Need help with your blog? What are you waiting for?

I am LOVING blog coaching. Loving it!

Here’s how this developed: I enjoyed helping friends who were new to blogging — showing them how to set up a blog, brainstorming what to write about and figuring out how to build a readership. And now I’m including that service as part of Socialexis! It’s so great to hear the excitement in my client’s voices when they see their blog coming together, especially newbies who felt shaky about their technical skills to begin with.

I teach on both and Blogger, platforms that look professional yet are fairly intuitive and easy to learn. Through the magic of the Internet, I hook up my computer to each client’s computer so we can work together on one screen. And then I literally walk clients through whatever they want to learn.

So far I’ve mostly worked with writers who are starting from scratch, but I’m also up for helping folks who are already blogging but can’t quite figure out how to add certain features or get readers. Because if you’re going to put in all that effort, you want someone to read your blog, right?

Yeah, I’m having way too much fun with this.

Contact me if you need help! I promise to make it fun for you, too.

Blogging Part III: A 5-step guide to getting started

You’ve thought about whether you should start blogging, and decided the answer is yes. You’ve seriously considered your content, pondering what makes a blog successful.

Now you ask: How do I get started?

1. Pick a platform. If you’re a newbie, you’ll probably want a hosted platform, one that’s easy to use. They’re also free. Here’s a list of the most popular hosted platforms.

I’m also including a few examples — pulled straight from my Google Reader — so you can see what blogs hosted with each platform look like. I’m only picking blogs I think the blogger created themselves, without help from a designer.

  • WordPress. I’m partial to because that’s what I use. I think it looks more professional than other platforms. It offers lots of templates (aka designs) to choose from and has more built-in options than Blogger. But there is a learning curve; it took me a while to figure everything out. Look at the difference between my first blog — my travel blog — and this blog. Big difference, right? To get a sense for, check out blogs by Steve Buttry, Lisa McKay and Simone Gorrindo.
  • Blogger. If you’re not comfortable with the Web, you might choose Blogger. Blogging with Blogger is as easy as it gets — easier than WordPress. You can’t do quite as much with it, but if you’re a newbie that might not matter. I haven’t looked for statistics on this, but I believe Blogger is the most popular platform. Here’s what a Blogger blog looks like: The Intern, BookEnds, Mary Carroll Moore and Peggy Frezon. (I coached Peggy on her blog.)
  • Typepad. While I’ve blogged with WordPress and helped friends use Blogger, I don’t have personal experience with Typepad. Can any readers vouch for it? TypePad blogs: Sarah Fain and Chip MacGregor.
  • Tumblr. This platform is meant for short blog posts, even micro-blogging. But plenty of folks use it as their primary blog. I keep track of my reads on Tumblr, but I put no effort whatsoever into that design, so don’t look to me as an example. Instead, check out Julie Kraut‘s blog.

One last word on this: If you’re Web-savvy or have someone who is to help you, think about using It’s self-hosted, which basically means more complicated, and not as easy to set up. But while I usually recommend bloggers start out with (that’s right — there’s a WordPress.ORG and a WordPress.COM. COM is easier), bloggers often make the switch to once they’ve learned the ropes. If you can start with, you’ll save yourself the trouble of eventually making that switch.

If there’s one regret I have about blogging, it’s that I didn’t start out on Because now I want to switch to, but that would require changing my blog URL, and you all already know to find me here. Sigh.

Examples of WordPress.ORG blogs: Marian Schembari, Todd’s Wanderings and In Search of Squid.

Want more pros and cons of each platform to figure out which is right for you? Check out this Blogging Basics 101 post.

2. Choose a URL. Try to make your URL your name. You can also make it match your blog title — if you’re absolutely sure you’ll stick with it — but your name is best for the purposes of personal branding. Maybe you don’t care about branding yourself now, but you might later. And while Blogger allows you to change your URL, WordPress doesn’t; to change a URL, you have to start from scratch and build a new blog. So choose wisely.

If you really want to get fancy, you can buy at (usually costs about $10/year) and point that URL to your blog. For example, way back when, I set up to reroute to my travel blog. I say this is fancy, but it’s actually fairly easy to set up. And it’s good to have anyhow.

