Recently I’ve been seeing some discussion in the book blogosphere about the usefulness of blogging advice, with some bloggers taking the stance it’s unhelpful, overbearing, and possibly inaccurate. The only real rule: Blog however makes you happy. I have a lot of respect for these bloggers, and I think their disinterest in blogging advice is probably coming from a great place; they’re satisfied with how they blog and believe in freedom of expression. However, I also think there is a place for blogging advice in our community. First, a lot of bloggers are deeply interested in it. If you publish a post about how to blog, people will read it. Second, I’ve come to realize that blogging is a genre, with certain conventions and expectations. As with any other genre of writing, it’s helpful to know the basic “rules” before you decide to break them.
How I Learned to Write and Then How to Blog
Some lovely commenters have mentioned they really enjoy my and Krysta’s writing, so it may come as a surprise that in some ways I’ve had very little formal writing instruction in life. I had the same literature teacher for most of high school, and his most memorable advice was to introduce all essays with a quote or fun fact (which, in retrospect, is actually not great advice). I don’t believe he even strongly focused on the five-paragraph essay structure that’s so pervasively taught in American high schools. I just wrote what I wanted for his classes, and I got good grades. When I went to college, my school did not have any writing focused classes, no Freshman Composition 101 or the like. Students were just expected to write across all classes, but the feedback I received from most instructors was about my content and ideas, not about my writing itself. I improved my writing basically by reading and writing a lot. I intuitively became better through practice.
I had a similar journey learning how to blog. As I discuss in this post about our blogging journey and 5 years of stats at Pages Unbound, I essentially had no idea what I was doing when we first founded Pages Unbound. I was simply doing my own thing in my own corner of the Internet. While I was having a lot of fun, and there’s something to be said for really writing for yourself, there’s also something to be said for having an audience. However, without reading a lot of articles about how to blog or blog “better,” it took me years of writing this blog and reading other book blogs to, again, intuitively begin to understand what could make my blog more interesting for others to read.
But learning to improve your writing or your blog doesn’t have to take years of guesswork.
Save Yourself Time by Learning from Others’ Experiences
The number one way reading blogging advice will help you as a blogger is that it allows you to learn in matter of minutes what it could otherwise take you years of observation to learn. I wrote this complete guide to starting a book blog after five years of blogging, watching others blog, and reading about what book bloggers wish they had known when they first started. If you start out with a solid understanding of what readers might be looking for in a blog, you’ll establish yourself in the community faster than if you tried to learn everything on your own. You’ll gain followers and comments faster than if you blindly experimented.
Why You Should Write For Your Audience
Some bloggers seem to believe that actively trying to acquire an audience is a bit mercenary, that the true joy of blogging is doing things 100% your own way. I don’t necessarily disagree. You should always enjoy what you write and be proud of what you produce. Your blog should be a place where you can be you. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have an audience. Writing, after all, is as much about communication with others as it is about self-expression, so good writers will often consider how their words will come across to their intended audience.
Blogging as Genre
If you think about a blog as a genre–just as a letter, a recipe, an academic research paper, or short story is a genre–then it makes sense that blogging has conventions, things readers are expecting to see you doing. When someone writes me a letter I expect it to open with a greeting like “Dear Briana” and then have an introductory paragraph telling me who the writer is (if I don’t know them) and why they’re writing to me. If someone hands me a recipe, I expect it to have an ingredient list and step-by-step cooking instructions. Likewise, when readers go to a blog, they often expect it to function in a specific way. They probably expect an “About the Author” page and a “Review Archive” page on a book blog, for instance.
When the conventions of a genre are missing, people can get confused. I don’t want to read a whole recipe that doesn’t have an ingredient list because it’s going to take me a while to go through the step-by-step instructions to figure out what the ingredients are I need to buy. Similarly, people might not be easily able to navigate your book blog if it’s missing components they’re expecting to see. In a worst-case scenario, people can assume you’re incompetent or not authoritative if you don’t follow the conventions of a genre. Would you trust the expertise of a chemist who handed you a lab report that didn’t follow conventions?
