Have you read a blog today? I don't know you (unless I do. Hi!), but I'm going to guess that you have. If fact, you might have read several. Even with the up-and-coming competition of Twitter, blogs are holding strong. The best ones are supplying readers with the news and views they used to get from newspapers or the television, and even the worst are catering to someone out there with a passion for... armadillos in socks, say, who doesn't care if said blogger knows a preposition from a peanut.
But how can you tell the best from the worst, or, even better, join the ranks of the best? As an avid blog reader, I've compiled a list of the top six things a blogger needs to do to succeed, complete with examples that will probably tell you way more about my reading habits than you wanted to know.
#1: Choose your topic wisely
The best blogs have a clearly-defined topic and a wide content base to draw on. When my friend Alison started her blog "Art of the Day" I applauded her, not only for introducing me to awesome works of art, but for choosing a topic that is practically endless. The world is full of great art – certainly enough to fill a blog for five days a week.
That is not to say that you have to pick a Topic of National or Cultural Importance. It can be about bacon, things that ferment, miscellaneous interesting facts about Japanese literature and language, kitschy toys, movies, games, and food items of the past 30 years*, or perennial Intrepid favorite fugly celebrity fashion. The important thing is that you have a solid base of content to work from.
Not sure that you can sustain interest in one topic for longer than a certain period? You can do what this blogger does and change the topic every year to something new and different. Your other option is to create an intentionally-short-lived blog. You know how some concepts are better suited to mini-series than to long-running tv shows? The same thing applies to blogs, and you don’t want to be the person trying to drag a 6-month concept out over 6 years.
#2: Organize, organize, organize
Scheduling is as important on the internet as it is in the real world.
While there are some blogs that can get away without a regular posting schedule, those are typically the blogs with multiple posts per day. If you aren’t crazy/inspired/really good at cramming lots of stuff into your day, you’ll probably want a schedule that will allow you to plan ahead, and also give you regular breathing spaces.
Scheduling becomes even more important when you have a) lots of different kinds of content (reviews, interviews, news items, videos, etc.) or b) multiple contributors. For an example of an exceptionally well-organized blog, check out the romance book review/industry news blog Dear Author, which has, among other things, a regular Monday series called My First Sale, a Thursday Afternoon Haiku Moment, and First Page Saturday.
The internet is widely famed for its aura of anonymity and the pros and cons that come with it. However, if you are blogging, the last thing you want to have is an anonymous voice. Can you use a pseudonym? Certainly. But your voice should be unique, memorable, and consistent. Take, for example, one of my semi-regular reads: Beauty Tips for Ministers. I am not a minister, nor do I even attend church regularly, yet I read this blog. Why? Because PeaceBang (the pen name of Rev. Victoria Weinstein) has a joyful and engaging voice that inevitably brightens my day while also preaching to me about the value of fun accessories and good shoes. Is her blog directed at a niche market? Yes, but her voice has the power to attract those who aren’t pulled in by the content alone.
Feeling passionate about your topic is one of the easiest ways to begin building a unique voice and begin building a committed audience. It takes passion to want to write about a topic every day (or every other day, or every three days) for 12 months a year. If you don’t feel passionate about your topic, chances are your blog will fizzle out in short order. If you want lessons in passionate blogging, trot yourself over to Smart Bitches, Trashy Books. The Smart Bitches, as their name implies, don’t pull any punches when it comes to their topic of choice (romance novels). Does this garner them a certain amount of hate mail and hate-commenting? Of course, but an even larger percentage of readers bond with them because they are not afraid to show their passion and encourage others to feel that way too. In fact, their passion has earned them a book deal and a chance to have their real voices heard on NPR. The same can be said for the Fug Girls, who have gone from being bloggers to book authors, and contribute columns all over the web.
Nothing is sexier than a blogger who really knows their stuff. While some blogs are run by professionals in their field, a series of letters after your name is not the only ticket to knowlegable blogging. Copious study of your topic, a passion for aggregating data, and natural curiosity can get you just as far. In fact, blogging can even increase your knowledge base by prompting you to develop your ideas while connecting with other like-minded individuals. The best bloggers know their subject, but also know that they don’t know it all.
Successful blogging is about commitment. I need at least both hands, if not both feet, to count the number of blogs I’ve read that have stagnated, or entirely disappeared. In this way, blogs are accurate reflections of our lives where one hobby falls by the wayside to make room for a job, children, pets, stamp collecting, or your poker group. I defy anyone reading this piece to stand up and say that they have never abandoned a project or lost touch with a hobby. These things happen. The key is to recognize that fact and deal with it by either consciously setting your project aside, or by re-dedicating yourself to making it work.
So there are my 6 things. But, I'm only one reader, and the world of blogging is near-infinite in its variety. What are your favorite blogs, and what makes you love them?
Incidentally, a couple of our Intrepid staffers have entered the world of blogging. Check them out and cheer them on:
The Simmer blog
*Actually, I’m 99% sure that site emerged before the word "blog” did, which makes it more of a proto-blog, which now has a blog of its own.
Sarah Ficke will make sport for you, and laugh at you in her turn. She has channeled her obsession for books into a career as an English professor.
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8.24.09 @ 9:35a
I wish I had time to read and/or write blogs. I don't. Oneathesedays I'll try.
8.24.09 @ 10:25p
Fun stuff. I scan a whole bunch of blogs, at random, when I'm not doing other things. The only thing that turns me away is when the person is so much of a me monkey that I can't find anything redeeming or even humorous in the read.
Fascinating how blogs are so common now.
8.25.09 @ 12:35p
Coolness! So true, too. Blogs are easy to start but hard to keep up, and the topic makes all the difference.
I never would have found Beauty Tips For Ministers on my own, but you are so right, the voice is great. I loved the piece about what to wear while biking.