Vintage recipes always provide a sense of adventure. Will you find a forgotten treasure or something that is better left buried? However, it’s not all fun and games, much research is required. (I lied, research is half the fun.) Today, I’m going to discuss how I plan and shop for my vintage recipe taste tests.
With a new year come new film blogs, which is a very good thing. When it comes to opinions about movies, the more the merrier. I’ve been in this business for almost a decade, so I thought I would share seven tips for newcomers. I hope they help and best of success in your endeavor!
“Your review just isn’t fair! You didn’t give the film a chance! You just don’t like the genre!”
If you review films, you’ll eventually get correspondence like this. I thought it would be fun to discuss the process of reviewing and the decision to lay on the snark.
The internet is forever… until it isn’t. Sure, there are a thousand ways to dig up embarrassing posts written by celebrities but too many writers have seen their work disappear without a trace.
Being a blogger with an opinion may be many things but it is not boring. When I hit the “publish” button on a review a few years back, I had no idea it would lead to some of the most baffling correspondence I have ever received.
Are your reviews dull, lifeless and lacking that certain something? Then you need screencaps!
If you’ve been reading this site for a while, you’ll know that I skew heavily toward mainstream American silent films, which, ironically enough, are now more obscure than European art films.
So yesterday I logged into my computer at about 7:30 local time and discovered some overnight commenting, which is pretty normal. We’re all in different time zones and on different schedules. One of those comments, though, was not exactly in the realm of normal for me.
Readers of this site know that I get more than a little annoyed when silent film heroines are dismissed as screaming damsels tied to the tracks. Not only is this a myth, it is a damaging one, erasing the many bold and brash silent movie heroines from film history.
Uh oh! Here’s another post of personal factoids. Prepare to be shocked, angered and horrified! (Well, not really but it sounded good.)
While film reviews in traditional media must have a limited length, bloggers have no such limits. This leads to an important question: how long should a review be?
I have discovered that generally speaking, people who write about the movies (film bloggers and/or professional critics) generally handle the real world one of three ways.
Today, we’re going to talk about a little pet peeve of mine: lists. Not just any kind of list, no, I’m talking about lists that purport to name off the best films of all time.
I’ve had some weird comments in my day. I am still particularly tickled about that time I was accused of being in the pay of Louis B. Mayer’s family and I have had to deal with infestations of overzealous Valentino fans but this particular comment takes the cake. All the cake. There is no more cake because of this comment.
As is often the case in online writing, one thing leads to another in the comment section and we are left with a dangling question. I don’t like unfinished business and so let’s talk about the difference between importance and enjoyment.
I’m not super open about silent films in the real world. It’s not that I keep my interest a secret, it’s just that mentioning a love of silent films often requires more explanation than I am prepared to give.
I know this will come as a complete shock but it seems that people are actually wrong about things on the internet. And in print. And then they’re wrong when the internet quotes the in-print errors. Sigh.
I wanted to take a minute to discuss a nasty little red herring that shows up now and again in discussions of silent film: the notion that criticizing a silent film from a modern viewpoint is somehow wrong and naughty and will just blow up the earth. (faints) I’ve been wanting to cover this for a while so here goes…
As my site gets bigger, it’s easy for older content to get lost in the shuffle. I have almost 250 silent film reviews and hundreds of other posts besides so I decided to make a list that will help newer readers dig through and find posts that are on the more mature side. Enjoy!
I’m not really a tech blog but I occasionally wander into the technical side of blogging. This time around, I am going to share a trick that should make your blog more attractive and increase page views. After that, we will discuss links in WordPress.
So you’ve built a blog, you’re getting some traffic but you want to take things to the next level. That’s a great goal and I am here to share some tips on how you can grow your blog and your brand.
I seem to have inadvertently caused some confusion. About a week ago, I announced that I was stepping down from a blogathon gig and was taking a hiatus from videos due to health issues. However, the daily posts kept right on coming. How is that possible? I have a reserve of posts at the ready. A reserve? Yes, indeed.