Knowing what people are expecting to see on your book blog–and why they like to see it, what purpose it serves them–is valuable information. If you know this, you can make an informed decision whether you want to abide by the basic conventions or not.
Thinking about Reader Experience
Genre conventions are also important because they tell people how to read. A standard Western academic research paper, for instance, will have an introduction paragraph that ends with a clear thesis statement, body paragraphs that each begin with a focused topic sentence, and then a conclusion paragraph. People who read many academic papers know this and use the standard structure to read through papers quickly. (Because, let’s face it, people primarily read academic papers to cull them for information for their own academic papers. They’re reading quickly and selectively.) The same is true for blogs. Many readers follow a large number of blogs, so they want the blogs to function in a manner that makes them easy to read through quickly. Following blogging conventions or supposed “best practices” can help you help your readers have a good and productive experience visiting your blog. That means they’ll want to come back.
Of course, blogging should always be about doing what bring you joy. Being happy with your own blogging process is key to staying motivated, and you should never feel as though you “have” to do something to get readers or be successful or be a “real” blogger. After all, there are tons of popular bloggers who have extremely different approaches to blogging; there isn’t necessarily a secret formula.
However, knowing what the basic blogging conventions are and why they’re conventions (what purpose they serve in conveying your content to readers) can be extremely useful for your blogging process. If you don’t have a review archive or don’t include any pictures on your blog, it should be because you have a thoughtful reason for why you don’t want or need these things in your space–not because you didn’t even realize these were things your readers might find helpful. There are no real writing or blogging “rules,” but there are conventions and foundational guidelines, and being aware of them is essential to knowing when and how to break them. You don’t have to do everything a blogging advice article suggests that you do, but you might want to read a few articles anyway.
26 thoughts on “Why You Might Actually Want to Read Posts about Blogging Advice”
It is helpful to read articles about blogging. Every new comer has a lot of questions in mind and no idea whom to ask. I agree learning from other’s experiences is the good way.
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Yes! I know as a new blogger I was sort of confused and didn’t really feel I had blogger “friends” yet to ask for advice. An article directed at everyone can definitely be helpful to people who are still shy on Twitter or in the bookish community.
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I happen to be one of the followers who has commented on both of your writing styles. 🤗 I’m glad you mentioned a thesis paper because when I read a discussion post, I look for that exact structure. I wrote so many of them in high school and college it’s almost second nature for me to look for that particular format. I try to follow it myself when writing though I know I don’t always stick with it. I also like reading posts about blogging cause I like to see what other bloggers have learned from and what advice they have for things that work well for them. While I don’t mind the occasional meme, a blog that’s full of them is a serious turnoff from me, especially if I don’t see book reviews, fun posts, or discussions. Too many tags is also another turnoff when I’m scoping new blogs. I try to do things that are not always book related and they’ve been well received. I noticed for a book blog that the highest number of views or comments is not on a review. It’s usually a fun post or discussion. And tags they seem to be pretty popular, too, which I will never understand why. Anyway, great post!
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Aw, thank you! 😀
Yeah, I don’t put the same amount of time into revising blog posts that I would for a major academic paper or something that “counted” more than a hobby, but I try to follow a similar structure in writing, as well. I think, even if people aren’t consciously looking for it, a lot of readers will instinctively look for the same kind of structure in a blog post they would in more formal writing to help them follow the content.
I also like a moderate amount of memes and tags. I don’t mind reading or doing some, but I do find it overwhelming to go to a blog and see only tags as the last ten posts. I know some people really like reading them, though, and they’re easier to comment on than a review about a book you might not have read or might not have heard of. I’m sure they get more page views than reviews for that reason, so people keep posting them.
