Get Started Guide: Blogging for Writers

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This post is for writers totally new to blogging, about to start a blog, and/or feeling dissatisfied with their current blog.

Questions to Ask Before You Start

  • What will distinguish your blog? What’s your unique angle? Most successful blogs have a very specific angle, topic, or audience. This makes it easier to attract attention and build a community around common interests or perspectives.
  • Your blog is a body of work, like anything else you might create. And here, I’m going to steal questions right from a talk that Dan Blank gave at the Writer’s Digest Conference. Don’t think: “I’m going to create blog (a thing).” Ask: What is my purpose? What are my goals?
  • The more time you spend blogging, the more value you build for readers over time and the more they find you. Your efforts will snowball. The only problem: You have to be patient. Are you willing to commit to blogging for more than a year? (It took me about 18 months before my blog was really going somewhere. It took that long to find my voice and the niche that I felt most strongly about, where I believed I had a unique contribution to make.)
  • Ideally, before you start a blog, you think about who’ll send you traffic. Identify the notable community players, the people who you’ll build relationships with.

Key Components of Your Blog

Aside from the blog posts themselves, you should also have the following:

  • Header/banner + tagline. It should be clear to new visitors what your blog is about and what they’re going to get from it.
  • About page or bio. If your blog does its job, people want to know more about the person behind the writing. Don’t make them search for this. I recommend creating a separate and detailed page that also includes contact information.
  • Calendar or archive. People new to your blog may want to dig around in your older posts. Make it easy for them to do so. Sometimes it’s helpful to create a sidebar that tells readers what your most popular posts are.
  • Comment functionality. Your blog will grow, and you’ll build relationships, through an easy-to-use comment system. Most major blog platforms (like WordPress) can help you streamline your comment system to automatically eliminate spam activity. (I recommend a combination of Disqus and Akismet if you’re hosting your own site.)
  • Sharing functionality. Make it easy for people to share your posts on Facebook, Twitter (or just about anywhere else) through plug-ins like AddThis.
  • Readability. If your blog or site is meant to primarily be read, then don’t hamper readability by making the text too small, too tight or (worst of the worst) white type on a black background. Be aware that a lot of pop-ups, ads, or bad layout can also hamper readability and drive readers elsewhere.

For Each Post: Go Through This Checklist

  • Improve your headline. If people saw ONLY the headline (like on Twitter), would they feel compelled to click on it? Is it specific? Is it intriguing or provocative? Does it offer a benefit? Is it timely or relevant? Why will people click on the headline? Remember, that’s often the only thing people see when they’re surfing online and looking at search results.
  • Improve your readability. Consider adding more paragraph breaks (one-line paragraphs are acceptable), bulleted lists or numbered lists, images, subheads, quotes—whatever it takes to make your posts more scannable. Reading online is not the same as reading offline. If your post is very long, consider breaking it up into a series. Or, make it simple for people to save the post, print the post, or otherwise consume it offline. [This “rule” gets broken all the time successfully, but it requires the right readership and great content, among other things.]
  • Improve discoverability. Make sure each post is categorized and tagged, at minimum. If your blog platform allows for it, adjust what title, description, and keywords are attached to your post for search engine optimization (SEO).

To Grow Your Readership

  • Update consistently and on a regular schedule.
  • Frequently link to relevant blogs, resources, and sites.
  • Try out a series or weekly feature.
  • Interview people who interest you. Run Q&As.
  • Comment on blogs/sites that have some relevance to your own blog.
  • Allow readers to sign up for e-mail or RSS delivery of your posts. (Try Feedburner if this functionality is not already baked into your site.)
  • Always post links to each new post on your Facebook page, Twitter, etc.
  • Offer to guest blog for others. Provide them with even better content than usual.
  • Be patient.

The No. 1 Rule to Grow Readership

Offer great content. Period. Check this post for a wake-up call on all the advice I’ve just offered you: Are Blog Best Practices Bullshit?

Where You Can Start a Blog for Free

  • My top recommendation: WordPress. You can use WordPress.com (with limited functionality) for free. When you’re ready to have your own URL/site, you can install the WordPress content management system onto your site, and seamlessly import your WordPress.com content.
  • Tumblr. Great for curating stuff from elsewhere online. Excellent for visuals and multimedia. Here’s my Tumblr blog.
  • Blogger. Owned by Google and still very popular.

