Monday 28 September 2009


Two days ago, I talked about whether and when authors need "platforms"  -  see here. And I explained what I meant by that prosaic and commercial word. Don't shy away just because you don't like the word. That would be ostrichesque.

There is no doubt that a very good way to start to build a platform is to blog. Many of you already do. Many of your blogs were mentioned and visited during the Blogoffee Party on Friday.

But, newbies, or those who haven't found their blogging way yet, must remember:
  1. There are other good reasons for writers to blog, not just platform construction
  2. You have to blog properly for it to have effect

Good reasons for writers to blog, in no particular order:
  1. The opportunity to make contacts  -  thereby creating a possible platform and leading to unpredictable things, such as an influential person happening to like what you do and promoting you in some small way which could lead to a big way. (You can't/shouldn't be contrived about this  -  just let it happen).
  2. The opportunity to follow other blogs about writing and by writers and industry professionals  -  thereby increasing knowledge of the whole business, making you more publishable and better prepared
  3. The opportunity to make friends amongst other writers  -  an excellent reason and result 
  4. The opportunity to write  -  when you blog you are writing; and writing, writing anything, is GOOD for a writer. More than good: essential
  5. The opportunity to get instant feedback  -  the book you are writing now, even if it is snapped up, won't be published until perhaps two years from now. Your blog posts are published with the click of a finger and read seconds later.
But, how do you blog properly? (By properly, I mean if you want people to read what you write. If it wasn't, you'd just write a private diary. So, "properly" means at least slightly publicly. Of course, perhaps you do just write your blog for private consumption  -  fine, but that's not what I'm talking about here.)

Here are my rules for successful and happy blogging:
  1. have something to say  -  content is king. What you had for breakfast is not interesting unless it is interesting. We all have breakfast  -  why would I spend time reading about yours? People need a reason to read you and people are busy. There are countless blogs they could be reading. If you haven't got something that will hold an audience for a long post, be brief  -  a lesson I should really learn myself...
  2. be yourself  -  since you need to develop a voice and since you have to blog often,  spontaneously, and over many months, being yourself makes it much easier to sustain. 
  3. but, while being yourself, have a theme, a feel, a "brand". (Sorry to go all markety  - call it a personal style instead, if you like.) It is possible to blog about a range of things, but people need to know what to expect when they come to your blog. For example, you expect me to give publishing advice in a more or less crabbit way; in the process, you expect me sometimes to sound off vaguely amusingly and certainly trenchantly, and to go gooey over chocolate, boots and sparkly wine. That's my "brand"  -  it's also utterly me.
  4. have links to relevant blogs on your blog. Do keep them relevant though, or sort them into topics. Again, it's about people needing to know what to expect and therefore why they should spend time with you. Why should they visit? Will they have fun, learn something, connect with others? Or what?
  5. if stuck for something to say one day, post links to relevant things you find  -  videos, articles or pics. You don't need permission to link to anyone else's blog but quoting substantially from another person's words is breaking the law, so ask. Chances are they'll be delighted. A short quote (and there's no definition of short ...) comes under "fair use " (US) or "fair dealing" (UK) and requires no permission, though you must always credit the writer, provide the source and quote 100% accurately. Some bloggers include a message about what permission you need  -  see mine in the bottom right column.
  6. keep your blog tidy and well-organised so people can find what you want them to find
  7. blog regularly. Two to three times a week is good; once a week is acceptable but is probably the minimum if you want to keep your readers growing.
  8. link to Twitter  -  I'll be talking about Twitter next Monday.
  9. your blog should not just be about you, unless you are completely fascinating. Or even, frankly, if you are. A blog has to be more giving than that. This is so important that I will now elaborate:
If you create a blog purely to promote yourself, you will fail. Or at least you will only succeed in promoting yourself as a selfish bugger full of your own self-importance. Blogging is a shared activity, something which should give as much as it takes. If you blog selfishly and self-importantly, you are like those irritating people who stand around at parties a) looking over my shoulder while talking to me, in case there's someone more interesting / useful they could talk to and b) never asking questions because they only want to hear their own voices. Also, these ugly characters may seem very confident and successful but, trust me, their pride and arrogance will destroy them in the end, or at the very least they will make enemies who will snipe at them behind their backs and not buy their books. I have on many occasions not bought the book of an author who behaves like that. 

