Blogging: like Poetry; an eleventh birthday

The first post on this blog appeared on 27 August 2007. This isn’t the last post, but a summary of things learned and maybe an answer to that “Do I need a blog?” question. 

Blogging, like poetry, is a marathon not a sprint 

If you gain a thousand readers overnight, search engines rightly assume you’ve bought your audience and demote your blog on their results pages. The aim is to build your audience organically, article by article. Just as you build your audience poem by poem, reading by reading. Keep going.  

Blogging, like poetry, takes discipline 

A regular posting schedule helps manage your audience’s expectations. If you post a dozen articles daily, decide that’s too much and try to revert to a monthly schedule, your audience will be disappointed and look elsewhere. 

 You can still write a dozen articles over 12 days, just ensure you schedule your posts to the posting schedule you know you can keep to. 

 You also need to reasonably confident to keep going. If you think you’re going to run out of ideas, you will need to widen the scope of your blog. Luckily creativity is a muscle, keep using it and it will keep working. Trust your ability to write the next article. 

Blogging, like poetry, loves succinctness 

Succinctness doesn’t mean trimming all your article ideas into identikit 500 word articles. One of the most popular articles on this blog is a 4000 word film review. It means keeping your language precise, your articles on topic and cutting the bloat. 

Blog Readers, like poetry readers, like their efforts to be rewarded 

 A fourteen line poem isn’t necessarily a sonnet. It can take more effort to read a haiku than an epic ballad. If you try to condense your writing into snappy bullet points when the topic needs exploratory expansion, your article will be too opaque for your readers. If your articles don’t reward your audience, they stop reading. 

Blogging, like poetry, means finding the right format 

Densely packed prose and long paragraphs are hard to read. Like it or not, blog readers tend to skim-read so give them bullet-points, short paragraphs, and subheadings as navigational aids. Poems leave space on the page for a reason. 

Blogging, like poetry, cannot become a chore 

If you’re struggling for a topic, repeating something you’ve already written or are writing a blog article because you must have something to post, you’ll bore your readers. 

Blogging, like poetry, needs promotion  

You can’t build a blog and attract readers. You need to share on social media, mention your blog in your author biography, have a link in your email signature and mention you blog when you do readings. There are many writers’ blogs now: you’re entering a crowded market and need to draw readers in. Encouraging people who like your posts to share them helps. 

Blogs need engagement 

If your blog articles only broadcast, i.e. tell readers something, no one will bother to comment. If you ask questions, start a discussion and allow comments, readers will engage. 

Comments need to be moderated 

Blogs are about creating a community of readers who will hopefully look to your poems and books to complement their experience. Spam can disrupt a community. Hateful comments and trolls can kill it. Don’t moderate out those who are putting forward an opposing view, justified with quotes or statistics: debate is good. But don’t allow personal attacks or a hostile atmosphere to develop. 

The only qualification for a writer is that they write 

You don’t have to put your work in the public domain. You don’t have to create a blog. But If you want to be a published writer, you have to send your work out to readers either via an editor/ publisher or by self-publishing (books or blogs). Some people will like what you write. Others won’t. Some will send you polite, standard rejection slips. Others will publicity comment on your blog or leave a negative review. Some of those rejections or negative reviews will hurt. A good support network, e.g. writing friends or joining a writers’ group, can counter the negativity.  Don’t start a blog because someone told  you writers have to have one. Start a blog because you want to.

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Social Media Questions and Answers and a Book Launch Event

Here’s some of the questions and answers given at the Social Media and Writers Panel held at Leicester Writers’ Club last week which I took part in. I’ve also added some questions that were raised in discussion outside of the panel.

Do you have a social media persona that’s separate from your real persona?

This question isn’t just relevant to social media, it applies in real life too where a writer might keep a controversial opinion quiet for fear of putting off readers or publishers. But being a bland, kind person that always says the right thing won’t get you many followers. How much you reveal about yourself and the effect that has on readership will always be a dilemma for writers.

I have a personal Facebook account, do I need an author page as well?

Whether you need an author page as well as a personal Facebook account depends on what you use your personal account for. If you use your personal account as a means of keeping in touch with friends and family, then you might not want to share your posts with readers so an author page would be useful. If you’re wary of friending people whom you don’t have a connection with in real life, then an author page is a good way of connecting with readers who won’t necessarily have a real life connection.