3. Find your template. Your design says a lot about you and your blog, so choose one that looks professional. This is where WordPress has far more options than Blogger.

Whenever I’m looking for a new template, I always narrow the selection down in two ways: designs with two or three columns, and ones with customizable headers. A customizable header allows you to download a photo for the top of your blog (this is easy, I promise). With so many people using these platforms, a customizable header is an easy way to make your blog look unique.

Continue reading

Blogging 101, Part II: What makes an awesome blog?

Welcome back!

We’ve already talked about why you should have a blog and whether you’re ready to start one. Up today: What makes an awesome blog?

There are as many ways to produce a good blog as there are bloggers. But when you’re new to the blogosphere, you need concrete goals, right? So here are a few things you can focus on to make your blog successful.

Offer value. This seems obvious, but you’d be surprised how many blogs fail to offer some sort of value to their readers. (Those blogs tend to be lacking readership.) What’s value? In my mind, a valuable blog is either useful or entertaining. Readers return to blogs because they get something from being there. They learn something. Or they laugh. So before starting a blog, ask yourself: What value will my blog offer to readers? Why would a reader not only visit my blog, but come back the next day?

These are questions you can use not only to evaluate an entire blog, but also to make sure each and every post is worth publishing. If a post isn’t useful or doesn’t make me feel some sort of emotion — laugh or cry — re-think it. Maybe it simply needs to be rewritten. Maybe the topic isn’t worth writing about on your blog.

I’m totally down with being proven wrong on this — Does anyone disagree that most quality blogs are useful or entertaining? Can you point us to one that’s not? As one reader brought up in the comments on Part I of this series, the best blogs tend to break rules. So maybe this is a rule that’s waiting to be broken.

Look good. Yes, I’m talking about your blog’s appearance. I only read blogs that are easy to look at — and I’m not alone. Make sure your blog doesn’t look cluttered. Avoid black backgrounds with white or light-colored type. Post photos in appropriate sizes, ones that complement your text, not huge images that take over the entire page. Also don’t have a text-heavy page (hmm… like this one); include images and color to balance out links and copy. And here’s the big one: break your text into easy-to-read, short paragraphs with white space between them. Readers like white space!

The most important part of your blog is your content. But it will be a lot easier to convince people to read that content if your space looks clean and well put-together.

Use awesome titles for posts. This ties into the value and purpose of your blog. When you create a title, let your readers know what they’ll gain from the post. Like newspaper headlines, blog post titles are the reader’s first hint about whether they should read the post. So make them good.

In my experience, titles that show the post is a how-to or a list tend to get lots of clicks. Examples: “How to use social media to look for a job” or “Five reasons you should buy Lexi’s book.” Okay, so that last one isn’t a post yet. But it will be someday.

Well-written titles also help with SEO, for those of you who know what that is. If you don’t, well, that’s for another day.

Get personal. Readers return to blogs not only for the value they offer, but because they feel a personal connection to the blogger. Let readers connect with you. Give them something to grasp.

Continue reading

Blogging 101: Do you have what it takes to start a blog?

A handful of writers have approached me recently asking for help with their blogs. Some are trying to decide whether they should start a blog and how to go about it. Others want to improve an existing blog. So this week I’m running a series that will address three questions: Should I start a blog? What makes a blog successful? And how do I get started blogging?

Part I: Should you start a blog?

This isn’t about why you should blog. I think most writers — and everyone else who wants to promote themselves or their services — realize it’s an essential tool for building a platform, networking, etc. I want to help you think through whether you’ve got what it takes to start one.

I’ve heard people suggest that new bloggers get started as soon as possible, even if they’re still figuring out their focus, format and logistics. I advise the opposite. Everything you publish on the Web is out there for the whole world to read. Forever. So you want to get it right the first time. That means having a well thought-out plan and a good-looking site before you launch. Or at least before you tell anyone about it. Sure, your focus, style and approach will morph as you get the hang of blogging. But you want to look and sound professional from the get-go.

