This question arose today from a conversation with Isaac Marion. We were chatting about incessant prodding done by agents, marketers, social media experts, hungry raccoons pretending to be social media experts, and a slew of other people who think they know what kind of an online behavior leads to better book sales. As you have guessed, this prodding is aimed at writers. Its message is simple. "Sprinkle your marvelous thoughts online in a liberal layer, daily, smear it on so thick that others will sink into oblivion." Now, to decode this "simple" message, here is what they mean. Blog regularly, tweet regularly, Facebook regularly, fart regularly (and, preferably, artistically). And here is why this makes me angry.Read More
Marcelle Liemant asked: "You are a marvelous blogger and you have a very distinctive presence in everything you do online. I was just wondering how you inject so much of your personality into your blog posts/tweets etc. It's actually not such an easy thing to achieve!"
I am? Really? REALLY?? Thank you, darling, thank you! Now, what a wonderful question, and what an easy answer I have for you. You will be tittering with silly laughter. Notice one thing we're talking about here.
Writer's online presence.
There you go. This is the magic word.
I actually get asked this quite a lot and I can't remember the last time I answered it or blogged about it, so you're lucky to get a fresh perspective (I expect freshly baked cookies for that). People assume there is a magic pill for everything, or they can get a magic wand and wave it and... KABAM! ...glittery shit will start flying in all directions and suddenly everyone will be loving them and buying all their books and writing them 5-star reviews and sending them life-size chocolate ponies (not that I have anything against that, I don't want to hold you back if you have a pony for me). Well, sadly, it doesn't work like that at all. What people see as glittery and shiny and alluring and seductive hasn't become that overnight. It was years in the making, and those years were riddled with cloying empty efforts and mistakes and episodes of guile and guilt and blood welling out of the writer's eyes and ears and every single pore. Only...nobody's got to see it. Well, a few people did, the very first ones who stumbled upon said writer, looked down upon her misery, and sauntered on.Read More
It's been a while since I've hosted a guest author. One of them was practically jumping out of his pants to guest post on my blog. I tortured him, of course, by making him wait. Well, here you go then. PLEASE WELCOME Chuck Wendig, a novelist, screenwriter, and game designer. He's the author of BLACKBIRDS, DOUBLE DEAD and DINOCALYPSE NOW, and is co-writer of the short film PANDEMIC, the feature film HiM, and the Emmy-nominated digital narrative COLLAPSUS. He lives in Pennsylvania with wife, taco terrier, and tiny human.
WHY I DON'T WRITE GUEST POSTS: A Guest Post By Chuck Wendig
I am routinely asked to contribute guest posts to people’s blogs, either in support of a novel or just to, I dunno, go and insert my digital DNA into someone else’s blog space. I don’t dislike guest blogs. I enjoy reading them and occasionally host them at my own blog, terribleminds.
Just the same, I generally don’t like doing them.
And so, I don’t do them.
Here, then, are the reasons why.
BECAUSE I HAVE MY OWN BLOG.
It’s true! I do! It’s got a web address and everything (ahem, cough cough, terribleminds-dot-com). I commit usually five thousand words of bloggery to my own blog every week. And it’s fairly well-trafficked, these days. Closing in on 4,000 subscribers, with another 10k of daily visitors coming in from Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Myspace, Squareblock, OkCupid, Buddy-Town, Fisters Connection, Cyberknitters Union, and Oprah’s website. (No, really. I was linked there once.)
BECAUSE I’M SO TIRED.
I write about 5000 words per week on my own blog. And, as a full-time author, I write bare minimum 2000 words per day on talking to imaginary people – uhh, I mean, “writing my novels.” Plus: scripts and comics and the other kind of scripts where I steal a doctor’s pad and write myself prescriptions for drugs both real and invented. (“Hello, CVS? I need 40 milligrams of Putreskenol, and also a shitload of Vicodin. KAY THANKS BYE.”)
BECAUSE I’M GONNA SHIT UP YOUR BLOG WITH MY SHITTINESS.
I use bad language. It’s naughty up in my brain. And I’ll probably dump some of it in your blog space – like I have here, already – and smear it around like a toddler playing with his mashed potatoes.
BECAUSE I DON’T KNOW THAT IT DOES ANYTHING.
I know there’s a kind of expectation that authors have to do a certain kind of social media dance to sell books, but I don’t know that it works. I haven’t seen data that it does – it’s just sort of expected and accepted. And sometimes I feel like I’m dancing to make it rain in yet another unproven publishing ritual. Guest blogs are cool when it’s for people you like – less cool when it’s for a blog you’ve never heard of and they just want some free wind to fill their sails.
SIDENOTE: BLOG IS ONE OF THE WORST WORDS EVER
Blog. Bloooooog. Blaaaaaaahhhg. It’s a boggy, sloggy, sluggy word. I know it’s short for “web-log,” but that sounds so antiquated it’s damn near irrelevant. We need a new word. Somebody get to work on that. Oh, and don’t even get me started on “vlog.” That sounds like Dracula’s dipshit cousin. “I’m Vlog the Impala! I vant to suckle your toes!”