I thought it would be helpful to share my process for blogging. I hope it will clear up some confusion as to how I am able to build up content for daily posts and create a buffer for vacation, illness, etc. Not many solo movie bloggers keep up a daily schedule for posts (Lindsey of The Motion Pictures is one in the classic film category) but if you can manage it, it’s a great way to build up a devoted readership.
How do I do it? First of all, know that even though I post every day, I do not write every day. In fact, I did not write at all for most of the month of October. I was in South Korea and did not have my laptop with me. Instead, I wrote like a maniac in the months before my vacation and planned a post for every single day that I was gone. The WordPress app is not perfect yet but it got the job done and I was able to control the site with relatively few hiccups.
Since announcing my slowdown, I have been dipping into my post reserve. Perhaps only one or two posts since the announcement have been entirely new content. The rest were posts that I had created weeks or months before and kept in reserve. I have a few reasons for holding back posts. First, I may write something that will be more relevant later. (For example, I held back my 1960 Peter Pan review for several months so it would publish just before the recent live broadcast of the play. My William S. Hart theme month was planned almost a year in advance.) Second, I tend to write in bursts and it makes no sense to publish five posts one day and nothing for the next week.
A post reserve is important as my job has unpredictable hours and my health is usually so-so. I don’t know if I will always have the time or energy to create content so I plan for the worst.
There are two exceptions to all this: blogathons and videos.
Blogathons by their very nature are done in real time and require quite a bit of TLC to pull off. Participants need their questions answered, rosters need to be updated and the event needs to be marketed. This is not something that can be done in advance.
Videos take an entirely difference set of skills from written reviews and they do tend to take over my life when I am working on them. Plus, my voice needs to be in shape to narrate. My immune system is not the best and I am prone to throat infections, getting several a year. You see the problem.
So, while I can build a reserve of reviews, GIFs and other goodies, videos and blogathons are not really meant for that sort of thing.
But let’s focus on the positives. I am going to share how I create content for a daily blog.
First, I have two categories for posts and they are very similar to the classifications used to by silent film studios. I have the programmers, the small items, that are much faster to create and I have the specials, the longer content that takes a lot of time and effort. Fun Size Reviews, GIFs and shared YouTube videos are programmers. Specials are full-length reviews, After the Silents, Silents in Talkies, video reviews, long articles and the Cooking with the (Silent) Stars series. Generally, I try to have at least two specials every week and one of them is always a full-length silent film review.
As I watch silent films for review, I keep track of the times of sequences that I think would make good GIFs. After I have watched the movie, I go back and create the GIFs. I generally try to make three GIFs or more from every movie but I always make at least one. These GIFs go into my reserve for later use. At any given time, I have between 50 and 200 unpublished GIFs on hand.
Usually, GIFs will debut in one of my quippy Animated GIF posts. After that, it may be reused to illustrate a humorous point, to embellish a Fun Size Review or be published as a Silent Movie Rule or whatever else I think of.
I try not to publish too many GIFs from the same film in a row because I like to keep variety on the site.
Fun Size Reviews, Trivia Cards, etc.
With shorter posts that follow a particular format, I like to use an assembly line approach. For example, when I make Fun Size Reviews, I generally write anywhere from five to ten in one sitting. I have a master list of all the movies I have covered (no film gets a Fun Size Review before a full-length review) and use it to make sure I do not skip or repeat a film. The trivia cards use the same Photoshop template and I also create between five and ten in a sitting.
My master list tells me whether the film in question has GIFs (some of my older reviews do not have GIfs to go with them so I have been going back and creating them), whether it has a Fun Size Review, a trivia card and whatever other related series I might create in the future. This is a great way to draw attention to older content that new readers may not have seen before without boring established and long-time readers.
