The other day a good friend asked me for some thoughts about my blog as part of her preparation for a presentation to writers who were interested in making better use of social media. I sent her the following message. As I thought about it, I decided to also post it here as a way to explain what I do to myself and to anyone else who might be interested.
First, a few numbers. Except when I declare an occasional “goo foffing” period, I don’t miss many days of posting something. I began making daily posts in 2009. I’ve now posted 2,474 times in more than 800 categories and 2,277 of the posts have also appeared on Facebook. The blog is currently followed by 2,870 people. It has been visited 357,161 times by people in 133 countries and readers have left 17,188 comments, each of which I’ve answered.
I work for a balance between talking about myself/books which is, after all, the primary reason for an author to have a blog, and posts of general interest meant to “keep ‘em coming back.” To keep my spot friendly and informal I usually sit down early on the morning of the post, type, “Hi everyone,” and see what happens. Some days I know what I want to talk about but often I have no clue until I sit and think for a moment. On some such mornings the ideas come easily. On others I groan and look desperately around the room for inspiration.
I’ve learned to use pictures to attract readers and add interest. Having an “illustrated blog” takes a bit more time but I’m forever taking pictures anyway so it isn’t that hard to think in terms of what might be useful for a blog post. I have many pictures of myself that help demonstrate moods, circumstances, locations, special occasions, and so on. Many are not the least bit flattering, which also helps keep the posts honest and open.
Over time I’ve developed a few series that appeal to some of my followers. Sandy Asher and I co-write something called WRITERS AT WORK in which we discuss various aspects of writing and being a writer. I keep a running joke about the turtles that always want to go with me on trips. I have a number of posed shots of ceramic turtles to keep the humor alive. At various times I’ve had guests, conducted interviews, touted other people’s work, posted publishing news, discussed my work, featured cartoons needing captions, written mini-lessons about various creatures I see around our home or during my travels, and published poems. I know that at least a few readers check my blog first thing each morning to see what I’ve come up with for that day. I don’t expect every post to be a winner but I work at keeping each one unique in some way.
Each month I choose (or ask followers to suggest) a single word. The WORD OF THE MONTH POETRY CHALLENGE has attracted poets in America, Canada, Australia, and numerous countries in Europe to accept the challenge of posting poems they’ve written that were inspired by the word for the month. Many others check the site to leave their comments of appreciation and encouragement. I haven’t missed a month since the blog began in 2009.
Most popular posts? Hmm. One high visitor day came recently when I placed my 100th book. But another came years ago when two fifth grade girls were competing for first place in a poem of the month contest. One dad was a gamer so he had friends from other countries voting for his daughter. Both girls are now seniors in high school and we remain in touch. One’s mother has driven her to see me speak on three occasions, twice in Pennsylvania and once in New Jersey. Readers like humorous events. Who doesn’t? Sometimes I relate something stupid I’ve done. Visitors return frequently to writing tips I’ve posted from time to time. They like to hear about Goose Lake, which is what I’ve dubbed the 10-acre lake behind our house. I’ve written so much about the lake and my back yard that followers feel at home there.
I love anything that involves reader participation. I often refer to my wife as my M.O.W. (mean old wife) so many of my followers, especially women, have fun taking me to task when I seem to need an admonishment, and naturally they pull for Sandy even though most have never met her.
I do my best to read and respond to comments as quickly as possible. I check my blog frequently throughout the day for messages and stop working long enough to answer them. Same with Facebook where my daily blog post appears automatically. When someone posts a comment, I think I have an obligation to respond as promptly as possible. Over the years I’ve learned a lot about many of the men and women who frequent the blog through hundreds of quick exchanges. Some days I have running chats with several visitors going on at once, frequently from other countries.
And does all this sell more of my books? My M.O.W. asks that a lot. My answer is yes but how many I don’t know. The other day I announced a new book coming out in January and promised to give away an autographed copy to someone drawn from a pool of readers who decide to post a review on Amazon when the time comes. Enough people ordered – three months in advance – to give the book a respectable Amazon rating. Would those people have bought the book anyway? My M.O.W. asked that too. Does it get me more school visits and conference talks? Again, yes. Again, it’s hard to say how many. Do I think the effort is worth it? A writer writes and this is a daily exercise that’s part journal, part pen pal, and part marketing. I think it’s worth it even though at times I write, “Hi everyone,” groan, and start looking around the room.