If you only use your personal account to post author-related updates, then you don’t need an author page as well.

What advice would you give YA authors whose readers shouldn’t really be on Facebook?

Some Young Adult (YA) writers have set up what are effectively private, small scale social media sites for younger readers where discussions were restricted to the books, their characters or their settings and moderated to create a safe environment. It would be worth setting up a blog and creating an interactive environment where readers can not only comment but also post guest articles.

Someone got a book deal after posting her novel in sections on Wattpad, should authors be on Wattpad?

There are numerous examples of publishers giving book deals to people who have built a following on social media platforms, not just Wattpad, but also YouTube and blogs. What publishers are looking for is someone who can build that following and therefore has a ready market for their books, rather than the actual platform. It is more important to find a platform you are comfortable with and could do well rather than trying to spread yourself too thinly by doing too many or doing a specific platform badly because someone who could do it well happened to get a publishing deal

Shouldn’t publishers help with their authors’ social media platforms?

Ideally all promotion should be a joint enterprise between a publisher and writer. In reality, how much help a publisher can give depends on marketing budgets and available time. Certainly publishers can help by featuring their authors and promoting links to their authors’ platforms. However, it’s not reasonable to expect a publisher to create an author’s platform for them.

Should writers be on Goodreads?

Whether writers should be on a Goodreads or not depends on how well you take reader feedback on your books. Some reviews will be good, others will be poorly written. Some publishers encourage writers to get on Goodreads because they see it as a useful vehicle for connecting with readers.

How do you find time to be on social media and find time to write?

It takes the same discipline it takes to be a writer in the first place. It’s also about managing expectations: if you are on social media at regular times, that’s when people will expect to find you on social media. If you really struggle, switch your internet connection off when writing or use an app or a system of alarms and reminders.

How do you decide on the right schedule for posting to your blog?

There are plenty of “social media gurus” who will tell you to post daily or more frequently to keep your readership. You do not need to post daily.

The only right schedule is one that works for you. The right schedule is where you know you can find the time to write and post regularly and will be available to moderate comments afterwards. Blogging is a secondary activity to writing your next poem or book so don’t let encroach on your primary writing activities.

Is social media a good place to find beta-readers?

Beta-readers are people who read and comment on a manuscript or work in progress before it’s sent to an editor/publisher so we have beta-readers in the shape of fellow Leicester Writers’ Club members. Social media’s a good place to put call-outs for beta-readers and I’ve seen that happen, particularly on fanfiction forums.

However, writers need to take care about posting works-in-progress online because some publishers do class social media posts as publication and would refuse to take a poem that had been published on a social media.

If I put poems on Facebook for feedback, is that OK?

If you put a poem on your personal feed where it was only visible to your friends, it would be regarded as ‘closed’ (because it would only be seen by people who’d friended you, therefore is similar to showing a poem at a workshop) and therefore not published.

If you put your poem on a blog that everyone could read, it would be regarded as published. This is why many writers’ groups on Facebook etc are closed groups so that shared work won’t be regarded as published

Urban Myths and Legends From The Emma Press

Urban Myths and LegendsThe Emma Press’s new Metamorphoses-inspired poetry anthology Urban Myths and Legends: Poems about Transformations launches on 1 June at Westminster Reference Library, 35 St Martin’s Street, London WC2H 7HP (private view of artwork from 5.30, readings from 7pm). Free entry, but please RSVP to rblack1@westminster.gov.uk.

With readings from Sophie F Baker, Francine Elena, Ella Frears, Linda Goulden, John Greening, Jack Houston, Annie Katchinska, Emma McKervey, Richard O’Brien, Kathy Pimlott, Degna Stone, Jon Stone, Pam Thompson and Ruth Wiggins. The event will be introduced by Rachel Piercey and Emma Wright.

A review of “Urban Myths and Legends” will follow.

Social Media and Writers

Social Media and Writers Panel at Leicester Writers’ Club

 

Thursday 19 May 2016 from 7pm at Phoenix Arts, 4 Midland Street, Leicester LE1 1TG.