Unlike my shorter posts, silent movie reviews are a definite risk when it comes to time spent. Some movies make it a challenge for me to even write 1,000 words (my minimum review length) while others have so much juicy detail that I have to cut myself off. There are also (seemingly) simple films that send me down the research rabbit hole.
Cough cough, Surrender, cough.
Oh, all right. I’ll tell the story. I was happily writing away and decided to add a few details on Ivan Mosjoukine, the film’s leading man. When researching something or someone, I often stop by Wikipedia to see what the average Joan is going to have read on the subject. Something seemed off with the narrative being peddled and down the rabbit hole I went.
Here is the article as it appears at present. I have highlighted the errors in green.
I thought this was supposed to be about Ivan Mosjoukine. Someone has a little Valentino fixation and it sure isn’t Carl Laemmle. (The whole debunking is in my Surrender review.)
The problem is, I don’t know when a Surrender is going to come my way. I generally try to keep at least a month or more of reviews in reserve but if a I fall down a rabbit hole, I burn through that reserve quickly. As a result, I try to keep a mix of films I have never seen before and films I am already familiar with. That way, I know what I am letting myself in for at least some of the time.
Longer articles on myth-busting and general silent film knowledge are written on an as-needed basis. When the topic is fairly non-controversial, I post them soon after they are completed. However, if the topic is a hot-button issue or if it reflects badly on a beloved star, I may hold it back so that it can “cool down” and perhaps be revised so that it is not unnecessarily inflammatory.
Does it always work? No. I did lose subscribers over my discussion of The Wind and its “bastardized” ending (spoiler: Lillian Gish is a great actress and a shameless fibber) but I don’t really think they were the sort worth keeping. While I try not to give offense, there are some fans who definitely prefer a black and white narrative filled with heroes and mustache-twirling villains. I’m sorry to be curt but there’s really no point in conversing with people who hold such a childish outlook.
The Cooking with the (Silent) Stars series is the most expensive and time-consuming series on the site. It involves purchasing ingredients, preparing them, taking photos and videos and finally writing up the article. In order to minimize expense and time, I try to plan out cooking days. Basically, I choose recipes with overlap in ingredients and then I get cooking.
In June, I ended up house-sitting for a friend. Their house is relatively remote and it was just me and the dog. I took it as an opportunity to make some of the weirder foods in the cookbook. I purchased ingredients and had a marathon cooking session. My tummy did not appreciate it, believe you me, but I ended up with a fat selection of cooking posts all ready to go. I still have several in reserve and you will be seeing them over the next few weeks.
Taking the plunge
So, maybe you have decided to try daily blogging. I hope knowing my method has helped you. Here is one more piece of advice, one I give to all would-be bloggers.
Before taking on the task of a blog, don’t post anything yet. Instead, write as though you already have a blog and save those posts. This will allow you to see if you are able to maintain a regular post schedule and it will give you a nice collection of posts to share if you do decide to launch.
If you are a blogger who wants to pump things up to daily posting, try keeping your current schedule (whatever it is) and also writing the number of posts you would need for daily blogging. Test drive this for a month and see how you do. If you decide that it’s not for you, fine. You have a stack of posts in your reserve and no harm was done. If you decide that it is something that you would like to continue, make an announcement that you are adopting a daily post format and get cracking!
I hope all of this has clarified how the blog runs behind the scenes. Thanks for reading!
Welcome to the second half of my two-part series on blogathons. Last time, we talked about blogathon participation. This time, I will give you some tips for hosting your own blogathon.
So, you’ve decided that you want to host your own blogathon. First thing’s first, though.
Choosing your topic
You may already have a topic in mind but here are some tips that will ensure maximum participation.
Your topic should be broad enough to allow a variety of participants
There is nothing stopping you from announcing a Trigger the Wonder Horse Blogathon but such a specific subject would severely limit the number of potential participants. The Movie Horse Blogathon (which I am using as an example for these articles) allows a much wider variety topics to be explored.
