My first foray into participating in Armchair BEA (ABEA) continues. I'm now seeing photos of my book buddies at the convention with all of the wonderful books they're getting and my jealousy just keeps growing. One of these years I will be able to go. One of these years...
Until then, it's armchair time. I'm living vicariously through them and talking about books and blogging with a pile of other people who weren't able to go to book Mecca this year. We're having fun on our own terms.
Today's topics are Character Chatter and Blogging Q&A. I'm not feeling uber character creative today, so I'm sticking with the blogging approach and I'm going to share a bit more about why I blog, how I started my blog, and things I've learned along the way. Hopefully some of it will be useful for some of you.
My Blog History
I originally started blogging back in 2006. I got started because I was going through a divorce and I needed an outlet. I needed something to do. The blog was pretty random for the first little while, both in topic and in posting. I would post once a month and then disappear for large stretches. I refined my approach, changed the blog name to Erratic Project Junkie, and started blogging fairly regularly in the summer of 2011.
My blog is now my baby. It's my outlet. It's my hobby. I like to create and share with others. I like to meet new people through it and I love the sense of friendship and community it allows me. I would love it to make me money some day, but that's not what I'm in it for. In fact, I recently removed my AdSense account from the blog because I didn't feel it was worth it. It wasn't adding enough value to my blogging, it was just adding more clutter to my pages. I prefer just to focus on my content at this point. I'm doing it for fun. I want to keep it that way.
EPJ was initially extremely small, getting only a few hits daily from my friends and family as well as some random hits from individuals using search engines. I slowly gained readership. In October of 2011, I did my first Halloween pumpkin display. My younger brother posted a link to it on Reddit and things exploded. Suddenly I was seeing my 20-30 hits per day grow to 100...150... It was ridiculous. I now get an average of about 8,000 views per month. My regular readership is in the hundreds and I get readers from all sorts of different social media platforms. I'm not a blog mogul by any means, but I like seeing the steady growth and I like knowing that other people are enjoying what I'm putting out there. Validation is nice.
Growing readership is an important part of blogging for most bloggers. It's unlikely that you're suddenly going to be inundated by readers right of the bat, but you will most likely see steady growth in your blog if you stay involved. This means that you need to respond to you commenters, you need to visit their blogs, and you need to take part in social events and activities that will get your name and the face of your blog out there. Don't be afraid of a little self promotion, just don't be too spammy or desperate about it. Don't beg for followers and recognize that your content will not always be for everyone.
When I get a comment from someone I've never seen on my blog before, I will usually head over to their blog (if they have one) and see what they're all about. Most often, I'll leave a comment so that they know I've been there. A good portion of the blogs I now follow regularly are the result of either a blogging event or having them comment on my blog. Blogging is very much about community. You have to be involved.
Blog Design & Layout
I have redesigned the blog layout pretty majorly about three times since I began regularly blogging back in 2011. I'm always tweaking things. The most recent redesign was just a few months ago when I took part in Bloggiesta. I asked for help with my redesign, asking other bloggers what they thought of my layout, my color scheme, and other things as I made changes. That helped me get a wider sense of what works for readers. I want it to be pretty and organized for me, but I need it to be user-friendly for them.
If your blog layout is a mess, you will either gain readership more slowly or you will lose readers more easily. If they're reading through a blog reader like Feedly or Bloglovin' then they won't be exposed to your layout as much, but you want your blog to be attractive, easy to navigate, and not overly cluttered.
My big tips in this field are simple:
- NO CAPTCHA! Trust me on this. You won't get a lot of spam and it's easy to filter out. If you have any form of captcha, you will alienate some readers and you will get fewer comments. It's not worth having. Just get rid of it.
- No automatically playing videos or audio. There's nothing I hate more than visiting a blog and having random crap start up. Sometimes I'm reading blogs late at night or sometimes I read them on my lunch hour. I don't need everyone in my vicinity having to hear crap from my computer. Also...I don't like the mini-heart attack the autostart gives me and I really don't appreciate the drag it takes on my computer memory.
- No dark backgrounds. Sometimes they look cool, but they can be really hard on eyes and can be difficult to read. White space is your friend. Help your readers out.
- Use a simple font. Make sure your font is easy to read. You can do something "different" just make sure it's not crazy scrolly or in a color that's difficult to see on your background. Simple is better. Be nice to your readers.