BECAUSE IT’S YOUR BLOG
I always feel a little weird at somebody else’s blog. It’s like I’m sleeping in their bedroom. Or worse, in their closet while they sleep. Which I’ve totally never done, by the way. *shoves stack of restraining orders under desk*
Point is, a blog is a great space for a writer to shine, and when I show up I feel like all I’m doing is dulling your darling gleam.
But mostly it’s because I’m busy. And lazy. “Blazy,” let’s call it.
This has been requested by several people, and it never actually occurred to me that indeed I have developed a certain process in finding great photographs for my blog and have finessed it over the last year, but didn't think it would be worthy to blog about. But now that I do think about it, it is worthy of a blog post, because it involves copyright issues, and other things that are often ignored, because it's very easy to just Google an image and post it on your blog. My position on this is, a photograph is a work of art, it's the same treasure to that photographer as my novel is to me. I have to treat it with respect, I have to treat the artist with respect, the same way I would like someone else to treat me and my art. It's an intellectual property. So I have developed a certain procedure as to how acquire the photographs, from whom, where, and how often. Here is what I do.
All of my blog images come from Flickr. I've been on many different sites, but I keep coming back to Flickr simply because it's the best place where semi-professional and professional photographers post their work. When I write a blog post, I typically search for an image that has a similar theme to what I'm writing about. There are three things to take into consideration:
- Search. Let's take the word raven for example. When you type in raven in the search box on the top right, when you see results, look at the top left corner, you will see that you can sort the images by Relevant, Recent, or Interesting. Select Interesting and see the difference in the images you get. Amazingly different pictures of ravens, right? Now, scroll around to find an image you like. I only look at images at the Interesting category.
- Copyright. The method I have described above shows you all of the Flickr images, and most of those will say All Rights Reserved next to them. That means without specific permission from the artist you can't use the images. I always write a message to the photographer first, asking for permission to use the image on my blog. Or, if I'm in a hurry, I ask for permission after I published my blog (and I tell them that I'm a bad girl and if they will forgive me), with the full intent of taking down the image if the photographer asks me to. In 1 year of me doing it, it only happened once.
- Creative Commons license. If you don't want to trouble yourself with contacting photographers, then this is a choice for you. Just go here, select Flickr, and type in raven in the search window (don't forget to uncheck use for commercial purposes box) - voila! These images you can use without asking for permission, you can modify them, cut them, do anything you want. You will see, however, that the quality of images falls significantly. I used to search for my images this way, but not anymore.
I develop relationships with photographers. Most of the images you see on my blog are done by the same small handful of photographers with whom I have exchanged a few emails and who have given me permission to use their art repeatedly. Here is my list of contacts, if you want to take a peek. I also always give them credit, in my blog as well as on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ or any other social media channel, if I want to post their image alone. You've seen me do it, probably, and you have probably noticed that I always credit the artist (unless they have given me permission to not do it). This is important, because it builds trust. Photographers are those people who have been burned so many times online (it's so easy to steal their work), that they are extra sensitive to anyone who is trying to use their art without their permission. Once they see that you are cool and mean no harm, they simply love you for it. Especially if you credit them, because not everyone does. So, what I do is, once I find an image that I really love, I go and look at the Flickr photostream of that photographer, and I select the photographs that I liked as my Favorites, to use later. If the photographer gave me permission, then I use those images later. Here is my Favorites list.
I subscribe to a newsletter to get updates on new work. Because I have an account on Flickr, and after I have used a few photographs by a certain photographer, I add them to my contact list (the one I mentioned above). Every week I get an email with updates from my contact list, so that if the photographers whom I added as contacts did any new work, it will be in that digest. Effectively, I have found my group of artists and now hardly spend any time searching for images at all, because it seems like we have the same ideas that we snatch from the air, and usually I can snag a picture from the newsletter, because it fits my blog post perfectly. My favorite of all photographers (on my contact list) is Joel Robison, who loves books and frequently posts pictures with books, and I use his images a lot, as you have noticed. I suggest you employ a similar process and find your favorites, or reach out to mine. Either way, it will take you time to build your own database. It took me close to 3 months to find most of my contacts, and I love their work, so it's easy for me to pick our images now, takes 10-15 minutes, where as before it would take me up to 3 hours sometimes. I know, I'm a perfectionist, but I wanted my blog posts to look beautiful!
Things to watch out for. There are a few things that should be red flags for you, when selecting a photographer to work with, not because somehow the photographer is not very good, no, but because of the process I have described above, and because of how touchy feely some of them are, which you have to respect and step aside.
- If you see a watermark on the image, or a signature, or a name, any kind of sign that the photographer has put on her or his picture, don't even bother contacting them. Those who do this are very protective of their work and they will tell you no, even if you're only wanting to use their image for a blog post.
- If don't see a lot of consistency to the images of a photographer whose one or two images you liked, then you have stumbled on someone who is doing it just for hobby, and will likely not steadily producing good work, only cluttering your email inbox. Look for consistency and rate of production.
- If the photographer doesn't answer your message for a long time, don't use them. They might be either not interested, or don't want to deal with you, or unsure, or too busy. This doesn't mean that you can go ahead and use their images by default. Don't.
