Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Lies, lies, and more dirty lies

Before I began blogging, I went a little nuts doing research. I read about what makes good posts, considered what I liked about other blogs, and drank a lot of wine.

OK, so the wine wasn’t part of the research.

Still, I uncovered a lot of good advice and some…well, not so good advice.

Here are a few myths I’ve stumbled upon as I’ve worked to find my way with this blog:

MYTH #1: Unless you have a book deal, no one will read your blog. I kicked off my blog on February 1 with a post that was well-received by…um, my cousin. At that point, I was crossing my fingers, toes, and several unmentionable body parts my book would sell soon. Because my agent rocks so hard she makes me seasick is a brilliant and talented professional, she landed me a three-book deal on February 25.

It’s probably no coincidence my readership started climbing after that.

At the same time, a book deal isn’t a mandatory part of drawing a readership. Take a look at The Misadventures in Candyland, a blog maintained by Candace Ganger.

Candace doesn’t have an agent. She doesn’t have a book deal. She’s only been blogging for seven months, yet she has over 250 registered followers and her posts almost always draw 25-30 comments. Why?

Here’s what I think: she’s funny. She’s honest. She’s edgy. She’s sassy. She writes her posts in ways that prompt discussion, and she participates in that discussion in her comment trail. She’s consistent, blogging every weekday and wrapping each week with her hysterical Feel Me Up Friday feature.

There are plenty of other bloggers out there like Candace. Who are they? What’s their magic formula?

MYTH #2: Size doesn’t matter. Sorry, guys – I know you’d desperately like to believe otherwise, but length is crucial.

I read a lot of blogs, and I have a short attention span. If I click a post and the first thing I see is a giant block of text followed by twenty more giant blocks of text, guess what I’m going to do? (Hint: the answer is not “read it six times before forwarding the link to my friends.")

When it comes to blogging, size matters. Blog readers are busy, and if your post doesn’t grab attention in the first few sentences, you’re screwed.

Paragraphs should be short. White space should be plentiful. The total number of words shouldn’t exceed 500. I know there are exceptions to these rules (some of this week’s posts will definitely exceed 500) but the fact remains – one of the greatest writing skills you can develop is the ability to make your point in the fewest words possible.

MYTH #3: Social media is for celebrities and socialites – not serious authors. A year ago, the only thing I knew about Twitter is that it had something to do with Ashton Kutcher.

When my wise agent suggested I try it, I did my homework. I read Shel Isreal’s TWITTERVILLE and Joel Comm’s TWITTER POWER, and I spent a few months lurking to learn how it worked.

In a nutshell, you make friends. Pretty simple concept. Friends like to do business with other friends, so they visit each other’s blogs and buy each other’s books and braid each other’s hair (sorry, Bill Cameron – we missed that part).

Show of hands, how many of you originally found this blog through Twitter? I’m going to guess it’s somewhere around 80%. It may not be what keeps you coming back, but it was likely the first point of contact.

I’ve gone from skepticism about Twitter to being a devout fan. I’m seriously considering tattooing the bluebird logo on my left breast.

What blogging myths have I forgotten here? Do you disagree with any of mine? If so, let’s fight by the bike rack after school. That would make an AWESOME blog post.

18 comments :

Linda G. said...

Well, you know I discovered you through our agent before you started blogging or Twittering. But I'm sure I would've run across you on Twitter eventually if I hadn't already found you. :)

Jessica said...

I found you via, well, via Linda G. up there. I found her via another friend, through another whose blog I found on Twitter.

It's the seven degrees of Twitter theory. Several folks have found me via Twitter. I think another good point is to post with a hashtag (#) which automatically gives you something in common with tweeters.

Sierra said...

I'm taking so many notes on this week's posts. This is some great advice, and the references yesterday to your past posts helped me to avoid so much housework. ;)

Elizabeth Ryann said...

I definitely found you on Twitter. Actually, that's where I found Linda too...Hmm. I still loooooooove Twitter anyway. :)

Patrick Alan said...

No one reads conference blogs of the unpublished. No one.

Or wants to see martini drunk tweets.

I'm sticking to that story.

Tawna Fenske said...

Linda G, you hold a special place in my heart for being the only person to show up here in the beginning when it otherwise would have just been my mom & Michelle reading :)

Jessica, you know, it WOULD be fun to play the six-degrees game on this blog sometime! Not just "I found you on Twitter," but "I found you on Twitter through so-an-so, and I connected with HER through this other guy..."

Sierra, oh good! I'm glad it's helpful. I debated whether I should do this series of posts or if it would just sound like I think I know everything because I've blogged for six months. On the contrary, there's a whole big lot I don't know, but I felt like I wanted to share what I'd learned in the short time I've been doing this.

Elizabeth Ryann, maybe you can sue the folks at Twitter for mental anguish?

Patrick, LOL, you're another shining example of what I'm talking about! I have not idea what sort of visitor volume you saw on those RWA posts, but I know there were A LOT of people talking about them. It was fascinating to get such a unique perspective on the whole conference. I felt like I was there. Well, and that I was a man.

Thanks for reading, guys!
Tawna

Clever Cherry / Betty said...

I found you because you're on the Lucy March blog roll. And I found Lucy March because Jenny Crusie is her housemate and talks about her. And I found Jenny Crusie because I went on Janet Evanovich's website and someone had asked her what to read while waiting for more of her work to come out and one of the suggestions was - Agnes and the Hitman by Jenny Crusie. And I found Janet Evanovich because my brother bought 13 to read on the plane and left it at my house.

That is my very long path to Tawna territory where there is wine and laughs.

Thanks Tawna!