I will be speaking about writers and blogging. The other panel members are Rod Duncan and Siobhan Logan. More details available on Leicester Writers’ Club website. This complements the articles I’ve written previously:

Poets and Blogging: is Blogging for you?
Poets and Blogging: Search Engine Optimisation
Poets and Blogging: Promoting your Blog
Poets and Blogging: Managing Blog Comments
Poets and Blogging: Statistics
Poets and Blogging: Alternatives to Blogging

Saboteur Awards Short List Best ReviewerI’m delighted to be on the short list for Best Reviewer for the Saboteur Awards. Voting finishes on 24 May and this is one instance where every vote does count, so please consider voting at this link: Saboteur Awards Voting.

Blog Promotion: getting Poems Published

I’ve been writing a series on Poets and Blogging, looking at whether blogging is right for you, promoting your blog, dealing with comments (and trolls) and other social media platforms if you decide blogging isn’t for you. The best social media promotion isn’t about badgering people to buy your book or pestering people to share your posts, but by getting your poems published and gaining readers. Readers will share poems they enjoy, post comments on them and find your blog because they want to know more.

If you’ve nervous about sending your poems out, consider the following points:

  • Your poems can’t be read if they languish in a file on your computer and you’re the only person who knows they are there.
  • Editors can only select from poems they’re sent – if you don’t send your poems out, they can’t be selected for publication.
  • It’s the editor’s choice as to whether your poems are worthy of publication.
  • It’s not a competition.
  • You’re not stealing a publication slot from someone else – if an editor selects your poem, it’s because it’s a good fit with poems they’ve also chosen. If your poem’s not selected, that doesn’t mean someone else’s poem will be selected to fit that slot.
  • Most competitions and some magazines read poems anonymously so your name won’t prejudice an editor’s or judge’s selection.
  • All published poets had to start by sending out their first submission.
  • All published poets still get rejections.
  • Rejections are part of the process, not something to fear.

Submitting poems

  • Read poetry magazines, select ones that feel like the right fit for your poems.
  • Check guidelines, especially submission windows.
  • If there aren’t any guidelines, standard submission format is a covering letter and the three to four poems you want to submit typed single spaced on separate pages (within the same document if emailing). Ensure your name and email appears on each sheet of your submission in case pages get separated.
  • Double check your poem for formatting, typos, grammar issues and submission guidelines before pressing send or posting.
  • Avoid sending the same poem (or batch of poems) to more than one editor at a time. Most editors do not like simultaneous submissions and poetry readers do not want to read the same poem in several different magazines at around the same time.
  • Don’t send one submission to editor A and wait for a response, send several submissions to different editors over a short period. Magazines often only take one or two poems so if you send 6 poems to editor A and 6 poems to editor B, 8 to 10 of those poems will be rejected and up to 4 may be accepted. If you send four poems to editor A, four poems to editor B, four poems to editor C, 6 of those poems will be rejected and up to 6 may be accepted. But choose your poems carefully – randomly targeting editors is a waste of time and effort.

If you’re not confident about submitting poems:

  • Find a trusted reader, someone who will give you constructive feedback but won’t rubbish your efforts or give unconditional praise
  • Take your poems to workshops
  • Go to open mic events and read your poems – if you can read your poem in front of an audience, you can place your poems in front of an audience by seeking publication
  • Seek out a mentor – remember most poets are writing around other jobs and may seek payment for their time. If you approach a poet, they are entitled to say no.

If you can share your poems at open mic slots or take them to workshops or ask someone else to read them, you can submit them to an editor.

Articles in the Poets and Blogging series:
Poets and Blogging: is Blogging for you?
Poets and Blogging: Search Engine Optimisation
Poets and Blogging: Promoting your Blog
Poets and Blogging: Managing Blog Comments
Poets and Blogging: Statistics
Poets and Blogging: Alternatives to Blogging

Poets and Blogging: What if Blogging’s not for you?

Blogs can be a great way of demonstrating expertise, providing news, engaging and building a community. But it’s not the only way. When the move from static websites, where browsers could only read what you posted and had to dig out your contact details to email you a comment which you weren’t expected to publish, to social media, where browsers could read, comment and generate their own content, started it was fine to build a social media platform through trial and error because everyone else was experimenting and working towards discovering what worked. But now the internet community is less tolerant of mistakes and getting it wrong can provoke a viral backlash.

