Summer Writing Mini-Workshop: On Blogging

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Blogging is a fantastic way to get the word (i.e. your work) out, but it’s easy to be torn between what you should put out there for free & what you should hold dear until it finds a home (because once it’s posted, it’s considered published, & you may never be able to submit it anywhere again). This guide should help: https://sarahleastories.com/2016/10/04/15-blogging-prompts/

Twitter, for the most part, is a colossal waste of time. With Twitter, there are too many expectations of reciprocity. You should be so productive creating new content, you don’t have time to reciprocate every like or respond to every comment or thank someone for every retweet; you need actual fans—not just those who follow to get a follow back. Thus, you need readers who aren’t also writers.

Goodreads is great for posting book reviews & connecting with other readers. However, not everyone who follows your blog has a Goodreads account, so post your best reviews on your blog. Get as much mileage as you can out of everything you write. https://sarahleastories.com/2016/10/06/book-review-the-girl-on-the-train/

Don’t write for LinkedIn on a regular basis unless you write boring, businessy articles/listicles that are largely forgettable. I rarely write articles specifically for LinkedIn, but if something I’ve written is appropriate for the platform, I’ll either post it on LinkedIn Pulse or share it from my blog. There is no such thing as too much visibility. Whatever you do, don’t post part of the article on LinkedIn, & then require people to click on your blog link to read the rest. Rather, post a short bio, including a link to your blog, so that if people liked what they read, they might want to read something else you wrote. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/my-own-personal-minimalism-sarah-richards-1/?published=t

Seek out guest posting opportunities. Most of them don’t pay, but it’s extra exposure (which is helpful if your blog doesn’t have many followers). There are opportunities to write about writing, life hacks, & parenting. GetConnect Dad is a sweet site to start with, chock full of awesome content from moms & dads around the world. https://getconnectdad.com/write-with-us/

Instagram forces you to become a better photographer—to produce more original content. It’s bright, clean, & minimal—everything Twitter isn’t. https://www.instagram.com/sarahleastories/

If you’ve ever had any work published in print or online (other than your personal blog), create an online portfolio. A portfolio showcases not just what you know, but what you can do. https://sarahlearichards.journoportfolio.com/

 

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My 500th Blog Post: Why Blogging Rocks

When I look back at my earliest blog posts, I found myself editing some, deleting others (including reblogs–don’t waste your time on those, unless your blog or name is mentioned).  I wanted my 500th to be my true 500th.  It was quite a task going through all the old stuff.  I’ve learned so much about copy editing since then, and my writing has improved tremendously.

My blog used to be something I only posted on when inspired.  Now, it’s Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, without fail–the other days, when I feel like it.  This self-imposed discipline has helped me become better at meeting deadlines.

I had written this piece about blogging, and why blogging is awesome, for a scholarship contest. I’ve won hundreds of dollars writing scholarship essays, and even when I don’t win, I have a nice piece to post on here or LinkedIn, or submit elsewhere.  Who doesn’t love recycling?

Blogging, for me, hasn’t just been about the product, but the process.  It’s given me great writing practice, and given me an additional creative outlet, because sharing what I write is part of the fun of writing.

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Virtually Living the Good Life,
in the Blogosphere

A blog, unlike a painting, is a multi-layered work of art
that cannot be seen all at once.
A blog, unlike a book, is ever-evolving and has no end.

With the advent of the Internet, words have more power today than they ever have before, for they can transmit in a matter of seconds to billions of people simultaneously. The Internet is a virtual pond, where the thoughts of anyone with an Internet connection can ripple forever. Like blood scrubbed with bleach, even when something has been deleted by the administrator, there are still traces of it. Once you’ve spilled your guts into a computer, it is never completely gone.

So be careful with your words—they might come back to haunt you someday.

Since I was a third-grader in Ms. Yvonne Cahoon’s class, I’ve been a writer. “I just love reading your journals,” she would say, and the spark was ignited. Those journals weren’t just logbooks, but how I felt about what I saw and heard. (I didn’t learn how important it was to include sensory details, like touch, taste, and smell, until much later). Those journals were my first taste of writing creative nonfiction. I started with what I knew, and then, as Mark Twain would say, “distorted the facts as I pleased.”