This sharing aspect means that you must visit other blogs, comment and get involved. What you can't do is go to someone else's blog and jump into the comments with a plug for your blog. This is very bad blog form. If by chance you've just blogged about the same thing, it would be acceptable to mention this, but give due credit and praise to the blog you are visiting. Be very polite. You wouldn't turn up at someone's house uninvited and start telling them about your success. I hope...

I've read (can't remember where) a paradigm of the rules of promotion in this context, which states that there should be 60% take and 40% give. I'd put it the other way round. If you give more than you take, I think this is better in the long run, makes you more friends, and allows for a slow-burn of success. It feels better too. Maybe that's just me but I'd absolutely hate it if people thought I was doing any of this cynically or selfishly.

There's a thin line between promoting your work and showing off. Of course, not everyone will agree where the line is...

But this brings me to a personal point: those who don't know me well may be thinking, "What, so all this apparent generosity on Nicola Morgan's part, all this providing of info for free, actually is all about creating a platform for herself? She's not really a chocolate-loving, sexy-boot-wearing, sparkly-wine-loving, pseudo-crabbit old bat  -  this is just a persona she has built in order to promote herself as a brand?"

Believe three things: 
  1. I really am that person  -  there is nothing contrived here at all
  2. I started the blog for one reason only  -  I wanted to help writers not approach agents and editors in really stupid ways, because I kept seeing them doing it and it really bugged me. I woke up one morning, early, and started, spontaneously, after a particularly annoying incident where some unpublished writers had shown inexcusable ignorance.
  3. I have continued blogging for one reason only  -  I love doing it, absolutely love it. I hope that shines through. But I love meeting people in all sorts of ways  - parties, dinners, meetings, events, festivals. I am, frankly, a communication and contact junkie. It was only once I got going that I realised that I was inadvertently (but happily, I admit) developing some kind of "platform".
None of this is difficult. I only started eight months ago. I knew nothing, just made it up as I went, learning from others, and making generous contacts. I owe a huge amount to two fellow bloggers in particular, Jane Smith and Lynn Price. I think the way we all respect each other and share ideas, where in a non-blogging environment we could be rivals ready to kill each other with our stilettos, is a beauty of blogging. So many other amongst you have contributed too, and I am grateful to you all. I think we have a great community of people serious about writing, at all different stages of our careers.

Still not convinced of the practical point? In the last two weeks alone I have been contacted by seven very decent bloggers who wanted me to do interviews or guest posts on their blogs. Two of the results are here (no need to see both, as they are the same interview on two different blogs). America Reads and What are Writers Reading? Another is going up in a few days and was amusing to do  -  it was Coffee With a Canine, in which my dog gets to eat biscuits on the sofa and tell squirrel-chasing stories. The others are in progress.

But wouldn't a marketing person want to measure increased sales? Maybe they would, but me? Nah, I'm having way too much fun just writing. Yes, if I could be bothered, I could list positive things that have happened, but I'm not going to. I will just say that I have learnt a lot and that value the conversations we've all had here. And if I hadn't sold a single extra book, I honestly wouldn't mind, though I know very well that I have. You've told me.

So, thank you for allowing me to blog at you so lengthily. (Yes, I know, often too lengthily.) And now, get back to your blogs and prepare for publication...

Meanwhile, I'm off to blog about Twittering, to be posted next Monday. And be aware that I'm away all this week so can't easily reply to your comments, but I will be reading them. I have eyes everywhere.


Thomas Taylor said...

I think the give/take thing is very important to get right. I don't have as much to give in my own blog as I'd like, but I do try to make sure that my navel gazing is at least as well written and interesting as I can make it. There are far too many look-at-my-breakfast bloggers out there.

I try hard to not be one of them.

Unknown said...

Thanks for this, Nicola.
I'm fairly pleased I tick one or two of the 'How to' boxes, and agree totally with the remarks behind the self-centred bloggers and, for want of a better word, boring, bloggers out there.
You're right - if you care and genuinely want to help and communicate with others then the 'platform' will naturally take care of itself.
Glad I found you.

Jane Smith said...

Nicola, you're right as usual.

