I received a generous and encouraging email this week from a reader asking advice on how to get his blog “out there,” and how to go about being featured on Freshly Pressed. Thank you for the question, Timur – I’ll do my best to answer. I am no expert on either of these issues, but I am happy to talk about the things I do that have helped Butterfly Mind to grow.
1. Write. The writing comes first. Better writing leads to better reading, which leads to following and sharing and maybe even Freshly Pressing. So I write. Every day. I switch my routines around, sometimes waking and going directly to the computer to write whatever comes out, sometimes sitting by the window with my composition book, sometimes capturing voice memos while I’m dripping after the shower, then transcribing them later when I’m dry. However I can make it happen, I write every day.
2. Post Regularly. Though I write every day, I do not post every day. I would become overwhelmed by that amount of public productivity, and I think my readers would too. However, I do post regularly, at least twice a week. I hear over and over again (and it makes sense), that the more content there is on a website, the easier it is for people to come across it. Likewise, regular activity on my page gives it energy, keeps it from getting stale, and keeps Butterfly Mind closer to the top in the WordPress Reader when folks are scanning their feeds, browsing tags, or searching for specific keywords. If I have current work, readers won’t have to scroll as far down to find me.
3. Write naturally. I (attempt to) write in my voice. With 240 million registered blogs out there, more than 69 million of which are at WordPress.com, the only thing I can do to make mine unique is to be me. My most popular posts, including the two that were Freshly Pressed, came out of me as if I were sitting and having a conversation with a friend. They flowed. They were Andrea. I could have been saying them out loud. If I’m having trouble finding my voice, but I have something I know I want to write, I switch my perspective so that I’m writing to my friend. My journal has several entries that begin, “Dear Amy.”
4. Look at it as practice. Butterfly Mind is both a playground and a laboratory. I have a ten year plan of supplementing our family income through writing when the kids move away and I re-enter the workforce. With this blog I am practicing. I do not plan to monetize Butterfly Mind (unless someone wants to give me money – I’m willing to talk) or make a name for myself in the blogging world. I mention this because I am under no pressure, and I think that affects my writing in a positive way. I use this blog to experiment and play. To write and see what happens. In the process, I develop my voice, discover what resonates with readers, and build an author platform. Hopefully, eventually, ten years from now, if I ever get the confidence for it, all this practice will prepare me for the work of writing for submission.
The Blog Layout
Make life as easy as possible for your reader.
5. Match your theme to your content: From the beginning, I approached my site from the point of view of a writer instead of a blogger. I wanted the reader to get that right away – that the words are important. I selected a minimalist theme, the Oulipo theme, with a white background, no graphics, and no photos (except my headshot) because I wanted Butterfly Mind to look like a page – in a book, in a literary magazine – to enhance the reader’s experience and to inspire me towards where I ultimately want to find my work. I wanted the writing to take center stage, and the look of my blog helps keep me true to that focus.
6. Tell your reader who you are: When I read a writer I love, I want to know more about her, so the first piece I wrote for Butterfly Mind was the About page. I knew it was important that that page captured my voice and identity, so that if someone read my work and wanted to learn more about me, they’d walk away with something memorable. I sent my bio drafts to a dear friend who knows me really well (hi again, Amy :-)) to make sure I got it right. Later, I added the short author bio that I use when I’m submitting work for publication. Now my About page has both a quick blurb (less than 100 words), with my name up front, and a longer story with more personality. A NOTE: Bloggers, please, please, please include your name in your bio! I often want to respond to your work and call you by name, “I loved this piece, Rob,” but I am amazed sometimes by how challenging it is to find the person behind the blog. Anonymity, or a person who seems like she is trying to hide, is very difficult to connect with.
7. Declutter your sidebars: When I’m on a site I like, I often want to dig deeper into the writer’s world. What else has she written? Is he on Twitter? I’ve tried to provide that information on my site in case a reader is curious. To the left sidebar I added a Table of Contents (which needs updating), Links I Like (a blogroll, essentially), an explanation of the Butterfly Mind title, a Guestbook, and various other reference type pages that I would make life easier for readers who want to connect or learn more. I tried to keep the sidebars clean so that readers don’t have to dig, or scroll forever, to find what they’re looking for. (If you’ve ever looked for something on my blog and couldn’t find it, please let me know so I can make it easier).
8. Foster evolution: When I’m going through a slump in my writing, I will often work behind the scenes on my site. Right now I’m considering adding a byline to each post, or a footer that includes a bio blurb with links to my Twitter and Facebook pages. I’m also considering categories. For now, those are just ideas for a rainy day.
The Networking, aka ENGAGING
This is where the getting “out there” happens. I’ll try to hit on the ways I network but the main thing to remember is that building a blog and building a network take time. Be easy on yourself. It doesn’t happen overnight.
9. Twitter. I tweet @andreabadgley. I’ve been on Twitter about four years and could write a whole post on how I use Twitter, but the short story is that I follow a lot of writers, blogs, literary journals, and news outlets whose work I admire (see my words list for the writerly folks I follow). I read tons of content; tweet like I talk; retweet quality articles and blog posts; engage with friends, writers, locals, readers, editors; and link to new content on my blog.
10. Facebook. My Facebook page is much younger (less than a year?), and my following there reflects its youth (Please follow me on Facebook. I’m desperate.). Because it’s a different outlet, I use Facebook differently than the way I use Twitter. I post photos, funny venn diagrams, and occasional thoughts, share quality content from other sites, and when I’ve written something new on Butterfly Mind, I link to it on my Facebook page.
11. Respond to comments on your site. Comment thoughtfully on others’. I appreciate my readers, and love when someone takes the time and thought to leave a comment on one of my posts. I show my appreciation by responding to their comments. I place a lot of value on this now, and responding to comments has moved up my priority list when I sit down at my computer – I want my readers to know that I understand it takes time, thought, and energy to leave a comment, and I’m honored they made the effort on my site. I also read and comment on others’ blogs, including The Daily Post at WordPress.com and those journals, and news outlets, and writers and editors I follow on Twitter. I don’t drop links or try to get them to come to my blog. I simply share my reaction and response to what they’ve written, especially if it inspires me. And I really like to engage them by name. Hint hint. (Put your name in your bio.)
12. Tag. I tag my posts with relevant key words. Sometimes I use the Freshly Pressed page to find tags that are trending. If any of those tags (parenting, writing, culture) correspond to my content, I will include them in my post.
13. Play in your blog community. A couple of times a month, I engage in a WordPress challenge, whether it’s a photo challenge, a writing challenge, or one of the daily prompts. I link to the challenge somewhere in my piece, which results in a pingback on the original WordPress post, which helps other participants find my blog.
14. Work hard. Work consistently. This all takes patience and time, but it pays off. I worked at everything on this list, consistently, for almost a year (11 months) before I hit 500 followers. At that point, there seemed to be a snowball effect, so that now, only 4 months after reaching the 500 milestone, Butterfly Mind is at more than 1600 readers (thank you, y’all!).
15. Write. Did I mention the writing? Yeah, that part is key. Better writing leads to better reading, which leads to following and sharing and maybe even Freshly Pressing. All the blog layout and networking in the world won’t do anything for my blog if it doesn’t have decent content. So I write. Every Day. And then I write some more.
I hope that helped, Timur. For more detailed information from the editors at WordPress.com regarding the Freshly Pressed selections, please see their article So You Want To Be Freshly Pressed. My advice, though, is do not chase the accolades – trying too hard might get in your way. It always does for me. Be easy. Be yourself. Keep writing, in your voice, and maybe one day they will come.