Candyland said...

I think I found you after you commented on one of my posts, and I was hooked. You should definitely get the bluebird tattooed, but I think it should span across both breasts so it looks like it's taking flight should you ever flex those muscles.

inkgrrl said...

LOL! Afraid I have to disagree with the new versions of 'received wisdom' about the internets. Blogs are read by anybody and everybody. A blog post will be read as long as it's interesting to the reader - what makes it interesting can and will vary widely. Social media was originally *for* and *by* nerds and geeks of the techie persuasion - the socialites and etc. who think they invented the concept actually jumped on the bandwagon well after the fact. So for the new kids who are jumping in the pool, if you're solely focused on marketing yourself as an author, starting with guidelines can be helpful. But don't think you have to limit yourself if you want to play.

Becky said...

I discovered the Tawna-verse the same way Clever Cherry/Betty did. Jenny's blog to Lucy's blog to you. However I discovered Jenny in the mid-90s when I was reading a book about writing romance novels. One of the chapters talked about creating shorthand among the characters (basically, creating community, which Ms. Jenny does so well), and sited Charlie All Night as an example.

I dashed off to my local romance-loving UBS, because I was just out of college and broke as hell. The only Crusie they had was What the Lady wants, which didn't grab me at all. And besides, I wanted Charlie All Night! Week after week I went back looking for Charlie All Night, and week after week all they had was that damn What the Lady Wants. I finally gave up and bought it. And loved it. I have no idea what ever happened to the writing book, but that copy of What the Lady Wants is sitting in pride of place at the top of my bookshelf, signed by La Crusie herself. And I eventually found my copy of Charlie. Although not signed, it's sitting up there on the bookshelf, too!

Patrick Alan said...

I'm realistic about my blog from last week. I'm almost back down to the typical 7-10 visitors per day and dropping rapidly.

I topped out at 300+ views and 150 visitors. Considering I was at a conference of 2000+ people and it feels like I met every one of them, I don't think it was that amazing. Most of them were friends of some sort who stopped by to see who I was visiting with. I got worse at it as the conference went on and the sleep deprivation set in.

The best reactions were from my wife who said I sounded crazy by the last post and my brother who thought I sounded like the gay tag-a-long friend on it. Yeah, it sort of felt like that.

Not a phenomenon I expect to reproduce any time soon. The blog visits, that is. Acting like a crazy gay tag-a-long friend - I'm sure that's coming up soon enough.

Trina Riggle said...

Hi Tawna. First time poster here. I don't remember how I came to this site, but I did and I'm happy about it.

As a yet-to-be-published writer (who happens to share your rockin' agent), I find your posts inspiring and sometimes humorous. Okay, I always find them humorous. You're funny, but I'm jealous so I'm not going to be gracious about your talents.

I don't have any blog myths to demystify since I haven't taken the leap, but I do have a question – when you set out to write a blog did you intentionally target this particular audience? And by this particular audience I mean this merry band of misfits with varying degrees of dysfunctions, all of whom may or may not be closet boozers? (or maybe that’s just one of your (newest) followers ).

Looking forward to many more posts!

Trina

Tawna Fenske said...

Clever Cherry, I loved reading your six-degrees story! When my agent pitches my books, she often gives "comp authors" or authors who are an example of the sort of thing I write. Crusie and Evanovich are always on the list :)

Candyland, crap, I'm supposed to have boob muscles?

inkgrrl, excellent points, and I don't think we're disagreeing at all. Social media has a million different applications, but since I talk about writers & writing here, I'm keeping my focus narrow when I talk about it. The original "myth" I'm referring to here comes from a lot of writer pals who are maybe a bit older and who see blogging and Twitter as toys a serious writer wouldn't bother with. I don't think everyone realizes how mainstream those things have become now, so even serious, literary authors are using them.

Patrick, your wife is right (as always). You did sound a bit crazy, but that was the fun of it!

Trina, hey, welcome! It's always fun to meet a fellow member of the Wolfpack (right, Linda G?) Your question is a terrific one, and I'll put on my marketing geek hat for a minute to answer it. Yes, I did set out deliberately to target a certain niche of reader with this blog. Readers who enjoy offbeat humor and aren't offended by penis jokes or references to drinking -- those are the kind of people who might enjoy my books, and I set out to use this blog to find them. If you want to read a post I wrote on this subject back when I'd only been blogging six weeks, here's a link:
http://tawnafenske.blogspot.com/2010/03/building-my-brand-one-crude-joke-at.html

Thanks for reading, guys!
Tawna

~Nicole Ducleroir~ said...

I created a site on Twitter just last night. So far, I don't really know what I'm doing over there, but I have met a couple people (thanks to Simon Larter's enormous Twitter following!). I'm beginning to realize what an important networking tool it is.

Simon C. Larter said...

I don't even have a novel completed yet, so agent and book deal are sort of nebulous entities right now. Whatevs. People seem to like my blog well enough. *shrugs*

I'm working more on the novel than on my blog recently, and it shows in the comment traffic. I'm fine with this.

And Nicole? My enormous Twitter following is entirely due to my spending WAY too much time on there when I should be doing more productive things. Ah, well. :)

Janelle said...

i just wanted to say that #oregonresearch is ALWAYS research.......

oh. and i totally agree about that other social media stuff... ;o)

Tawna Fenske said...

Nicole, I'm following you on Twitter, and you look like you're doing great so far!

Simon, I think your Twitter following has something to do with the fact that you're funny as hell, but what do I know?

Janelle, ah, good old #oregonresearch. I'm due for some more, as a matter of fact!

Thanks for reading, guys!
Tawna

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