Category Archives: blogging

Routine maintenance: clean up your online profiles

cat's tongue

  Photo courtesy of Shubhankar Sharma

The following advice is not intended for superstars and bestselling authors.

If you’ve created an online profile that you don’t intend to use, then delete it this week. Don’t leave it out there with unanswered inquiries, especially when they’re publicly visible. Everyone who sees an earnest question that has been posted by someone and ignored by you will think you don’t care about your followers, readers, and fans. 



Many social media profiles will allow you to adjust your notification settings so you’ll receive them via the email application you use every day. An alert will pop into your regular email inbox. If a profile you’ve created doesn’t offer this function, then you’ll need to discipline yourself to check that profile at least every other day. Delete your profile from a site if it’s too much trouble to check regularly.

Unless they’re spam or harassment, treat questions sent to you as comments, email, or text messages as though they were being asked in person. The sender is getting an unfavorable impression if you haven’t responded. Take the time to create a generic but friendly reply that you can copy and paste, if necessary.

If you don’t already have one, make a list of your social media profiles and email inboxes for your daily checks. Your browser’s bookmarks or favorites feature can streamline the process. Most of your social media profiles should be linked to the website that serves as your hub.

Don’t forget to update your biographical information periodically. Nothing highlights your neglectfulness more than an above-the-fold “update” that speaks of a past event as if it were still in the future.

Why blog, when you can shoot yourself in the foot?

laptop and cell phone

  Photo courtesy of Jonathan Velasquez

A writer friend who’s been blogging for as long as I have—almost eight years—wonders about recent claims that blogs are old hat. In view of the popularity of Pinterest, Tumblr, and sites like Facebook that facilitate simple sharing, is creating new content actually necessary?

It depends on the user. Is the user a writer?

Our blogs and websites are becoming our professional portfolios. They’re our marketing collateral. We can make them into whatever works for our particular professions. For example, a photographer could post thousands of words and still never convey to her prospective clients what one sample portrait or piece of photojournalism on her website could demonstrate about her talent. Likewise a fashion designer. Or a dog groomer. Creative writers, on the other hand, need to show that they can write. Words. Not shared videos or Instagram snapshots.

The person who holds a factory job on an assembly line or drives a truck or teaches school doesn’t need to use a blog or another form of social media to attract business or establish professional credibility. A bartender isn’t required to know how to take a great photo or write a poignant essay or design a kickass steampunk wedding gown. Most people need social media only to connect and communicate with other people socially. Sharing a 140-word tweet or a bad selfie or a book review written by a critic is more than sufficient to make those human connections and stimulate the type of small talk that would happen in real life.

A creative writer’s objectives include attracting readers, something a blog is designed to enable. Beyond blogging, in order to be seen as a professional in what amounts to the entertainment industry, a creative writer needs to reach the largest possible audience and should communicate in a variety of the media his or her audience uses. Every ambitious online literary journal now links to the journal’s blog, Facebook page, Twitter stream, Instagram, Tumblr, and sometimes a Pinterest board or other social media. Book publishers aren’t far behind. Each professional writer these days has the ability to do the same amount of outreach that publishers are doing.

Competitors are using the best available resources to make themselves discoverable. A creative writer who chooses not to is at a completely voluntary disadvantage. Would anyone who’s been blogging for eight years care to listen to someone complain about shortcomings… that are self-imposed? Please, don’t get me started.

Practical business strategies for freelance writers

home office

  Photo courtesy of Louis J. Hall

If you want to make a living as a freelance writer, then you’ll need a realistic perspective of the writing endeavors that pay best in relation to the amounts of time they require. Having recently faced financial reality when filing your income tax return, you ought to know exactly how much money it takes to support your household for 365 days.

I’m in the midst of reading Chris Higgins’ $2.99 ebook, The Blogger Abides: A Practical Guide to Writing Well & Not Starving, but it’s not too soon to recommend it as a primer for anyone who wants to make a profession of freelance writing. Based on the author’s experience as a paid blogger, the book is filled with succinct advice that’s logical and easy to understand.

The markets for different types of writing will fluctuate, but the laws of supply and demand remain predictable. Lower barriers to entry (digital publishing and online distribution) enable and increase suppliers (writers). If the demand (from readers) for the product (written work) remains steady (it has!) and does not increase along with the supply, then prices for the product (written work) will decrease. Whimpering and wallowing in self-pity will not change this.

In his 2008 book Here Comes Everybody, Clay Shirky makes the point, “If everyone can do something, it is no longer rare enough to pay for, even if it is vital.”