Publishers are looking for writers to have an established internet presence. Independent publishers don’t have the budget to help writers create websites or blogs. Most writers don’t have the budget to pay others to do it for them and, in an environment where authencity matters, using a third party isn’t always advisable.

It really is not worth setting up a blog if you don’t think it’s for you or can’t commit to a regular schedule of posting. But there are plenty of other promotional tools in the box.

Email Newsletters

These can be as frequent or infrequent as you like providing you give readers something to read and an opportunity to respond. There are now plenty of e-newletter providers who enable you to produce a professional newsletter with graphics and interactive options that also allow you to manage your subscription list. Do check out the legalities regarding email marketing. You must allow people to opt in, give an unsubscribe option which does actually unsubscribe people and give a postal address (need not be a home address).

The advantages of e-newsletters are their flexibility and you can allow readers to send in items to include in a future newsletter (particularly if you’re targeting younger or teenaged readers).

Facebook Page

These are useful ways of building a community around an author, book or book series. You can post your own news and readers can post questions, share posts, upload images, etc. It’s a good idea to draw up a policy for what can and can’t be posted and establishing that anyone posting needs to show courtesy and be constructive. The page will also have to be moderated so inappropriate content can be deleted.

A Facebook page also has the advantage that you can separate your personal status updates from your writing related updates so you don’t have to extend your friends list to people who like reading your poems but don’t what to know about your social life. You can still share posts to or from your Facebook page where relevant.

Twitter and similar social media

Twitter is great for short updates or posting links to interesting articles/videos etc. The downside is that tweets have a short shelf life so you can’t guarantee that all your tweets will be seen by all of your followers. It’s also critical to share by retweeting others’ tweets or linking to articles/news/etc that isn’t just promoting your work. If you’re seen to be broadcasting (i.e. all your tweets point to your publications, your publisher, your own websites, etc and only about self-promotion) you will lose followers.

Guest Blog Posts

If you can’t commit to a regular schedule of posting blog articles, why not consider offering guest blog posts when you have a book or live event to promote?

Before you approach bloggers, check that they accept guest posts, read a few articles to get a feel for what they do publish (just as you would if seeking to get a poem or story published) and sketch an outline of a couple of blog posts. When you approach a blogger, remember it’s their blog not yours and no is a perfectly acceptable response. The best approach is to outline why your post is suitable for their blog, not list the advantages to you of your post appearing on their blog.

Blog Book Reviews

These many not seem as prestigous as a review in a literary magazine, but blogger reviewers generally have a quicker turn around and the published review is accessable to anyone with an internet connection, not just magazine subscribers. A review of your book on someone’s blog is also useful online marketing material.

If you have a book you’d like to be reviewed, don’t just send the book. Send a request first so the blogger can decide if your book is suitable to review for their blog and also if they have time review it. Remember, it’s their blog so don’t demand a review on a certain date, a speedy turn around or suggest particular points to include in the review.

If you’d like to write book reviews for a blog, approach first with some sample reviews and mention where your reviews have appeared before. It might not matter if you haven’t published reviews before if your sample work is good enough. Like magazines, blogs that publish reviews are looking for someone who can meet deadlines and is reliable.

Marketing In Real Life

Online marketing is a complement to offline marketing so don’t forget press releases, interviews, readings, live events, networking events, literary festivals, etc. Ultimately which marketing tools you use is entirely down to what suits you and what you can do well.

 

The first post in this series was Poets and Blogging
The second post in this series was Poets and Blogging: Search Engine Optimisation
The third post in this series was Poets and Blogging: Promoting your Blog
The fourth post in this series was Poets and Blogging: Statistics

The Social Media and Writers panel event will be at Leicester Writers’ Club on Thursday 19 May 2016 at Phoenix Arts from 7pm. Tickets for non-Club members are £5 on the door.

Poets and Blogging: Statistics

Most blogging packages will provide statistics showing your most popular post, how frequently you post, where your readers come from, how many subscribers or followers you have, how many daily visitors you have and what search terms browsers are keying in to find your blog. In addition you can record how many likes, retweets or shares you got when you promoted an article on social media.