One thing that has become obvious to me over the year or so that I've been blogging is that if you want to promote your own blog, the best way to do that is to work out what your readers want and give it to them in spades. So, when I wanted to attract more readers I spent some time working out how I could give those new readers some new readers of their own (are you with me so far?). My Pitch Party was born, in which I asked people to pitch their own blogs in my comments thread, on the condition that everyone who pitched had to visit three of the other blogs pitched and leave comments there. I've held two pitch parties now and each was a riot, resulting in hundreds of new readers, new comments, and a lot of fun, much like your recent blog party which I'm embarrassed to say I missed (sorry).

Another thing I found very good was when I asked bloggers to join in with me on an anti-plagiarism day. I announced that I'd be blogging about plagiarism in two weeks' time, and that if anyone else did so I'd link to their piece from mine: again, lots of cross-links and comments were generated and my blog found a whole new wave of new readers (in fact it worked so well that I'm planning another event, this one based around a whole new discussion: all will be revealed soon).

The best thing that blogging has bought to me isn't a platform, or an income, or any of that, though: I've found all sorts of new friends who are brilliant, funny and kind. Some even send me chocolate. You know who you are, Nicola Morgan!

Catherine Hughes said...

I'm afriad I can't meet all of teh criteria you've stated, becaus my blog is pretty much about me. But it is written with the hope that it might help others in certain circumstances, and I do link to other relevant blogs (especially this one) and to articles across the web that help to illustrate what I'm trying to say.

I'm often inspired by news articles (like the story about the lady carrying someone else's IVF embryo) too. So hopefully I'm not too boring!

The interesting thing about blogging is that it is multi-purpose. I wasn't the only one involved in the Blogoffee Morning to note that it really made me feel a part of a community. And certain community sites do allow their members to blog (Litopia does) as well as to communicate through messageboards etc.

But some CEO's blog to keep their clients up-to-date; other companies have customer service blogs whereby they air common customer problems for quick and easy reference. Some people, as you say, Nicola, create blogs that are really only intended for friends and family to see - I had one such on my old website, chronicling my recovery from surgery. And other blogs are public, but really just intended to keep up with friends rather than to attract a wider audience.

Your blog can be whatever you want it to be.

Donna Gambale said...

I've also become very very fond of blogging -- much more than I originally anticipated when First Novels Club started in April. It keeps me excited about writing, the industry and YA novels in general because I pick up on other bloggers' enthusiasm. And as FNC's figuring out its own little niche in the blogosphere, we're having so much fun!

... Now I'm pretty anti-Twitter, so I look forward to your next post to see if it changes my mind!

Anonymous said...

I'm gonna say it again: offering a non-contrived persona on a blog--who you really are--works wonders if you're as lovely as Nicola. (Does she look like Emma Thompson in real life, too?) Sadly, if your personality is a crabbed and shrunken thing, it's best to stick to sporadic commenting, wherein you can maintain the fiction of appropriate behavior.

I started a blog, and immediately wrote three posts in three days, each of which slammed a different blogging agent for a post that I found idiotic. Then I remembered why I don't blog.


Marshall Buckley said...

I'm looking forward to the Twitter blog.

Despite being an IT Techy by trade (please don't hold that against me, I try not to talk about it because I know how boring it is to everyone else) I just can't get to grips with Twitter.

But I'm more than happy to be educated.

Nicola Morgan said...

Donna - Twitter is something that can grow on you, but I don't really seek to persuade about it! I definitely think you can live perfectly well, and be successful, without it. The Twitter post is coming next Monday. I would say that you can't really know whether it's for you until you've done it properly for several weeks.

Thomas - eggsactly.

Col - thanks. Yes, it's about giving more than taking, definitely, and then, as you say, the "platform" follows. And you forget you even wanted one.

Jane, I sent you chocolate? What a crawler I am. But you have taught me more than anyone about this blogging lark. You influential person, you.

Catherine - "your blog can be anything you want it to be2 - absolutely. BUT, if you want it to become a "platform2 then you have to do it certain ways. You blog from the heart and you have a lot of interesting and human stoires to tell - that's your way and it's a good one. I think you meet more of the criteria than you may think. Don't do yourself down!

