Friday, October 27, 2006

The secret of successful blogging

Well, I've been at this blog now for over a year and it's taken me that long to work out what makes a blog successful. By successful I mean read by more than three people (my brother, my wife and my milkman).

At first I thought it was all about marketing. All those tricks they tell you about. Getting people to link to you. Leaving comments on other blogs. Writing stuff with popular tags. Writing lots of short posts. Writing lots of long posts. Put in some photographs. Make it humorous. Make it serious. Make it topical. Develop a theme. Write about yourself. Don't write about yourself. Write about what interests your readers (if you have any).

Make it spontaneous. Polish every sentence until it's perfect. Find a niche. Make it universal. Make it controversial. Don't upset your readers (if you have any).

And so on, and so on.

But it isn't any of those things. Or rather it is all of those things. And more.

The secret to producing a successful blog is simple. So simple in fact that there isn't any secret to it. All you have to do is produce interesting, original, high quality content every day. That's all. Do that and people will return in increasing numbers every day to hear what you've got to say.

Unfortunately, the secret - which I've now revealed to the world - is the problem. Have you any idea how hard it is to produce interesting, original posts every day? It's bloody near impossible. At the very least it's a full time job. And that's ignoring the inspiration and talent you also need. So, unless you're unemployed or retired or a person of independent means you might as well park those dreams about becoming an A-lister in the blogosphere. It isn't going to happen. Which, paradoxically, may be no bad thing in the end. Success can become something of a burden. I spoke to the Grumpy Old Bookman the other day - one of the real literary A-listers who consistently puts out high quality content on a daily basis - and this is what he had to say on the subject:

"To tell the truth, the blog is getting out of hand. I enjoy it, and wisely or otherwise I feel obliged to keep it going, but it consumes an unholy amount of time. Much gets neglected."

As far as my own blogging goes, it seems to come in spurts. Sorry, I know, I know. The image that phrase conjures up is just as distressing for me as it is for you. What I mean is, I often run out of things to say, my batteries run dry. The sperm bank is empty. Oops, sorry. I don't mean that at all. The well runs dry. That's better. But even when inspiration returns it still takes a lot of time, and effort, to produce all these trite sounding apercus I churn out.

So I guess the moral is: a blog is like a sewer. What you get out of it largely depends upon what you put into it. Hm. I wish I could have thought of a less fragrant analogy but I don't have time. I've got to go off and earn a living, sod it.


  1. It is a problem - and I don't know if it's one I/we should welcome or not.

    Trouble with me is I'm such a gobby communicator I could easily spend all and every day on the blog. It's made for me - or I for it ...

    I do it for the communicating bit but I also can justify it in 'getting me out there' terms. Which has its drawbacks - the next link could be the one that changes your world ... Can you resist?

    But now my agent's mentioned my current book - which I've been fitting in round the blogging rather than vice versa ...

    Oo-er. Reprioritising needed?

  2. Even the newspaper world--as hardbitten a bunch of capitalists as exists anywhere--observes the rule that one column a week, or at the most two, is all that can be decently asked of anyone, even if that anyone is paid a middle class living for his/her trouble and doesn't have another job. Blogging is nothing more than a daily column, with the additional responsibility for replying to comments and whatever admin is required on the tech side. So don't apologise, Bill.

    Never apologise. You have your thanks for doing it, and doing it so well, which somehow doesn't seem nearly enough.

  3. Um, that's our thanks you have Bill. Really.

  4. It's a toughie Bill. Blogging has given me so much, yet it has definitely snaffled loads of my time.

    although, for me at least, it has led to something 'real', i.e. Minx's book, don't see any other way that would have happened

    Blogging also led me to publish my own books, that might have happened anyway

    Who knows? It's here, we're involved, like you said on my blog "We'll just have to wait and see."

  5. Hi, Bill!!!

    Really good posting!

    Blogging is so time consuming that I can't remember the last time I mopped the kitchen floor!

    All those tricks (and I try to employ many of them) do make a difference. My Google PR5 rating is, evidently, somewhat astounding for a simple publishing blog. Still, I'm fried right now, particularly after my last posting. (One blogger has my photo on his/her site with the caption: "The Face of Racism." Copyright infringement? Libel? What shall I do?)

    Which reminds me... Bill, may I add your handsome image to your latest comment on my blog? (Trick!!!)

    I'd email you directly, but Google mail is punishing me for sending too many announcements of my latest posting yesterday. I can receive email, but cannot send it! My God-given right to email is temporarily suspended. (The nerve!)

    Lynne AKA The Wicked Witch of Publishing

    PS Thanks for dropping by and leaving a comment! I added a note to your comment.

  6. Ahh I dunno, I'm convinced you wouldn't think too much about it if you didn't have any sort of statistics read-out to peruse. The first thing I do in the morning is check emails followed by a gander at who or what arrived at my blog overnight. Quite an upsetting habit because you end up finding people who--through an obscure google hit--have landed on the Most Offensive Thing you've written; something you only ever intended to write for you/your friends.

