Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Lorena Knapp: Using an RSS Reader to Study the Craft of Blogging

Lorena Knapp

One way that writers can build their platform is by blogging. Often the most challenging part of blogging as a fiction writer is knowing what to blog about. If the intent of our blog is to engage with our readers, then our blogs should discuss some of the same themes as our writing.

In my novel, the protagonist, Vivian, is a helicopter pilot embroiled in a battle-of-wills with her coworkers: crusty good-old-boy Vietnam Era pilots who take Vivian’s presence in the cockpit as a threat to their identities and their livelihoods. My blog, Big State, Big Life focuses on giving readers ways of looking what stops them from achieving their dreams. Is the link between my novel and my blog perfect? Probably not, but it's close enough that I know my blog readers will enjoy my novel once it is published.

Study the Craft of Blogging 

Just as writers must study the craft of writing hone their skills, so too must bloggers study the craft of blogging. I recommend the students in my platform building classes find 20-30 blogs to follow. Most bloggers only post 1-3 times a week so this seems a manageable number, but you may want to increase or decrease this number as your schedule allows. 

The blogs you follow should be an eclectic mix: ones that are written by people in the same niche as well as those outside of your niche combined with a mix of well-known bloggers and some less well-known bloggers with a smaller audience. This will give you a broad range of examples to learn from. Once you start subscribing to a few blogs, you will often be led to others either by reading a guest post and then linking back to the author’s blog or as other blogs are promoted and recommended on the site. 

Three Ways to Follow Blogs:

  1. Visit a blog directly by typing in the web address into your browsers address bar or by bookmarking the site. 
  2. Subscribe to the blog's RSS feed.
  3. Subscribe via email.
My preferred method to follow a blogger is by RSS feed. This way my inbox isn't cluttered with blogs I'm just getting acquainted with and I can skip the step of having to check my bookmarks to see if there is updated content on my favorite blogs. 

How to Subscribe to a Blog via RSS

RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication. You can think of your RSS feeds as a subscription. The content from your favorite blogs gets delivered to your RSS reader each time it is updated. 

Subscribing to a blog via RSS also reinforces how important it is to write a great title for your blog posts. If the blog headline doesn’t grab me, I’ll skip over the article entirely because I'm usually only looking at the title. 

Symbols for RSS feeds:




You may recognize some of the above symbols. These indicate a blog has an RSS feed. By clicking on the RSS button on a blog you will be taken to another window and prompted to add the feed to the reader of your choice.

In the past, I always used Google Reader but since Google will disable Reader July 1, 2013, I’ve made the switch to Feedly. Here's a guided tour of Feedly to learn more about how it works.  Here are some other alternatives to Google Reader

Instead of linking from the blog I want to follow, my preference is to go directly to Feedly and search for the blog by name and add the subscription. My goal is to check my Feedly account once a day and share valuable content with those that follow me on twitter, but in reality it is more like several times a week. If I’m having a particularly busy week, it might only be once during the week- again I’ll be skimming the post titles and only reading those that seem particularly useful.

Read Blogs Like a Blogger

Once you start following blogs you want to read them as if you were the blogger, just like when you read as a writer and you pay attention to how the writer crafted the piece.  

Here are a few questions to get you started: 
  • What is the blogger doing well? 
  • Why was the post valuable? 
  • How did the blogger get the readers to engage? 
  • What is the theme of the blog? How does this translate into blog posts?
  • Who is the target audience? How can you tell?
  • What do I dislike about the blog post? Too wordy?
  • What would make the post more valuable? 

Suggestions for Blogs to Follow 

Blogs About Writing:
One of my favorites is Alexis Grant. Alexis always has the perfect blend of the practical mixed with a personal story about her own endeavors. Alexis started her blog as a way to build an audience for her book but has since turned blogging and social media into a full-time profession.

I follow nearly all the blogs from Write to Done’s Top Ten Blogs for Writers 2012. Look back to previous years for additional suggestions.

Tom Ewer has lots of useful information about freelance writing on his site, Leaving Work Behind

Blogs About Blogging: 

Blogs About Lifestyle Design:

Great Content + Great Design = Great Blog

If I find a blog article I enjoy, I often click to the bloggers site and look at their site design. Unfortunately, great blog posts don’t always mean great site design. Hard to read fonts, cluttered design, or too many ads are immediate turnoffs. But If I consistently enjoy a blog's posts, I’ll change my subscription to email and delete them from my reader. About once a month I’ll unsubscribe from the blogs that I’ve been skimming over and seek out a few new ones to try.

The blogs that I stay subscribed to? Blogs that educate, entertain, or inspire. Preferably all three. This is the value I get from reading the blogger's posts. Great content = access to my RSS feed and potentially my email inbox. Once you're in my inbox, you’ve got a much higher chance of selling me your services, a product, or your book.

Following blogs via an RSS reader to learn the craft of blogging is a smart use of your platform-building efforts. 

What are some of your favorite blogs to follow? Why? Share in the comments.
  

1 comment:

Andromeda Romano-Lax said...

Thorough and methodical, Lorena. You're a great person to learn from when it comes to social media. My question: I've noticed a lot of blogs going dormant as writers seem to be switching over more completely to Twitter. Thoughts? Tips for those of who us who can't seem to update our personal blogs more than once a month or less? (Is there a point of zero return if you're not a frequent blogger?)