My first piece of advice is stop thinking there is a secret. There isn't. It's just like anything else, a bit of dumb luck and a whole lot of hard work. You need to be ready to get to work when the dumb luck hits and you strike gold with something you wrote.
1. Start a blog. Don't talk about it. Don't think about it. Just start. Go to Blogger.com and sign up for a free blog. (I prefer Blogger to WordPress because it can be monetized easier and we all want to get paid don't we?) Your first post can be something as simple as your mission statement: Hello, I'm Liesel and this blog is about my love of hot dogs. I will be traveling around the world sampling hot dogs and giving you my taste test results. If you want a few people to read it, email it to your friends and push it out on your personal Facebook or Twitter.
2. Find your blog topic or theme. Liesel is going to write about hot dogs. I have blogger friends who write about movies, crafting, photography, running or their kids and their day to day activities with them. It doesn't matter what you're going to write about, just pick your topic and go with it. But make sure the topic is something you feel strongly about, because you're going to write about it. A lot. My blog is about me (a topic I never get bored with). It is my place to vent and to get things off my chest. It is my therapy. Because my blog topic is broad, I can deviate all over the place. If you write about your family you can write about many things. If you write about hot dogs, you really can't tell your readers too much about the super cute Christmas wreath you made (unless it's made from hot dogs).
3. Find your voice. I think this is one of the most important parts of blogging. I've read a lot of blogs that are dull and boring. They're dull and boring, because the writer is writing how she thinks she's supposed to write. Bloggers should write how they speak. People who know me in real life tell me all the time: "When I read your post today I could just hear you saying that!" That's what you want on your blog. Write like you're having a conversation with your reader. There will always be blogs that are similar to you, but they won't have your voice.
4. Write like thousands of people are reading you every day. Before I had thousands reading me every day, I had no one except my mom and the occasional pervert searching "deep throat punch." I still wrote quite a bit though. I wrote, not hoping I'd be discovered, but to get my therapy session in. But by doing this, I had built up a nice archive of work so when I was finally noticed people stayed and read. Don't worry that no one is reading you yet, the important thing is to continue writing.
5. Write often. I used to write several times a month and now I try to write 3-5 times a week. The more you write, the more people come back - as long as what you're writing is valuable. I write whole stories and sagas, but that's not necessary. A lot of really popular bloggers only write a few sentences each time. I'm not that good with words. I can't narrow down a whole rant into 3 succinct sentences. Whatever you write - 3 sentences or 3 pages, just make sure it's worth your reader's time. Teach them something, entertain them, move them, inspire them. Just make them want to come back tomorrow.
6. Just know that sometimes what you write sucks. No one is on their game 100% of the time. Just know that you will have some posts that you put out there and you will say, "Wow, that one was shit. I gotta do better tomorrow."
7. Also realize that sometimes your readers will tell you that your latest offering sucked. Not all blogs are this way, but mine is. I have passionate readers who are a lot like me: mouthy and opinionated. They don't bullshit or candy coat it. They tell me straight up: "That fucking sucked." Which brings me to my next piece of advice:
8. Get a thick skin. This is tough for writers. We are putting ourselves out there. We are putting our thoughts, feelings, opinions, and heart out there for everyone to read, critique, and comment on. There are some people who will stomp on you. They might say, "Liesel, you're so damn ugly and I hate you and your hot dogs! No wonder you write about hot dogs -you look like a dog!" I'm not going to lie. It hurts. A lot at first. But you build up that thick skin and you focus on the positive. You focus on the readers who write to you and tell you that you've inspired them or motivated them or cheered up their cancer treatment and then you say, "Fuck the trolls." With success comes haters, but for every hater there are hundreds who will love you - even Liesel's asinine hot dog blog. "Your review of the Chicago Dog was right on! Love you, Liesel and I would eat a hot dog anywhere with you!"
9. Monetize your blog. About 5 months into blogging I started noticing Google Ads. I thought you had to be a big time blogger to get Google Ads. You don't. Blogger makes it very easy to put ads on your blog. I was getting about 300 page views a day when I put the ads up and so I made a few cents every day. It was better than nothing. My ads were in place when I went viral the first time and I was able to turn that into cash in my pocket. I don't know about you, but I put a lot of hours into my blog and even if I can only make enough to pay for my next Sonic drink every little bit counts.
10. Start a Facebook page and a Twitter account for the blog and make it easy for your readers to get to them. Use the BIG buttons, people. I did not do this before I went viral and I wish I would have. The first day I went viral I set up both of these and directed my new fans to them. It's just another place where you can connect with your readers. I've seen lots of FB pages that only had a few hundred people a few months ago grow to thousands. I utilize FB more than Twitter. I find that I am more comfortable on FB, but there are other bloggers who are just the opposite. It's whatever you want. I would also add, get a Pinterest account. I pin my blogs and other funny stuff and I get hundreds of hits each day from Pinterest.
11. Write for larger blogs. Contact bigger websites and see if you can guest blog or repost some of your better pieces. This was something else I didn't know before. There are lots of larger blogs looking for content and you don't need to be a big time blogger to write for them. Just contact them and see if they're interested in your "Best Hot Dogs of the Midwest County Fair Season" article. You rarely get paid, but you get good exposure for your blog. OK, when I wrote this one, I didn't mean me. I'm not big enough to get you the kind of exposure I'm talking about here. I mean contact Huffington Post or Circle of Moms or BlogHer. Those are the big dogs that can really help you get noticed. I'm small potatoes.
12. OK, this is great, Jen. I do all of this already, but what I really want to know is how can I go viral? Everyone wants to know this little secret. Here's the thing, my biggest one to date was a complete fluke. The stars aligned without me even realizing it. Looking back and analyzing it I can tell you a few things I learned.
You need to write something topical. When I wrote the Elf piece it was several weeks until Christmas. My post was dormant until about a week later when a major newspaper ran a story about Elf antics and so searches went up and my blog was discovered by a few readers. My voice and my spin on the story of the Elf resonated with readers and I was passed around Facebook, Twitter and someplace I'd never heard of: Pinterest, like a venereal disease on a college campus. Actually, I prefer to think it was more like that old shampoo commercial: "And she told two people, and they told two people, and so on and so on..."
I have managed to get a few more viral posts and they were all topical.
Another crowd pleaser are lists. Readers love lists. Two viral posts I have are lists of rules for daughters and rules for sons. Both were my punchy take on sweet, sappy lists making the rounds of the blogosphere. Again - my voice was what set them apart.
And just because my voice is snarky and sarcastic, doesn't meant that's all people want to read. There are tons of sweet, wholesome, heart-warming posts that get passed around too. They just weren't mine. They went viral, because they were true to their writers' voices.
13. Comment and "network" with other bloggers. This is where I fail miserably. In theory it's a wonderful idea and I've seen other bloggers do it with great success, but not me. I've never been a real joiner of any kind. I feel very phony networking and there is no way I can pretend I like someone's shitty blog when I don't. And you know me - if I don't like someone's blog, I'm definitely going to have to say something about it...
No, if you ever see me comment on a blog, it's because I absolutely wanted to, not because I did it for networking purposes. If I was a better blog networker I'd probably have double the followers I have now, but I just can't do it.
I hope this helps and answers your blogging questions. If you have more, add them in the comments and if I know the answer I'll update this post. Good luck and get writing!
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