    With people like Skint, GOB etc, they've created quite a niche in themselves, a sort of transparent look at the industry with a decent and compelling voice. (I must admit that most literary blogs by *writers* tend to unnerve me.) I've discovered that once you've got a circle of regular blogs to visit it's doubtful you'll venture much further afield. I don't anyway. Best way is undoubtedly to comment lots of people so they come-a-knocking.

    Think you've got a fair few regulars anyway, haven't you? Sure sign of success.

    Once upon a time I caused a furore by inadvertently pre-empting the name of quite a nasty computer virus. I was getting thousands of hits a day as the only site to mention it and it was ridiculous. But that won me some regular readers, so perhaps it's best to do something daft or accidental.

    Anyway, gone on.


  7. debi, I agree, blogging is addictive. I justify it - in so far as I feel the need to justify it which is about three inches - by telling myself that it's a form of writing exercise which will ultimately improve my novel writing.

    jta, good point as ever. Blogging is a variable feast, no question.

    skint - blogging has definitely been beneficial to you - no question. Indeed, there are a lot of intangible benefits. Even a simple blogger like me has to sit down and think before he stabs the keyboard. It's got to be better for you than doing a crossword.

    Hi Lynne, you can do whatever you like with my picture, even though it doesn't remotely do me justice.
    Er, yeah, I've been reading your blog - and many others - dealing with the subject of racism in publishing, and life generally. I live in a tiny, rural village here in Scotland which I guess is 99% white so I hardly feel qualified to pontificate on the subject although I do have strong views on the matter.

    Racism is a major problem in Scottish society (as is Sectarianism), no doubt about it. Scots/English, whites/blacks, whites/Asians, whites/Eastern Europeans and just about any other combination of races you care to name. Of course, I'm nearly always in the ethnic majority since I'm white and therefore it's easy for me to ignore. However, it must be a very different matter if you're part of a discriminated-against minority.

    Although it's easy, not to say trite, for me to say it - because of my circumstances - let me state categorically that I totally abhor all aspects of racist behaviour and I condemn unequivocally anyone who holds racist views - whatever their ethnicity. I only hope I'm not trivialising the subject by writing about it on this blog.

  8. Hi Matt, yeah, that's exactly how I start my day.

    I do browse around quite a bit looking for new and interesting blogs, but the truth is they're not that thick on the ground. But why should they be? Like I say in my post it all depends how much work has gone into them in the first place. Nothing wrong with a light, ephemeral blog, just not all that satisfying, not a good meal for the soul.

  9. Anonymous5:09 pm

    The lure of the blog has held me captive this week. Hours and hours spent idling around, poking in blog cupboards and fishing around for interesting tidbits.
    I'm on holiday so I don't usually have this luxury but in a way I am glad. Squeezing blogging (posting and reading) into a few hours in the evening has made me sharpen my writing head - writing which invariably follows a good gander around the blogosphere! I think that I would worry if I was at home all day - nothing would get done!
    Maintaining my own blog is a joy and I am miffed when I cannot post every day. Yes, I check my site meter and yes Matt, I too am subject to the google searchers (usually looking for a virtual blogflog from a Minx of other sorts!).
    I haven't thought about success - to what would I compare? My hits have grown since I started, that I do know, and my links have turned into some sort of personal village whose inhabitants I have become extremely fond of (something I didn't expect).
    And posting, I thought of it, at first, as something completely different. A public diary, a ranting platform, a place to sneak in the odd piece of writing? Yes, for sure, but now also somewhere in which to relax, to meet like- minded people, to enjoy debate and discussion and to throw a few spanners in the works as well.
    The blog has also led me to knock on Skint's door, so who am I to complain when a dream has come to fruition?

    Success or no, doesn't matter for me. If something brings happiness then I, for one, am going to hang on to it until me nails bleed or until someone gags me!

  10. If you have to go to work each day and have a long commute, blogging wins hands down over any of the following activities:

    Cooking the dinner
    Eating the dinner
    Falling asleep over a book (and then not being able to get to sleep at bedtime and being shattered the next day)
    Doing the ironing
    Struggling with someone's maths homework
    Watching TV
    Getting deperessed/going mad
    Going to the pub

    Ok, you get the picture of my sad life? Blogging is an active lifestyle choice for me becuase it is better than whatever else is around to do. (some of the things in the above list I would not actually do anyway, eg going to the pub or smoking, I just put them in for effect or to prove the point)

    PS you "spoke" to the GOB! Wow! Last I heard you were trying to get him to notice you to put you on his blogroll!

  11. "The secret to producing a successful blog is simple. So simple in fact that there isn't any secret to it. All you have to do is produce interesting, original, high quality content every day. That's all. Do that and people will return in increasing numbers every day to hear what you've got to say.

    Unfortunately, the secret - which I've now revealed to the world - is the problem. Have you any idea how hard it is to produce interesting, original posts every day? It's bloody near impossible. At the very least it's a full time job."