If you’re considering starting a blog, here’s what you should ask yourself:

What do I have to offer? Blogs have a bad rap because too many people use them as personal diaries. Please, for your sake and ours, do not make this mistake. Have a clear vision of what you hope to offer your readers. Not thoughts about your annoying neighbor or ramblings on your dog’s favorite toys. What’s your focus? (More on picking your subject in Part II.)

What are my goals? You know you should have a blog to “build your platform,” but that in itself isn’t a good enough reason to start one. In fact, that term makes me want to gag, partly because it’s so vague. What exactly are you hoping to accomplish through blogging?

Maybe it’s networking — I love connecting with other writers, especially people writing memoir. Maybe you’ll stir up interest in your soon-to-be published book.

Or maybe blogging will help you think through whatever you’re blogging about, help you come up with ideas or do your job better. This is a benefit bloggers often overlook. Writing here forces me to flesh out my ideas and express them in a cogent way instead of letting them mull around in my brain. It forces me to come up with conclusions. It helps me document my writing process so I won’t make the same mistakes the next time I write a book. I’m not only sharing with you here — I’m helping myself by keeping track of what I’ve learned and improving my own process. This blog helps me brainstorm and learn.

Am I okay with my posts being in the blogosphere forever? When you write something on the Internet, it stays there forever. Even after you erase it. Google saves everything.

I think about this a lot. Even though I’m not working as a journalist now, I might in the near future, which means I can’t express my opinions about certain issues. So while I try to reveal pieces of my personality on this blog, I’m careful about every single word I write, making sure I don’t say anything that might jeopardize my career.

What are your considerations when it comes to telling the world your story? I wouldn’t worry too much about privacy — it’s your blog, so you get to decide what to share and what to keep to yourself. But if you’re the type of person who over-shares, maybe you should consider a diary instead.

On the bright side, this lives-on-forever aspect is also what makes the Internet so valuable to us. It’s what allows that popular post you wrote a year ago to remain at the top of Google’s search results, making you findable to people who care about your subject. So embrace it. Leave your permanent footprint. Just make sure it’s a good one.

Do I have time? In my mind, this is the most important consideration, and it’s what I’ve been bringing up with my (small business) clients when we talk about whether they should start a blog. None of us really have time for a blog, but lots of us make time. Are you willing to make that time? Because blogging — I’ve gotta be honest here — is super time-consuming. It’s also rewarding. But every minute spent blogging means less time for writing or building your business or whatever’s your main focus.

Continue reading

Why writers should have a blog (and my first real rejection)

It was nearly a year ago that I was first approached by a literary agent.

I hadn’t sent out any queries. I hadn’t attended a conference and pitched agents in person. I hadn’t even tried to get in touch with agents, because I wanted to write my manuscript first. So how, you ask, did this agent find me?

Through my blog.

That’s right. I’d written here about one of her clients, and the agent happened to see the post, then clicked around my site reading more about me and my project.

Apparently I looked interesting, because she e-mailed me asking to see a proposal — if I had one — and sample chapters. And though the e-mail was a complete surprise, I already knew who this woman was. She was on my list of agents to query! She’d represented the author of a travel memoir I’d enjoyed, so I’d already researched her, knew about her experience and books she’d sold. Needless to say, I was excited.

My proposal wasn’t quite ready, so I finished that and my chapters during my residency at The Hambidge Center. Upon my return home, I sent The Agent my work. And then, every time I sat down to work on my manuscript during the next month, I nervously wondered whether she was reading it.

But when she finally got back to me, it wasn’t with good news. She was passing on the manuscript, she wrote. My first rejection!

For a day or so I felt defeated, disappointed that it hadn’t worked out. Months later I’d wonder whether I should have waited to share my work, until I’d finished my entire manuscript. After all, what I have now is completely different than what I gave her a year ago. In retrospect, the work I sent her wasn’t polished. But that’s how we learn, right? By making mistakes. I learned then that even when I think my writing is at its best, it’s probably not. Because we don’t know what we don’t know.

I also learned another important lesson: that it was essential that I do a fabulous job with my blog. Because someone important might read it. Producing an awesome blog is part of making my own luck.

