The Cynic’s Guide to Blogging

Tomorrow is my 1st bloggerversary bloggaversary Blogiversary! (Pause. Wait for silence).Yay, celebration time, woo-hoo, go me, etc, yawn, whatevs

It is, though. On 9 July 2013 I started blogging about book sales, writing for money in an environment where there is no pay for writing, and other things generally in the book and writing worlds I felt like poking fun at.

Anyway, I thought I’d celebrate the last day of this blogging year with an episodic “I learned something today”.

There are many blog posts out there telling people about blogging. It might sound like an awful waste of time, but I have found these posts extremely helpful in the past, even invaluable in many “what the hell just happened??” moments. I had no idea what to expect, last July, when I started out, but in the offchance that some of the things I’ve learned might be useful to others, here is:

9 Things I Wish I’d Known Before I started This Lark

1.  Know why you’re here, or go away.

Before you start blogging, figure out what your purpose is. Do you want to engage with people with similar interests in stone walls, cow whispering and old calendars? Fine. Do you want to promote your business, your art, or your appreciation of overpriced food and drink? Grand.

But if you feel like you should blog just because you’ve got some cool opinions, that’s a tough battle. If you don’t give readers a consistent, thematic reason to come back, you’ll never see them again. And if you’re not interested enough in your main theme, you won’t be back either.

2.  Blog statistics are pointless. They will wreck your head, and ruin your creativity.

Some bloggers apparently manage to ramp up 20,000 followers and 100,000 hits within 6 months of starting. They will release multiple blog posts telling you of this fact. You will be tempted to use them as a benchmark. Don’t. Looking at these blogs will only make you doubt yourself, so don’t do it. A few of these bloggers are truly popular. More of them are not, in that only a very tiny percentage of so-called followers will ever actually read anything they write, particularly if they’re posting more than 1 captioned photograph per day.

I’m not for 1 minute suggesting that all such blogs are faking statistics; but there are ways of artificially increasing your follower count. For instance, you could purchase 10,000 fake followers on Twitter and link the count to your blog instantly. You could also spend 17 hours a day throwing around likes and follows on other people’s blogs in a scatter-gun approach, even without reading them (er, especially without reading them), in the hopes they will do the same for yours. But really, I can think of 20 better ways to waste my time, than creating meaningless statistics.

3.  The only respectable way to increase traffic is to blog more often.

I don’t always practice this because sometimes it’s just bloody impossible. But if you’re going to blog, do it at least twice a week. And those who blog more often than this will get even more hits. It’s just logical.

4.  Notice what generates the most interest, then write more of it.

I had the most fun doing jokey stuff, like Book Title Generators and How To Know If You’re In A Literary Fiction Novel, but what most regular visitors to this blog appear to want is stuff about writing and book sales – i.e. the stuff I promise at the top of the page.

5.   Link back to related previous posts in your new posts.

Make it easy for your readers to get more of your stuff – if they want. It’s the best non-pushy way to push.

6.  For the love of Blog, use other social media wisely.

Facebook frames posts in a very attractive way, but generates little in the way of traffic. Most people on Facebook aren’t interested in your blog: they’re interested in what you looked like last night and how wonderful you’re saying you are. Only about 10 of your Facebook friends will use your appearance in their news feed to look at your blog. You fell out of everyone else’s news feed a year ago.

Use Google+ to share posts, and use hashtags while you’re at it, but not because anyone’s going to click through from there either – rather, it will improve your rankings in search results, which can mean hits to your blog from such vague queries as “how to stop a family member from writing a misery memoir” (ooh-er) and “service to find Amazon reviews unhelpful” (I kid you not. These search terms actually brought people here).

Use Twitter – or to be specific, get other, more popular users, to share your stuff on Twitter. I’ve had sporadically good traffic from Twitter, but never from my own tweets, only other people’s. I can’t explain Twitter to you any more than I can explain why I end up thinking about Shrödinger’s cat at least once a week. But a tweet’s strike rate is tiny, so don’t rely on it. And also, I do NOT mean tweet 60 times a day, or even 20, because that’ll exclude you from any of the Twitter lists people actually look at. Permanently.

Join Linkedin groups related to your particular field, and start discussions in them by asking questions around the topic you’re blogging about, using your post as a springboard for debate. It will deliver you directly to a huge audience who would never otherwise have known you existed. Linkedin is where I’ve met some of the wisest, funniest and most helpful readers and writers around, and I’ll be eternally grateful for the fact that we were introduced there. Linkedin is also where I’ve encountered many people with about as much of a sense of humour as an ingrown toenail, but they never went near this blog before tearing into any discussions I started, so I can say what I want about them here.

7.  Don’t be afraid of a little rabble rousing…

My most popular posts to date have been the ones that got some people awfully upset: sometimes from the mere title of a blog post. But awfully upset people are outweighed 100-1 by people who will completely get what you’re doing. There are other blogs out there deliberately making contentious statements to stir trouble, but this isn’t one of them. The readers you actually want will get the point.

8.  …but blogging is a slow burn. Give it time, and make friends slowly.

Unless you’re famous, of course. Then just do whatever the hell you want, because 97% of people are just going to tell you what you want to hear anyway.

But – and I don’t have exact stats on this but I may compile them in future for emphasis – 95% of people who visit your blog for the big explosions won’t be back, no matter what you do. Concentrate on the 5% who will, because they are the audience you wanted all along.


9.  Have fun.

If you’re having fun, people can tell. If blogging is a chore, people can also tell.

It’s supposed to be fun, remember! The kindest name for this activity is ‘unpaid content generation’ – and whilst that might give you some kudos in a coffee shop if you’re 22 years old, most of us are here for other reasons. Per # 1: figure out what your reason is, and smile.


So, that’s what I’ve learned in the past year. Except for all the things I’ve forgotten. Which is the other 92% of pretty much Everything. Now you out there – what tips do you have for me?

Tara SparlingTara writes novels, short fiction and screenplays.

She spends all of her spare time with words. The writing of them and the reading of them. However, she has a day job which hinges on numbers – pushing them around, extracting meaning from them and generally insulting them.

Currently in production are three novels, all in various quantum states of editing and, for now, submissions limited to competitions; more than two feature length screenplay treatments, and usually, at least three or four short scripts. It’s a lot of work, but a labour of sickly-sweet true love.

As a fully certified nerd who loves spreadsheets, graphs and visualisations, there is nothing Tara likes better than a perfectly proportioned pie chart. Unless, of course, you’re talking about a well-stocked bar chart.

Categories: Rants, Writerly Rants

Tags: , , , , , ,

3 replies

  1. Thank you for sharing these 9 savvy tips. I would add consider adopting a consistent tone and style too.

    And you can always create different blogs for different purposes and specific topics.


    • Thank you for your comment! I absolutely agree – tone is important, or else readers can get confused (particularly in my case, where my tongue is firmly lodged in my cheek on the blog 90% of the time). And bloggers can have very diverse interests, so there isn’t a reason in the world they can’t have 2, 3 or more blogs. Other than the headaches caused by trying to manage all of them, obviously!


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