If You’re Starting With WordPress

Here are my technical tutorials on starting a WordPress.com blog. It is a VERY basic, step-by-step instruction process for people who are completely unfamiliar with WordPress. I created this step-by-step for my university students, who sometimes have trouble figuring out how to change key settings in WordPress.

  1. Sign up for a WordPress.com blog
  2. Change basic settings
  3. Change the appearance (themes)
  4. Make your first post
  5. Add widgets to your sidebar

Additional Advice & Resources That I Love

If you’d like an extended version of the advice in this post (plus elaboration on how to create a self-hosted WordPress site), then download my PDF handout, Blogging 101.


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Jane Friedman
Jane Friedman has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in digital media strategy for authors and publishers. From 2001–2010 she worked at Writer's Digest, where she ultimately became publisher; more recently, she was an editor at the Virginia Quarterly Review, where she led digital strategy. Jane currently teaches writing and publishing at the University of Virginia and is a columnist for Publishers Weekly. The Great Courses just released her 24-lecture series, How to Publish Your Book. She also has a book forthcoming from the University of Chicago Press, The Business of Being a Writer (2017). Jane speaks regularly at conferences and industry events such as BookExpo America, Digital Book World, and the AWP Conference, and has served on panels with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund. Find out more.
Jane Friedman

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Posted in Digital Media, Worksheets & Handouts, Writing Advice.

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98 Comments on "Get Started Guide: Blogging for Writers"

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4 years 5 months ago

Great piece, Jane, and no surprise from such an experienced hand at this as you, thanks. I’d like to add clarity of byline as something that’s far more important than many bloggers realize. A blogger wants her or his work spread around the communities, per your smart comments above about sharing functionality and improving discoverability. But that blogger also deserves credit for that content. Some of us, in fact, work very hard to #CreditWriters (a Twitter hashtag), even in the tight confines of tweets, to be sure our authors get the recognition they deserve. When you’re blogging, burying your identity… Read more »

Monique Heard
2 years 5 months ago

Thanks for that great insight I’ll definitely apply that to my blog

[…] Get Started Guide: Blogging for Writers | Jane Friedman This post is for writers totally new to blogging, about to start a blog, and/or feeling dissatisfied with their current blog. Source: janefriedman.com […]

4 years 5 months ago

This is great. What I wish I’d had when I was starting out. I’ll spread the word.
Thanks, Porter for the great idea of putting your twitter handle front and center on the blog!

4 years 5 months ago

Well, Anne, I bow to YOU in so many things related to blogging, so it’s really nice of you to pick up on the @Twitter handle issue. And thanks to Jane for getting us all sorted so well. I’ve been totally lucky to have met her early so I’ve had the benefit of her wisdom before getting too far in, myself. Cheers – 

4 years 5 months ago

Totally loved this post, Jane. I agree with Porter that one of the worst things a blogger can do is hide his/her identity and handles on other social networks. That’s why I always suggest using your name as a handle on other social networks (if not taken). In fact, I use you as THE example for why folks need to act now on claiming their name online.

4 years 5 months ago

Robert: Would you mind helping a fellow blogger? When I clicked on my name in my comment, instead of going to my blog, which for me is the point of having a profile, it took me to something called Yahoo Plus, which is less than useless for me. It gave my full name, my age and what state I live in, which I don’t want people to know, but didn’t go to the blog, which I did. When I clicked on your name, it went directly to your blog the way it’s suppose to. (By the way, it’s  a cool… Read more »

4 years 5 months ago

Thanks, Robert — couldn’t agree more about the importance of using your name as your social-media handle (rather than blog title, etc.), if for no other reason so that you get continuity of community from one project to the next. I love how when we arrive at Jane’s page here, what’s right up top is JANE FRIEDMAN. Her wonderful McLuhan-powered “electric speed” line is the tag, not the center of her universe, which is excellent. I use her as my best example for folks, too. :)

Anonymous
4 years 5 months ago

I’ve had my blog for a couple of years but this has really helped focus my thoughts about it! 

Get Started Guide: Blogging for Writers | Jane Friedman | Research Education | Scoop.it
4 years 5 months ago

[…] Get Started Guide: Blogging for Writers | Jane Friedman […]

Barbara Forte Abate
4 years 5 months ago

Thank you Jane (and Porter for your extremely helpful addendum) this is truly blogger gold! I’ve had my blog on my website for about a year and still feel as if I’m crawling through the trenches. To say I needed this post doesn’t even begin to cover how much I NEEDED this post :-)

4 years 5 months ago

My pleasure, Barbara, Jane did all the heavy lifting. :-) 

kathryn magendie
4 years 5 months ago

Thank you for these great tips! My regret is that when I started my blog, I didn’t use my name. I’d change that if I could do it over again.