    --I agree. Good post and comments--and, yes indeedy, what a time-sink blogging can be! Though I've gotta say, many days I enjoy reading comments and getting feedback so much that I don't mind all the effort I put into blogging; other days, I'm declaring, "This blog is closed for forever--I'm finished here--FINISHED, dammit!" I vacillate for sure.

    My main blog didn't have much daily traffic, but it's suddenly gone up lately, it's more than doubled, which is cool, though it's still not an enormous amount of traffic or anything. But if it KEEPS going up, I may need an assistant to handle some aspects! I believe there is such a thing as web administrative assistants (?)--or at least there used to be....

  12. Yes, produce great content all the time and never stop. Guys who paint pictures paint good ones and great ones and some really bad ones, same with people who write books, good ones, ones that just about pass, and the last one which was crap. You get the point.
    But bloggers aren't allowed to falter at all or technorati will stop clocking you, alexa will paint you under the graph, and your auntie will stop answering the phone.
    That's where all the time goes, just trying to please all of the people all of the time.
    Thing is, one of the things is, I blog best when I've ben out and had a coffee, or kicked a ball around, taken a nap, something that cleared the blog out of my head for a while . . . then I'm ready for it again.

  13. Anonymous1:08 am

    Maxine! Quick! Get down the pub and smoke!
    It won't be long before you can't, so you must get at least one in. Saying that, get down and have a drink too, (I did, and had one or five tonight), because they're going to stop that as well!!!

  14. Daddy2:24 am

    You're right, Bill. Great piece, by the way. I stopped blogging because I suck at it, and I found myself becoming addicted to sucking at blogging. Poor, poor me.
    So now I just read other people's blogs; and the dearth of interesting, original content leaves me gasping for breath. You're on my favorites list, though (no pressure, ha, ha, ha), along with about four others. I read you every morning with my coffee.

  15. Anonymous9:52 am

    Watch it daddy, your 'newspaper' may not turn up every day - the best ones don't you know!

  16. Fran, it sounds like you've reached the tipping point. Me, I'm still stumbling over the tripping point.

    Hi John. John Baker, everyone, one of my blogging heroes. The first person ever to link to me after I started up. John, I think your blog must be qualitatively more difficult than most to write. It's kind of intellectual and, er, serious. You develop lots of ideas on it that push the boundaries. That can't be easy to sustain. Kind of rarefied and erudite, high seriousness. Here in the Pundy House just about anything goes, so at least I don't have to worry about keeping up any standards.

  17. Maxine, you don't have a sad life. Oh, well, maybe you do. I don't know, do I? Lives of quiet desperation, and all that. I remember all our discussions about depression. To tell the truth I'd be desolate without the blogging, I must admit. To communicate with like-minded people, it's opened up a whole new world to me. The kind of people I don't get to meet in the real world. I love the community that's grown up around our little circle of blogs, no question. The only downside is that I find myself taking people's feelings into account before I write anything these days. I'm not sure if that's self-censorship or civilised behaviour. I want to retain my right to behave badly when I feel like it (usually, in my defence, for humorous purposes). Have my cake and eat it I suppose. Actually I think most of my visitors tolerate my lapses all right.

    The GOB? Okay, I'll tell you a little secret there. I've conducted several e-mail conversations with the GOB over the past year. He's been very helpful and kind - not at all grumpy. He has actually mentioned me three times or so on his blog and most people who arrived here in the early days came via him. He recently apologised for not putting a link up - an oversight - and promised one soon. If you search this blog for the post "Waiting For Gobbo" you'll find the post you're referring to where I document my epic struggle to get a link from him. He's actually read that post and enjoyed it thoroughly. Whatever you do though -don't e-mail him, please! Let this be our secret. I only contact him extremely judiciously. There's a reason why he never answers Comments left on his blog.

  18. "Rarefied and erudite, high seriousness." Whaddaya mean? I told a joke once, not that long ago. Sometimes people want to cuddle me; well, one person did. Please don't send me back to the rarefied and erudite crowd, if you warm me up I can be real good fun. . .

  19. Okay, John, you claim to have a sense of humour. Well, here's the deal. I'll do my best over the next couple of days to sow a Comment on your blog that'll give you the chance to crack a joke. Let's see if you're up to the challenge.

  20. Ah, you're a hard man, Pundy.

  21. Thanks for your GOB info, Pundy. I, too, had some nice email exchanges with him in my early blogging days, and we do occasionally email each other. he's a really special guy and not at all grumpy. I read his book Grumpy Old Bookman and reviewed it on Petrona, it's an excellent book about all kinds of things, one of which being about the "pull" of blogging. I don't know why he doesn't answer comments on his blog (I leave the occasional comment but not many), but I am sure that whatever his reason it works for him, which is fine.

    Yes, life of quiet desperation. Or sometimes, not so quiet. Jeez, don't get me on all that again. Or at all. Just keep writing, I love reading your words and I love the little blogging community I've found myself part of. Sad, maybe, but it keeps me from doing things I shouldn't.