All these numbers are both fascinating and meaningless. Data doesn’t mean anything until you start to turn it into information. If you have a troll, a bridge and three goats, you have the potential for a story but you don’t have the story until you give the goats a reason to cross the bridge and the problem of the troll to deal with. Similarly, you have to find the narrative behind the numbers.

Visitor Frequency

You should have the most frequent visits on the day(s) you post new articles.

If you notice significant clusters of visitors on days you’ve not posted articles, are these visitors looking for new blog articles or is there another reason for their visits? Did you have book published, a poem published, do a poetry reading or have some other event happening on that day which might have encouraged people to check out your blog?

Resist the temptation to change your blogging schedule to suit visitors. Blogging supplements your writing so don’t prioritise your blog over your poems. Look instead to manage readers’ expectations – make your subscription sign up more prominent or mention your blogging schedule on your blog’s main page so visitors know when the next update will be.

Where your readers come from and the search terms used to find you

If most of your readers find your blog through a search engine or via Facebook, then that’s where you need to promote your blog. It might be worth setting up an author page on Facebook as well as your individual profile if that’s where your readers are coming from. Don’t remove your blog address from your LinkedIn profile, but don’t waste time and effort promoting your blog there.

Looking at the search terms people type in to find your blog might be interesting and might suggest article topics, but don’t stray from your blog’s main topic threads and don’t let a couple of individual searchers dictate what you blog about. These people are infrequent or one-off visitors, not your regular subscribers.

Subscriptions/Followers

Don’t worry about the actual numbers here. A popular post may encourage a flurry of subscriptions but then there will be a quiet period where no one subscribes. It’s more important to look at trends: are you gaining subscribers or losing them?

If you are gaining subscribers, which posts attract the most subscribers? If those posts are of a particular style or on a particular topic, consider writing more like them.

Don’t look at subscriptions in isolation from your most popular post or how many shares you get on social media. Your most popular post may not be the one that gets people signing up to subscribe.

If you are losing subscribers or seem to have hit a plateau, it’s time to consider how you are promoting your blog or whether the blog has run its course. If you find yourself asking “What do I write?” or recycling older posts, your subscribers are getting bored too.

Popular Posts

Your blog statistics will tell you which post got the most one-off views.

Your subscription statistics will tell you which posts are encouraging people to read most of your posts.

The shares, likes and retweets on social media show you which posts are most shareable.

Be wary of an old post suddenly gaining popularity. Some spammers deliberately target an old post on an established blog to leave a spam comment with a dodgy link. Sometimes an old post might simply become popular again because of a news item, but this will be a temporary spike.

Your priority in assessing these and deciding which posts you should write is to look at your subscribers (the ones that read most of your posts), the shareable posts (social media promotion by others) and popular posts (one-off visitors who may not read more than that one post).

I find that when I write book reviews, I get more subscribers. When I write ‘how to’ or advice-based articles, I get more social media shares. My most popular post is “How to win poetry competitions.”

I do have a series of posts on a proposal to build an eco-town which was eventually rejected. These posts had a spike in popularity when one English school examinations board set a geography paper with a question around issues concerning a new eco-town. However, school students are not my target audience and this was a one-off spike in popularity for a specific, time-limited reason. It would not be advisable for me to continue blogging about eco-towns because the audience is no longer there.

Therefore, I write a mix of book reviews to attract subscribers and ‘how to’ articles to attract social media shares.

The first post in this series was Poets and Blogging
The second post in this series was Poets and Blogging: Search Engine Optimisation
The third post in this series was Poets and Blogging: Promoting your Blog
The fourth post in this series was Poets and Blogging: Managing Blog Comments.

The Social Media and Writers panel event will be at Leicester Writers’ Club on Thursday 19 May 2016 at Phoenix Arts from 7pm. Tickets for non-Club members are £5 on the door.

