by Robin E. Mason
Imagine yourself a small child watching an NFL game, dreaming of one day becoming one of the big burly players.
Or a little girl watching a live performance of The Nutcracker or Swan Lake, dreaming of one day becoming one of the lithe slender ladies dancing en pointe.
Starting a blog doesn’t take more than a few clicks on your computer. Zippo, zammo, ENTER, blam! And you’ve got a blog.
Well, that’s how I did it anyway. Le sigh…
But like a child dreaming of a professional career, there was so much I didn’t know, and my first efforts were like a three-year-old Crayola drawing compared to Monet or Renoir.
“I’ve been thrown in the deep end. Of a deep ocean. In a tidal wave. And all I want to do is write my stories. [Well, and get people to read ‘em… ] Write a bio, they say. What do you want to know? I write, that’s what I do.”
That was my first authorly post on my blog. And man-o-man did I ever feel like I was in over my head. WAY over my head.
But I did it. I started. And I learned as I went. I’ve seen comments here and there that blogs aren’t the thing they once were, and honestly, have wondered if I should let mine go. But it’s MY place, versus the big social media sites. Although I spend most of my time on one of those, my blog is where I share and post the features—reviews, interviews, etc—of my choosing. My blog is about interacting, community, like a virtual family room or game night. Besides, there are plenty of blogs that are going strong and thriving.
First of all, what is a blog? It’s actually a contraction, as it were, of “weblog.” Log being record or journal or register of some data or activity. And the web, well, that’s the web of course, worldwide web (the WWW of a URL address.) Which brings me to my first point.
Select a Host Provider
Your blog has to have a place to exist, to call home. This is where your blog will get your URL address, the www (dot) BLOGNAME (dot) com or net or org…
There are probably countless venues out there, but at the suggestion of a friend, I chose WordPress, and I have been happy there. They have the option to upgrade to a paid service, which, of course, would offer more features, but for now, I’m content with what I have. Here are a few others I’ve heard of:
Choose a theme
My first blog post in 2012 was actually an attempt at accountability, and nothing to do with writing. It floundered after one post.
Two years later, after I published my debut novel and realized I would need a blog, I revived it. I didn’t have a theme, though, other than, “Hey! World! Look at me!”
I was a novice author floundering for a foothold in an overwhelming industry. My theme developed over the course of time.
For all the years that I loathed my name, I am now quite fond of it and play on that all.the.time. Thus the name of my blog, Robin’s Nest. (also my logo and publisher.) Family and family gatherings show up in my writing a LOT, and that is thematic to my blog as well—that’s the “nest” part.
There are blogs that are straight-up all about the craft and art of writing. I follow several blogs that are reviewer blogs, and others that are, like mine, author blogs. Your blog should reflect what you’re about, whether writing or mountain climbing or running and jogging or some other topic.
Choose a color scheme
This sort of goes with the theme. You want your blog to appear cohesive, and pleasing to look at. There are studies on what colors to use to convey the feel you want for your blog. Robin’s Nest, with trees and, well, nests, the colors come easy—browns and greens and robin’s egg blue. (I’m also an artist, and colors are instinctive to me.)
Every blog needs a bio, whether you are blogging solo or in a group. There should be at least a snippet about you for your followers to know who you are and what you’re about.
Look at other blogs to get an idea of what to include. Your bio should contain your basics, and whatever is pertinent to your theme. Mention awards and honors you’ve won, or your expertise in your area. Include family members and your physical location.
Part of your bio should be a good headshot, professional if you can. Note about your profile pic: you should use the same or similar images across social media platforms. The reason for this is so that a potential follower can identify or recognize you if they look for you on Twitter or Instagram, etc.
Utilize the tools to add buttons so your blog followers can also follow you on your other social media platform, and identify if you belong or participate in groups or activities relevant to your theme.
Vision and Mission Statement
Another item that didn’t occur to me. And one I added well into my blogging days.
Your vision is just that—where do you see your blog in a year, five years, ten years?
A MISSION STATEMENT is a short statement of why an organization exists, what its overall goal is, identifying the goal of its operations: what kind of product or service it provides, its primary customers or market, and its geographical region of operation. Definition found on Wikipedia
How often will you post
This goes to your schedule and comfort level. I started with weekly-ish posts, but no thought or commitment to what or when.
One of the things that readers and followers look for, and that attracts new followers, is consistency. A weekly post is a good starting place, but whatever your comfort level is, be consistent with it.
I got overambitious and was trying to post a different feature each day. More on that later.
I didn’t know in the early days that I could schedule my posts in advance, and let me tell ya what a boon that was to discover!!
In the early days, I made notes for myself on whatever scrap of paper was handy. As my blog grew this became problematic; I lost slips of paper and missed a couple of interviews or reviews. #horrors
I do much better to do some things manually—like scheduling—and created an Excel spreadsheet (of all things) that serves as my calendar.
As with many things in my life, I have color-coded aspects of my calendar, most notably each month is a different color. When I create a blog postdoc (I work OFFline to create my blog posts, then upload them when they’re complete.) I notate it with a D (for Document), and once it’s uploaded and queued up to go live, I change that to a Q (for Queued up), to be replaced with a checkmark after it’s live. You’ll note that I also have doctor’s appointments listed as well; it helps me to have all.the.things noted in one.handy.place.
This is my system. Figure out what works for you and go with it.
As an author, and besides my early “Hey, look at me” posts, I also posted a review for a book I had read. While the review was lovely, the post was meager and anemic!
