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Blogging Rule #1: Keep It Real

It’s so easy for bloggers to get caught up in the race for more followers, more comments, more hits. I know that when I get two comments on my Link Love posts (and one of them is mine) I want to stop posting links—partly because I feel it’s a waste of time if people aren’t interested and partly because my ego doesn’t want to be the blogger with two comments on a post. I want to be the blogger with 20, 30, 40 comments. I want to be the blogger bragging about how many hits I have, how popular my blog is, how awesome I am. I want to BE awesome! But is that what this is really all about? Is that why we’re doing this? Isn’t life more than about how much money you have in the bank? Isn’t blogging more than about how many followers you have? Isn’t it about connecting with people, making friends, inspiring people, and being inspired?

Something we writer bloggers must remember—we are writers first and bloggers last. Sure, it’s important to build your social media platform. I’m teaching a class on how to do just that. Sure, a high Klout score will get you a better room in Las Vegas. But in the end, we need to be inspired. We need to read great books (not just blogs), experience beautiful and wondrous things, and hone our craft so we can share those beautiful and wondrous things with other people. I’ve never been to South Africa, and I want you to take me there. I want to feel the salty breeze ruffle my hair, to smell the mealie bread baking, to hear people speaking Afrikaans. I’ve never lost my sight, and I want to share that pain. I want to know what it’s like to get dressed in the morning, to walk across a busy street, to listen to the sound of the tide, in the dark. That’s why I read—to be entertained, to be inspired, and to experience new things.

It’s not recommended that you post your work in progress online for a variety of reasons (one, it bores people; two, you risk being plagiarized; and three, it devalues your work). But you can share your writing style, and you should. And you should share a little of yourself, too. It makes people feel more connected to you, like you are a real person and not a machine that spits out Follower Contests and 10 Ways posts. People are more likely to buy your book because they feel they know you and are invested in you than because your blog has a lot of hits.

Don’t get me wrong—I love me a good 10 Ways post. 10 Ways to Get More Blog Followers, 10 Secrets to Twitter Success, 10 Ways to get an Agent to Notice Your Query—I eat them up, and I write them, too, because we all know that posts with numbers in their titles get more hits and retweets. But wouldn’t it be nice if we all stopped number grubbing for a minute and shared a little about ourselves and the world that might inspire a writer to sit down and write? Or write better? How awesome would that be? That’s keeping it real.

Here are a couple recent examples of writer bloggers keeping it real (I know there are many, many more of you out there. A couple who come to mind are Elizabeth Browne and Christine Lee Zilka.)

Here is Kristan Hoffman’s three part series on her trip to the Galapagos. The writing is beautiful, and so are the photographs.

Here is Anastasia’s belated introduction.

And here is my friend Jackie’s new photo blog. (If this isn’t inspiring, I don’t know what is.)

And this leads me to a question. Of all the writers whose blogs you follow, whose books will you buy? Will you buy Mary’s romance novel even though you hate romance novels because Mary comments every day on your blog? Will you buy Charlie’s police thriller even though you’ve never read a thriller simply because Charlie has thousands of followers? What is the tipping at which you will shift from casual blog reader to book buyer? What factors will play into your decision?

33 comments to Blogging Rule #1: Keep It Real

  • Kristan

    Actually, to be honest, I've *stopped* reading a lot of blogs that I feel are not "keeping it real." I mean, at first I ate up all the posts that told me how to this and how to that and gave me free stuff. But after a while you realize that that isn't important, that you have learned all you can learn, and now it's just up to you to DO. Plus, like you said, those posts are about numbers, and I want to be more than just someone's number.

    When I realized that, it liberated me. Liberated me both as a reader and as a blogger. As a reader, I felt free to cut ties with blogs/bloggers that I no longer connected with, and as a blogger, I felt free to let myself loose, to write instead of "build a platform." And I'm much happier as a result. 🙂

    Thank you thank you thank you for the kind words and link love here. 🙂 This is a great post, and it got me to check out some other great bloggers!

    • I agree. I just wrote about how I feel like there are more "how to be a better blogger/twitter/seo'er blogs" then actual real blogs. I removed all of them from my reader because they are a waste of time.

  • Oh wow! Thank you so much for that mention. Lately I've been realizing that I phone in a lot of posts just because I'm supposed to have a post there. I've been trying to work on crafting them before posting them. This has completely inspired me to work harder on that. Thank you!

  • sarahwedgbrow

    I wholeheartedly agree. I'm always on the lookout for those who put their character and writing out there to share…I love being taken to different places too. I'm just going to end up repeating everything you said, here. Thanks so much for putting the focus on this issue when so many aren't paying attention. xx

    • meghancward

      Sarah – I love it, too. I do get a little bored sometimes with blogs that are very personal, but if they're done well, they beat yet another writing/publishing blog. I think I'm also really dying to both a) travel and b) read some great fiction. I've been mired in schlepping kids to swim lessons and reading about social media lately. I want to be carried away, but literally and figuratively.

