Friday, 21 August 2009

Blogging Masterclass Notes

Notes from my section of The Master Class on Blogging at the Edinburgh International Book Festival August 2009

Caroline Dunford

1. Why I blog and my publishing experience

- I started blogging on LiveJournal when encouraged by a friend because I was working from home and somewhat isolated. I’ve been blogging for seven years.

- I then started using it as a warm up exercise for the day

- within a few months I had chosen to lock my journal so that only people I allowed could see it. These didn’t have to be people I knew in real life, but they were likely to be ones who knew people I knew or who were interested in similar things via a community –lj has community blogs where you can discuss common interests

-through LJ I found my local writers group, kept in touch with my friends and got involved in my first voice acting job.

- I also got a lot of feedback from my readers about how much they enjoyed my tales of my two year olds antics.

- because of this I took it to a publisher, who had previously published diaries (not blogs) and asked it they would be interested? Because the blog was locked and not public they were happy for me to include parts of my journal and even to use it as way of locating key readers, a form of viral marketing. However, they decided it had to be more than the blog, and so I incorporated a number of fact panels – about 40-60 split.

- it’s still selling. How to Survive the Terrible Twos: diary of a mother under Siege It has also been published in Italian and last week the Spanish rights were sold.

2. Blogs and their purpose

- is this a blog you hope will become a book? If so then it has to contain a journey, some kind of story arc. It has to be no less entertaining than an ordinary book. There needs to be a sense of progress – most blogs won’t make books. Everyone is writing a book – even their cats are writing and some of the cats are doing better than their owners.

- are you doing primarily for fun and you’d be happy if people read it?

- are you seeking writing validation?

- is it to publicise your work? (You lose first publishing rights if it is open on the net.) Blogging about your progress can help gather you an audience. There is a possibility of making a grass roots connection with your potential fanbase.

- Are you trying to raise your own profile (as a writer, politician, campaigner, etc)

- are you blogging for a cause?

- is it about social networking?

Whichever you choose it affects your writing style, but not the amount of time someone will read – generally you’re only getting their attention for a couple of minutes. This means you need to be more tabloid than academic journal!

- choice of platform, many options: Google’s own Blogger is very easy to start with, lots of handholding and it’s free. Wordpress can give you more options, but it can also be more complicated. LiveJournal and Dreamwidth lend themselves to closed rather than public journals. Facebook, MySpace and Bebo tend to have the blog as a tiny part of a very busy screen and are more social networking sites.

But with all of these be wary of following the shiny. Better to choose and stick with a platform.

3. Psychological aspects of blogging (exposure, over familiarity from strangers, keeping private life in its place) Most people are nice, but

- keep personal details, children’s names, physical location out of it.

- you will always offend someone – there are so many people out there. Don’t take it personally.

- it offers an illusion. People will think they really know you. On occasion even that you are friends.

- whatever you put out there stays – don’t write in anger or when you overemotional in any way. Even if you delete it, someone somewhere will have seen it and the more you regret what you wrote the more it will be noticed! Google are continually capturing content on the net and the chances are it will be in a cache that someone with a little know-how can access.

4. Becoming an unpaid journalist

- last updated 18th April until recently!

– although LJ is updated every week.

- blogging can be compulsive.

- do you find yourself constantly checking for comments – get them emailed to you!

- when you discover your journal is being read then it’s tempting to write more, and expand on whatever is proving popular. This is fine as long as you have time. Regular blogging that fits around your work schedule

- blogging is a very useful tool and other than advertising (which Helen will speak about) it doesn’t pay the bills. Has to be on top of work rather than instead of. Personally I dislike blogs with advertising on them and won’t read one that is plastered with adverts.

5. Twitter – also known as microblogging

- If you haven’t gone to then do so.

- It’s much quicker to write 140 characters and less of a drain on your time.

- You can feed it through your blog

- keeps things active

- also writing in 140 characters forces you to be concise and salient – no space for waffling or ranting.


- can be very compulsive

- can be easier to let personal details out in short thoughts without realizing.

- good idea to have more than one accounts ie one that is for genuine friends and one that is blog associated.

6. Google Analytics, keywords

- sign up on Google Analytics at All you need to do is paste a given segment of code into your blog page once and it does all the statistics for you.

- use Google Analytics to check your blog’s effectiveness, but don’t get too caught up in it. There is so much information there it probably includes the building blocks of the universe!

- Google also allows you to very easily set up an RSS feed (Really Simply Syndication, which means someone can register to have your blog feed through an aggregator (a tool for capturing chosen blogs) rather than having to hunt for your blog individually.

- pingoat – helps get your site noticed. Each time you blog you can go to and feed in your blog name, url, xml (rss feed) and select which services you want pingoat to target. (If you do this too frequently pingoat may suggest you try again later.)

Pingoat is a service that pings or notifies a number of services that keep track of weblogs and publishes them. Esssentially it lets a variety of services know you’ve updated and they automatically check on keywords, topics etc and feed this to various sites or particular interest services.

- be immediate if a current hot topic is relevant. Don’t do something like “I haven’t got Swine Flu but I do have chocolate” to get the swine flu hits. It will annoy people.

- you want to be found to be trustworthy and reliable. Regular communication in a clearly defined area, so people know what it’s worth their while to take time out of their day and read you. Loyalty and following.

Things I didn’t say due to time, but are important!

- when you’re writing a blog treat each entry like a newspaper article. This means write top- down. All the most important information (who, what, where, when and how) should be in your opening paragraph. By all means finish in a neat and clever way, but be aware that people will only scan the opening to see if they are interested. Anything really important or revelatory should be in the top section of your piece.

- be aware that posting in the public domain opens you up to the laws of defamation (Scotland) and libel/slander (rest of UK) and whatever other laws of insult there are worldwide. Don’t be rude or insulting unless you’re prepared to go to court. Personal opinion, personal worldview and verifiable facts to lesser and greater extents are legal defenses, but it’s complicated and unless you’re campaigning and have some kind of legal support think about the ramifications of what you’re writing. Remember even paper journalists must do this. We have freedom of speech, but also there are rights within law to protect reputations for good reason.

- Proof-read your work before posting!

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