7 Surprising Things About Blogging

So, I’ve been writing this blog for two years now, and 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 have been some real eye-openers! To wit:

  1. 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 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 hits on that one post alone. Now it’s finally starting to leak over into other posts, while that one is still climbing.

    Of those tens of thousands of readers, though, almost none either comment or subscribe. Mostly what I’ve picked up from the exposure is marketers. I get a lot more pitches to sell things like washing machines and ski equipment these days.

    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.
  2. Readers tend to make more negative comments on blogs they never intend to re-visit

    I do 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.
  3. 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.

    But this blog isn’t a community, because you guys don’t have 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 feel compelled to rain on our parade, though, I will feel compelled to remove your 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 snidely 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 pointlessness of a pointless cycle becomes transparently absurd.
  4. 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 got 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 snark is always undying compassion for all of us lunatics 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.
  5. Readers want to learn what they’re doing wrong

    You know what else gains me readers? Solid, reliable information. The plethora of writing advice out there is phenomenal—really, quite painful—and when writers know they can come here time and time again to get in-depth discussion of their concerns. . .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 retweeted all these months 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 secret going on behind the scenes.

    For the love of Mike, just TELL US!
  6. 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 charge for the Magazine: so readers will value it. And when I do get a new subscriber, the first thing I invariably hear from them is, “Wow!” While on the subject of the similar-but-free advice column they remain rather quiet.
  7. Consistent voice and topic 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 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:


16 thoughts on “7 Surprising Things About Blogging

  1. Rebecca T says:

    Yes. Yes, yes, yes. For me, the voice thing is what has done it. By (semi)consistent blogging I’ve learned SO much about myself as a writer and I feel much more confident about the new project I’ve embarked on!

    Also the tribe. I would not be where I am now if it weren’t for all of the amazing people I’ve met via blogs. They are my inspiration for so many things AND it’s through blogging that I met my crit partner who is an absolute God-send.

    Yeah for blogging!

    1. Victoria says:

      Yes, blogging has really altered completely the way aspiring writers develop their craft. All the information we used to have to dig for—of simply do without, if agents didn’t feel like parting with it—is everywhere now, so we don’t have to sit around wondering. We can really focus on the work. If we don’t get sucked into hanging on social media all the time, that is!

  2. Iapetus999 says:

    I never know what on my blog will take off. Sometimes I work really hard on a post and thing, “man, this is really big” and then I get a couple “hmm” comments and no re-tweets (although even the “hmm” comments are much appreciated!) and some off-the-cuff post take off.
    I do think a lot of has to do with voice and humor, where my “matter-of-fact” or “how-to” posts are read, but the “hey check it out” posts actually get a response.
    I think it really does come down to community. People want a shared experience, not necessarily a lecture.

    1. Victoria says:

      “People want a shared experience, not necessarily a lecture.”

      That pretty much sums it up, Andrew.

  3. I really agree with dispensing with the personal life blogging; that should be saved for FB or any other “social” social media. Unless you are writing something amusing or otherwise entertaining, I don’t really have any interest in the superpersonal. I also never know what’s going to take off on my blogging, but that’s probably a reflection on the priorities and interests of the readers–sometimes I’m surprised by what takes off with readers of my fiction!
    Great article!

    1. Victoria says:

      You know, I’m not even on Facebook. It creeps me out, always wanting to hook me up with people I haven’t asked to be hooked up with. I know my friends’ names. I don’t need a software program teaching them to me.

      I know there’s a whole galaxy of personal blogging going on out there, and if that’s someone’s thing that’s where they’re going to go.

      My thing is writing. If that’s your thing too, then, hey, you know this is where you can find other people like you.

  4. And I should probably mention that I personally have graduated from personal life blogging, LOL!

  5. Thank you for this post. I’m going to be going through some of the other posts that you’ve listed above and will likely subscribe to your blog via my RSS feed reader because it IS difficult to get good information out there. I’ve felt rather overwhelmed lately as I’ve tried to learn about this business via internet research alone. A bit here and a piece there, while great to have learned, take a lot of time to piece together into something usable.

    My blog is anonymous, but I have learned a great deal about myself because of it, particularly with respect to point six, above. I now have a notebook that’s dedicated to subject matter and specific upcoming post ideas related to my blog, and my “voice” is about to get a whole lot clearer because of it. In fact, I’d say that my most recent post is the end of my scatter-brained ways on that blog, and I’m looking forward to getting it in shape!

    Thanks again.

    1. Victoria says:

      Welcome to the tribe. You don’t need to feel alone!

      The worst thing about all that information being out there is the overload when you’re trying to find what you need. And in the meantime you have to wade through an unbelievable amount of bad advice—truly, I’ve done a lot of research on the current state of affairs, and it’s DREADFUL.

      Good mentors are more important now than ever.

      If you have any questions, just ask me on the advice column, and I’ll find the answer for you. Most stuff I already know. Some of it I look up.

      Otherwise, you’re welcome to just hang out with us. We’re having fun!

      1. Thank you for replying to my comment. I’m starting to downsize the number feeds I have coming in to try to narrow my focus a bit. (Of course, yours will remain faithfully subscribed to on my RSS feed reader!)

        The only thing worse than the scattered online advice about writing is the medical advice floating around out there. Very scary stuff.

        I may just take you up on your kind offer some day soon!

        Thanks again.

  6. Teresa says:

    Yes yes yess and more yes.


    1. Victoria says:

      Hi Teresa!

  7. Lisa Cron says:

    Fabulous post! Stepping into the blogging world is sort of like walking into a tsunami on purpose, it sweeps you away and for a while just keeping your head above water feels like victory. Same with Twitter. Me, I’m just catching my breath, looking around trying to get my bearings — this post feels like a nice sturdy raft that I climb onto and begin to chart my course. Thank you, Victoria!

    1. Victoria says:

      You are more than welcome to climb on this raft with us, Lisa! I used to talk about the blogosphere as a parade, with all these people dancing by wiggling like the Anglo Saxon Messenger and waving their hands in the air. There’s only so much of it you can watch, particularly if you’re out there dancing, too.

      I’ll give you a good hint about Twitter—don’t try to read all of it. I did, back when I was only following a couple of hundred people, but that’sike trying to hear absolutely everything that’s ever said at the global party. Just wander in when you feel like it to see what’s going on, and the rest of the time go on with your life.

  8. What a fantastic post! Blogging often mystifies me, but this sheds some more light on it than before. Your blog is certainly consistent and a wonderful place to visit! I must apologize for not commenting over here forever. I’m still reading, though. Always reading. 🙂

  9. WildIris says:

    I am not a tribe member want-to-be writer type, but I do blog and your post got my attention. I found it interesting that your more successful posts, you have many, are numbered. For example, “7 Surprising Things About Blogging” I guess we readers want a quick fix or snippets for how to improve.

    At any rate, humor (A thing I sorely lack), consistent voice( sans personal minutia), with equal amounts of reliable, useful information and a continual presence keep me coming back to a blog to read. No doubt I will be coming back to this blog; it is a pleasure to read.

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