There are a zillion reasons why writers should make time to produce a quality blog. Simply having one isn’t enough; it does you no good — and can actually do you harm — unless you do it well. But for those of you who are looking to get published, this one reason should be enough to get you on the blogwagon: a literary agent, or another important, career-changing connection, could find you through your blog.

A handful of writers have approached me recently asking for help with their blogs, which is why I’m now offering blog coaching — help with everything from setting up a new blog to improving an existing one — as part of my social media consulting gig. But The Traveling Writer is all about free advice. So over the next two weeks, I’ll address three questions:

  • Part II: What makes a blog successful?
  • Part III: How do you get started blogging?

If you’ve ever considered starting a blog or are looking for ways to improve one you’ve already created, I hope you’ll join the conversation.

Some things are better left unblogged

When I was querying literary agents, I grappled with whether to blog about it. The whole purpose of this blog is to help you learn from my experiences (and to help me grow), and I kinda felt like I was leaving you out in the cold by not sharing exactly what was going on. Several people wrote to me asking, what’s the latest with your manuscript?

But while I’m a supporter of honest blogging, I also felt like blogging about querying might hurt my chances of landing a great agent. I wanted agents to come to my blog and see the community I’ve built here, not read about how I wanted to pull my hair out while waiting for them to get back to me.

In the end, some things are better left unblogged. And for me, the details of my agent search fell into that category — at least while I was in the middle of it.

But now that I’m represented by Rachelle Gardner, I want to share my query experience with you. In my next few posts, I’ll write about what I learned from querying, as well as how I went about it. I’m also planning to post my query so you can see what worked for me. Is there anything in particular you’d like to know? Any details that might help you query when it comes to your own agent hunt?

For those of you who are querying now, do you blog about it? What other parts of a writer’s life might be better left unblogged?

As for where I’m at now with the manuscript: I’m revising. Again. And I’m sure it won’t be the last time.

Finding my voice through blogging

Literary agent Nathan Bransford had a great post recently on finding your literary voice.

This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot as I dig into another revision of my travel memoir. One of the elements I’m focusing on is my voice. Rachelle says my voice is still too journalistic, not memoir-y enough. I know she’s right. This is something I’ve struggled with from the beginning, since my writing experience is mostly in news.

No matter what I do, my style will probably always be slightly journalistic, since I’m a journalist. That’s okay. Some of my favorite memoirs have journalistic voices, including Helene Cooper’s The House at Sugar Beach. (My sister tells me Roxana Saberi’s Between Two Worlds does too, though it’s still in my to-read pile, or as an agent at the conference this weekend called it, Guilt Mountain.) But even with that journalistic undertone, I need to let the reader in. I need to help the reader get to know me, to hear my personality in my words.

So whenever I find myself writing stiffly, I remind myself to create like I do on this blog. To write casually. To string words together like I would in a conversation, not like I would for a news story. On this blog, I’ve developed a conversational tone, one that really sounds like me. (Agree? Feel free to shoot me down!) Little bits of my humor come through here. A taste of my personality. Yes, in some ways I still write like a journalist, but on this blog I feel like I’ve found my unique voice.

That’s what needs to come across in my manuscript. Perhaps, during this revision, I should pretend I’m blogging.

Tips for blogging from developing countries

I don’t usually repost pieces that I write for other publications, but this one is particularly useful to travel writers:

10 Tips for Blogging from Developing Countries

It’s about how to keep your blog alive and healthy when your Internet connection isn’t. Posted at the Matador Network. Check out additional hints in the comments, too.

The challenge: build community around your blog

I probably should have titled this post, How to drive traffic to your blog. That would have gotten more clicks, right? But the truth is, while we sometimes use hits to measure the success of our Web sites and blogs, the reason for that success is community.

One common mistake new bloggers make is thinking that all they have to do is put information out there — and readers will come. But to create a successful blog or Web site or organization, you’ve got to turn that information into conversation, into community, into a place people want to visit again and again.

Several writers have approached me recently, asking how they can attract readers to their blog. What they really need to know is, how do you go about building a community?

Here’s what I tell them:

Provide awesome content. This sounds obvious, but it’s the basis of any successful blog. If you don’t have good content, the other strategies I’m about to suggest are useless. Ask yourself: Is my content unique? Useful? Inspiring? What can I give readers that they won’t get anywhere else?

