Creating the Breakout Blog: A Platform Guide for the Pre-Published Writer

I love Donald Maass. Not in a creepy, stalkerish way of course. Just in a the-man-is-brilliant sort of way. Not only is he a top agent, he’s written several books on how to write well. One of my favorites by him is Writing the Breakout Novel. In it, he looks at what it takes to catapult writing into something that doesn’t just stand out but breakout to become a best-seller. His targeted breakdown of what makes a novel a success is excellent. And it got me thinking: Could the same qualifiers apply to blogging?

Guest blogger Angela Ackerman is a kidlit writer
represented by Jill Corcoran of the Herman Agency.
Her blog,
The Bookshelf Muse, is home to several
Descriptive Thesaurus Collections for writers,
including an Emotion Thesaurus, which lists the
physical actions for over 40 different emotions.

Let’s face it—there are a bazillion blogs out there targeting writers, and why? Writers need a platform; we need to get our name out there and building an audience for our work for when we do have a book in hand. So what does a Breakout Blog need?

A BREAKOUT PREMISE

Unless you’re famous or well connected, you need a premise that will help you stand apart from every other writer’s blog. This means one thing really—knowing who your audience is, and what they want. Just like the book business, you should be looking at what’s out there and working, and what isn’t. Where are the gaps in the writer’s blog market? Find a new idea, slant or need. Be original or creative (but hopefully both).

 A SENSE OF TIME AND PLACE

Blog posts should be unified by context. Create an environment that your audience will want to return to time and time again. Not only should it be easy on the eyes, it should contain resources (links to writing aids and industry professionals) and have regular postings.  Put up a Follower sign-up widget and a RSS feed, minimize the flashy sidebar stuff and don’t over-spam readers with ads.

PROVIDING GOOD CHARACTER

Show your personality in posts! Humor and wit always stands out. Your posts should contain good advice and information, but also a piece of who you are as well. And when you’re discussing the industry, be professional. Blasting editor or agent X for daring to reject you will not win friends or influence people. And guess what? They read blogs, too.

PLOTS, SUBPLOTS AND VIEWPOINTS

Variety is the spice of life, right? Well, it’s also key in keeping a following strong. Offer posts that look at different viewpoints of your unified theme. Explore topics that haven’t been done to death or find a new angle on familiar ones. Shake things up by offering contests, guest posts and relevant linking. Soften posts with pictures, humor, ‘Top 5/10’ lists and ask questions that invite discussion and participation. Be aware of the pacing—long, cumbersome posts can be a turn-off.

HOW TO BREAK OUT: 5 WAYS

1. Build a following by being seen. Link your blog in the signature of forum posts and be active in writing communities. Give your knowledge to others freely when it is wanted and you will learn and grow as a writer in return.

2. Embrace social media. Twitter, Facebook and other social & sharing sites are all opportunities to let people know what you’re up to.

3. Reach out to other blogs and bloggers. If you comment, they will come.  And don’t forget to acknowledge those who do stop by and comment.

4. Ask for (and give) links. Contest promotion and cross-linking in sidebars and posts can be a quick route into getting traffic to your blog.

5. Enjoy what you do. If blogging feels like a job, reading it will become a job, too. Have fun with it!




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17 thoughts on “Creating the Breakout Blog: A Platform Guide for the Pre-Published Writer

  1. Paul Stanner

    Dear Angela :

    I find you advice to be creative and original confusing when it sure does seem to me like all the literary agents want to be able to pigeonhole the submisssions into certain genres.To me it seems very much like radio in that regard. If your music isn’t exactly three minutes long and appeal to broadest and quite frequently the lowest common denominator then it just doesn’t get played regardless of the quality of the work. As an example of what I mean I’ve wriiten a memoir of my ten years of experience teaching in Chinese universities and combined it with a pinch of revisionist history and a heaping helping of a fiction. I think it’s very funny and hear rending in certain places. It certainly was both of those things as it was happening to me. To date I’ve not had any luck getting an agent interested I think in large part because they don’t quite know what the Hell to do with it. lol More specifically they don’t know what genre it falls in.
    I will concede however that being a new author that perhaps I’m just a bit impatient and also that maybe I don’t fuly understand the business. Neither of those conditions is terribly surprising I guess. I remain hopeful. Time will tell.
    Please continue to dispensour good advice.

    Paul Stanner

    http://www.klevelandkrackerkorner.com/the-jardeen-roses-of-li-tan.html

    http://www.klevelandkrackerkorner.com/spaced-teacher-vs-the-yellow-knights-of-the-hanazee.html

    http://www.klevelandkrackerkorner.com/laughing-commie-productions.html

  2. angela

    TerryLynn, you are so sweet!

    Lindsay and Andrea, so glad this is useful to you. 🙂

    Joylene, That’s great. I love how he has a workbook companion–so helpful.

    Theresa, A sub? Oh the stories you have to tell. I’m betting your blog is chock full of humor.

    Tabitha, thank you! Good luck with your recent submission–it’s a wonderful book deserving of a home!

  3. Theresa Milstein

    This is a great post. I send my readers to this blog because of the variety of posts and advice. My blog is about being an aspiring author and a substitute teacher (I know what you’re saying – this chick needs to get a career). My followers are mostly teachers and writers. I try to make the blog easy to look at and keep the content to two pages long on Microsoft Word. As for the humor… I’m a substitute teacher.

  4. joylene

    I’ve been sharing Don Maass’s exercises from his book Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook for a few months now. I actually received confirmation from him giving his permission. It’s been great fun, and my readers really enjoy it. Nice to see great minds think alike.

    Wonderful post, Angela.

  5. angela

    Thanks everyone for commenting. Blogs can be a very powerful marketing tool and one of the more personable ways to network with other writers, which is why I use it at the core of my platform.

    Kristan, I definitely think that the two go hand in hand. Passion is also a big part of it–when your blog posts are meaningful, it shows!

    Christine, glad it helps!

    Kirsten, if you ever get the chance to see Maass in person, do! His book is wonderful and he’s an excellent speaker as well.

    Kay, I know how you feel. There is so much to learn, but if we keep ourselves open and work at it, the results are never disappointing.

    Karen, great point about the directories. Thanks for adding that!

    Mary, I’m one of your readers, and I love your blog. You have a natural storytelling ability and with each post you show us not only an unique piece of the world through your travels, but about you as well. Your blog stands out because you’ve infused it with your personality!

    Lacey, Thanks for reading and commenting!

  6. MaryWitzl

    Great post, Angela.

    I’m not sure I’m doing the right thing with my blog (no real target audience, totally eclectic posts), but I have so much fun writing it. The best thing about blogging is how much I’ve learned about writing and the whole publication process — and the camaraderie with other writers.

  7. Karen

    Great post. As an active blogger, I can recommend getting your blog in directories such as blogarama and blog catalog. Also, entrecard is a good way to promote your blog while reading others. I’ve regularly reviewed software products for writers since my day job is in software.

  8. Kay

    Very nice summary, neatly put. {oooh, the writing sins I just committed.}

    Anyway, it’s taken me months to accumulate much of that info. Guess I’ll have to bookmark the page to review it once in awhile.

  9. Kirsten Lesko

    Excellent post. You do a fantastic job drawing parallels between this wonderful book (which has saved my novel’s life several times) and blogging. Not only is it unique, but very helpful!

    The breakout premise with the blogs is a tough one, as there are so many writing blogs out there. But I agree that it’s crucial.

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