Does this mean that you must avoid more obscure topics? No, but there are ways of making them have a more general appeal. (This is, of course, assuming that you want a larger pool of participants. Some hosts prefer a more intimate event.)
For example, I wanted to create a blogathon centered around Lon Chaney. Now Chaney is very popular, as silent stars go, but he only made one talkie and this fact would reduce the potential size of the blogathon. So, I expanded the event to include Lon Chaney, Jr. as well. Chaney Sr.’s extant films range from 1914 to 1930 while Chaney Jr.’s credited filmography stretches from 1932 to 1971. This gave participants over 50 years’ worth of films to choose from and resulted in a richer event.
Co-hosts, do you need them?
Now that you have an event theme, it is time to consider whether you want to have a co-host or co-hosts for the blogathon. Let’s go over the advantages and disadvantages:
- You have someone to bounce ideas off of and to ask for advice
- You will expand the number of potential participants with your combined readership and contacts
- You can split the hosting duties
- Your co-host may supply expertise in the topic that you lack
- You have to consult with your co-host before making changes
- You may not have the same ideas about running the event
- You will divide the traffic generated by the blogathon
- You can turn on a dime, making any changes you wish
- You will get all the traffic generated by the blogathon
- You can fine tune the personality of the event
- You won’t have a co-host to consult or commiserate with
- You will have to shoulder all the hosting duties
- You will have to sign up all the participants yourself
I have both co-hosted and solo hosted blogathons and I enjoy both styles. Of course, I have had the advantage of working with wonderful co-hosts, which makes all the difference.
How do you ask someone to co-host? Contact them and ask them if they are available. Ask as far in advance as you can. I try to ask my co-hosts 4-6 months before the event launch date and I usually have blogathons planned at least that far in advance.
Duplicates. Duplicates. Duplicates. Duplicates.
No matter what your blogathon topic, one thing is certain: Some subjects will be more popular than others. If you host a Marilyn Monroe blogathon, you can be sure that The Seven Year Itch is going to be snapped up quickly. If you host a regency fiction blogathon, Jane Austen will surely be claimed immediately.
So, will you allow multiple blogs to host on the same topic? Or will you ask that there be no duplicates? What are the pros and cons of allowing duplicates?
- More bloggers will be able to write on popular topics
- Get multiple takes on famous subjects
- Too many participants writing on the exact same subject may become tedious
- Bloggers may hesitate to sign on if they see that their chosen topic may be claimed by someone else
- Not as much topic variety
Note that there are some cases when you almost have to allow duplicates. For example, duplicates may be necessary for a James Dean Blogathon due to his extremely brief film career.
When to say “no”
You will, of course, have to set content boundaries for your blogathon. Will it be about a specific movie star, author or musician? What is acceptable and what is off-limits?
For example, I may decide that the Movie Horse Blogathon is only for live-action movies and TV episodes, no cartoon horses need apply. Other boundaries may include limiting eligible release dates (example: no films made before 1980), banning certain types of films (example: nothing rated above a PG), etc.
You and your co-hosts should decide these limits in advance. However, there is usually someone who will come up with a really off-the-wall topic during the course of a blogathon. It’s up to you whether to accept more unusual submissions. Just know that the subject will come up and you will have to make a decision.
If someone wants to submit something that is just not a good fit, thank them and politely let them know that you would love to have them aboard but you’re afraid that the topic is not quite right. You might also want to suggest a similar topic that they can cover.
For example: Let’s say that for the Movie Horse Blogathon, someone wants to write about the film Legend, which features unicorns. Since unicorns are not quite what I want, I will let the would-be participant know (politely!) that their choice does not suit the topic. I might then suggest another fantasy film that features a horse, such as Ladyhawke.
Banners are essential for hosting a blogathon. Participants will place them on their own blogs, spreading the word to all of their readers. But how do you make your own?