I wrote a post awhile ago about why I thought book blogs would (or should?) always have reviews, and I’ve been pondering breaking out an update. I think I would read a blog that had no reviews but had a lot of in-depth bookish discussions, but I would not personally read a blog that was mostly memes and tags without reviews. I think reviews are still the meat of most book blogs. It’s how you show you read, to show your “expertise” in what you’re blogging about, in my opinion. I think people might naturally be hesitant about a book blog where it was unclear whether the blogger had even picked up a book in the last five years.
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I do the same thing. I give my post a once over before publishing, but I don’t sit there all day analyzing it. I see plenty of typos on blogs so I’m okay if it’s not perfect. I would read a blog that has either all poetry or bookish discussions if they didn’t review books, but I agree that a book blogger should review a book at least once a month and have a decent archive setup on their blog. Some blogs all I see are memes and tags and I think don’t you even read? Isn’t that the whole point of book blogging? I feel like that concept is lost on some people. When I decide to follow someone new, I usually skim through their last five posts to see if I like their style, voice, opinions, and their taste in books. If I can’t find a book or at least poetry or some type of creative writing, I usually move on. I found your blog because of your Tolkien event. Those quizzes were so fun. It sucked me in right away. 😊 I haven’t seen quizzes like that on another blog. It definitely adds something more.
I enjoy reading blogging advice posts from smaller bloggers rather than from those social media marketers who follow 100k+ people. It feels more personal and I trust smaller bloggers.
Great post. Keep them coming!
I’ve been blogging the way I want for months and it’s worked out well, I think. My main strategy is to write what I’d want to read. This attracts like-minded people and is a good starting point. I’ve been blogging for less than 6 month, so I have much to learn!
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That’s a good point. If you just Google blogging advice, you get a lot of blogs that are only about blogging. And while some of the information can be useful, I think there are a lot of differences between trying to run a large commercial blog and a book blog. There are probably even differences between running a fashion blog, a food blog, or a book blog. I would love to see more information that’s book blog specific because what works in this niche doesn’t always line up with generic blogging advice, in my opinion.
I think that’s a very good idea! I try to write posts I would be interested in reading, too. Since I don’t particularly like to read memes or tags, I don’t do a lot of them here. After all, you’re your initial audience. If you aren’t interested in your own content, who would be?
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Sound advice, Brianna. I agree that reading up a bit before launching headlong into blogging can help people avoid beginner mistakes. The sad part is that there is a lot of generic blogging advice out there that may not fit the needs of some blogs. For example, while I can easily find 3000+ posts on how to monetize a blog, that’s not the aim of my blog. I’m here on WordPress because I like things free and I don’t write for profit. It’s tough to find advice tailored for that (or maybe I’m just bad at Googling). I have learnt blogging through experience and although I don’t put a lot of emphasis on numbers or followers, I think I’m doing okay for a blog that’s barely a year old. I gained several helpful through trial and error, which I don’t regret. I’d rather make a few small mistakes than blindly follow all the “rules” out there. I’m all for doing a bit of research at the beginning and doing things your own way after you get started.
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I completely agree! I’ve seen a lot of blogging advice that’s more appropriate to running a large corporate blog or something similar. The book blog community definitely comes with its own sort of atmosphere and being really aggressive with some blog suggestions probably isn’t going to do much here.
I’m glad you found some advice that works for you, and that you’re enjoying blogging your own way! 😀
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Thank you, Brianna. 🙂 Learning a lot from the posts you do here, such as this and the one you did on your blog stats. It’s more appropriate to the kind of small-time blogging I do than what a Google search would give.
I completely agree with you! I had no idea what I was doing when I first started my blog four years ago, and as a result, it took me quite a while to build up my following. And that bothered me a bit – while my #1 goal with my blog was and still is to have fun and make bookish friends, I also want to connect readers with books, which I couldn’t do without blog readers. I wish I had stumbled upon some advice posts earlier in my career, and even now, as a (slightly) more well-established blogger, I still love reading them. I don’t always take their advice – some of it doesn’t fit with my style for one reason or another – but it’s always thought-provoking to see what works for other people, whether or not it works for you. Great discussion post – I’ve never seen this topic talked about before, and I didn’t realize how much I like advice posts until now!
