Friday, March 03, 2006

My Grauniad Angel

One of the surprising things about writing a blog is that you discover people are worried about you. In my case with good reason.

Over the past few weeks I've had a number of e-mails from a fellow blogger offering me advice on the appearance and content of my two blogs. She knows what she's talking about and I've implemented most of her suggestions to good effect. I think of her now as my Guardian Angel, hovering over me in the blogosphere.

She e-mailed me yesterday because she's obviously worried about something I said in one of my recent posts. I've decided to re-produce her e-mail in full (with her permission - provided I respected her anonimity) because there's so much in it for any neophyte blogger.

Here's what she had to say:

Hi Bill

Great to see your recent post about starting your next novel. That (for me) is what writing is about; the thrill of discovering/creating a story. Good luck with it, and long may the excitement continue.

Your previous post sounded very down, I thought. First, if you only get a handful of entries for the awards I think you'd be entirely justified in saying there weren't enough entries and declaring the contest void. Certainly I wouldn't feel happy accepting your money if there were only a handful of entries - I'd much prefer you to go and buy yourself a bottle of Scotch with it.

Second, you seemed unhappy about the amount of time blogging was taking up and how ineffective it was proving as a marketing exercise. (For one thing, the link to A Half Life of One isn't very prominent. I bet most people who wander past your blog don't even realise you've written a book because it just looks like a link to another blog. You could do worse than bump it up to the top of the page, like the Blookreader link, and write a sentence saying what kind of book it is. That would help make it more visible) Anyway, I wondered if you might be interested in some things I've noticed since I started blogging? This is stuff I've noticed from reading other blogs and seeing what seems to work well. It may be some interest to you; if not, feel free to ignore it.

a) it doesn't seem necessary to post daily, but it does seem important to post regularly. I think people are quite happy with the idea that a blog might only get updated once or twice a week (that's what I manage, and no-one seems to object), but erratic updates are off-putting.

b) comments seem much more likely to appear if the post asks an open question of some kind. People feel they're being asked for their opinion, so they might try giving a reply to see what happens. Bernita Harris (see below) almost always ends her post with a question.

c) people love it if you respond to their comments, especially if you respond fairly quickly. I know if I leave a comment on a blog I'll almost always go back to see if the blog owner has responded, and if they've said something nice I feel very pleased. And I'll likely decide the blog owner is a nice person and go back there again.

d) it's impossible to attract the attention of A-list blogs because they're high-status and they know it. Fellow Z-listers, on the other hand, quite readily form into loose communities of equals with similar interests, and it seems possible to find one's way into such communities. This only seems to work if there's a shared interest of some kind; all my handful of regulars either read or write historical fiction and/or have an interest in history. You clearly have an interest in writing, and I gather your new book is contemporary/recent past. I don't know what kind of book it is - mystery? thriller? literary? humour? - but you do. If you find a blog written by someone who either reads or writes modern fiction, or someone else who's tried self-publishing, chances are they might be interested in you, and you might be interested in them. Blogger's comment system seems tailor made to help people make contact with each other, so if you comment, the other blog owner knows you exist and will likely come over to see if you're interesting. If you follow the links in their sidebar, and/or click on the links for people who comment on their blog, that may lead you to other people with shared interests that you can make contact with. This has the makings of letting you into a community, or even of linking up one that didn't previously exist.

If you don't already know about them, you might be interested in Ian Hocking
who writes contemporary-ish thrillers and humour.

You may also be interested in Bernita Harris who seems to have accumulated quite a little community of writers who gather on her blog to chat. I think she has about 30 regulars (one of whom is me). She writes time-travel romance thrillers, and I think most of her regulars write contemporary mysteries and contemporary romance.

e) people love it if you comment on their blogs, but this only works if you have something to say.

f) keeping a blog going with the only the content of one's own brain is really hard work. But there are lots of things to talk about that other people might be interested in. I read a lot, so I post book reviews. I also comment on TV or radio programmes that raised something I'm interested in, and ask any readers what they thought. I comment on stuff on the net that interested me and ask people what they thought of it. Sometimes this gets a bit of a discussion going and then another posting topic might arise out of the comments.

g) pictures seem to be popular. Bernita has a whole series of coathanger cartoons, some of them rather good. Gabriele regularly posts a picture of a German castle or the local scenery - just scroll down some of the posts on her blog

I like your picture out of the window with the snow. You might want to do that again with the changing seasons, or pictures of interesting/attractive places nearby. It's a post, it's content without having to cogitate for hours, and you never know who might be interested.

h) Bernita and to a lesser extent Gabriele both post snippets of their work in progress and ask for comment, which usually provokes quite a discussion. Ian Hocking occasionally does the same. If/when you've found yourself a little community of fellow writers and/or readers, you could consider doing it. It's free content (because you've already written the text), and you might even get some useful feedback out of it.

I'm finding blogging quite fun, because it's worked out for me as a way of chatting to people who are also interested in history, historical fiction and books in general (I don't know any in real life!). If one or two of them bother to read my book when I post it, that'll be a bonus.

Anyway, I pass this on for what it's worth, just in case there's anything that might be useful to you if you're wondering how to carry on with your blog without it becoming a burden.

Best wishes


Isn't it amazing - and wonderful - that someone you don't know would take so much time and trouble to help you? It's enough to make you want to keep on blogging.

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