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5 Lessons from Unreadable Blogs

 

The blogging phenomenon has taken the world by storm. We, the writers, are advised to dive right in and begin building our “bands of followers”. A blog, we are told, is the first step to establish the Writer’s Platform, from which we can launch our books to our receptive, loving target audiences.

Here’s the main idea:

Where once we had to rely on getting ourselves a publisher and circulating books to get our voices heard, now we have an instant platform that offers us a global audience.

Our blogs work for us when we sleep, crawling around peaceably on the WWW telling people all about who we are, and what we do as writers.

Sounds perfect, doesn’t it?

It does.

Over the last few months, I’ve read a great number of writers’ blogs, in an attempt to learn the best practices for my own use.

There’s a ton of generic advice on how to do things right, but I’m yet to create my own winning formula. Things that work for one guy (e.g. the life-changing, emotional posts by John Locke) may not work for you and me.

However, I did find a few things of how we writers should not blog.

The amount of poorly designed and badly written “writer’s platforms” out there has sent me into spirals of depression. I’ve become an expert on how to remain utterly unread.

What follows are my top 5 conclusions on how to become such Unread Blogger.

 

1. “Hello world”

I know this is the default first post in WordPress. So it’s not surprising that our Unread Blogger starts his blog with it. There’s an impatient audience out there, he’s thinking, keen to respond to his hello with enthusiastic shouts of welcome and offers of friendship.

Here’s a sample post. I’m changing the wording a little to protect our friend the Blogger:

“Hello world. This is my first blog post. I have no particular reason to write it, but I was told blogging helps reach readers. I bet many readers out there have never spoken with a real writer before, jajaja! So, let me share how I write books: … (then the author goes into a 2,000 word narrative on how he writes books).

So anyway, that’s all I wanted to ramble about, and if you want, you can always reach me on Twitter. I’ll set it up soon. Tell me what you want to hear about me. Bye.”

There’s a treasure of learning we can derive from this:

  • The blogger informs us this is his first post. Otherwise, how would we know? He might also want to remind us we’re on internet, just in case someone’s still confused.
  • He clarifies the purpose of writing: there’s none.
  • At 2,000+ words, he makes sure to cover all his rich experience in one go.
  • He makes contact easy: as soon as he figures out Twitter, you can – finally – express your adoration!

One thing readable bloggers do differently: they begin and stay on topic, sharing bursts of relevant, purpose-driven information.

Here’s one of the BEST first posts I’ve ever seen – by a fellow blogger Derek Flynn: “Welcome”.

 

2. Make my eyes bleed with creative colors

There are so many blogs out there. Millions, literally.

So we must stand out. And it appears that many an Unread Blogger has fallen victim to a massive case of internet nostalgia for the 90’es. Colors… pretty colors and flashing lights.

Here’s the list of my favorite approaches by Unread Bloggers:

  • Make your background really dark. Shiny black is best.
  • Make fluorescent yellow your main font color. Highlight your greatest thoughts in red, green, or orange (fluorescent, of course) and make your letters flash.
  • The sidebars are there for a reason. Use every inch to advertise your books and affiliate links. It’s best when sidebars go miles down, making it impossible to reach your footer (who needs it, anyway?) and giving your site a good slow-down.

One thing readable bloggers do differently: They start with readability basics: light background, dark text, and readable fonts.

Here’s one of my favorite blog designs – by Joe Konrath, which attracts hundreds of comments to each post: J. A Konrath’s Blog.

Another excellent layout is at Lindsay Buroker’s blog, which is also unified around one topic.

 

3. Go into extremes of posting frequency

After our Unread Blogger says hello to the world and livens up his page with lots of creative colors, he starts on a path to get noticed.

The first step? Post daily.

And because you’ll soon run out of topics, post on anything that grabs your interest.

One such writer posts about his dinners. With mounting excitement, I read about what he’s cooked since starting his blog a year ago. Yesterday it was macaroni, the day before he baked a chicken, and – best of all – last Thursday was the time to make brownies!

If you’re more of a reclusive kind of Unread Blogger, I suggest you post once a year, so that folks have a chance to really forget you before rediscovering you all over again.

One thing readable bloggers do differently: they have a posting schedule that allows their readers some rest, yet keeps them constantly reading on topic: once or twice a week, or maybe twice a month.

Here’s an excellent blog by Clayton Diggs, who posts when the mood strikes him, which happens a few times a month.

And check this treasure out: Sean Allan blogging in Sin’s voice. That’s his protagonist.

 

4. Annoy the heck out of everyone in comments

If our Unread Blogger has made it this far, and despite his best efforts he’s begun receiving comments, now is the time to unleash one’s true self.

These bloggers have embraced what you and I don’t realize: folks love registering for obscure web services just to post on a new blog. My personal favorites are reCaptcha and a drop down menu of 5 networks I must be a member of to post my comment.

Oh, and never forget to delay gratification! Commenters love it when their posts sit in someone’s inbox for a week.