The Techy Stuff
First, you need an image that catch everyone’s eye and immediately show what your event is all about. You may have just the right image in your collection but if not, you can find lots of free images on the Wiki Commons, Doctor Macro, Morguefile and Stock Exchange.
Next, you need to add text to your banner. This should include:
The name of the event
The name of your blog and any co-hosts
The date(s) of the event
Optional: A tagline describing your event
Bloggers use a variety of programs to make their banners. Here are some links to tutorials that work for assorted programs. Please note that most of these tutorials are for header banners (short and fat) so be sure to make your banners taller and narrower. 2.5 inches by 3 inches is a good size to aim for.
(I am just offering links, not tech support.)
*GIMP is a free, open source alternative to Photoshop
The Artsy Stuff
Now, let’s talk design! I am going to give you a few examples to show you how to get maximum bang for your buck.
Here are the two most common mistakes for blogathon banners:
This first image showcases a common banner mistake. The image is good and all the information is there but the bright primary colors are difficult to read against the background. And keep in mind that your participants might have smaller areas in which to display your banner, which means it will end up looking like this:
Not too easy to make out, is it?
In this case, there is better contrast between the image and the text but the fancy-pants font makes it very hard to read. And, remember, it probably will be much smaller once it gets plopped into a sidebar:
This is not the best use of your banner.
The Simple Solution:
Here is a simple solution that will produce clear, easy to read banners. It’s not the fanciest banner in the world but it is readable. Simply take a solid color rectangle and place it at the top or bottom of the header image.
Use dark or bright colors against white and pastels and brights against black. A basic, bold font. Easy, readable, done.
Works like a charm.
But what font should you use for your banner? (I am calling them fonts so that people know what I am talking about.)
Unless you are confident in your design skills, this is about clarity, not beauty. Impact is certainly used a lot online and Times New Roman is pretty vanilla but both will get your message clearly across, which is what your banner is all about. When you have to choose between fanciness and legibility, choose legibility. (Both are ideal but…)
Conclusion: You can get as fancy as you like with your fonts but always be aware of contrast, readability and the fact that the banner may shrink in a blog’s sidebar.
Remember, fonts have personality!
This is my all prettied-up design. Note that I used a pale gradient at the bottom and a drop shadow on the top text to ensure that there is strong contrast between the image and the text. I also used fonts that are decorative but not too squiggly.
And the shrunk-down version:
This is all basic Photoshop stuff. You can use your search engine of choice to find tutorials for all of these techniques. As I wrote before, I won’t be able to offer tech support but there are a ton of great articles and step-by-step instructions on the web.
Getting the word out
Participation is the key to a successful blogathon. Getting the word out can be a challenge but here are some methods that I have found helpful.
Your announcement post
A month or two before your launch date, post an announcement with all of your blogathon particulars. This is where you describe your event and let people know the rules for participation. Most hosts also post a roster of participants, updating as more sign on.
Here are some examples of announcement posts:
The Classic Movie History Project Blogathon (shameless self-plug)
Most blogathon hosts will tell you that there is an awful stretch of time between your announcement and your first sign-up. Don’t stress! Here are some ideas to help you get some participants.
(If you are really terrified of this, get yourself a co-host as you will be guaranteed at least one other participant.)
Do not be shy! Plug your blogathon shamelessly on whatever social media you make use of. Post your banners, make announcements whenever someone signs up, make noise!
Open up the old address book
Personally invite bloggers whose work you enjoy. You can also look at other blogathons and make contact with participants from those events. Send a friendly message inviting them aboard. Not everyone will be able to make time (some bloggers have their posts planned weeks or months in advance) but quite a few should sign up if your topic is within their writing target.
Use your memberships
If you belong to blog associations, see if they will allow you to make a small announcement on their homepage. Some blog hubs even have dedicated blogathon pages where you can spread the word.
The big day!
The culmination of all your hard work! Here are some things to keep in mind on the days of the event.
Your roster page
On the day of the blogathon, you will want to post a list of all the participants. As your participants post, they will (you hope) send over links to their contribution. You can then add those links to your roster.