Encourage conversation. Write in a way that encourages dialogue and follow-ups. Ask questions at the bottom of your posts. Not yes or no questions, but open-ended ones that give readers the chance to weigh in. If your content is awesome, they may think about commenting or linking to your post on their blog. But they take that leap unless they feel welcome, inspired, encouraged.

One person who does this really well: soon-to-be author Jody Hedlund. There are thousands of writing blogs out there, yet writers go back to hers because she engages readers, asks great questions, joins the conversation in the comments and visits the blogs of her readers. She starts dialogue. (For example, check out her recent post about blogging.) On that note…

Join the conversation. Respond to comments on your posts. Visit the sites of the people who left them, and leave comments on their sites. When you do, make sure your name offers a link to your site. Not only will the blogger come back to visit you, but her other readers might, too.

Link within your posts. When you link to other bloggers’ posts within your posts, you’re helping your reader by providing additional information. But you’re also creating a conversation with those bloggers because their blog will tell them you linked to them, and maybe they’ll visit your blog.

This is how I connected with author Mary Morris. I mentioned her book and linked to her Web site so readers could find out more about the book. She noticed my link — either her site told her or Google alerts let her know — and visited my site, left a comment, I responded — and boom! We’re friends. That’s one of the main benefits of having a blog: connecting with people who have accomplished what you’re working toward.

Link to descriptive words like my travel blog or Inkslinging in Africa, not instructions like click here. This helps Google send people to your blog. Which brings us to…

Search Engine Optimization. You only need to understand the basics of SEO to make it work for you. The most important rule is to write good headlines, using words you’d type into Google if you were searching for whatever you’re writing about. An example of a good headline: How to find and apply to writers’ colonies. It has lots of words you’d type into Google if you were looking for a colony: colony, writers, find, apply. A bad headline: Does this count as productive? It doesn’t tell you what the post is about, doesn’t contain any keywords that would help Google guide readers to the post. Yeah, I knew that when I wrote it and I did it anyway. Sometimes we break our own rules.

Use images. They do more than make your blog interesting and fun to look at. Just like Google uses your text and links to determine whether to send people to your site, it also looks through your images. One map I included on my travel blog still drives significant traffic there a year after I stopped posting.

Get involved online. Participating in Facebook and Twitter will lead people to your blog. But make sure you’re using those tools properly, promoting yourself in a way that attracts, not annoys, potential readers.

What other forums can you join to lure people into your community? I created a Ning group for writers of travel memoir. I did it because I wanted to connect with writers in my genre, but as an added benefit it brings people to my blog. Another example: I’m active at Matador Network, a community of travelers. I leave comments on stories and occasionally write for the site. All of this participation online helps me strengthen my own community. (Need more ideas? Check out this post at Chip McGregor’s blog.)

Network in person. No matter how much we try to create relationships through our blogs, those connections are still virtual. Turn them into in-person connections. Go to conferences or round tables or Meetups — anywhere that helps you physically meet people who share your interests. At the very least, put a photo of yourself in your blog sidebar. Readers are more likely to feel like they know you if they can picture your face.

Be likable. Show us your personality — if only the nice parts. You are your own community liaison. You are your brand. You are the face of your blog. Make us want to hang out with you and get to know you better. Be interesting and helpful, but also be a friend. When I like the person behind a blog or Web site, I go back for more.

~ Yes, all of this stuff is time consuming. It’s also necessary if you want your blog to succeed. Don’t let it overwhelm you. You don’t have to introduce all of this at once. Focus on one or two of these suggestions each week, and eventually they’ll work in your favor.

Do these ideas help? What have I missed? How do you build community around your blog, and what do you struggle with?

The Creative Penn on promoting your book

If you’re a writer who uses Twitter, you’re probably familiar with The Creative Penn. She has one of the most useful feeds out there, offering links to everything writing.

I got to know Joanna Penn when she interviewed me for a podcast on her blog. That’s when I realized this tech-savvy English writer had a few tips that would benefit my readers.

Joanna Penn, from The Creative Penn

Penn, who lives in Brisbane, Australia, has self-published three non-fiction books. At her blog, The Creative Penn, she shares her knowledge on writing, publishing options, Internet sales and book promotion.