My blog, besides my child(ren) and the few whose lives I hope I touch, are part of the legacy I will leave when I depart from this world. I like to think that my descendants, a hundred years from now, will know so much more about me than I know about mine. Many of my words I will take with me, but the ones I’ve written and will write for the enjoyment, and, hopefully, the enlightenment of others, are the ones I will leave for my great-great-great granddaughter to read. I like to think even if my words don’t become famous in this life, perhaps they will posthumously (à la Emily Dickinson). I suppose that’s why I chose creative writing over journalism, for how many newspaper articles about local politics or blog posts about parenting endure like a poem or a piece of literature?

That said, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to stand out, for with the ease of sharing, there is oversharing, as there are over 74 million blogs on WordPress alone. Though I cannot control how many people choose to follow, share, reblog (also known as the Holy Grail of blogging), or comment on my posts, I do have control over the quality of the content. I’ve found that the shorter the post (400-600 words is recommended), the more likely it is that someone will read the whole thing. (I suspect that’s why haikus are so popular.) We like our information bite-sized now. Think about it: We’ve gone from the cake slice, to the cupcake, and now the cake pop.

You will (usually) get more mileage out of a tercet (a 3-line poem) than a 500-word blog post; in short (pardon the pun), you will be able to make more with less (i.e. generate more readership).

Wednesdays are the only days in which I have to create new content, which frees up time for me to spend on writing pieces that may get published for pay. (Every April and November, I post my Writer’s Digest PAD, or Poem-a-Day, Prompt. This is when I get a bulk of my followers, but you will stretch yourself too thin if you try to post 365 days a year. Once a week is the minimum you should post.

My blogging journey started in October 2014, after I picked up a copy of The Writer’s Market.  I read that blogging should be a part of every author’s platform, and Sarah Lea Stories: A Flurry of Creativity, was born (which I’ve since renamed). I blogged about everyday life: marriage, motherhood, food, and many other things (none of which I am an expert, but rather just have an interest in), though a part of me felt why should I give it all away for free? Did followers really translate into sales, even though I had nothing tangible to sell, but would someday? (The only time I’ve ever bought a book from someone I knew was if they were a member of my local writers’ group. Other than that, my way of book shopping was browsing the bookshelves at one of the local bookstores, reading Amazon.com reviews, or listening to my friends about the books they’ve read, simply because anyone can publish a book now.)

So no, not for me, at least not right now.

That said, it got to a point where I struggled to find things to write about—not that I was running out of ideas, but I liked to save the really good stuff for professional (i.e. paying) publication, as once something is published online, even on your own blog (and even if you have only 100 followers), it’s considered published and you will likely never be able to submit it anywhere else. So, never publish anything online that you may find an adopted home for someday. I’ve written volumes of work I will never publish on my blog.

My advice: Never blog your book—you’ve worked too hard to give it away, and I have found that a book I haven’t paid for, but downloaded for free, is actually less likely to get read because I have so many books I paid for competing for my attention. Professionally self-publish before you ever blog your book. At least that way, you might have a chance at making a little money off of it.

Notwithstanding, you should still always post your best (but not necessarily your most ambitious) on your blog, and it should never be a dump site. When I write something (whether specifically or not) for my blog, it represents me, and it’s going to be polished to a fine patina.

Moreover, writing short on a daily basis has helped me add richness to my longer works, for what is a Great American Novel without great lines? With a blog, you see the results immediately, mostly via likes and maybe a follower or two (comments, apparently, take a great deal of effort because it requires you to actually read the article). With a novel, it might be months or years before you get feedback (much less published), besides the form letter that says it was great, but just wasn’t for them (which are the most maddening kind.)

Nevertheless, don’t let blog writing take too much time away from the writing that might make you money someday, unless you plan on making money from your blog. (I prefer the term “online column”.) Give your audience just enough to get to know you and your work (don’t just sell, but tell), because your blog will be one of your greatest assets when you publish that breakout novel.

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Don’t think of blogging as giving away your hard work for free, but as investing a little time in yourself and your brand. There are fifteen great reasons to start blogging now!

