Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Writers Workshop: Blogging 101 with Professor Kitten

Okay class, settle down now, make yourselves comfortable. Make sure your laptops are fully charged. No talking, texting, IM'ing, or visiting other blogs during this session. You'll have plenty of time to do that when we're done.

Welcome to Blogging 101. I am the Bookkitten, but you may call me Professor Kitten. Outside of class, just call me Kitten. Anyhoo, I'm here to offer various tips and tactics that I've gleaned during my nearly two years of blogging--but I've only been blogging full-time for a year. (Witness the five posts I wrote in 2007, compared to my body of work in 2008).

In this class, there is no syllabus, no exams, no projects. It's for anyone, whether you're new to blogging or you've been on the Internet for a while. Now that we have that out of the way, let's begin.

We'll start with the basics. Part One: Who Am I, and Why Am I Blogging?

1. Decide on a focus for your blog. In other words, do you want your blog to be about one specific thing?
Will your blog deal with a specific topic, or will it contain stream of consciousness ramblings about your life? Will you have a poetry blog, a knitting blog, a blog about the music you listen to? It's up to you. Don't sweat it too much, though, for this leads in to the advice I'm going to give you for bullet point #2:

2. Your blog will evolve. Let it do so naturally.
Okay, so this cancels out bullet point #1. However, here's why I'm addressing this: When I first started my blog I wanted to focus strictly on book reviews. Then life intervened, and I went through a crisis in my personal life. Writing has helped me through this trying time. I started using the blog as a place to post my thoughts about anything, and not just the books that I read. For a few months I didn't write anything, or rather, wrote very little, about literature. Now I've come back to my blog's original focus, but I've interspersed it with my other interests, such as writing, music, and cooking. You are the person who decides what your blog is going to contain. Don't be pressured to make it anything different than you want it to be.

3. Remember, anyone can read the Internet. Consider using a pseudonym when you blog.
For those of you who know me off blog, you know that Kitten is not my real name. Anyone can Google search you. Be careful of what you post; you wouldn't want your co-workers to know about that wild night in Cabo. If you write about your friends, that's your choice, but be mindful of their privacy. Don't use their last names. Many bloggers use their real first names, but don't disclose their last names. They may also give their friends and family members nicknames to protect their privacy. Check with your loved ones if you're unsure.

Okay, it looks like everyone's still awake, so I'm going to continue with Part Two of this lesson: Developing Your Fan Base.

1. Unless you tell everyone you know that you have a blog, don't expect comments right away.
When I started The Bookkitten, I didn't tell anyone that I had a blog. When I did tell friends they visited, but they weren't regular visitors; they weren't bloggers, and I didn't take it personally. Occasionally I'd get a comment here and there, I'm still not sure how (most likely RSS or a Google search), but I didn't get regular visitors for a very, very long time.

So how did I start getting comments? Read on...

2. Visit other people's blogs and comment.
You can only receive comment love if you give it! Make sure you use your Blogger/Wordpress/Open ID persona when you comment, and make sure that your profile is public! That way the blogger can come visit you!

3. Look at other bloggers' blogrolls. Visit the sites on those.
Blogrolls are a great way to find out bloggers' interests. If they have similar interests as you, you'll find more blogs that you like!

4. Participate in memes, if you so desire, and don't forget to sign the Mr. Linky when you do, so other bloggers can come visit you.
This is one of the best ways to develop a following. Don't forget to visit the other bloggers on the list, too!

So now we've covered content, comments, and now...well, I can't think of a C word to describe this next element: design. Let's now move on to Part Three: Keeping Up Appearances.

1. Don't worry about coming up with a funky design right away. This will evolve right along with your blog.
Use the templates that Blogger and Wordpress give you. Experiment with a look. See which best fits your personality.

Once you've blogged for a while, and you want to change things up a bit, you may find that the blog templates may not be doing much for you. You may want a funkier background, or you may find that you want to change it depending on the season. I have two resources for you:

  • The Cutest Blog on the Block: This site has free templates, with super-easy directions on how to change your backgrounds.
  • Leelou Blogs: This site also has some cute free templates and headers. Some of the templates will even change your blogs from two columns to three.

2. Don't be afraid to seek professional help for your blog.
Let's say that the free templates aren't doing much for you, and you want something personalized. For example, you want a cute, fun header or a button that your followers can grab and display. There are many blog designers on the web, but allow me to introduce you to our first guest lecturer, who also happens to be designing something for me as we speak:

In addition to the amazing work that April does, she now has a section on her blog that contains blog design tutorials. So if you're a do-it-yourselfer, check out these tutorials. She currently has a lesson on expanding your blog from two columns to three. And let's not forget, her designs are amazing. Visit April's blog to learn more about her and her work. She is very easy--and fun!--to work with!

So to recap, we've now covered content, comment, and design, so now let's move on to the fourth and final portion of our lesson: Maintenance. In this portion I refer you to our second guest lecturer:
Kim over at Sophisticated Dorkiness is running the Blog Improvement Project. She has biweekly lessons and topics to help you improve various aspects of your blog. She's covered many topics so far: social media, posting, comments, and design. I always look forward to seeing what she's going to come up with next.
I believe that blogs are always a work in progress, and the Blog Improvement Project will help you look at your blog in a different light.
Well, class, that is about all that I have today. Shall we review? Here are the highlights of this lesson:
  • Let your blog evolve naturally.
  • You have to give comment love in order to get it.
  • Try out a few layouts before you find one that suits you.
  • Don't be afraid to ask for help.

If you have any questions or comments, my office hours vary, depending on when my schedule allows me to be online, but you can reach me 24/7 via the comments! If you tweet, I am also available via Twitter.

Class dismissed! Go forth and post!


Heather said...

Excellent advice. :)

Anonymous said...

These are all really good ideas. When I first started my blog, I didn't tell anyone either. Then I told one person and gradually became more comfortable with strangers visiting. I love your blog and all aspects of it, by the way!

CDB said...

This was great, thanks for the tips.. and the links! (I'm excited to see what new design you have in store. Release party?)

You are right.. about the evolution part. I'm still figuring out what my blog is about.

Amber said...

thank you oh wise professor kitten, for sharing some of your knowledge with us!

Anonymous said...

Great post! My cousin does not understand when I tell her that she has to comment-back bloggers in order for them to keep coming to her blog. (She's 14 though).

Grand Pooba said...

I'm gonna need to seek some professional help. On more than just blogging!

septembermom said...

That was very helpful! Thanks for all the tips. My blog is definitely a work in progress. I'm going to check out the Blog Improvement Project. I'm sure all learn a lot.

pam said...

Some great advice. I love your blog:)

Jenners said...

Excellent job Professor! I'll attend your School of Blog anytime! I'm sure I will be linking to this at some point! : )

Anonymous said...

These are all very good tips. I didn't tell most of my friends I was starting a blog when I began, so it took awhile to get comments. It's easy to get discouraged, but you just have to keep at it.

Thanks for pointing to the BIP too :)

Miss Angie said...

Brilliant - Found you through Mama kat and I think I might just follow you now! Thanks for sharing the advice!

Also, the whole book reviews thing is fantastic!