If some comments still make it through, the Unread Blogger has a few best practices here, too. Drip sarcasm, make posters feel like fools – or, on the contrary, agree with everything they say. Attack them, or ignore them completely. It’s your blog, so do all the things for which others would ban you; it’s fun.

One thing readable bloggers do differently: they use Askimet to filter spam, and make it as easy as possible for readers to post comments. And they’re gracious, too.

Here’s an excellent blog where the authors have great interaction with their audience in the comments: Men with Pens.

 

5. Give up after the first 5 weeks

Here’s my best piece of learning yet. Because the Unread Blogger knows that blogging success comes fast, you can observe him to these things:

  • Freak out every day that goes without someone posting a comment.
  • Obsess with Google Analytics. If the visitor numbers don’t come, post a rambling rant and tweet up a storm about how blogging doesn’t work.
  • Reach out and post on lots of other blogs with the sole intent to drive traffic. Here’s the proven template:

“Nice article.  My articles are also nice. Check them out at http://blogschmog.com/blog”.

And if the traffic still doesn’t come by around week 5, give up. This whole blogging thing isn’t worth the Unread Blogger’s time.

One thing readable bloggers do differently: they persevere.

Here’s the blog that has been going strong since 2002, and has become the foundation for the author’s full-time blogging career: ProBlogger.

 

Blogging is cheap or free to set up, takes little technical knowledge, and allows us to express ourselves without censorship.

Making the decision to set up a blog is a simple one – within minutes, you can have a site with all the functionality you need to get started.

Blogs are kind beings. They’ll pay you back hugely for the investment you place in them. And, as your confidence grows and your passion for the art increases, so will your audience, followers and feedback.

I have a question to you. What examples of Unreadable Blogging have you seen?

  • http://alanasaltz.com Alana Saltz

    I have to admit I was a little guilty of a couple of these when I first started my blog, but I like to think I’ve improved since then. A lot of it is practice and reading other people’s successful blogs to get an idea of what works. But this is a great resource to keep new bloggers from starting on the wrong foot.

    • http://www.austinbriggs.com Austin Briggs

      Hi Alana, 

      Thanks for your comment. I took a look at your blog, it’s very nice, and indeed easy to get around! 

      I started off pretty badly… had to delete the whole website and begin again.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=640017836 Sarah B. Castillo

    Lindsay Buroker (http://www.lindsayburoker.com/) has a really great layout and I like how all her posts are on one unified topic.
    I admit in my youth I made several blog attempts that were basically… everything you described. Glitter letters forever! Also your cursor would turn into a little sparkly skull. Fantabulous.

    • http://www.austinbriggs.com Austin Briggs

      Thanks Sarah – that’s a good find. I’ve added Lindsay’s blog into my examples of good stuff.

      A skull cursor? You should have seen this site before I changed it. Dark font on old parchment. Even I couldn’t read it.

  • http://twitter.com/GoblinWriter Lindsay Buroker

    Hey, thanks for the mention, Austin! Lots of good points here. :)

    Many authors fail at blogging (and honestly I’m in this group too) because they write for other writers instead of for their target audience–the people who might buy their books. Only some of those folks will be writers themselves. As I go forward, I’ll likely split things off and have a spot where I talk about e-publishing and promotion and another spot for just talking about my books (or fantasy/steampunk in general).

    By the way, I read John Locke’s ebook, and I think he was right on the brink of reaching his tipping point when he did those blog posts. IIRC, he had something like eight novels out and was publishing a new one every month or two (I can’t imagine writing that quickly!) and everything else was in place for him to “tip.” I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with his strategy (he was blogging for his target audience after all), but I haven’t noticed it working sales magic for anyone else trying it (and lots of my tweeps are). 

    Anyway, just rambling here. :) Keep writing!

    • http://www.austinbriggs.com Austin Briggs

      Hi Lindsay, that’s an excellent point – which I neglected. I started off blogging about the Aztecs, but fell into the same trap as many other authors do, and began blogging about writing. 

      I also read his book, and I do understand how his approach may work. I know he links his success to his marketing genius, but I suspect the 0.99 price point did have something to do with it. However, I’ve also read his “life-changing” blog posts, and I agree they are excellent and enticing. 

      So I’ll listen to your advice and will revamp my Aztec section. Good luck with your own, new and improved, site :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/elizabeth.m.john.5 Elizabeth Michaud John

    Where were these pearls of wisdom when I started my blog, ehhh???? :-) I am definitely guilty of number one, but as someone else also stated, I’d like to think I’ve also gotten better. I’ve decided my site analytics are my enemy, and I’m trying to look at them less and less and just write on and on. I feel like eventually, someone is going to happen upon my blog and recognize my quiet greatness–ha, ha! Regardless, good information in this post. Thanks!

    • http://www.austinbriggs.com Austin Briggs

      Haha, I can understand how you feel :) You have a great blog, by the way, I’ve started reading it lately!

      But here’s the fact: when I paid no attention to the analytics, this blog was averaging 7-15 visitors a day. Now I check them daily and do some “Platform” stuff, and my usual daily traffic is 100+ visitors. Not much, but it’s a start…