Poets and Blogging: Managing Blog Comments

Managing Comments on your own Blog

  • Moderate comments so they have to be approved by you before appearing on your blog. This way you’ll be in control and can filter out those comments that don’t add value to your blog and won’t be interesting for people reading it.
  • Use the spam filter. Unfortunately spam is inevitable but the spam filter will cut most of it. Letting spam appear on your blog devalues it and annoys readers looking for genuine comments.
  • Don’t make it difficult by using capatchas or demanding people log in. Yes, you want comments from real people, but real people don’t like trying to figure out badly printed words, answering questions or logging in just to leave a comment. If a reader finds it difficult to leave a comment, it will deter them from linking to your post too since part of the reason for linking to your post was to show off their comment.
  • Consider a comments policy. This needn’t be more complicated than “Please be courteous and refrain from derogatory or discriminatory language,” and shows that you’re unlikely to tolerate trolls so your comments space is likely to be safer than an unmoderated free-for-all.
  • Do thank people for commenting. It shows that you’ve seen the comment. It’s not necessary to do this for every comment but try to leave thanks for first time commenters and people who’ve given an engaging, helpful comment – it helps encourage the type of comment you want.
  • Do respond to questions if people post questions in their comments. But keep your answers brief and/or link to a more relevant site, such as your about page or publisher’s website, where appropriate. If a question wants a lengthy response, consider turning your response into another blog post instead.
  • Don’t delete comments that disagree with you if they stick to facts, engage directly with your post and show an understanding of what constructive criticism means. By all means delete comments that are abusive, contain bad language or personal insults.
  • Allocate time for responding to blog comments and stick to it. Your blog readers will love that you take time to respond to comments, but your primary job is to write your next poem or story or novel. Blogging is secondary so don’t let it eat into time available for your primary job. See my post on why social media shouldn’t be a time suck for writers.

Making comments on others’ blogs

  • Before commenting, ensure your comment is useful and responds to the original blog post. Keep your comment polite, brief and to the point. Before you press ‘post’ ask yourself if you would allow this comment on your blog.
  • Don’t use a comment to randomly link to your site, only post a link if relevant/useful and provide a brief explanation of why the link is useful.
  • Don’t just post a comment and leave. Others may respond to your comment and if you don’t respond to a query or follow up on other’s point, readers will be less inclined to visit your blog or respond to your comments in future.
  • Don’t let a comment turn into a blog post. If the discussion’s that interesting, write your own blog post and link back to the original discussion.

Dealing with Trolls

Trolls are not commenters who happen to disagree with you. Trolls are not commenters offering constructive criticism. Trolls are not commenters who are simply having a bad day and missed the point of your article. Trolls are not a commenter who is playing devil’s advocate.

Trolls are attention-seeking bullies who lack the imagination to find something to do other than waste their time trying to blow you down with hot, foul-smelling air (and that’s the polite definition). It’s easy to say “Don’t feed the trolls” but hard to action.

  • Delete any comments in your moderation queue that don’t comply with your comments policy (i.e. any comment that contains personal attacks, discriminatory or derogatory language). You’re not obliged to post a comment just because someone took the trouble to type one. By only allowing comments that comply with your comment policy, you are demonstrating what comments you will accept. If you allow a troll’s comment, you’re suggesting trolling is acceptable.
  • Trolls are not your target audience. Your readers and potential book buyers are. Your blog is for them, not the trolls, so keep your blog targeted at your readers. Don’t let a troll derail your blog.
  • Use the ‘report abuse’ option on social media sites as well as blocking followers/people in social groups/pages. Popular sites like twitter and Facebook have anti-bullying/ harrassment policies but their actioning of them hasn’t always been consistent or efficient.
  • If you’re being trolled in a social forum, report the troll to the moderators.
  • Find supporters either online or in real life. They can help by supporting your reports of abuse and reporting bullying behaviour to moderators as well as offering moral support.
  • Threats of sexual violence and/or death are illegal so reporting such threats to the police is an option.
  • Take some time away from social media to focus on your own writing. Trolls often move on to the next target if they’re not getting attention from you.

Remember it’s not personal: they’re not targeting you, whom they don’t care about, but seeking attention from anyone who will supply it. Like dealing with a narcissist, set a boundary and refuse to cross it.

The first post in this series was Poets and Blogging
The second post in this series was Poets and Blogging: Search Engine Optimisation
The third post in this series was Poets and Blogging: Promoting your Blog

The Social Media and Writers panel event will be at Leicester Writers’ Club on Thursday 19 May 2016 at Phoenix Arts from 7pm. Tickets for non-Club members are £5 on the door.