Proe - I like you more each time you comment! Yes, it is certainly important to disguise any particularly unpleasant bits of personaolity (most of us have them) and being crabbit is an art in itself, I like to think. I am engaging in a very clever double bluff, i think: I say I'm crabbit, people soon learn that I'm a pussycat, whereas in fact (as my husband will tell you) I'm as crabbit as hell.

Nicola Morgan said...

Marshall - didn't mean to miss you out of that reply, but you commented at the same time as I did. I don't regard myself as a Twitter expert. But I am a convert. On the other hand, i am not evangelical about it: I think it can work well (all depends on a) who you follow and are followed by and b) how you use it. It takes a lot of getting used to and you need to do it for a number of weeks seriously before judging whether it's for you.

Can't remember if I said, but I'm away from tomorrow so difficult to comment much.

Lynnette Labelle said...

Great post. My brain's kind of mush this morning, so I have nothing to add. LOL Besides, you did a great job.

Lynnette Labelle

The Voice said...

Very helpful post. I'll off to rework my blogs.

Catherine Hughes said...

Thanks Nicola!

I couldn't - and wouldn't want to - change the remit of the blog now, but I am considering starting one that focusses more on my writing than on my life-in-general as madcap mother of four living in choas!

Trouble is, I haven't really enough experience to blog about writing so would probably be confined to such posts as 'Love It When a Story Comes Together' and 'Rejection Letter of the Day'!!

Perhaps, when I am lucky enough to get an agent, I'll document the journey in case it's useful. I'm not yet convinced I could add anything to what's already out there, though.

But I do love blogging and will continue for as long as that remains the case. As for Twitter, well, maybe I should give it a go. I did once, a while back, and wasn't that taken with it, but we'll see.

Suzie F. said...

Your advice, as usual, has hit home with me, Nicola.
I'm going to admit that I'm a baby-stepper. The first time I commented on a site with a username my heart was pounding. I've come a long way since that day, and even have a 'friends only' LJ account, but I'm still holding back when it comes to blogging.

2009 has been a year of growth for me. First, by starting 2 novels, then by deciding to take my writing seriously and learning all I can about the agent/publishing business. Now I'm trying to reach out to the writing community by commenting here and there. I want that growth to continue in 2010.

This process has meant stretching myself even when it feels strange and uncomfortable, but it's also opening up a whole new world that I think I want to be a part of.
Baby steps, but I'll get there. And my New's Year resolution just may be starting my own blog.

Marion Gropen said...

FWIW, you DID get at least one sale from the blog. You mentioned your book on the teenaged brain, and I went out and bought one. And after reading through it, I handed it to my soon-to-be-tween daughter.

(By the way, loved the book -- the information was well organized, and the writing was wonderful. Just the right mix of authority and whimsy.)

Rebecca Knight said...

Wonderful points!

As I was reading this, I was thinking of all the reasons your blog became one of my absolue must-read-favorites after only visiting a couple of times. I think for me, as a blog reader, it comes down to a couple of things:

1) Personality.
2) Helpfulness.

I love learning, and I love meeting new and fabulous people, and if I feel like I'm doing both at the same time, I'm SOLD!

However, like you said, the personality part goes down the drain if I feel along the way that this blog is just for boosting their ego. It's odd and sort of embarrassing to watch when that happens. Their definitely needs to be a balance of being helpful, providing interesting info, AND being a likeable person.

Great post, and thanks again for the lovely party the other day :D. I found new blogs that I love!

Robin walker said...

Thanks for the blogging post. I look forward to the Twitter post. I don't Twitter myself. So far, anyway. I've resisted it because, what with the writers site I belong to, and Facebook, and the blogs I follow, plus the new ones I found on the coffee morning, I feel I am falling towards reading all about writing, but not actually doing it. Still, a quick whizz through your Twitter post can't do any harm, can it?

Simon Kewin said...

Another timely post - I was worrying just a little that I was spending too much time writing posts and fiddling around with Google Analytics and that on my blog, but now I'm reassured that I've been Building a Platform.

Your point about networking is spot on - I found several new blogs to follow in the recent blogoffee morning.

I look forward to the Twitter piece. That's alwayse seemed like too much hassle but I remain open-minded!

Nicola Morgan said...

Robin - ooh, I think that reading my post about Twitter could do a LOT of harm!!