Advances in free or inexpensive web editing, blogging, or content management software have all but removed the technological barriers that existed when the Web was new. Now that virtually everyone can publish their written work, publishing per se gradually is shifting from a professional to an amateur endeavor. Some say the transformation already has occurred.

Web-based content is distributed globally and is more easily retrievable than printed materials, which means the best and the most widely discussed writing on the Web can be reproduced and shared with few obstacles. If “published” no longer distinguishes the professional from the amateur writer, then perhaps “widely read” and “paid” have become the new criteria. How to find readers and get paid are the problems a freelance writer needs to solve now. It should be some consolation that being a good writer matters as much as it ever did.

Additional resources on this topic

Are you good enough to be published?

When you finish writing your first book-length work of fiction or nonfiction, you’re most urgently concerned about exposing it to readers. Yet you might be jumping the gun. Don’t forget that you’ll also be exposing yourself.

Are you good at networking?

Many writers still require basic training in the use of social media. A smaller percentage already have demonstrated their expertise, in ways that are discoverable 24/7. Literary agents, acquiring editors, book buyers, producers, and fans want easy access to information about authors and their books in order to make investment decisions.

Although creative writing is a vocation well suited to introverts, the publication of creative work involves a variety of interactions with other people, sometimes in person, requiring poise and self-confidence that not everyone possesses.

Are you good at research?

Do you know how to find answers and explanations so that you don’t require a lot of coaching? For example, if your editor or critique partner suggests that you eliminate “excessive exposition in dialogue,” will you know what that means? Have you attended a writing workshop? Can you go to a library or bookstore and locate a textbook that will teach you the creative writing techniques and grammar rules you need to know?

Can you identify reliable resources on the web?

If you’re asked to obtain additional quotes from experts for your nonfiction project, will you have the ability to locate, evaluate, and contact those experts?

Are you good at self-promotion and marketing?

A polished, engaging web presence is the hub of your professional identity as a writer. Is yours already in place? Can you update and maintain it, or have you hired someone who will?

Have you published short works in magazines or online? Do enough potential book buyers know your name, because they’ve read your writing, met you, or heard of you through others? Do you know who these people are and how to communicate with them?

Do you understand how generosity and genuine interest in others are forms of self-promotion?

Get permission. Don’t violate copyright.

Thanks to Jason Boog at GalleyCat for mentioning a brilliant new service called Imgembed, which is designed to streamline the process by which bloggers legally obtain images to illustrate their posts.

Copyright law is complex, but so are lots of laws. Bewilderment and impatience aren’t excuses for ignoring other people’s legal rights.

Not long ago, at a writers’ workshop I attended, the friendly and easygoing instructor advised the class members that there was no real need to worry about incorporating copyright-protected material without permission, because the chance of pirated matter being discovered by a rights holder was so minuscule that it ought to be a matter of pride if it happened. It would mean the project under discussion had succeeded in attracting notice beyond anyone’s wildest dreams. Better to ask forgiveness than permission, in other words.

It was difficult to keep my mouth shut, and some of you will be surprised that I did. After all, rights trading is my business. But it’s not cool to contradict the teacher, so I swallowed my objections. I’m not proud, just pragmatic.

Within a few months, the workshop instructor learned from a much better authority. A portion of his own work was taken and rebranded without his authorization, and he realized that it wouldn’t be worth the expense to litigate for copyright infringement. From the standpoint of a victim, he was outraged.

Funny how wrong people can be when they believe their own convenience supersedes other people’s rights.

It was a good reminder for me as well. I don’t need to teach people anything. They’re going to learn.

Bloggers using WordPress.com click on a button labeled “Publish” to make each of their posts publicly visible. But it doesn’t take a warning on a button to prove that bloggers are de facto publishers, with all of the legal responsibilities that publishing entails. All it takes is a little common sense.

Publishers must have the rights in, or the permission to publish, what they’re publishing. Every time. Not merely when it’s convenient. I’m happy to see companies like Imgembed addressing the problem of inconvenience, because at $20 or $25 per post, blogging for pay is a losing proposition when illustrated posts are expected.

Imgembed is new, so its selection of images doesn’t yet appear to be enormous. Scroll down to The Creative Finder on the Imgembed website to browse or search for images to use.