1. It helps people get to know you better. If you are at present unknown, people are more likely to take a chance on buying your book if they feel they have a personal connection with you. Blogging is also a great way to advertise your product, but make the ad entertaining. Everyone loves a story, so use a story; you’re a writer, after all. Even Jesus got people to “buy” what He said using parables.

2. It gives you a voice, an outlet. Blogging isn’t a diary, but a narrative. No one sees the world quite like you do. As Edmund Wilson says, “No two persons ever read the same book.”

3. It satisfies our temptation for instant gratification. That’s one of the many reasons why we write—to connect with others.

4. It gives you writing practice.

5. It instills discipline with self-imposed deadlines.

6. It enhances your creativity. I’m not sure I ever would’ve stuck with the Writer’s Digest prompts if it hadn’t been for needing regular content. (I always include the link to the prompt, as it helps with search engine optimization.)

7. It’s free. (You don’t even have to pay for images.)

8. It can make you money. Attract enough followers, and this can happen to you.

9. It can get you speaking engagements. This is where many writers make a lot of their money.

10. It sharpens your observation, makes you become more aware. Everything, and everyone, has a story.

11. It helps you learn. You can learn as much by researching as you would by being taught.

12. Depending on the job description, it looks great on a resume.

13. It leaves a legacy. Like any distant star, there is a chance someone might land on it.

14. It replaces the dreaded Christmas letter. (This is if you post personal stuff on your blog, and some do, for friends and family.)

15. You get to know yourself better. Though writers often live inside their heads, they don’t always self-reflect, especially if they’re used to making things up. I’ve learned how to capture the ordinary, and make it extraordinary.

I’m still learning everyday how to become a better blogger, website designer, photo editor, and someday photographer.

Blogging, if done right, will not take a great deal of your time. What’s great about it is that you have complete control over your content and can even write ahead for it if you know you’re going to be short on time. (I did this during my summer medical internship, with months’ worth of Monday and Friday blog posts “in the can.”)

Blogging is a great way to unload some pent-up creativity—a way of shedding the excess, so you can focus on writing down the bones.

15 Blogging Prompts

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Bloggers, have “theme days” or regular “feature articles”.  It will help you stay on track, as it’s easier to write a continuing series than a stand-alone piece every single time; this will also help you blog purposefully, rather than simply posting whenever inspiration sparks (as inspiration doesn’t always happen on a regular basis).  Serious bloggers should blog at least twice a week, or no less than once, and preferably on the same days.  Make your own deadlines, and meet them.

If you’re not on a regular blog schedule yet (which I highly recommend) with “themes” filling in the slots on certain days, here are some blogging prompts to get you started:

1.Query letters:  I believe these are an art form in & of themselves, and should serve as an appetizer to the main work.  https://sarahleastories.com/2014/01/17/query-letter-to-missouri-life-magazine/

2.Rejection letters:  The good, the bad, and the funny.  https://sarahleastories.com/2014/05/08/an-interesting-rejection-letter/

3.Book reviews:  Analyzing a book and articulating why you liked (or didn’t like) it strengthens your critical thinking skills, which helps you become a better writer.  A well-written book review can often be as entertaining as the book.  If you’re praising the book, try to “sell it”; if you’re not, then state exactly why you didn’t like it. “It sucked”, or “it was stupid”, will never suffice.  Beware of spoilers—think of a book review as a movie trailer.  Whet the appetite, but don’t satisfy it.  https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/30181323-sarah-lea-stories.

4.”Blog your book”.  That said, don’t post 1000-word chapters at a time.  300 (or less) is perfect.  For a 60K word book, at 300 words per post, you will generate more than 260 posts, which you could stretch out over two years time.  However, read this (http://www.rachellegardner.com/should-you-blog-your-novel/) before doing that.

5.Author tribute.  This is different than a book review in that it “reviews” an author’s entire body of work.  As great as it is to find a good book, it’s even greater to find a good author and read everything they’ve read (as many authors are hit-and-miss).