If you are hosting a multi-day event, it may make sense to post a list of that day’s participants. The disadvantage is that is can be harder to keep up with the event if you have to look through multiple posts. Let’s take a look at some well-run events.
The Mary Astor Blogathon (two hosts, each with one post for all participants)
Children in Films Blogathon (one host, one post for all participants)
And multi-post rosters:
Dynamic Duos of Classic Film Blogathon (two hosts, each one taking a turn at posting the participants for the day)
The William Castle Blogathon (two hosts, each taking a turn at posting the participants for the day)
Reminders and no-shows
A popular blogathon can have dozens of participants. Should the host remind them of the event?
Two schools of thought on this. The first group feels that we are all big boys and girls and it is the duty of the participants to show up. The second group feels that a friendly reminder is always a good idea.
Both positions have good arguments so decide in advance which one you want to embrace.
Read, read, read
This is the most time consuming job you will have as a host. It is also the most important and the most rewarding. You need to read all of the posts that have been contributed to your event. I also like to leave a comment on each and every participating blog (if they accept them). First of all, it is a great pleasure to read everyone’s take on your topic. Second, the success of a blogathon depends on the participants and it is important to show them that you enjoyed their work.
Thank you and good night!
Another nice touch is to close out your event with a “thank you” post for your participants and any co-hosts you may have had. You can put this up the day of the blogathon or a few days later. It’s by no means a requirement but it is rather nice.
I hope this article has helped you know what is involved in hosting a blogathon. Be sure to leave a comment if you have any additional suggestions!
Welcome back to the series dedicated to profiling movie bloggers of note. This time around, I am profiling a fellow LAMB member.
Focus: Mid-century movies and television with some modern films thrown into the mix for a well-rounded site.
Features: Lots and lots of those! Book vs. Film, Childhood Favorites Revisited, What to Watch (recommended TCM viewing), and much more. My personal favorites are Lindsey Tries to Appreciate Westerns (in which our intrepid blog hostess tries to discover the secret to the genre’s appeal) and Mill Creek Musings (in which Lindsey reviews films from those gigantic multi-movie public domain sets that are always on sale at Costco and Target, the films themselves are very mixed bag but the reviews are always fun reading)
If you hang around cyberspace long enough, chances are you will run into blogathons. But what are they? How do you join one? And what if you want to host one of your own?
Well, I hope to answer all of your questions in this two-part series. Part one will cover everything you need to know to be a good blogathon participant. Part two will cover the art of blogathon hosting.
First of all, what is a blogathon? Simply, it is an online event during which multiple blogs post on a particular topic at a set time.
Why should you participate in a blogathon? Several reasons:
1. It publicizes your blog. This is especially important if you are new or have low traffic.
2. It challenges your writing skills. You may end up writing about a topic that you never considered but find you enjoy.
3. It’s fun!
The blogathon will be hosted by one or more blogs. What is involved in hosting? The host sets the blogathon rules, publicizes the event and organizes the participants.
For the purpose of this article, let’s say that my blog, called Example Blog, is hosting an event called The Movie Horse Blogathon on February 29.
How to join a blogathon
Just ask. Usually, you will hear about blogathons by seeing banners on other blogs (more on that later) or by reading an announcement on the host blog. If you write about classic film, The Classic Movie Blog Hub keeps an up-to-date blogathon page.
Always include the name and address of your blog when you communicate with blogathon hosts.
Please note that some blogathons are members-only events for certain organizations. The host blog will usually make these restrictions clear in their announcement post.
So, you would probably read something like this for my Movie Horse Blogathon:
Example Blog invites you to join us in celebrating the equine stars of the silver screen. We welcome all bloggers to contribute reviews of horse-centric classic (pre-1970) film and television for this event, as well as profiles of famous horse performers. It will take place on February 29. In order to make sure that the maximum number of films are covered, we are asking for no duplicate reviews, please.