Patricia Gligor
4 years 5 months ago

This was a very informative post. Because I’m relatively new to blogging, I need all the help I can get and this article provided a lot of important information. Thanks, Jane!
I’ve written two women’s mystery suspense novels and I’m in the early planning stages of a third. I’ve recently created my own writers forum, a blog for writers and avid readers. I’d like to invite everyone to visit my site.
http://pat-writersforum.blogspot.com

4 years 5 months ago

Hi Jane,

This is just the kind of comprehensive information I was looking for a long time, forwarded to me by another fellow writer. I needed to learn more about WordPress, as I currently have a blog with Bloggers, and thanks to you, I can understand WordPress better now!

Thanks for sharing!

4 years 5 months ago

I’d agree that asking the question, “What is my purpose?” is a really good place to start, as well as, “How unique is what I’d like to share?” There has to be millions of blogs written specifically for writers, and just as many subjects those bloggers can cover. Before I started mine, http://www.awritersconundrums.blogpsot.com, I’d read Karen Wiesner’s books, “First Draft in 30 Days,”  and “From First Draft to Finished Novel,” and they helped me so much in learning not only how to outline my book idea, but also how to organize it and write it so it would be memorable,… Read more »

[…] Jane Friedman: Being Human at Electric Speed […]

4 years 5 months ago

Jane, or anyone else who can answer this: I’m sorry to bother again, but I just found out that Blogger.com just lost my awritersconundrums blog. There are at least four posts on it, but it says there’s nothing there. When my makingmyownwork blog was up, it quite frequently wouldn’t let me post anything on it for a week or two at a time. Since Blogger is so unreliable and there is absolutely no help available, I tried putting the “Conundrum” blog on WordPress, because I’ve heard it has great technical support, but it seems horribly complicated to me. Just picking… Read more »

4 years 5 months ago

Jane, or anyone else who can answer this: I’m sorry to bother again, but I just found out that Blogger.com just lost my awritersconundrums blog. There are at least four posts on it, but it says there’s nothing there. When my makingmyownwork blog was up, it quite frequently wouldn’t let me post anything on it for a week or two at a time. Since Blogger is so unreliable and there is absolutely no help available, I tried putting the “Conundrum” blog on WordPress, because I’ve heard it has great technical support, but it seems horribly complicated to me. Just picking… Read more »

Week Links 8-28 | Journeys in Steam
4 years 5 months ago

[…] Get Started Guide: Blogging for Writers By the amazing Jane Friedman: This post is for writers totally new to blogging, about to start a blog, and/or feeling dissatisfied with their current blog. https://janefriedman.com/2011/08/24/blogging-for-writers/ […]

[…] Jane Friedman, e-media and writing professor at the University of Cincinnati and a contributing editor to Writer’s Digest offers practical blogging tips of use to writers new to blogging at https://janefriedman.com/2011/08/24/blogging-for-writers/ […]

4 years 5 months ago

Thank you jane for always being so helpful. Blessings. 

[…] You do not have to blog, and if you don’t have much interest in the form, then please don’t pursue it. As with any form of writing, it takes a considerable investment of energy and time to do it right and get something from it. (See my 101 crash course here.) […]

Rich B
4 years 2 months ago

Thank You!  Very much. And Happy Holidays.

[…] from the Writer’s Digest Editor’s Intensive  weekend in Cincinnati where Editors, Jane Friedman,Alice Pope and Chuck Sambuchino had promoted the idea of social media-facebook,twitter and […]

Hope Roberson
4 years 1 month ago

Thanks for the information!  The links were great too!

[…] Get Started Guide: Blogging for Writers. This is one of those posts I’ll be referencing for years to come. Everything but the kitchen sink. […]

What I’ve learned about blogging … so far » labbydog.ca
4 years 1 month ago
Make it easier for Jane Doe to find you.
4 years 25 days ago

[…] If you can commit the time on a regular basis for research and writing, consider a WordPress blog. […]

[…] After you have a draft of your post, go through this checklist from Jane Freidman’s advice on getting started as a blogger: […]

[…] Jane Friedman also provides some good technical tutorials on starting a WordPress blog (go to the second-last section of her blog entitled “If You’re Starting With WordPress”). […]