I believe it was my second year blogging that I added interviews. It wasn’t as meager as the first review, but it was still pretty bland.
The following year, I added guest posts. That first year, I left the topic up to my guest blogger; I now choose a theme topic for each month. Along with the guest posts, I introduced my feature banner—a different banner for each feature on my blog; formatted the same but individual to each feature.
Also, consider the length of your posts. Some blogs keep their posts quite short, under 1000 words. Others I follow are clearly much longer. (My word count for this post is just over 2K.) If a post is interesting and engaging it will hold the reader’s attention. Images help with this as well. More on that later.
Look at your theme and your schedule, and decide what works best for you. You will want posts that engage your reader; it’s part of what keeps them coming back. You will also want content that gives the reader something of value.
It goes without saying, or at least it should go without saying—proofread and edit your post! As in reading any other published material, bad grammar and poor spelling speak of the author’s indifference or laziness.
NOTE: It’s a good idea to develop guidelines for guest posts. For me, at least, it makes the process easier than answering the same questions every time. Also, twice I had a guest blogger submit a post that was not the topic I asked for and was expecting. One blogger was defensive and said she didn’t have time to write a piece for me. (The post submitted was a) had been previously written and published elsewhere—which I have no problem with—and b) not only not on topic, but largely promoting one or more of this author’s books, which is also not a problem per se, but the post itself was not on topic.) The other off-topic author happily rewrote and resubmitted a piece on the topic requested.
Contests and Giveaways
This goes hand in hand with content. And, of course, with a contest, you have to have a prize to offer. With most of my giveaways, the prize offered comes from a guest blogger or an interviewee. It’s not a requirement of course, but I offer the option.
For the longest time I resisted offering giveaways, or used blog comments as giveaway entries; not sure why but Rafflecopter intimidated me. In truth, I found it quite easy to set up. (I ignore the HTML bit—that confuses me! LOL)
It’s always exciting to me when I get comments on a blog post. I do my best to answer or reply to each comment. This boosts interaction, and encourages followers to participate—and come back to read new blog posts!
A couple of the blogs I follow don’t have share buttons! Which means I can’t, well, share the post once I’ve read its wonderful goodness and wisdom. I can’t speak for other blog platforms, but I can’t imagine the option for share buttons not being available.
Sharing is one of the big things I do. Also known as networking, it helps build your blog and add to your followers.
Disclaimer and Giveaway Rules
These would be Disclosure Statement, GDPR Statement, FTC Regulations, and Privacy Statement. Another bit I was clueless about but can save you much grief and headache if at any time there is a legal question.
There are generic statements available online; I downloaded these and tweaked them with my blog information.
Peruse other blogs. Get a feel for how each blogger designs / decorates their blog-home. I drew and painted the piece I use as my header. It’s the same artwork I use on Twitter and on my website. (www.robinemason.com) I also created a banner to use with each feature. Because of my affinity for color, each feature is a different color.
WHATEVER else you do, make certain you are not using photos and images that are copyrighted!!! HEADS UP—Google images are NOT free to use!!! I got nailed for an image that was, in fact, found in a “free to use” category on Bing.com. It had been “harvested” from a paid site and illegally posted on Bing. The owner contacted me, and by the grace of God was generous with me, asking only a small fee. I’ve heard horror stories of people using images and then being sued for ridiculous amounts.
I get my images from Pixabay—and rather than posting a generic disclaimer, I take the time to “watermark” the image with its URL. (Yes, it’s OCD of me, and not truly necessary but for me, it’s worth the effort.)
There are other ROYALTY-FREE stock image sites, and of course, if you take your own pics then no worries.
That said, don’t be shy about using images. It catches a reader’s attention and adds color and vibrancy to your posts.
Headers, Hashtags and Labels
Think of the header on each blog post as the engine, and hashtags as the caboose. A header should bolded and contain the date, title of your post, and author name (author of the post or if it’s a review, author of the book, or the interviewee.) I use all caps. This post, for instance, is:
BLOGWORDS – Wednesday 24 July 2019 – GUEST POST and GIVEAWAY – CREATING AN ACTIVE AND SUCCESSFUL BLOG – KRISTENA MEARS
Hashtags and labels still trip me up! LOL. At the end of each of my posts, I list the labels for that post. I need to use hashtags more, too!
Blog Tutorials and Tools
I’m not sure when I discovered a YouTube tutorial on WordPress. But it sure boosted my posts from the earlier skimpy little posts to what I have now. Search for tutorials for the Provider you choose to learn about the features available to you. This was one of the “thrown in the deep end” things that I was utterly clueless about in the early days. There are other tutorials I want to watch, other tools I want to learn about to make my blog stronger and better.
Now, go forth and blog! Then come back and tell me about it!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
“I’ve always had voices—er, stories in my head. I once said I should write them all down so someone could write them someday. I had no idea at the time that someone was me!”
Ms. Mason has been writing since 1995. She lived with depression for many years, and the inherent feelings of worthlessness and invisibility; she didn’t want to be who she was and struggled with her own identity for many years. Her characters face many of these same demons. They encounter situations that force the question, “Who am I really?”
For all who have ever wondered who you are or why you’re here, Mason’s stories will touch you in a very real—maybe too real—and a very deep way. “I know, I write from experience.”
Ms. Mason is a Christian and writes from a Christian world view, but some of her characters are not believers and therefore do not abide by the Bible and the guidelines for life that we take for granted. Her books contain some mild swear language in a few places—and demonstrate the difference when the grace of God prevails.