words that make no sense. The speech to text feature of my phone is not perfect and i was too lazy to scan back to make sure everything was good, until it was too late. Even Julie should be eventually.
That’s ok. Even Julie is welcome here!
Solid information listed here. I wish this post was available when I started blogging. It would have saved me several steps. Thank you for including the information about content with Blogger. It is something I need to look into closely….thanks again, Nat
You’re welcome! If I can ever answer any questions, just let me know.