So, I’ve been writing this blog for four years now, and two years ago I thought it was about time I shared with you all a few of the unexpected things I’ve learned during the course of it.
There were some real eye-openers!
Big numbers don’t always mean quality readers
This is called the quantity-vs-quality debate, and online community managers already know a lot about it.
Some time in early December 2010 one of my posts, 10 Things to Do to Become a Better Writer in 10 Days, suddenly and rather unexpectedly hit the StumbleUpon Big Time. I got 10,000 hits in two days, and since then I’ve gotten close to
80,000 320,000 views of that one post alone. It leaked over into other posts, so now some of those get tens of thousands of views as well, while that one is still climbing.
Of those tens of thousands of readers, though, almost none paused to comment (when I still had active comments). Mostly what I picked up in that first year was random marketers. I got a lot more pitches to sell things like washing machines and ski equipment.
I gained one editing client—whom I love to death, and his little doggies too.
And I gained subscribers.
You who are reading this right now, whether you came through StumbleUpon or elsewhere, are the quality readers I’m looking for. You guys are here because you care.
Readers tend to make more negative comments on blogs they never intend to re-visit
I did get the occasional interesting comment through StumbleUpon, like the long, rambling, argumentative, self-promoting one from Christopher Moore that made it clear he’d only skimmed the list items and not read the post itself.
As it happens, I know a little about Christopher Moore, who lived in San Luis Obispo at the same time I did back in the early ’90s. I had an intensely pretty and giggly young roommate who used to come home from her job at a coffee kiosk in a theater lobby talking about some guy who hung out there all the time hitting on her and asking people what it would take to sell a book for a million dollars. Apparently, he finally did sell a book to Disney for a million dollars, so she told me his name.
“Huh,” I said. “Are you going to go out with him?”
She was not.
I left his argumentative comment up for awhile, but I finally removed it because pointlessly negative comments discourage other readers from making positive comments, and that brings down the tone of the whole blog. But I thought it was funny that he had nothing better to do than troll the Internet looking for places to brag about his best sellerdom. I guess my pretty young roommate pretty much had him nailed.
It’s the positive comments—especially the ones sharing your own experiences—that make all us feel like this is a safe place where we belong.
There’s no law that says you have to accommodate trolls
For a long time, there was a lot of debate about whether or not it’s okay to take down those pointlessly negative comments. Online community managers tend to wait for their communities to respond before they become draconian.
However, this blog isn’t a community, because you guys have never had the capacity to contribute other than comments, so it’s my responsibility to keep the tone friendly and welcoming to everyone.
Don’t like a post? That’s okay. Don’t read it! If you have felt compelled to rain on our parade though, I have felt compelled to remove the little black cloud.
Interestingly enough, one of the things I recommend on 10 Things to Do to Become a Better Writer in 10 Days is trolling and then apologizing. I said this rather ironically at the time, aiming to embarrass trolls by pointing the spotlight on them. But it’s true that apology is excellent for your writing skills, as well as your overall constitution.
The funniest thing about the trolls is that that particular list item inspired the most indefatigable to include a disclaimer: “This isn’t following your instructions.”
There is a priceless moment at which the absurdity of the absurd becomes a philosophical school: Absurdism.
Humor is a precious commodity
So you know what gains me readers?
Saying things that make people laugh.
I’ve gotten emails for 6 Personality Types Who Will Fail as Writers about people falling on the floor laughing and crying at the same time. I get the same kind of hysterical laughter for 10 Lies Agents and Editors Tell You. And Why. And those are pretty snarky posts!
Readers love seeing all our communal foibles reflected as funny rather than terrifying. It makes life in general so much easier to bear. And those who read more than one of my posts know that behind the lunacy is always undying compassion for all of us who elect to paddle around in this lifeboat of writing together.
The blogosphere is valuable precisely because it gives readers an outlet from dreary, rote jobs alone in veal-fattening pens and a bond with others they can’t get from corporate life, where 50+ hour weeks leave almost no time for socializing and city life can be secretly mighty damn lonely. The rise of the blogosphere has brought back tribal life to millions of us conditioned over the past thirty years to simple hopelessness.
And laughter is the basis of all great tribal life. Readers who laugh come back.
Humor is loyalty glue.
Readers want to learn what they’re doing wrong
You know what else gains me readers? Solid, reliable information. The plethora of bad writing advice out there is phenomenal—really, quite painful—and when writers know they can come here time and time again to get good, solid advice about their concerns that really works when they put it into practice. . .yes, they keep coming back.
Oddly, what people love most is information on what they’re doing wrong. Three posts—5 Things a Writer Always Overlooks, 8 Lessons to Learn from Screwing Up Your Manuscript, 6 Ways to Shoot Yourself in the Foot—are still getting passed around the blogosphere all these
months years after I wrote them.
Apparently there are an awful lot of aspiring writers out there in desperate need of some relief from constantly looking over their shoulders. They get all the helpful hints and timely tips they can take, but they still have the sneaking suspicion there’s something they don’t know about going on behind the scenes.
“For the love of Mike, just tell us!”
Writers want to pay to learn
You’d think my advice column would be the most active part of my whole site, wouldn’t you? Freebie advice answering specific questions from specific writers about the problems they’re having with specific manuscripts?
Actually—not. The more readers I get, the more work I get, but very few writers indeed make use of the freebie help.