No, I think many of you are going to be hard to convince re Twitter. To be honest, I'm really not wanting to convince you, just tell you what i get out of it, point you towards how to try it for yourselves and then let you get on with it.

Yes, there absolutely is a danger of us all reading too much about writing instead of writing. What I am more in danger of is writing about writing instead of writing!

Rebecca Knight said...

The fun thing about Twitter, is that people can actually hold you accountable while you are writing, by demanding updates on how many words you've written, etc :P.

Hashtags like #amwriting connect to other writers, and because of that, to peer pressure. Haha!

Unknown said...

My blog is still an infant. With something like 5 posts. But I'm proud to announce, I made a non navel gazing one today. :P I even have more planned for the future!

(jumps excitedly) :D

David John Griffin said...

Hi Nicola, I've learned aspects from reading your posts, more than any other, concerning "the craft of blogging"; in particular your upbeat, informative and friendly style, and helpfulness which I am trying to emulate in my blog.

One piece of advice for new bloggers I'm sure you'll agree with: have patience as far as followers are concerned. It takes a while for one's blog to be noticed amongst the many others. Keep hopeful that at least a few other people are reading your words, and the longer you blog, the more will eventually read.

Finally, I'd like to mention one of your classic phrases I read in one of your comments on another blog: "Beware the blog bog!" I'm certain you mean that spending too much time on the blog could result in a poorer performance with your actual writing.

(I've just remembered another classic phrase, when you were referring to the slush pile, that most were "eye-bleedingly awful". Excellent stuff! :)

Melinda Szymanik said...

yay! thats exactly it. You really have clarified a lot of things for me over the months. I wouldn't blog if i didn't enjoy it and its been brilliant meeting new people all around the world.

One extra reason I do it, is as a way to work through an issue. Sometimes writing about a problem or complex aspect of writing/publishing leads me to a better understanding or a solution. Having done that I've helped myself and hopefully anyone who stumbles across my blog who might be wondering about the same thing.

happy blogging to you

Anonymous said...

I find blogging a lot of fun and I have made some lovely contacts along the way, and that for me is the key: instant contact with other like-minded individuals. The Pitch Party over on Jane's blog and your own Blogoffee Morning opened up so many doors.

But Twitter? Nah. I had an account but I've deleted it. 140 characters and I do not mix well, but it has a loyal following and I'm not going to knock it for those who have fun with it.

catdownunder said...

Oh dear, I fear I still scatter cat hair across my blog! I suspect I have unknown visitors at times - or am I being purranoid? Do I need to be more controversial? Would they introduce themselves then?
I knew people blogged but it actually took me a long time to take the actual plunge into the deep end of the pool. Most cats do not like swimming of course but I am slowly learning to do laps - and be human.

emma darwin said...

Blogging's too much hard work to do consistently and well if you don't enjoy it: both the writing, and the getting out there and connecting, take time, and maybe your writing energy would be better spent elsewhere. And, as Nicola says, it's madness to do it in any other persona than one you can sustain - which probably means someone pretty much like yourself.

It seems to me that there are two kinds of blog which succeed: the ones where the blogger is a voice and a mind which you really enjoy - if they're good enough even meusli-eating can be hilarious - and you're happy to drop by and see whatever they're on about today. The rest of us mortal bloggers have to centre on a subject and a way of talking about it which attracts you.

And numbers aren't everything. My little blog will never have the readership of the big booky blogs, or the how-to-get-published blogs like this one, (nor the halo which surrounds all those dedicated to helping the baffled aspiring writer), but it's something which suits me. As well as supplying an easily-updatable human face to go with the air-brushed marketing face of my website, it's a nice breather during the long haul of a novel.

But above all, it's made me really, properly think out a lot of things about writing which I hadn't before. So, as well as, I hope, helping and interesting other writers, it's helped me in my teaching, in talks and readings, and even in my Creative Writing PhD: on every page of my dissertation there's probably something I first thought out on This Itch of Writing, and then got arguing about in the Comments...

I guess what I'm really saying is that a blog needs to be true to at least some aspects of yourself, and then as you develop that into something worth reading, it'll find its friends and its place in the blogging eco-system. Same as writing novels, really.

Plentymorefishoutofwater said...