Exactly! I think sometimes when we hear about “trying to get more followers” we imagine someone trying to get 20,000 followers and build a crazy blogging empire, and we find that superficial (whether that’s a fair judgment or not). But “getting more followers” can also just mean “The only person who’s reading my blog right now is my mother and maybe my cat, and I want to reach out more.” There seems to be a general agreement that much of the fun of blogging comes from talking with others and connecting with readers…but you still can’t do that if no one is actually following your blog!
A lot of generic blogging advice I’v seen just doesn’t work well in the book blogging community, but I always find something to think about when I read blog advice. And, yeah, if I don’t like it. I just don’t do it! :p
I always read blogging tips or advice, which ever word you want to use, post because I always find them so helpful. they’re never the same, yes there are a few similar points but there are always different ones.
Yes! I’m always pleasantly surprised to read some advice I haven’t seen before. You never know what you’re going to find and how useful it might be to you!
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I am still baffled why some people don’t like blogging tips articles because they think they’re pushy. That just seems so weird to me. Tips and advice are just that, you don’t have to follow them just because someone gives some. Personally, I really enjoy reading them and seeing what works for others. Sometimes I take bits and pieces from different bloggers instead of following maybe the whole deal with particular tips. Thank you for writing this and continuing to be a voice of reason.
Well, I have seen some negatively-worded “tips” posts to the effect of, “If you have green text on a black background I will never read your horrible, horrible blog!” Which is, in fact, an off-putting way to write. Why not just change the wording to make it positive like: “Consider the legibility of your blog” or something?
I think this must be part of it. Someone told me on Twitter once that they had seen someone write as a “tip” that they hate blogs with blue color schemes. That’s not advice. That’s just your personal opinion (and kind of a mean one). I hope people can tell the difference between reasonable advice and people just going off about their pet peeves. The wording of the post definitely matters. If you’re talking about how you “hate” things, maybe that’s more of an opinion piece.
I love blogging tips and advice!! I’ve been blogging 4 years. When I first started blogging I found it really hard to find any advice (and when someone would publish advice, a lot of people would snark about it and say they were trying to lay down LAW about book blogging and who were they to do that)… also there was a whole plagiarism scandal w/ a blogger stealing “how to blog” articles and passing them as her own, so I think that turned a lot of people off from those posts.
Now there are whole blogs dedicated to blogging tips. I think it’s really cool for everyone to share their experiences… successes and failures. Why should we all have to learn the hard way? There are so many things I wish that I had known when I set up my blog!! I also agree, I don’t think “how to” posts are meant to be bossy. I think they’re meant to be helpful.
I think I witnessed some of that snarkiness myself years ago in the “Humph, who are YOU to tell me how to blog?” vein. I get that book blogging is just a hobby for most people, so there’s no reason to drive yourself crazy trying to do it the “right” way. Because, yeah, there isn’t a “right” way and you want to make sure you’re having fun. And of course you don’t want your blog to look exactly like 500 other ones because that’s not going to do much for you either. But there ARE things you can do that will make your blog and your posts easier for your followers to read, and if you’re interested in having followers at all, those things are worth considering!
I teach writing classes, and a lot of my students enter the class with a great individualistic attitude about writing. (Well, sort of great because it makes them reluctant to listen to me! :p) They see writing as intensely personal and don’t want to follow any “rules” to make them write in a way they don’t see as natural to their own voices. It takes awhile to convince them that, if you’re writing TO someone or writing something you expect other people to read, sometimes you do have to think about how THEY will perceive and interpret your writing, not just how you do.
I’ve seen some negative-toned posts masquerading as advice: “Don’t do X because I hate it and no one will follow you and you’ll look like an amateur!” But I try not to let such angry people bias me against legitimately helpful advice.