[…] what are you going to blog about?  To quote Jane Friedman, “Most successful blogs have a very specific angle, topic, or audience. This makes it easier to […]

[…] her tweets an awful lot, too. Her blog is geared toward writers, but she gives some great advice here about getting started blogging that just about anyone with a blog could find […]

[…] it, though I hope this time not to lose it in the first place); and this get started guide from Jane Friedman.  Yet already I am getting cold […]

[…] Get Started Guide: Blogging for Writers — which links to 5 of my own brief screencasts for getting started with WordPress […]

[…] Get Started Guide: Blogging for Writers […]

Margaret Duarte
3 years 3 months ago

Hi Jane. I see your main website is self-hosted through WordPress.org. I built a website with a connecting blog on WordPress.com. Would it be wise to take the plunge and self-host now while my site is still young? Also, I know how important it is to start collecting visitor’s email addresses. How do I add a subscription box (such as Mail Champ) to my website’s home page for newsletters, etc.? The answer to this second question probably depends on your answer to the first.

Margaret Duarte
3 years 3 months ago

Jane, there are so many choices of themes at wordpress.org. Do you have any favorites for authors?

Barrie Collins
3 years 2 months ago

Dear Jane, this is wonderful. As a new writer, (first book just self-published, been writing for 10 years), this is just what I need. I’ll be staring a blog in the next month or so your advice is just what I need, and I notice your site came up on top in my Google search so your keywords/meta tags must be spot on.
You write very clearly, thank you.

3 years 1 month ago

I’ve linked to this post on this Authonomy thread http://authonomy.com/forums/threads/107744/so-whats-the-point-of-a-blog-/

I found it invaluable when starting my blog in August.

[…] Get Started Guide: Blogging for Writers from Jane Friedman. […]

John A.
3 years 6 days ago

From what I can gather from your article when one starts a blog, the true niche where one succeeds will be a changing work in progress for quite some time. It doesn’t happen right away when someone decides to start blogging. Would that be a fair assumption? I have decided to try my hand at blogging in the political arena and know there is tons of competition. I think where I may initially begin may be totally different once I find a good niche….maybe 6, 12 or even 18 months down the road. The same would could be said for… Read more »

[…] to start with the familiar terrain first: the direct How To, by taking a look at Jane Friedman’s Getting Started Guide: Blogging For Writers.  Jane, with her blog’s jewel of a tagline, Being Human at Electric Speed, belongs in the […]

Raeshma
2 years 11 months ago

I have so much to learn. I have been reading a lot about creating a self-hosted WordPress site. I am a new author. My publisher created a WordPress site for me, but I want to create a self-hosted site. The current website domain contains the publisher’s name. Though I appreciate their efforts, I feel stuck with it. I feel the need to build my own brand. :-) I hope I can do this on my own, using your handout. Thank you.

2 years 10 months ago

Excellent!

2 years 9 months ago

A lot of great suggestions. I just started out on wordpress two days ago and this was super useful. Will be back to read more articles very soon!

[…] remember that your information marketing writing career does NOT require a college or graduate degree, and it is not judged by a composition teacher […]

[…] I also recommend reading my older posts, Please Don’t Blog Your Book: 4 Reasons Why and Get Started Guide: Blogging for Writers, especially if you think blogging is the right choice for you. While my views don’t mirror […]

[…] It has become almost mandatory for writers to have blogs these days. I started my first blog, “Looking At Life,” when I wanted to capture observations and thoughts from my schooldays at The Lawrence School, Lovedale. Later I started “People At Work & Play” my “professional” blog which spoke of careers, people management and the like. Now that I am retired and am full time into writing, I have a writing blog, which is what you are reading. If you are a writer wanting to start a blog or an aspiring writer, here are some tips from an expert.… Read more »

[…] Jane Friedman: Get Started Guide: Blogging for Authors […]

Lauren Kirk-Cohen
2 years 7 months ago

This is really helpful – thanks! :)

Small Writer
2 years 6 months ago

Thanks to this wonderful and very useful.

article

article on democracy

Democracy

2 years 6 months ago

Thanks Jane for sharing such great ideas. I really liked your article on blogging.
The best point I liked reading here is about the going through the checklist. Specially in improving the readability of the blog by adding it into paragraphs, numbered lists and the images.

Monique Heard
2 years 5 months ago

I was apprehensive about blogging but now I’m excited to get started. Thank you so much for taking the time to create a step by step guide for beginners.

[…] Get Started Guide: Blogging for Writers by Jane Friedman […]

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