6.Take something cute (or not) & turn it into something dark & sometimes inappropriately funny:  https://sarahleastories.com/2014/02/12/linsey-gordon-had-a-hatchet/

7.Haiku, limerick, or even a 6-word story with a stunning photograph; posts don’t have to be long, just good.  (A great suggestion I once read is that the first two lines of a 3-line poem should be opposites, and the last line should be a surprise that ties the two opposites together in a surprising or unexpected way.)  I often like to do short pieces in series of 3:  https://sarahleastories.com/2014/03/02/nonet-poems-my-geography/

8.Short, personal essay (300 words):  Myslexia (https://mslexia.co.uk/nonfiction/) does this using the ABC’s, which I thought a cute idea.  It’s easier to mine your life for material when it doesn’t have to be a full-length piece.

9.Writing tips:  I share these on my Facebook page Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday:  https://www.facebook.com/sarahleastories/?fref=ts

10.Writing prompts:  I appreciate these, as they are ideal for freewriting practice.  https://sarahleastories.com/2016/03/06/writing-prompt-the-memoirs-of-others/

11.Writing products you like (software, pens, free Kindle books, etc.): https://sarahleastories.com/2016/02/06/5-really-cool-things-about-kindle/

12.Favorite writing blogs (or Twitter accounts).  Mine are (so far):  https://twitter.com/WriterlyTweets, https://twitter.com/GHowellWhite1,  https://twitter.com/tablopublishing, https://twitter.com/writerswrite, https://twitter.com/Grammarly, https://twitter.com/AgathaChocolats, https://twitter.com/WritersDigest

13.Life Lessons:  A list of 10 life lessons (serious or silly) you have learned.  I consider this a “column piece”.  These are so “notebookable”.

14.How-To Article:  Did you know Microsoft Word can “grade your work”?:  https://sarahleastories.com/2015/03/20/writing-tips/

15.One Book, Many Forms.  Every Friday, I post a set of #novelines or #micropoetry from my book  (https://twitter.com/KatrynNolan).  Not every noveline is a true noveline because of Twitter’s character limitations, and the micropoetry is brand new–all of which I am going to repurpose into a pocket book called “Mormons on the Beach”, as part of my book promotion package.  Though you should always keep at least half of what you write under lock and key (until you become Stephen King and can charge for it all), make sure everything you put out there is your best work.

And here is 40 more from an author who has great content and isn’t just all about selling her books:  http://writerswrite.co.za/40-types-of-content-that-will-make-your-life-easier

 

12 Ways to Build Your Writer’s Platform

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Being a writer is a full-time job (though most of us only work at it part-time because we have paying jobs).  It’s been said that we should spend 80% of the time (normally spent writing) engaging others, and the other 20% creating content.  I confess I am backwards in this, because I never feel like I get enough writing done as it is; it is also quite easy to spend hours online, posting, tweeting, retweeting, commenting, reviewing, etc., and feeling like I get very little response back, besides a “follow” or a “like”.  (Retweets are what I am after.)  And often, I have discovered that one only follows me because they want a follow back, so never follow someone back unless their page interests you.  (“Ain’t nobody got time for that!”)

So I was searching for sample “killer” query letters because I’ve had a novel I tailor-wrote for Harlequin romance (never heard back, even though I’ve heard they read every submission).  I believe in the project, so I went to http://agentquery.com/ to pitch it to other publishers.  Though I already had a query letter prepared, I wanted to make sure it was the best it could be; I started doing my research, and found two great posts that helped me with that:

The Complete Guide to Query Letters That Get Manuscript Requests

http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/guide-to-literary-agents/successful-queries

However, I realized that I needed to reevaluate my writer’s platform.  What inspired me to start a blog in the first place was an article I read in “The Writer’s Digest” more than two years ago about this very thing.  Only within the last several months have I stepped it up by joining Twitter, which I think is a must for any writer.  I’ve started promoting myself on there by having every WordPress blog post immediately publish to my Twitter page (in addition to my Facebook account, and once in a blood moon, LinkedIn); I strive to make all my tweets entertaining, rather than just self-promoting, which gets boring (author Amanda Patterson tweets great stuff).  I will never spam people by private messaging them on Twitter, asking for them to download my e-book, etc.–that is what your newsfeed is for, and yes, sometimes things get lost in the virtual shuffle, and so I believe it is perfectly acceptable to retweet such a request no more than twice a week (the minimum number of times we should blog to be considered a serious blogger, according to most).