- Don't overload your sidebar. Too much clutter can frighten off readers. They need to have things easily at their fingertips. Don't overwhelm the sidebar with icons for different blog parties or other bloggers. Stick to the basics and maybe one or two additional features.
I try to post at least once a week, but most of the time I post 2-3 times per week. My topics are varied and it may depend on what activities I'm taking part in or what crafting whim I've gotten myself stuck on. I really make an effort not to abandon the blog for more than a week. If I'm going on vacation, I'll try to either preschedule a post or two or I'll notify my readers if I'm taking some kind of hiatus. My readers are my friends; I like to keep them informed and happy.
I work really hard to make posts with content. Fluff pieces waste your readers' time. Don't do that. Make sure you would find it interesting as a reader. That's how you know it's worth it. A lot of readers have several blogs they follow and time can be limited. Just make sure that what you're putting up is something that's worth that time and you'll be fine.
Proofread your posts before you put them up. You're bound to have an occasional grammar or spelling error, but you don't want them everywhere. Preview and read back through your post before you hit publish and clean up anything crazy you find in either your writing or your formatting. Your readers will thank you.
Networking and socializing is important in blogging, but you have to do what works for you. I like to take part in read-a-thons and I sometimes do blogging link-up parties for my crafts. That gets me new visitors, but it also helps me find new blogs to read.
The bigger events that I take part in include: Top Ten Tuesday (a weekly event), the A to Z Challenge, Bloggiesta, Bout of Books, and Dewey's 24 Hour Read-a-Thon. Armchair BEA is new for me, but it's example of such a socializing event.
Find the things you like and join up. Don't be afraid. The worst that can happen is that you won't want to do it again. I have found most of my activities through other bloggers. Read other blogs, check out the blogs of your readers. You'll be surprised at the great stuff you'll find and the awesome people you can meet.
I talked about commenting earlier, but another big help can be helping others find you. When I comment on someone else's blog who may not know about EPJ, I leave a blog link at the end of my comment. This hyperlink reads "Elle @ Erratic Project Junkie". Clicking on it will take them directly to my blog. Some comment platforms (specifically Google's) will make it really difficult for them to figure out where you came from. Make it easy for them and you'll see more people visiting you.
Time Management / Managing the Blog
A blog can be a time suck. Be forewarned. Posts typically take me at least an hour to write--longer if I have to edit photos or if I'm doing a tutorial or book review. Don't try to bang things out in a hurry...it will show.
Prescheduling posts can be a big help. Sometimes life gets crazy and you just don't have time to blog, but you want to keep your posting regular. This is where writing ahead of time and scheduling your post can totally save your bacon. Do it when you can, especially if you're taking part in a big event like A to Z. It's easy to get overwhelmed otherwise.
Blog planning can also be useful. Write a list of posts you might want to do in the future and then spread them out. Get ideas of things to talk about and just keep them handy in case you hit writer's block...it happens.
Make your blog do some of the work for you. I use a platform called IFTTT. As soon as I hit publish, IFTTT is programmed to post my link to Facebook and Twitter as well as my WordPress backup site. If I post a picture to my Instagram, it ships it to my Twitter feed and Facebook page as well. If I have a post that I've used the label "crafts" on, it automatically posts it to Reddit. IFTTT saves me a ton of time in cross-posting. It takes a little time to get used to, but it is very much worth it.
The Big Picture
Don't forget why you're blogging. In my case, I do it as an outlet. I do it because I like it. I want to keep it that way. Don't let the little things bother you. Just make sure you're still having fun with it.
Don't worry about your stats. The numbers don't define you. Readership comes over time. And sometimes it doesn't. It's okay. Just keep doing what you're doing if you're enjoying it.
Don't get overwhelmed trying to do too much. Do what your schedule allows and be happy with that. Certain events aren't for everyone. Sometimes you won't have time to do the ones you really want to...life can be crummy that way. Be present, take pride in your blog. Love your blog and it will love you back.
Oh...and sometimes you'll get an occasional mean commenter. Blow them off. People can be rude and some people are just trolls. If you get an out of line or offensive comment, delete it. It's your blog. You can do that. Don't let them push you around. Most readers are genuine and nice.
Be yourself and you will find readers who identify with you and what you have to say. You'll find people who like you for who you are and what you post. Don't change yourself for readers. Being authentic about your writing will grow your blog faster than anything else. Staying real will keep you relaxed and it will keep it fun. I promise...that is really what it is all about.