I’m not wild about the minimum image size requirement, but I’m not sure every image has a minimum. The photograph I embedded in this post is as small as I was permitted to render it. Also, my use of the owl image through Imgembed is free of charge for up to 10,000 impressions, which means that about eight years from now, I’ll need to remember to remove it from my blog if I don’t want to buy a license. I wasn’t given any indication what a rights license might cost me at that point, if I decide I want to continue to use the photo. Surely the licensing terms will be made clearer as the Imgembed site evolves. As far as I can tell, the terms offered are fairly standard for this type of use. I am happy that the photographer was automatically credited and linked, saving me a series of time-consuming steps when posting. All in all, it’s a great concept. I hope it catches on.

Writing for literary arts and pop culture websites

One way for authors to attract a little extra attention is by writing articles, reviews, or blogposts for any of the established or up-and-coming online magazines devoted to literature and pop culture. Some of the sites have much larger readerships than an individual’s blog typically can attract.

Of course, money is always nice, but if a writer needs exposure as much as or more than payment, then the opportunity for publicity alone might be worth the effort involved in writing a short piece. Most readers won’t know whether the author was compensated for an article, so the quality of the contribution should always match the writer’s reputation or aspirations. At the same time, the author probably should think of the endeavor as volunteer work for a worthy cause, not an avenue to a paying gig.

To capitalize on the exposure each time their work is published, writers learn to compose effective contributor bios including their web addresses. Readers won’t take the time to search for information about an unfamiliar author unless prompted with a URL.

Quite a few literary websites are calling for contributors these days. A few are listed here:

Fringe

The Nervous Breakdown

The Good Men Project

The Millions

The Rumpus

Fairy Tale Magazine

All Those Wasted Hours

Largehearted Boy

TransEnough

> Language > Place blog carnival

Write Hacked (formerly LiveHacked.com)

NewPages

The Flaneur

Smith Journal

The American Mercury

Contents

Passages North

TeleRead

The State

Island

Paper Darts

Pollen

Parenting Express

BiblioBuffet

Elephant

Brittle Paper

Paper Droids

~~~

If you know of any others like these, feel free to leave their URLs in the comments section.

Which bloggers are offering creative writers good advice about craft?

The most common reason writers don’t get published, or don’t self-publish successfully, is because their work is premature.

Many writers, maybe most, aren’t capable of seeing their manuscripts’ shortcomings, which additional effort could eliminate. It’s difficult to analyze literature and then try to apply the observable techniques of the best writers without imitating. If creative writing weren’t challenging, there’d be no value in succeeding. We’d all be good at it.

Some writers are sincere about learning and capable of improving their craft. I’m awed by the bloggers who are teaching the writers who are willing to learn. I’m opinionated, and you should take my opinion for what it’s worth, but if I wanted to become a better creative writer, these are the blogs I’d be reading:

Author! Author!: Anne Mini’s Blog

Mysterious Matters: Mystery Publishing Demystified

Real Actual Hilary (Hilary Smith)

Self Editing Blog (John Robert Marlow)

The Subversive Copy Editor Blog (Carol Fisher Saller)

Have you found any favorites?

We’ll read the blogs that are useful or entertaining

Robin MizellWhen I began blogging in 2007, I posted answers to questions that creative writers were asking me via email. Soon, I expanded by posting information that writers needed, even though many of them didn’t know it yet. Once in a while, I vent frustration by blogging about pitfalls gaping before the unfortunate writers whose aimlessness keeps them from asking questions, using new technology, and coping with disruption. My blog is like me: didactic and unflavored, but potentially useful.

When writers ask me how to decide on the focus or topic of their blogs, I recommend that they make their blogposts either a) helpful and informative or b) entertaining. Controversy also attracts attention, but few writers can withstand the criticism and deflect the rage that a contentious blog can provoke.

New bloggers need one more bit of advice: don’t do what’s already been done better. Standing apart from the herd is easier with blog content that isn’t available elsewhere. Prior to launching a blog that is meant to draw attention, a writer should look around the web at the current offerings of the best bloggers. In the business sector, this preliminary step is referred to as gathering competitive intelligence. Skipping it is referred to as cluelessness (including the lack of awareness that makes a person think she’s a better writer than she is).

Some writers are naturally more entertaining than most. We gravitate to their blogs to be amused or transported. They don’t need to inform us. They don’t need to break the news or fan the flames.

Once in a while, I notice a blog that has it all—a combination of usefulness, entertainment, and originality. Yesterday, I saw one called Fiction on Foot, written by Olivia Rosane, who says:

This blog is my attempt to reconnect myself with the world around me by taking walks and paying enough attention along the way to write a story inspired by what I see.

My lengthy blogroll includes other respectable examples. Have you seen a great blog lately? What attracted you to it?