When I first started Twitter, I was tweeting snippets of poems, usually a screenshot, but didn’t add any hashtags (don’t do that; I add hashtags in the reply box).  I’d also read that every blog post should have an image (we’re such visual people), but I rarely use any stock photography.  I think most of it looks bad, cheap, and unoriginal (and the high-quality kind, like Shutterstock, is pricey).  Try to take your own pictures.  I, personally, do not believe we need images to make a post come to life.  That is what the headline is for.

I got a lot of great ideas on how to promote myself/build my writer’s platform, some of which I’m already using.  I revitalized my LinkedIn account by posting my college essays and publishing some of the scholarship essays I wrote (not the Zombie Apocalypse one, though; LinkedIn is supposed to be a professional site).

So I’m doing the social media blitz, even publishing the novelette (about an apostate Mormon missionary) that inspired my novel, “Because of Mindy Wiley” on goodreads.com (see:  https://www.goodreads.com/story/confirm_explicit/405523?chapter=0).

Here are some of the 12 ways of author promotion I found the most useful.

  1. Monetize.  I had never thought of repackaging old blog posts and selling them as an ebook, and I’m not sure why someone would buy something they can get for free, but it’s a thought.  If you’ve published a lot of poetry on your blog, this might be for you.
  2. Create a resource page.  Share your list of resources on social media and with your email list.  I do this on my Websites for Writers page:  https://sarahleastories.wordpress.com/websites-for-writers/
  3. Learn and use appropriate Twitter hashtags.  Here’s a great resource by Caitlin Muir at Author Media: http://www.authormedia.com/44-essential-twitter-hashtags-every-author-should-know/
  4. Set up your YouTube channel.  According to Robert Lee Brewer, the “poet laureate of Writer’s Digest”, poetry is almost always better when read aloud.  My brother wrote a melody to Edgar Allan Poe’s “Annabel Lee”, and I could just imagine adding some desolate beach scenes to the audio.
  5. Invest in yourself.  Find courses, books, conferences, and people that can aid in your learning and success.  I am taking a Creative Writing class at the college right now, and will be investing a little money into getting a short story critiqued through Writer’s Digest before self-publishing it on amazon.com.
  6. Pitch a guest post.  I’ve already pitched a motherhood/lifestyle article to the Huffington Post (no pay, but great exposure), and there are a few others I am considering.  The main thing for me is posting at least twice a week on my own blog.  If you do get published on a guest blog, you will want your reader to have something worthwhile to link to.
  7. Create some link love.  People love being mentioned or quoted online.   Take the time to email the author or blog owner and let them know they were mentioned in your article.   They might possibly share a link to your article with their followers.
  8. Be everywhere.  Or at least be wherever your ideal readers are. Consider incorporating one or more of these social media networks into your platform building strategy:  Goodreads, Wattpad, Amazon Author Central, Pinterest, and Google+.
  9. Set up a social media schedule. Schedule time for activity on the social media platforms you are active on.  I have found that just checking my notifications is enough Facebooking for the day (still working on making this an everyday reality); as for Twitter, set up a special list, just for writing, so you don’t miss valuable tweets (like calls for submissions) because someone else you follow loves to tweet (and retweet) a lot.
  10. Start commenting.  If you already have a blog, you know how difficult–and how rewarding–it is to get comments on your posts.  Take the time to add insights, ask questions, or provide feedback on other author blogs.  A reblog is always nice, too.
  11. Create your Facebook Author page.  I don’t believe I am quite ready for this.  I feel I need to wait till I get something published to justify an author page (I could be wrong), and that means getting paid cash for my work, not just getting published.
  12. Setup your professional website.  Having a .blogspot, .WordPress, or .Typepad in your domain name denotes amateur status.  Before the end of the year, this is my goal.  It doesn’t cost very much ($18/yr.), and if I can’t design it so it looks more professional, I will hire someone.  I am quite frugal, so it has been hard for me to come to the point of paying for something I can get for free.

Source:  http://www.yourwriterplatform.com/actions-to-build-writer-platform/