As someone who is in her first year as a blogger, I really appreciate blogging advice. I understand that after I have been doing it for a long time, I may end up skipping those kinds of posts; but by then there will be other new bloggers who appreciate them.
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I honestly get kind of annoyed when I see people ranting about advice. Just because someone posts advice doesn’t mean you have to follow it, and it doesn’t mean they’re being pushy.
I think people should 100% put their advice out there. Then it’s up to the readers to read that advice and decide whether or not to follow it. If they decide not to, then fine, they can just move on. But no need to complain about the advice in the first place. Just choose not to follow it. X_X
I think some of it’s a reaction to some of the mean-spirited posts: “If you do X I will HATE your blog and you should be ashamed!” But I’ve also seen some negative reactions to completely legitimate advice. Really, though, no one’s trying to tell you how you “must” blog or implying you’re doing it “wrong.” I think being open-minded about it can be really beneficial. You don’t have to listen to the advice, but sometime it’s worth considering.
I was telling someone in a comment above that I teach writing classes, and one of the things my students always initially struggle with is rebelling against writing “rules” and thinking I’m out to steal their individuality or something. Yes, you can break writing “rules.” You don’t “have” to write in any certain way. But it’s also helpful to be in a place where you don’t consider your writing 100% perfect and in need of no change. It’s the first step to learning something new.
Well said.I like reading posts about advice and I’ve been blogging for a few years now. Someone might have a new idea that I haven’t thought of. I also agree that it would be helpful for new bloggers. I wish I knew a lot of the things that I know now. I don’t think any of the people who post these advice as saying you have to follow them to the letter. I know that I’ve taken ideas from here and ideas from there and created my own style of review posts. I don’t have my own blog, but write for two different ones, so mine may be different from someone who has their own blog completely by themselves. I completely agree that everyone should blog how they want, but a little help along the way is always nice. Great post.
Melanie @ Hot Listens & Rabid Reads
I really like what you say about the “About Page” and “Review List” being an expected part of the genre, like the salutation in a letter.
I would add to this discussion that I believe there are distinct categories of book blogging within the book blogging genre, and that this fact is often overlooked, because book blogging is still such a new frontier it has yet to be really defined. There are those who write reviews on new releases, those who journal reflective thoughts on their latest reads, those who critique, those who host discussions or debates — and those who do all of the above. The audiences vary too. Some write to be social, some to develop a platform, some to professionally discuss literature, some to casually record their thoughts, some to share quotes from current reads, some to write editorials about stances important to them which a recent read has inspired. Some intend their words to build an audience; some are writing to a close circle of friends and like minds, and don’t mind others reading but don’t aim to gain followers.
I believe it’s becoming increasingly important to acknowledge that book blogging has exploded into its own medium filled with distinct genres within the genre. I’ve had people arrive at my blog expecting debate over every word I utter, and since there’s no real definition of book blogging, I have to somehow explain that the cold criticism is unwelcome — wholly unacceptable on a journal style book blog. Likewise, my more emotional, personal approach would be inappropriate on a blog that seeks to analytically assess a work of literature. But because we have no solid way of differentiating different approaches to the genre, we often intrude, expecting our view of book blogging is everyone’s view.
I think the reason so many seem to have expectations about what book blogs must accomplish — while others grow so irritated with all-encompassing blog advice — is we have yet to exactly define book blogging, and recognize that it is has decidedly divergent goals.
This is a good point, and I think the issue is that many bloggers have their own corner of the community and tend to read blogs that are similar to their own blog. Which is not “wrong,” but I think it can still come as a surprise to some bloggers that there are book bloggers who write distinctly different posts from what they’re used to writing and reading themselves.
And I totally agree! Figure out what you want your blog to accomplish and take blog advice from there. Some of it’s worth listening to, while some of it just won’t be relevant to you.
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