  • c(h)ristine

    zomg, Meghan! I am so tickled by your mention. 🙂 Thank you for the shout-out; if this had been a tweet, I'd be RT'ing it. 😉 And I am in such good company, too…!

    As for blogging–I pretty much buy the book of every blogger of whom I am a loyal reader. (I have been lulled into the world of YA novels because of this very fact). And I am a loyal reader to those who blog without obvious agenda, who lay themselves out with sincerity for all of us to witness…and care for. It's kind of like going to a party; I shy away from the shmoozers, because it can all be so overwhelming. It's hard to have a real relationship with anything that/anyone who has an agenda.

    Great post, Meghan.

  • elizabeth

    Thanks for the link Meghan! I would like to say that the more informative blogs, i.e., the ones with a lot of "10 ways to …" posts are the ones I read, but no. If the "10 ways to" post doesn't apply to my life right then, I tend to skip it. I definitely read the more personal (but not too personal!) ones. Sometimes these same blogs include a few how-to posts here and there, or some glimpse into the inner workings of some industry, party or workplace, and that's all just bonus. People who write honestly and display real ups and downs…those are the bloggers I come back to. That, and those bloggers with a continuing story to tell. That is, when I read one post, then another three months later, there's a connection. I like the feeling of being in the know, of feeling like I have the whole story. As a reader you start to feel as though you know the blogger, and I think that is one of the best things, from a blogger's perspective, that can happen.

    • meghancward

      I so agree, Elizabeth. As much as I love Nathan Bransford's publishing posts, my favorites were when he revealed a little about his personal life–one about the process of getting Jacob Wonderbar published (after the fact) and one about some charity work he did in another country (with photos). All these comments make me want to open up more on my blog, to write less about social media and publishing and more about myself and my writing life.

  • Deborah Bryan

    I actually just finished a book I might not have bought but for the dialogue its author encouraged. I'm not sure where the balance falls, but I can say that it's nice to have someone–reader, writer, retired grandma, what have you–genuinely engaging in conversation with you.

    Last week, I went on a massive Twitter-follow rampage. I followed anyone whose bio was remotely intriguing to me. This led to me being burnt out on Twitter within a day. I'm not interested in following more people. I'm interested in being engaged more with those people I do follow, be it via blog or Twitter.

    • meghancward

      Hi Deb, I go on Twitter-follow rampages now and then, too, and then later I unfollow the people I find to be spammy or whose tweets don't interest me much. It's difficult to predict who you're going to want to be in dialogue with – but I'm enjoying @replaying people more and more (like you!). It feels like I'm making Twitter "friends," and it's fun.

      • Deborah Bryan

        "It feels like I'm making Twitter "friends," and it's fun." YES! I'd try to expound, but I think you said it perfectly. 😉

  • I sometimes entertain the idea of getting rid of the whole "followers" widget altogether from my blog. I notice some authors do that with their blogs. They just post away without any concern about how many people are reading. I *wish* I could say I didn't check my numbers, but every so often I succumb to curiosity and look at my Blogger stats, which inevitably leads me to become all insecure and then I start thinking, "Maybe I should dye my hair blond. Maybe that would net me more followers." Fortunately my laziness usually prevails and I end up doing nothing.

    As for buying books by fellow bloggers — I'll certainly by yours when it comes out. 🙂

    • meghancward

      Kristen – I will buy yours, too. And I'm not just saying that to be nice. I will buy Sierra's, I will buy Kristan's, I will buy yours, but I can't say I'll buy the books of every blogger I follow. The book itself has to really interest me, or I have to really like the blogger. (I read somewhere that many (most?) of books sold aren't actually read. Do we WANT people to buy our books if they're not going to read them? I'm not sure.)

      Anyway, I, too, have considered deleting Google Friend Connect from my blog – partly because I don't have many followers and I don't find it representative of who reads my blog and partly to take a step out of the rat race. I think a lot of people just don't bother to sign in to Google Friend Connect because it's a pain in the butt. So unless there's a contest or they have a blog of their own that they're trying to promote, they don't want the hassle.

      But if agents/publishers are looking at your site and you don't have followers, how do they know whether your blog is popular, whether you've established an "author platform"? From comments? Or posted stats? Or should we all just say screw them, we don't care?

      Kristan Hoffman doesn't have followers. I'm curious to hear what she thinks.

      • Kristan

        You know, I created my blog long before Google Friend Connect was a thing. After I started seeing it everywhere, I contemplated adding it, but fortunately by that point in my "blogging career" (HAH) I didn't care about the numbers anymore. I mean, I have my little WordPress stats but those are built-in, and I use them mostly as a gauge of what content interests my readers most, and how long is too long to go without blogging.

        This wasn't always true, of course. For the first decade I blogged (starting in middle school, seriously) I cared about numbers. Now I care about discussion. Am I engaging my readers and connecting with them? I don't know how/when I made that shift… It's recent, though. (Like, the last couple years.) I think it relates to an overall security about who I am and what I'm doing — which numbers have nothing to do with.

