I've been blogging for a year now! Yea! This doesn't necessarily make me a specialist on the subject, but I have learned much, and I've done it enough that I can offer some tips. Here's my suggestions for children's writers and illustrators who are considering starting a blog:
1. Blog often. Unless your name is Michael Jackson or Brittney Spears, blogging any less than once a week is not enough for the world to remember that you even exist. Don't feel like every post must be something profound. A short post more often is better than a long rare post.
2. Be yourself. I like my crackers dry, not my blog reading. Let your personality shine through. Use humor. If your blog reads like a phonebook, lighten it up. The entertainment factor in blogging goes a long way. The thing is, the world of writing and illustrating for children's literature is much more political than I ever imagined a year ago when I first started doing this. Political correctness is abound in these circles, and you can't always speak your mind if you want to stay relevant. Use discretion in the topics you write about, but let your readers get to know who you are. I've made some mistakes during my first year of blogging. I let it all hang out...a bit too much. But, I'm not sorry. I think creativity is about closing your eyes, taking some chances and learning from your successes as well as mistakes.
3. Talk to us. Use a conversational style of writing. Blog like you speak. I went through a stage where I was trying so hard to be literary (whatever that is). I would go through a theasaurus trying to find words that sounded intelligent when, in fact, I probably made myself sound really stupid. If the word "prolegomenon" is not typically a part of your vocabulary, using it will make you sound like a wanna be egghead.
4. Don't be a stranger. The social/networking aspect of blogging is almost as important as the writing aspect. Use blogging as a getting-to-know tool. If I read a blog that speaks to me, I leave a note letting the author know. The author will appreciate that. Commenting is also an invitation for others to come visit your blog. I've met so many people through comments I've discovered on other people's blogs. I'm a very quiet person in my non-blogging/writing/illustrating life. I don't talk much. Quiet people don't attract much attention to themselves. Works the same way in the blogosphere. Unless you are promoting your blog in other arenas (yahoo groups, speaking engagements, advertising) how else will you reach potential readers if your not a social blogger (a blurker (blog+lurker)?
5. Link up. This is what the internet all about. If you are discussing a particular author/illustrator/publisher/blogger, add a link to the person/entity you are writing about. Adding a link to a statement adds, I don't know, credibility/value/weight/ to your post. Also, use a blogroll. A blog roll is a list of blogs that you read with links to those blogs. It usually is added to the sidebar of your blog. I've discovered many a blog through other people's blog rolls. The thing is, you'll need to occasionally check on those you've linked to. Some folks just stop blogging, or close up shop without notice. One time I linked to an Austin, Texas site thinking I was providing my readers with more info about Austin. What I didn't know — until sometime later — is that the site contained pornographic body art pictures several clicks in, so you'll need to check things out to be sure.
6. Don't be afraid to toot your own horn. People will love to celebrate with you. I really do like hearing about my colleagues successes. It boost me and offers hope. Share your successes, but, also, share setbacks, things that don't quite go your way. Be human.
7. Stay on focus. If you blog is about children's illustration, it's probably not a good idea to blog about your choice of political parties, or your thoughts about religion. My first six months were spent blogging about everything else but illustrating and writing for kids. If you don't stay on target, you'll scare your readers away, particularly if you are saying things they don't want to hear. Blogging, in most cases, is free, so open another blog (anonymous). There, you can write about your frustrations about the war, or people who eat too much cake, and take up twice their space in airline seats. (That's what I did, create an anonymous blog, and my blogging life is much happier now that I don't have to worry about offending an art director, editor, reviewer, or whomever). On a side note: my anonymous blog tends to be more popular because, there, the topics are varied, and I can say what I want.
8. Write a blog entry, not a book. I hate to admit this, but I won't read a really long blog entry in it's entirety unless it is just that dog-gone compelling. I have several blogs I'd like to read each day, so I won't spend much time with a post that goes on and on and on and on and on and — you get the point? I only peruse the long ones, and if I'm not hooked in the first few sentences, I'll bookmark them for later reading (later usually never comes). Try to use the two scroll rule: don't make your reader have to scroll through your blog post more than twice. The third scroll will likely be to find the next blog. Edit your post down to a digestible read (yes, I know, this is a long blog post, too).
9. Add visuals when you can. The saying, "a picture is worth a thousand words" much applies here. When I have a major speaking event (I didn't have many this past year), I take along my digital camera. I could simply write about my adventures, but visuals, in my opinion, can help bring your adventure alive. Newspapers, online news stories, magazines, and books use visuals. Use them to help break up the grey (text boxes). You don't need any fancy paid web hosting. Use a free service like Flickr.
10. Have fun. I sometimes allow blogging to turn into work. When I get tired, I let my readers know, I'm on break. If I have nothing in particular to blog about, I don't. Instead, I'll write for my own personal growth. Find a writing prompt over the internet, or find an interesting news story to "arm-chair quarterback" write about.
Last but not least, use spell check, and a program that will flag your grammar, but keep in mind, in my opinion, blogging is a much more casual venu. So what if you have a few fax paus, but at the same time, keep in mind that many editors do read blogs.
Happy New Year, and Happy Birthday to my blog!