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he exact number is impossible to nail down, but estimates show active blogs at 110 million to 200 million worldwide. What those enormous numbers mean is this: Blogs are the new black. Women and men of all ages and occupations have jumped on the blogging bandwagon, and there’s no reason why you shouldn’t, as well.

Here are some of the benefits blogging offers:

  • A creative outlet controlled entirely by you, with no editorial or word count restrictions.
  • Regular writing practice.
  • It expands your platform—if you’re a published writer, a blog is a key piece of your marketing toolkit.
  • The space to share your knowledge and experience with others, which fosters…
  • Community and conversation.

Notice that “buckets of cash” isn’t included on the list above. Sure, there are people out there who blog for a living, but the big money doesn’t happen very often.

The best reasons to blog are the love of writing and to provide something useful or inspirational to your readers. You may at some point be able to quit your day job and write delightful posts in your pajamas instead of heading to the office, or you could land that book deal because an agent happened to read your brilliant prose, but until then, treat it as a gift to yourself and the world.

Successful bloggers often say the only regret they have is that they didn’t start sooner, so there’s no time like the present to lay claim to your slice of the blogosphere.

First up: Choose a niche.

This might seem counterintuitive, but you’ll grow a much larger readership by narrowing down your topic rather than writing about anything and everything. The more specific you can be with your blog, the better chance you have of capturing a devoted fan base. Here are some questions to help you choose your focus:

  • What are you passionate about?
  • What do you know more about than all your friends? Would people find it useful or interesting?
  • Is there something you care deeply about that you feel deserves more exposure?

The Next Step: Choose a blog name and identity.

The name should be memorable, and easy to spell and pronounce. Make it as simple as possible for people to access your blog.  

Decide how you’ll identify yourself—pseudonym, first name only, or full disclosure? If the blog is a platform for your writing, for example, you’ll want to use your full name so fans and industry types can find you.

Last Choice: Frequency. How often can you commit to posting?

Think quality over quantity, and consistency is king. You’ll lose readers if you post randomly or go for weeks at a time between posts. (For example, many bloggers stick to a Monday/Wednesday/Friday schedule.) The Web waits for no one and there are many, many other interesting blogs to read if yours can’t be counted on, so pick a schedule and stick to it.

Once you’ve made these decisions, it’s time to think about your first post.

Now, jump in.

The inaugural post should be an introduction to who you are, why you’re writing the blog, and what readers can expect. Tell them how often you’ll post and what topics you’ll be covering. Here’s where you get to lay out your niche and invite people along for the ride. After that first post, there are some general guidelines to keep in mind.

A GREAT BLOG IS:

Useful. Who is your target audience? How well do you know them? You may think you know exactly what they’re interested in, but it’s always a good idea to ask. What problems do they have? What would make their lives easier, more fun, more satisfying, more successful? You might be surprised at the answers.

Concise. Writing for the Web is a whole different animal, the lean whippet to print’s beefy bulldog. Most people don’t have the patience to read long paragraphs and run-on sentences on a computer screen (or BlackBerry or cell phone), so keep it tight and snappy.

Focused. Be consistent with your topic. If you’re blogging about personal finance for working women, stick to that. Don’t suddenly start writing about your love of Katherine Hepburn movies—launch a separate blog for that.

Personal. Share your joys and fears, and let out the leash a little. The more real you are, the more your readers will care and keep coming back. Remember that it’s a gift to let other people know you in all your less than perfect glory, because it’s almost assured someone out there will say, “That’s me, too!” and feel better because of it.

Well-written. Obviously. Check for proper spelling and grammar, and read it aloud for musicality and flow.

MUST-HAVES FOR EACH POST:

Catchy or provocative headline. You want to hook the reader, but don’t make it so provocative that it offends. Again, know your readership and know their limits.

One topic. If you have more than one thing you want to talk about, save the extras for future posts. Most bloggers keep a running list of topic ideas, which means you’ll never run out of material.

