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Spring-cleaning the blogsite

springcleaningI know officially we are still in winter in the northern hemisphere so it might be a little premature to think about spring-cleaning. And indeed I’m nowhere ready to throw open all doors and windows into the house to let in the clean air which was my grandmother’s preparation for cleaning the house top to bottom. It’s far too cold right now for that kind of malarkey.  But with the fifth anniversary of this blog imminent it feels the right time to do a bit of a dust and polish of the site. I’ve also been goaded into action by some tips shared via a podcast I follow called Pro-Blogger which has some useful advice on how to make your blog more effective.

I’m gradually working my way through all the 100-plus editions of the podcast. Some are not relevant because they are designed for people who want to monetise their site or have a self-hosted domain. But one piece of advice I’ve started to follow is about improving old content.

Darren, the guy behind Pro-Blogger says he has a weekly habit to revisit old posts and assess if they can be improved – maybe redirecting links to more recent content, adding new ones or updating the content with more current information.   His point is a few minutes spent on tweaks can mean readers get a better experience of the site. Plus each time you refresh the page, it is crawled by Google so you get more chance your site will be included in search engine results.

I’ve started with my posts from year one of the blog. What an eye-opener that has been. When I started back in 2012 I really didn’t know a) how to blog b)how to write a good review. So the early posts were very insubstantial. No links, no formatting of text to help guide readers around the page more easily, no photos to break up the text. These are all changes I’ve been making over the past week. I’ve also changed categories, tags and headings. Often I’m making small cosmetic changes such as ensuring consistency in the format and colour used for headings and book titles. I don’t want to alter the actual content unless I think a reader would get to the end of it and wonder why they bothered wasting their time. So with a few of them got more of an overhaul – like my first Booker prize title review The Elected Member by Bernice Rubens where I combined the review with some earlier published content about the author.

I’ll finish 2012 by the end of the week and then move onto the next 12 months. It’s something I can do easily in about 20 minutes per post and watch TV at the same time.

One positive thing has come out of this exercise – it’s shown me than in five years though I still consider myself to be still very much a learner, I have definitely improved.

How are your blogging skills?

Though I’ve learned a lot in the last five years there are still aspects of blogging that mystify me so I’ve been making a conscious effort to learn how to fix issues and some new techniques. What have you learned recently that has made a difference to your own blogging?

Review: The Bloggers Survival Guide

BloggersguideAny book that purports to be a “How to xxxxx” guide is going to be a tough one for an author to get right.

If they assume some readers have absolutely zero knowledge of the subject then the temptation will be to start  with a very basic level of instruction or explanation. But that risks frustrating readers who already know the basics. Progress too quickly beyond the basics in order to satisfy these more advanced readers, and it’s the beginners who end up frustrated.

When the subject is one that’s changing as quickly as blogging, the challenge gets even harder. For by the time you get into print, those social media sites you highlighted may no longer exist or may have changed their features or rules, thus making your carefully crafted tips somewhat redundant. A book like The Bloggers Survival Guide by Lexi Lane and Becky McNeer is consequently going to have a relatively short shelf life.

This book is subtitled Tips & Tricks for Parent Bloggers,Wordsmiths and Enthusiasts. Not only doesn’t this exactly trip off the tongue, it also doesn’t represent the contents very well. There is actually little in here which speaks to people who want to write blogs specifically about parenting or childcare so it’s baffling why the authors elected for such a precise title.

What you get instead is a step by step guide for anyone who wants to set up a blog of any description. The early chapters deal with the basics like choosing a blog platform and a name, organising the content effectively and then progress onto the more advanced techniques of search engine optimisation, using social media to promote your blog and finally into the arena of how to turn your blog into a money-making venture.

The quality of the content is patchy however. You won’t find much discussion on the thorny question of choosing the right topic area upon which to focus the blog, or how to generate quality articles/posts — these topics are dealt with very sketchily as if the authors assume you have already know how to do this. It didn’t give me a lot of confidence to see in chapter one a comment to the effect that the authors wouldn’t cover  many of the aspects of setting up a blog using WordPress because the WordPress tutorials themselves were excellent. Rather an own goal I fear.