In general, my mantra is, beautiful stories have to be illustrated by beautiful images, that's why I go out of my way to find amazing photographs for my blog post. Partially, because I'm a photography junkie, but partially because I believe that a beautiful image sets a background for the story, much in the same way we pick out a book based on its cover. In this sense, I believe that the image is the first thing that will grab my reader's attention, therefore, it must be chosen carefully, much in the same way words are chosen carefully, to make an impact. There. I think this is it. Well, was this helpful? Is this what you were looking for? If you have any questions, fire away in the comments.
Let's get back to the basics, shall we? I didn't think I would be writing something like this, but then one of my Twitter followers, @ChelsieBee93, asked me a very simple question: "How do you start a blog?" It stumped me at first. And I thought, wow, really, how did I start it? Since I've been blogging for so long now, it didn't even cross my mind that there is a universe of people who don't have a blog and really want to get into blogging, but perhaps don't know how. This post will be, however, specifically geared towards writers who are looking to get into blogging, either because they don't have a blog yet for some reason or are only starting to write, having not given it much thought in the past. So, how do you do it? Where do you start? What do you write about? Let's get cranking on this one point at a time.
Choose a hosting platform that is simple and beautiful. My firm belief in any product's success is that if you make it easy for people to get and if it looks stunning, people will want to get it. This applies to everything, from computers (I'm obviously an Apple girl, though I would've been a Fangardandia girl, if there was such a brand and if it was making beautiful products) to clothes to food to books. Yes, books. When we pick up a book, if we don't know the author, we judge it by its jacket. Same goes for blogs. Your blog has to be clean, free of advertisement, ideally, and it has to use READABLE BLACK FONT ON WHITE BACKGROUND!!! Sorry for screaming, but I have come across so many blogs that were typed in all caps (not kidding), in all cursive that was impossible to read, white letters on black (readable, but hurts eyes), blue on green (impossible to read if you're color blind), blog entires' text centered instead of left justified (I'm serious!), and even a blog that was written over a background of a photo which made it readable on light parts, but vanished on dark ones. Please don't do this, it's impossible to read! My preferred blog platform is Squarespace, of course, because I'm not a techie and don't know how to work WordPress, but read this article on top 5 blogging platforms and decide for yourself.
Decide what to write about. What will be the content of your blog? If you Google this question, or ask any writer anywhere, you will be bombarded with advice left and right and will soon find yourself completely confused, because there are so many contradicting suggestions, it's easy to feel like you're drowning. I remember I felt like it too, and I have found out this simple maxim by trial and error. Write what you're passionate about. That's all. The key to writing is honesty. If you're being fishy, your reader will smell it a mile away. You can keep up the facade, of course, there are many smart looking, smart talking, successful bloggers out there who will tell you that I am full of bullshit. And maybe I am. But I do read other blogs, and I know that there are only a few I come back to, for their honesty. The deal is simple. If you force yourself to write about something that the industry demands, but you're not passionate about it, you won't be happy. And what's the point in writing if it makes you miserable? None. So write about your passions. Maybe you're into frogs, or crazy flash poetry, or socks, or watching for aliens to arrive every night. Whatever it is, write a list of things that makes your heart beat fast, and write about that. For me it's mostly about writing and reading, and a bit about editing (when I have an epiphany), marketing (cause I happen to love doing it), and crazy flash fiction. I also invite other authors to guest blog sometimes, those whose work I have read and fallen in love with.
Pick a schedule and stick to it. Now this is perhaps the most important part. Once you start blogging, you're becoming a sort of a channel for people. They expect to wake up in the morning, have a cup of coffee and read your new blog post. So if you are inconsistent, people will drop out of your reader base and go elsewhere, it's as simple as that. I suggest you to blog at least once a week. Any longer than that, and people will forget about your existence. I wouldn't suggest blogging more often than once a day, though, it might be too much. I have actually lost subscribers in the past when I have gone a bit too crazy on posting flash fiction every day on my blog. I currently blog like a clock every Wednesday and Saturday, as you can see in the little note below this post. It is a good idea to let people know this, so they know what to expect. And, once you commit to it, you can't flake out!
Spread the word to other people and comment. Now, with blogging, like with everything else, it's a two way street. Don't expect people to come to your blog, read it and comment, if you're yourself are not reading other blogs or commenting. Please, go read the work of others and comment, comment, comment! Comment as much as you can! It will make other bloggers curious, and eventually they will hop over to your blog to check it out, simply because we're built this way. We want to give back, if someone has given us something freely, it's in out nature. Well, it's up to you, make the first step, and give, give, give, without asking for anything back. And don't forget to post on your Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Pinterest, and anywhere else you are on the web, each time you publish your blog, just so people know where to find it.
To conclude this post, why blog at all? For yourself, for therapy, for building your own writerly discipline. Don't be discouraged if you get no comments and no visits on your blog at first. Treat it like professional experience first and foremost. It will be your routine, it will build your discipline for writing at least once a week, and that's worth gold. People will come in time, just keep doing it no matter what. For those of you veteran bloggers, did I miss anything out? Please feel free to add in the comments!