This is why I used to charge for the Lab when it was public: so readers would value it. And whenever I did get a new subscriber, the first thing I invariably heard from them was, “Wow!” While on the subject of the similar-but-free advice column readers remain rather quiet.
Consistency is the lifeblood of both blogging and writing
Truly, the most helpful thing to writers about blogging is that it trains you into a consistent voice. When you let go of the internal censor and learn to say what you mean to say the way you mean to say it, week in and week out, your language gets stronger and simpler, and writing just gets easier.
And if there’s one thing readers of all types of writing are looking for it’s consistent voice.
But the best thing about blogging is tribe. You people are friends. You’re friends to me and to each other. You’re taking turns at the oars, keeping this little lifeboat afloat, while I yell through a bullhorn from the prow and gesture wildly over my head.
I can show you the way, but it’s all of you who are going to get us there.
And you know you can count on this blog to be heading where you writers want to go. The only thing you’re ever going to get from me here is a discussion of the art and craft of writing. Everything else that goes on in my life (and it’s a pretty exciting life) is almost invisible in the blogosphere. I don’t need to tell you guys my childrearing adventures or housebuilding travails or bafflement over my own personal, idiosyncratic mental challenges. Are there actually seven of me living inside my head? Who cares?
This is a blog about one thing only, and what all of us in this tribe have in common is our overwhelming love for it:
NOTE: Yeah, I know, for three weeks last October you heard about both writing and politics. I had no idea—when I originally wrote this post—that the situation in this country in which my beloved son lives would become so dire. But that’s all over now. We all survived and are back to writing. . .with knobs on!
The Art and Craft of Fiction:
A Practitioner’s Manual
by Victoria Mixon
“The freshest and most relevant advice you’ll find.”—Helen Gallagher, Seattle Post-Intelligencer
“Wonderfully useful, bracing and humorous. . .demystifies essential aspects of craft while paying homage to the art.”—Millicent Dillon, five time O. Henry Award winner and PEN/Faulkner nominee
“Teeming with gold. . .makes you love being a writer because you belong to the special club that gets to read this book.”—KM Weiland, author of Outlining Your Novel
The Art and Craft of Story: 2nd Practitioner’s Manual
by Victoria Mixon
“This book changed my life.”—Stu Wakefield, Kindle #1 best-selling author of Body of Water and Memory of Water
“Opinionated, rumbunctious, sharp and always entertaining. . .lessons of a writing lifetime.”—Roz Morris, best selling ghostwriter and author of Nail Your Novel
“As much a gift to writers as an indispensible resource. . .in a never-done-before manner that inspires while it teaches. Highly recommended.”—Larry Brooks, author of four bestselling thrillers and Story Engineering
“I wish I’d had The Art & Craft of Story when I began work on my first novel.”—Lucia Orth, author of the critically-acclaimed Baby Jesus Pawn Shop
MILLLICENT G. DILLON, the world's expert on authors Jane and Paul Bowles, has won five O. Henry Awards and been nominated for the PEN/Faulkner. I worked with Dillon on her memoir, The Absolute Elsewhere, in which she describes in luminous prose her private meeting with Albert Einstein to discuss the ethics of the atomic bomb.
BHAICHAND PATEL, retired after an illustrious career with the United Nations, is now a journalist based out of New Dehli and Bombay, an expert on Bollywood, and author of three non-fiction books published by Penguin. I edited Patel’s debut novel, Mothers, Lovers, and Other Strangers.
LUCIA ORTH is the author of the debut novel, Baby Jesus Pawn Shop, which received critical acclaim from Publisher’s Weekly, NPR, Booklist, Library Journal and Small Press Reviews. I have edited a number of essays and articles for Orth.
SCOTT WARRENDER is a professional musician and Annie Award-nominated lyricist specializing in musical theater. I work with Scott regularly on his short stories and debut novel, Putaway.
STUART WAKEFIELD is the #1 Kindle Best Selling author of Body of Water, the first novel in his Orcadian Trilogy. Body of Water was 1 of 10 books long-listed for the Polari First Book Prize. I edited his second novel, Memory of Water and look forward to editing the final novel of his Orcadian Trilogy, Spirit of Water.
ANIA VESENNY is a recipient of the Evelyn Sullivan Gilbertson Award for Emerging Artist in Literature and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. I edited Vesenny's debut novel, Swearing in Russian at the Northern Lights.
TERISA GREEN is widely considered the foremost American authority on tattooing through her tattoo books published by Simon & Schuster, which have sold over 45,000 copies. Under the name M. TERRY GREEN, she writes her techno-shaman sci-fi/fantasy series. I am working with her to develop a new speculative fiction series.
CHRIS RYAN drew acclaim from the New Yorker for the hook to his novel Heliophobia. He is the author of poetry collection The Bible of Animal Feet from Farfalla Press. I edited Ryan’s debut novel The Ishmael Blade and worked with him to develop Heliophobia and his WIP Pogue.
JUDY LEE DUNN is an award-winning marketing blogger. I am working with her to develop and edit her memoir of reconciling her liberal activism with her emotional difficulty accepting the lesbianism of her beloved daughter, Tonight Show comedienne Kellye Rowland.
In addition, I work with dozens of aspiring writers in their apprenticeship to this literary art and craft.