Fabulous first paragraph. Make it sing, because people will stop reading if it doesn’t. If someone links to your post, they may only include the first paragraph and a “read more” link, so it has to be strong enough to get them to click through.

Original voice. Be bold, or be subtle if that’s your style. But be yourself.

Honesty. Readers can sniff out inauthenticity in a heartbeat. You owe it to them (and yourself) to tell the truth.

OTHER WAYS TO BEEF UP YOUR BLOG:

Include photos, video, links. As noted, it’s tough to read text on a screen, so make it easier on your readers by mixing it up a bit. Search the Web for “free stock photos” for royalty-free images. (Never use photos without permission. That’s breaking copyright law.) Embed relevant or interesting videos, although don’t overdo this—a blog that’s just a bunch of YouTube clips gets tiresome. Give your readers links to other websites they might like or find useful, especially if the resources aren’t as well known.

Make it interactive. Remember, the best blogs become a community, a give and take. Ask the readers questions, run polls (search the Web for “free poll” widgets), have contests. Invite your readers to tell their stories. Share what you know, but also share what they know.

Be open and responsive. Good bloggers make it a point to respond to every comment, even if it’s a quick “Thanks!”

Regardless of how in touch with your audience you are, there will come a day when you receive a negative comment. What to do then? It’s hard not to take it personally—you are your blog, after all—but once you’ve gotten over the “ouch” factor, respond with respect and restraint.

Diverse opinions matter, but it’s your call if you want to debate the point or not. If it seems inappropriate, a simple acknowledgement of the comment is sufficient. (And if the comment is off topic, redirect the conversation back to where it started.)

On the other hand, if someone is being sexist, racist, or otherwise offensive, feel free to delete his or her comments. (You can also set your blog software so that comments need your approval.) Hateful speech is never acceptable.

Bring in outsiders once in a while; offer your readers a fresh perspective. Sure, the blog might be all about you, but it’s really about giving the readers new and interesting content. Interview experts about your topic, and encourage your readers to join the discussion.

Humor. It’s not required, but it can be very effective. Humor is hard to do well, and it’s difficult to convey tone on the Web (Why do you think emoticons were invented?), which makes the potential for offending instead of amusing even easier. If humor’s not your forte, skip it.

A FEW THINGS TO AVOID:

  • Blogging about your workplace. If you’re sharing accolades or useful information, fine, but never dish about problems or details that should remain behind closed office doors. Even if you think you’re being clever and disguising your employer, readers will figure it out, and it can get you fired. Tread lightly.
  • Dropping names. Designating someone by her first name is generally fine, but full names may not be. If in doubt, ask permission.
  • Disrespect. This is probably obvious, but it bears repeating. Once you send your words out into the virtual universe, people of different beliefs and backgrounds will not only read them, but those words will live on forever. Here’s the rule: Voice your opinions, but play nice.

Now that you’ve launched your uniquely you, must read blog, don’t forget to let people know about it. The easiest way to do this is to tap your personal network—send a brief, gracious e-mail to tell friends, family, and if appropriate, colleagues, that you’ve started a blog, and if they like what they read, ask them to forward the link to people they know.

At the end of the day, the blog is for you and your readers. If it becomes wildly popular and you’re able to quit your day job and blog full time, fabulous. If not, the satisfaction of regular writing and the ability to share your thoughts with a community of readers is invaluable. Perhaps like no other medium, the blogosphere welcomes women’s voices, so don’t miss the chance to make yours heard.

Deonne Kahler has been writing freelance for seven years. She wrote the “Small Business 101” column for the San Francisco newspaper Bay Area BusinessWoman, and most recently wrote the music column “The Hum” and arts and entertainment features for The Taos News. Other recent credits include New Mexico Magazine and A Prairie Home Companion online.

She’s studying for her MFA in fiction at Queens College, and is editor in chief of its literary journal Ozone Park. Visit Deonne at her blog www.lifeonthehighwire.com.


 

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