Thinking of starting a blog in 2015 to build your writer platform and gain a readership for your work? All the best journeys start with a bit of planning. Even if you're not one for planning and would rather dive in right away, bear with me! In this exclusive excerpt from Blogging for Writers, Robin Houghton asks six crucial questions about your blogging goals, audience, and plan. Be honest with the answers as you write them down—they'll serve as good reminders and motivators later on. When you're finished, you'll have the beginnings of a blogging roadmap that will assist you throughout 2015 and beyond.
1. Why do you want a blog?
What appeals to you about blogging? Is it something you can see yourself getting into, enjoying, and looking forward to doing? What do you want to get out of it? Promotion? Community? Sales?
It's important to have goals for your blog, and those goals should be linked to your goals as a writer. All the same, the more open you are to seeing the fun in blogging, the more likely you are to stick with it and have it work for you.
2. Who do you want to read it?
An interesting question, and linked closely to your blogging goals. It's no good saying, "I want the whole world to read it!" Of course there are ways to go viral or hijack an audience, but the most successful bloggers are in it for the long term and are interested in becoming notable rather than notorious.
So, who is your audience? Your readers and fans (actual or potential)? Your peers? Industry influencers? Prospective publishers, agents, editors, gatekeepers? Perhaps, if you write for children, it's the parents of your readers. Perhaps you write for two different markets with very different readers. The reason for this question is to get you thinking about what your blog will be about, what it will look like, the tone of voice you will adopt, and so on.
3. What are you prepared to put into it?
Sorry to sound harsh, but the vast majority of blogs are abandoned within the first year. Don't let that be yours! You can blog for free, but there will be costs associated with it—some financial, but mostly in terms of your time and effort.
Do your research—check out other writers' blogs, especially (but not exclusively) those in your genre or niche. Look at the top industry blogs and websites—the annual Writer's Digest 101 Best Websites for Writers is a great place to start. Not only will you draw inspiration from them, but by subscribing to other blogs you're starting the process of connecting with the blogosphere. It's never too soon to start commenting, sharing, and engaging with other bloggers. When your blog is up and running, it's just as important to keep engaging with others as well as nurturing your own blog community.
4. What's your blogging persona?
A blog is unmediated—it's you talking directly to people—so it's worth thinking about your "persona," or the face you present to your blog readers and anyone else who may come across your blog. Here are some considerations:
- Professional vs. Personal: Let's say you are approaching blogging primarily as a business tool—for example, your goals might be to network with influential industry people, demonstrate your authority/ability/talent, or promote yourself to an audience of readers or potential readers. In this situation, you are presenting yourself and your work as a brand, and your blog will reflect that, both in how it looks and in the nature of its content. But this is a blog, not your author publicity page. Take advantage of that and inject your personality into it, too.
- Transparency and Consistency: Will you talk about both your successes and your failures? Not everyone wants to lay themselves bare by mentioning rejections, spats, loss of motivation, or other negative aspects of their writing life. Others revel in it and find visitor numbers and comments increase when their blog posts are at their most raw and honest.
5. What will you name your blog?
What will your blog be called? An obvious choice might be your name, writer name, or something that incorporates your name, such as "Seth's Blog" or "Neil Gaiman's Journal."
You might prefer your blog's name to say something about the content, or its purpose, so that it's separate from your name. This could work well if it's not your only blog, or if you've already got a website with your name associated with it and the blog is in addition to that, or if you are planning to have regular guest bloggers or contributors.
Your blog's given name or title doesn't necessarily have to be its domain name (the address that appears in the browser bar). You may choose to register your writer name as your domain name, then call your blog something different. As a rule, you should try to register both your writer name and your blog name (if different) as domain names, even if you're not sure you will use them right away.
6. What blogging platform will you use?
A blog platform refers to the software that powers a blog. You could think of it as the underlying construction, like a house—is it timber-framed or brick-built? Once the house is built, you may not be able to tell. Most blog platforms do pretty much the same job. But it's worth understanding the key differences—the choices you make at this stage will affect what you can do with your blog further down the line, so it's worth taking the time.
The most popular blogging platforms are WordPress and Blogger, and Blogging for Writers goes into both of these in depth. Do your research and make a decision based on your needs, comfort level, and personal preferences.
Rachel Randall is the managing editor for Writer's Digest Books.