I rarely go off-topic here at Manga Bookshelf, but I read a blog post earlier today that irresistibly compelled me to do so. Furthermore, I’m going to claim that I’m on topic after all, since Manga Bookshelf is, first and foremost, a blog.
In his post, Mr. Chamberlin urges aspiring bloggers to recognize the importance of teaching through their blogs. He (quite rightly) explains that “personality” is not enough to draw or maintain readership, and offers up some sage advice for ensuring consistent, professional content. Though I think his hardline “teaching” mandate is more useful in some fields than in others, I thought his approach was pretty reasonable until I hit this particular bullet point:
Write thorough, two-hour posts that explore these topics, one at a time.
Two hours is overkill for some posts (though not nearly enough for others), which gave me a moment of pause. Thankfully, the next point began on a reassuringly sane note.
Great advice here, no? Consistent content is absolutely the key to building and maintaining readership. All worries quickly placated, I dove optimistically into the next sentence.
Don’t publish something unless it’s the best thing you’ve ever written. This means you’ll either be deleting a lot of drafts, or you’ll be spending entire days revising your content.
I realize that there is no one method of writing in the world that can work for every person, but my first thought upon reading that next sentence was that it was the single most destructive piece of advice for new bloggers that I had ever heard. “Don’t publish something unless it’s the best thing you’ve ever written?” That sentiment could be more succinctly conveyed by saying, “Don’t publish,” since, for most writers, that would be the result.
Telling a blogger that every piece must be his or her newest masterpiece is the best recipe for writer’s block I’ve ever seen, leading inevitably to the real killer of most blogs: lack of regular content. Yes, building readership requires that your content be smart and compelling, but most importantly it must be new, daily or as close to it as possible. Otherwise, by the time you’ve managed to complete your next masterpiece, the only person still reading will be your mom.
The internet is a vast and disorganized place, with more new content being generated in a second than most of us could possibly comprehend. That any one of us manages to reach even one other person via the tiny speck of a single blog is kind of a miracle, really. And while Chamberlin’s advice is about as sound as it gets in terms of trying to bring that miracle forth, keeping that one reader around after he/she’s read just one post is approximately a million times harder. Fortunately, though online readership can be fickle, most people are creatures of habit, and the best way to draw them back, time and again, is to become a part of their daily routine.
With that in mind, here’s my advice for building and maintaining readership as a new blogger:
1. Check out Chamberlin’s first two bullet points. I suspect they apply to nearly any kind of blogging, and hey, why recreate the wheel? I’ll add that you should write about something you love. That’ll help bring out the passion Chamberlin so rightly asks for.
2. Publish something new every day, at least five days a week if possible. Give real time and attention to your masterpieces when they come, but let them be just part of a solid schedule of concise, entertaining, on-topic writing that may run the gamut from Serious Business to light-hearted linkblogging. Don’t go crazy to the point of spamming your readers, but a well-constructed, on-topic daily post (or two!) isn’t going to piss off anyone.
3. Write your schedule down. This doesn’t have to be public (though it certainly can be) but it should be something you can stick to, week after week. If you discover that your schedule is too ambitious, change it, until you’ve got something you know you can maintain. A missed feature here or there isn’t going to do much damage, but it takes very little to fade from someone else’s habit, so try to build expectations you know you can follow through on.
4. Engage your readers by encouraging them to interact, both with you and with each other. End posts with a question whenever appropriate, especially when blogging in first person. Though you may feel the invitation to comment is implied, you’ll be surprised to find how much more often it happens when you ask a question directly.
5. Write, write, and write some more, and when the post is due, publish, even if it’s not a masterpiece. The truth is, as diligently as you may toil to create brilliant, beautiful prose, pondering thoughtfully on the Great Works Of Our Time, sometimes what people really want to do is dish about their crushes on fictional characters. Like it or not, your hard-won masterpiece may not be what’s bringing in the traffic. Deal with this. Learn to embrace it.
6. Read and comment on other people’s blogs. You may think you don’t have time, what with all those posts to write, but the best way to establish yourself in any community is to actually be part of that community. Talk to other fans in comments. Get yourself on Twitter. Include a link to your blog when you sign your name, but talk to people about what they’ve said, and not just about yourself.
I’ll be the first to admit that daily posting is hard. It’s the single biggest reason I begged Kate and David to join me. On any given day, I know someone‘s going to post, and their brilliant reviews and think-pieces allow me to spend my time on fewer “masterpieces” and more quick-n-easy bits of fluff. This is a great argument for being part of a group blog. Even in our tiny niche of a topic, in this nerdy corner of the blogosphere, daily content is the key to our continued existence.
So don’t paralyze yourself with ridiculous expectations. Write good content, and let your best come when it can.
What do you think, readers? Any advice from you for would-be manga bloggers?