Some great advice here...still not convinced about Twitter though. Someone with 2,500 followers re-Tweeted my blog yesterday - the number of visitors I got from Twitter that day? Eight....
Anyway, keep up the good work:

Anonymous said...

I have a distinct memory of reading Nicola blog about her long journey to publication, and now for some reason can't find the post anywhere on the blog.

Anyone have any idea where that is?

Susan Wallman said...

Nicola I hope you are having a good week away but I am missing your blog!

Nicola Morgan said...

Anon - the post was called something like "why didn't I get published for so long?" I am away so can't search properly right now and the search facility on this blog doesn't seem to work for posts from before I moved address. I will def find it at the weekend for you. Jane smith has also asked me to tell the story on her blog, which I'll do soon. Thanks for being interested!

Seymour, although it's tricky posting from a phone, your wish is my command!!

Nicola Morgan said...

Sorry, spoke too soon - needed to edit the post but found I couldn't from phone so you'll have to wait till the scheduled one tomorrow. I am sure you can wait ...

Anonymous said...


It's here:

Also, my RSS reader tells me you've got a new post about 'Talent Required' (which I frankly consider hitting below the belt), but it doesn't appear, for me, on your site itself.


Nicola Morgan said...

Proe - any time you want a job as my unpaid assistant, it's yours! Yes, that disappeared post is because I posted it early to try to assuage seymour's impatience but then decided it wasn't ready so took it down a few mins later. It's actually scheduled for oct 3 or 5 - can't remember. Better go and hone your talent while you're waiting ...

Catherine Hughes said...


The problems you were having with the search facility are not due to your site switch but to a fault in Blogger's search engine - it doesn't pick up any but the most recent posts. I discovered this when trying to search my own blog though I haven't properly tested its parameters or limits.

So it's not you, it's them!

Tangledally said...

I love reading your blog because there is always something interesting useful and entertaining to be read.

I usually end up dreaming of sparkly wine and sloping off to buy chocolate afterwards of course, but those are the risks I am prepared to take.

Thanks for the excellent blogging advice.

Refugio Jones said...

Nicola, I've read just two of your posts and already feel confident to start my own blog. I hope that says a lot about how well you write. Perhaps in eight months, I'll have gained the experience and knowledge to do as well as you do.

Nicola Morgan said...

emma and refugio - thanks for your lovely comments. Dreaming of chocolate or sparkly wine is indeed a very small price to pay

Catherine - thanks for your reassurance!

Minnie said...

Excellent post, and one I wish I'd seen before I started blogging. After about 10 months of trial & error (mostly the latter), am just about getting the hang of it. Delighted to find good advice (although I can't learn to love Twitter, I fear).Am mere ex-hack (& ex nearly everything else, in fact), missing the research + writing. I think different people blog for great variety of differing reasons (mine's to keep brain active + morale up, connect with - I hope - the like-minded, and produce something that's entirely my own). Does that make me self-centred? Very probably!

The Crash Test Dummy said...

What a great blog. So much to take in, but all of it useful. What is your stance on trying to compile parts of your blog--the really hilarious posts--and get them published? Is it taboo among publishers?

The Crash Test Dummy said...

btw, I agree wholeheartedly with everything you said about blogging. And it was nice to hear it too.

How did you get your Creative Commons License?

Nicola Morgan said...

Crash Test Dummy - thank you! Re the Creative Commons Licence - if you google that phrase you'll quickly find the website where you can choose and then download the licence you want. It's free! And easy - otherwise i wouldn't have been able to do it!

Re turning parts of a blog into a book - thing is, people read blogs and books for different reasons. Some blogs can easily be turned into blogs but only if they'd have equally made a great / obvious book in the first place. Publishers wouldn't be interested in something that was just a series of pieces with no coherent whole - do you know what I mean? I presume you are thinking of this in relation to something you're doing? (Or were you asking about me turning my blog into a book? In which case, I am - I'll be announcing the details quite soon!)

The Crash Test Dummy said...

Thank you Nicola, I so appreciate your tips. And congrats on the upcoming announcement. ;)

Anonymous said...

Hi Nicola, I've just found your blog and will be back to read and hopefully learn. I started a blog two days ago and am on a steep learning curve. This has been very helpful. Than you.