I had an awesome time at the #LoveYA festival talking about blogging last weekend. I've been blogging for five-and-a-half years now, which is over a quarter of my life, and it's amazing how quickly the time has gone. I'm not a blogging expert by any means or an internet-famous person (and I don't I really want to be) but the early days of my blogging played a big role in my becoming a published writer and it's been a pretty awesome part of my life - there are so many amazing people I know as a result of blogging, and a whole lot of fantastic experiences I might otherwise not have had.
Some of the great things that happened as a result of my first year of blogging:
- Being invited to the NSW Writers Centre Kids & YA Literature Festival (by the wonderful, wonderful kids' author Susanne Gervay)
- Being asked to write for the Queensland Writers Centre magazine
- Being invited onto triple j to talk internet negativity on Hack
- “Networking” / being part of a writing community despite being geographically isolated
- Review copies of newly released novels! ARCs! Getting to interview my favourite writers!
- Publishers already being aware of me when my novel was submitted to them & viewing my commitment to YA positively
- Getting feedback on my work and advice from other writers I wouldn't have known otherwise
- Having a voice! Being able to express my ideas! Developing as a writer! Making friends!
So, clearly I think blogs are awesome. I thought I'd share some of the things I spoke about, lots and lots of tips and ideas and things I've gathered over the past five years. Things I think are helpful to remember, and advice I'd give to my early blogging self. So, here we go:
- Blogging is at its core about connecting with people, and I think the same is true of novels.
- There's a certain amount of bravery in putting yourself and your opinions out there. It's a risky thing to be vulnerable on the internet.
- People in the 'real world' making reference to things you put on your blog is something you have to be prepared for (it's utterly bizarre).
- Know what you want to achieve, and what you will regard as success: If you want to earn money from your blog, you're going to set out in a different way entirely to wanting to have a hobby that you spend a couple of hours a week on. Maybe you need a disciplined schedule to reach your goal of monetising, or maybe it's pure fun for you.
- The keys to a well-read blog: regular posts that are entertaining and/or interesting, and ensuring that the people who'd want to read your blog know that you're writing it.
- Don't obsess over statistics – focus on genuinely connecting with people. (The same applies to being an author: Don't obsess over book sales. You will always be disappointed.) What's amazing about blogging and the internet and books and all other things is human connection, is making friends, is touching affecting the lives of others. One hundred thousand anonymous hits only counts for more than a hundred genuine connections if your focus is on monetising your blog.
- Aim to connect: An amazing and wonderful thing about the internet is the way in which we can communicate with people all across the world. The best way to build a readership for a blog and the way in which you're going to get the most out of blogging is by being social.
- Blogs written explicitly as a self-promotional activity (as some author blogs can be) or to earn money are not going to be especially engaging.
- Goodreads is a really great platform for book reviewers and Twitter and Facebook are terrific for 'networking' (a.k.a. Procrastinating) but it's only worth using social media platforms to promote your blog or to interact with people if you enjoy using those platforms.
- Know your niche: You're going to find an audience and a community with people who write about the things you write about – in my case, that was YA book blogging. There's an even bigger community now of Australia YA book bloggers and that's awesome.
- Balance self-promotion with supporting others – that community is your life force. It's not enjoyable to read things that are blatantly self-involved all the time; you also want to celebrate others, and share things that are interesting and entertaining.
- Keep your uniqueness. Don't feel as if you have to conform to what everyone else in your genre of blogging is doing. You should have fun.
- Deciding before you start blogging what you will blog (i.e. YA book reviews, interviews, writing updates) and writing about that consistently means readers know what to expect of you. If you want to branch out and it's very drastically different you might want to start a separate blog if you've already built up a readership.
- Know what you want to share: I think there's a desire for self-revelation in all of us, and this is a time in which we have plenty of chances to overshare. I think setting limitations on what you will and won't share is always a good idea, so you're less likely to publish something you might regret. (Nothing is ever really deleted.)
- I think a certain amount of self-revelation helps you to connect with people reading your blog, so that they can relate to you. There are a lot of people I originally knew online who are now physical-realm friends and in some ways you're more able to be yourself online without self-consciousness.
- Things I like to think about before I share something: Would I be comfortable with my nan reading this? (She probably will, anyway.) Would I be comfortable with strangers reading this? (They will. Who knows how many.) How will this affect how people view me?
- You won't always get it exactly right. You might even look silly. And that's okay. Everyone has put something stupid on the internet in their youth.
- Avoiding burn-out: I think writing novels and blogging are similar in that passion and enthusiasm are only going to take you so far, and it's pretty easy to get overwhelmed and tired of it all.
- It's really important to create balance in your life. When I was fifteen blogging was a huge part of my life on a daily basis and I got sick of it when I was sixteen. You don't want to spend too much time in online worlds.
- If it stops being fun, don't feel obligated to keep blogging. Take a break. Give yourself an opportunity to recall what's enjoyable about blogging (for me, the social aspect) and refocus on putting time into that.
- Don't compare yourself to other bloggers. Don't compare yourself to other writers. Don't compare yourself to other people. (Compare yourself to crustaceans! You're a terrible arthropod.) In all seriousness – it doesn't matter what anyone else is doing. You don't have to be them. You have to be you. Focus on what you enjoy.
- Dealing with negativity: Negative comments are an unfortunate side effect of the internet. Certain subjects are going to attract more than others – if you want to write about feminism, for instance, you're going to have to brace yourself for a lot of mean and stupid comments.
- Never react publicly. Don't put anything in writing. If you want to talk about how ridiculous comments are, talk to a friend or family member about it. Make sure they don't respond, either.
- Try to avoid the comments to begin with – on my blog and Facebook and Twitter I get almost entirely positive comments. When I write something for another website or people write about me, I'm more likely to get negativity. It's just not worth the energy of reading the comments. (The most entertaining negative things written about me on the internet: that I was 'probably taught French proverbs in the womb', that I am 'overrated' - I didn't know I rated at all!, that I don't live in the 'real world' - I was in a fake world all this time!, etc, etc.)
- Research blog platforms before you commit to one so that it suits your purposes and skill level. Blogger is great for being simple and straightforward. I hear Wordpress is great in terms of customisation.
- Choose a blog title that you're not going to think is silly in five minutes, or be embarrassed by people saying it in the real world. You want it to indicate something about the nature of your blog and to intrigue people. It's not of huge importance but I think being memorable is key.
- The most important things in terms of blog design are that your blog is readable, easy to navigate and not visually overwhelming.
Oh and, by the way, I really appreciate you taking the time to read my ramblings on the internet. You're terrific.