        That's kind of a zen answer to the question, but it's all I got. I find the less numbers I have to look at, the less I think about them, and the happier I am (and am able to remain).

        • meghancward

          Kristan – Zen is good! wish i didn't care about numbers. And you were blogging in MIDDLE SCHOOL? People were using Commodore 64s back when I was in middle school! (and that was the latest greatest thing)

          • Kristan

            LOL oh yeah. I used to hand code every page in HTML. What a pain! (But there was a sense of pride in it, too.) Then Blogger came around and I moved to that for a while. Then TypePad, and then WordPress.

          • meghancward

            I can't imagine writing my blog in HTML! Although when I was in 4th grade, I learned Basic. This meant that I programmed a computer to ask questions and, based on the answers to those questions, make a light gray line on a dark gray screen go across and down the page. That's where computers were at that point. I fantasized about the possibilities – and those have all come true x 100 since then. Unfortunately, my father refused to buy me a computer (it was like asking your parents to buy you a spaceship back then – nobody owned spaceships!), so my computer programming career ended there (we didn't have computers in schools yet. I learned Basic on my teacher's personal computer that he loaned me for the summer – which is incredible, now that I think of it.)

          • Kristan

            LOL I learned Basic too. And how to program a Lego traffic light — that was my fave. In fact I was a compsci double major for 2 years in college, until I realized I wanted to write and sleep more than I wanted to program.

          • c(h)ristine

            zomg! I remember HTML'ing by hand back in 1993 when I had a website, and then a blog. Way back when, remember…? When the word "blog" didn't even exist!

          • Kristan

            Haha, precisely! I think I started in '95.

  • jackie

    I loved reading this post! Thank you for including my little blog and inspiring ME!

  • meghancward

    Jackie, I love your photography!

  • c(h)ristine

    I think if you write anything with a full heart…the readers will come. Thank you for always supporting me, Meghan. 🙂

  • wildguppy


    Getting back into blogging after a very long hiatus and I look at how much you have evolved as a blogger since you have started. Good for you and for all this knowlege you have gained by bootstrapping your way through the bloggosphere. I find myself…as I continue to blog…(also a writer-blogger) feeling the opposite…scared to share myself with the world, to put my name on things I write, to go too deep etc. I wonder–what is the happy medium? Great job on this blog, btw.

    • meghancward

      wildguppy, sorry it took me so long to respond! i dropped out of the blogosphere over the weekend. Hmm. I guess that's a personal choice, but my feeling is that if you're using it to build an author platform, you HAVE to use your real name (although you don't have to reveal anything personal). I think first you have to decide what the purpose of your blog is, and then make decisions accordingly. I will check out your blog (again)!

  • Like Kristan, I used to devour the "10 Ways to Get an Agent" posts, until I realized that I was spending more time reading about these things than doing them. The blogs I'm most loyal to are not necessarily the ones that dish out advice–they're the ones where I feel like I know the person behind the blog, and they're a person who I'd love to have lunch with or chat with if I ever had the chance in real life.

    Which is why it's so important to keep it real, like you mention 🙂 Coincidentally, these are also the bloggers whose books I want to buy. It's not about the numbers, but a sense of loyalty that makes me want to a) help them out and buy their book and b) most importantly, read their book and get to know them on a different level.

    • meghancward

      Natalia, the one blog that dishes out advice that I love is Anne R. Allen's. Every Sunday, I get excited when I remember that she has a new post out. I love that it's a once-a-week blog and that the posts are all great. Otherwise, I read a few publishing blogs for the latest news, and then I read the blogs of people I like and whose writing I like–ones that make me feel like I learned something new or experienced something new (through photos or shared personal experiences, for example) — the same reason I read books, I guess. Thanks for stopping by!

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  • Rebecca Kiel

    Jackie’s photographs are stunning! Thanks for sharing this link. It is refreshing to look at something other than words about writing words. I tried giving Jackie my compliments but couldn’t figure out how so I hope she gets them here. Love those pics!

  • aditi raychoudhury

    my blog site (which i don't update nearly as regularly as yours) is primarily a vehicle for me to keep track of "stuff" i am working on and artists i like (links to their sites) – so even if no one ever sees the links i post – its still a really useful spot for me to look for inspiration – when I am lacking ideas… grainedit started as a blog posting works of illustrators and now its become really huge – but when it started it was about "sharing" some cool new artist/illustrator rather than trying to gain followers… so its really about what each person wants their blog to be about

    • meghancward

      aditi – this comment showed up! I've never heard of grainedit, but it looks very cool! am looking forward to reading your new posts. look at that. your lowercase comment made me write all in lowercase.

  • […] for younger bloggers like myself: why do you blog and what’s your purpose? Check out her first Blogging Rule on “Keeping It […]

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