Fortunately they redeem this defect with some more substantive information and guidance later in the book, plenty of practical suggestions and good references to other sources of information. If you want a flavour of the value this book can bring, I captured 5 top tips to improve a blogsite in a recent post.  Bear in mind as you dip into it, that the frame of reference is very much a North American one (the chapter on legal issues, while good, doesn’t mention any European directives for example) and there is no reference to blogging practices in countries where there are more restrictions on social media.

In short this isn’t a perfect instruction manual by any means but if will certainly help people to get up and running and will also help more experienced people who want to learn how to make their blog sparkle.

Endnote

The Bloggers Survival Guide is published in paperback form by Wayman Publishing (2013). My copy was provided by the publishers via LibraryThing Early Reviewers.

What kind of heroine are you?

If you were the heroine of a book what genre would it be? What book would you like to be on the cover of?

Those were the tough questions posed by the three  literature aficianados over at Pages Unbound who allowed  me to take up valuable real estate on their blog site today for their blogger interviews feature. It’s a bit of a shock to open a web page to find yourself staring back at you. Even more of a surprise to realise I’d said so much – I hadn’t realised I was wittering on at such length in reply to the challenging questions they posed.

If you want to know the answers to the questions above, and many more, step over to  Pages Unbound and look at the interview.

When you’re tired of my ramblings, there are many other interesting features to explore including some personality quizzes, author interviews and – of course – some book reviews.

Thanks  to Briana, Krysta and Nora for giving me the chance to do the interview…..

 

Happy Birthday Booker Talk

Exactly one year ago today  (I even watched the clock so I could say that) I pushed the publish button on my first post on this blog.  The first few posts were very tentative forays but like all new babies, this offspring developed rapidly thanks to the help and encouragement of many other bloggers. I’ve even mastered some of the lingo (I no longer need to reach for the dictionary to decipher blog hops, memes and readathons).

babylegs So what have I learned?

Lesson number 1:  Make Time to Blog. writing and managing a blog takes far more time than I ever anticipated. Blogs do not write themselves. Writing, finding photos, replying to comments, thinking of the next topic, playing with the design. Phew……this could easily be a full time job.

Lesson number 2:  Think Beyond Numbers I’ve discovered that I am ridiculously thrilled when someone posts a comment or a ‘like’ — it  tells me that there is someone somewhere out there that is interested. I’m not interested in building a large number of followers —I’d rather have a small number that engage in a discussion with me than hundreds of followers who never bother to say anything. Fortunately I’ve made many new virtual friends who regularly drop in on this blog and whose blogs I follow regularly. And they’ve been kind enough to help me find my feet.

Lesson number 3: Be Flexible. The blog has undergone a few changes since I started. In the first post I said I planned to read all the Booker prize winning novels and to write about them.  I thought I would be writing only about the Booker prize or about the authors themselves. But I quickly realised that was too limiting a topic and there were so many other aspects of reading that interested me (plus I am not disciplined enough to confine my reading just to those authors). So now the topics are much broader – from classics to world literature and more recently, the history of the novel.

Lesson number 4: Blogging about Books is Risky.  I already had a Alpine size pile of unread books when I started this venture a year ago. That’s now grown to Rockies proportions and just keeps growing. Every time I read a posting on another blog, I add it to my wishlist and look out for it next time I’m in a charity shop or bookstore. There are now easily 3 years worth of books to read and that’s not counting ones I want to re-read or ones that I haven’t even bought yet but which I know I will buy (my excuse is I need them because they are Booker winners or on my classics club list or on my Reading the World challenge….)

Lesson number 5; Experiment I write extensively in my professional life so I thought writing a blog wouldn’t be that difficult. But it requires a different style of writing than I’m accustomed to using. I’m not convinced I’ve found the natural style I want yet so I keep trying different tones of voice and approaches.

Lesson number 6: Join the Party Writing a blog can be a lonely experience if all you do is commit your thoughts to the virtual page and press send. Blogging is all about communication and communication is a two way street. So unless you just want a personal diary (in which case go and buy a notebook) then you need to participate in other groups and engage with other people. The more I’ve followed other blogs and commented on them, the more interesting this enterprise has become. I get a window on the lives of many people and can share their love of literature even if we agree to disagree on certain authors. How else would I get to know what a book club in Singapore was reading last week?

Mistakes – of course I’ve made a few, but then again too few to mention. So I won’t…….. I’ll just say thanks to everyone who follows, comments or just reads – and look forward to celebrating my next birthday with you all.  OK it’s time to blow out the candles now…

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