Thanks for joining us, Joanna!

Like many of us, you have a day job and write on the side. What’s your day job? How do you find time for writing?

I am actually a business IT consultant with a mining company in Australia. I work as a contractor so currently I do four days per week or sometimes three. I found that moving to four days per week enabled me to actually get the time to write my first book and have not gone back to full time since then. That extra day just gives me a big slot of time to write and meant I could manage three books in two years. I seriously recommend it to people. Just ask – you never know what your boss will say.

Finding time is hard for us all! I spend most evenings and weekends working on with blog posts and emails, as well as social networking and arranging interviews and speaking opportunities.

Can you tell us about your program Author 2.0? How’d you come up with the idea?

The Author 2.0 Program basically teaches writers/authors how to write, publish, sell and promote their books using Web 2.0 online tools. I decided to write the course when I realised that I was loving the online space for all this platform building, digital publishing, etc. but many other writers did not have the technical skills or enjoy it. Many people didn’t even know where to start, for example, in setting up a blog, or publishing an ebook, or even what print-on-demand is. I am fortunate to be working in the IT field so I am very comfortable playing with this technology, and I wanted to help others.

I also discovered I could publish my own book on for under $100 and wanted to share that information with others because it changed my writing life. Then I wanted to share about blogging, podcasting, ebooks, cross-media writing, making money as an author… and so much more. So I wrote the course with 12 modules, each covering a key area of writing, publishing, sales and promotion online. Each module has an ebook with loads of written information, then there are videos per module where I show you how to do things e.g. how to create and publish an ebook, or how to use Twitter. There is also an audio interview with an expert in each module, for example, in the Author Entrepreneur module, I interview John Kremer, author of 1001 Ways to Market Your Books, as well as experts in all the other fields. The people who take the course find it packed with information and we also have monthly teleseminars for questions.

Here’s a free Blueprint for people who are interested — it contains lots more information.

Can you share a few tips for authors marketing their books?

The first thing is that you need to think of marketing as telling people who are interested in your niche that you exist and offering helpful and valuable information. If people are interested, and they like and trust you, they will buy your book/product. There are so many ways you can get yourself out there these days, and people have to find what fits them and their market. Do you love video? Audio? Twitter? Live speaking? You have to enjoy it or you just won’t do it. I was surprised to find that I actually love marketing now that I know what I am doing!

The most successful things for me personally in terms of marketing for platform building and book sales have been:

  • Having a great blog. The Creative Penn, for example, is regularly updated with interesting, relevant content, and easily clickable “Buy this Book Now” links, and free workbooks/blueprints. This means you get traffic to your site and people see your books. They are far more likely to buy your books if they know your other writing is great. The search engines also come regularly and you can build your expertise in the field. I am so passionate about blogging now – I absolutely love my blog, and my readers.
  • Being active on Twitter (or another specific social network for your niche). This has really exploded my market and my traffic and the time I spend pays dividends.
  • Speaking either live or on teleconferences. I love to talk about my niche of using web 2.0 tools as an author, and I also speak on digital branding. I do many teleseminars for other blogs as well as my own, and I also speak at least once a month at various events near where I live. I have done writers groups, full day seminars, evening networking events and guest spots. I often speak for free but I make product and book sales from these appearances. As I mentioned before, people will buy if they like you and are convinced by your knowledge. How do you get this opportunities? Just start asking people and offering, or put something on your site advertising yourself as a speaker for starters.

For more examples, I have a free marketing plan available for download on my site.

You’re ever-so-popular with the writing community on Twitter. How’d you manage that? Got any social-networking advice?

I used to think Twitter was a waste of time and then I read Grown Up Digital by Don Tapscott. I recommend that book to anyone who doesn’t “get” social networking or the social web.

So I joined Twitter around February 2009 and like everyone else, didn’t have a clue how to use it. I started tweeting useful links to blog posts in my area of interest – writing, publishing, internet sales and book promotion. I found that other people found me and followed me, and also started to retweet my links (pass them on to other users). In this way, my followers started to grow.

Continue reading