How do I choose what to contribute?
The blogathon host may have certain requirements. They may want movie reviews only or they may prefer that the topic be limited. For example, a Noir Fiction blogathon may choose to only accept posts that cover works published pre-1980. A knitting blogathon may ask for nothing crochet-related.
Another thing to look out for is whether the blogathon allows duplicates. Let’s say you want to review National Velvet for my Movie Horse blogathon. But it looks like someone has beaten you to the punch and is already going to review it. (Blogathon hosts usually include a roster for easy reference.)
What to do? Well, look over the announcement. In this case, the Movie Horse does not allow duplicate reviews so you will have to choose another film. When in doubt, ask the blogathon host.
What if you want to participate but everything you want is taken? This is another good time to contact the host blog. They may know of an unclaimed topic that will suit your taste.
What if my topic does not exactly fit the event?
Contact the host and tell them your idea. Let’s go back to my example of a Movie Horse Blogathon. Let’s say that you wanted to write about Francis the Talking Mule. He’s not a horse but pretty close.
The host will either okay your idea or decide that it is too far from the spirit of the blogathon. In this case, I would say that Francis is a no-go as a mule is close but not a horse. I would then offer the idea of writing a review of the Mister Ed show.
I suggest having a backup plan in case your slightly-off-topic post is not accepted.
What if an emergency comes up and I can’t participate after all?
Send a polite message to the blogathon host. Apologize for being unable to participate. Try to do this as far in advance as you can, especially if the event does not allow duplicate posts. This allows the host time to update their roster and show would-be participants that the topic is once again up for grabs.
What if I change my mind about what I want to cover for the blogathon?
Contact the host and ask if the change is possible. It’s usually okay to change but sometimes the host may not approve. For example, if you changed your mind and wanted to review The Black Stallion instead, the host may ask you to choose again if another blogger is already covering the film.
The blogathon is scheduled for several days. How does that work?
Some hosts choose to break up their blogathons over several days. If you have a preferred day, make sure to politely ask if you can be scheduled on that date. If you have no preference, tell the host. It makes scheduling much easier for them.
Generally, when a blogathon is scheduled over several days, the host will have a separate announcement post for each day. If there are co-hosts, they may split up the days and participants between them. If this is the case, make sure you communicate with the host you “belong to” and inform them of any changes that may come up.
In short, communication is the key to most blogathon issues that may arise.
The Lead-up: What to do before the blogathon
There are a few things that you can do before the blogathon to make things easier for both you and your host.
Grab a banner
Most blogathons will provide banners, that is, graphics designed to be plopped into participating blogs. These banners spread the word about the event and advertise your participation.
Spread the word
If you participate in social media, it is a nice touch to tout the blogathon a little. Remember, the more successful the blogathon, the more traffic you will get. Plus, it’s just a nice thing to do.
Start working early
Everyone has a different schedule but I highly recommend writing your blogathon post as early as possible. That way, if something does come up, you will have your post ready to go for the event. I realize that this is not always workable but it is a good goal.
The Big Day: What to do during the blogathon
The day has arrived and it is time for your blogathon post to go up. Here are some tips:
Link to the blogathon page
You will want everyone to know that your post is part of a blogathon so be sure to include a link. There are no rules as to where the link should be placed but most folks put it either at the beginning or end of their post. You can also include one of the blogathon banners but this is not mandatory.
Send your hosts the URL of your post
Send a link to your post to the host of the blogathon. If the blogathon has multiple hosts, it is a good idea to send it to all of them so that it does not get lost in the shuffle. Blogathons can be a little hectic.
Check out the posts of the other participants
Now you can relax and enjoy the other blogathon posts.
I hope you enjoyed this little guide to blogathon participation. Do you have more suggestions? Be sure to leave a comment!
Next up: How to host a blogathon of your very own.
UPDATE: I am now a self-hosted site but I still recommend the service for those of you who are hosted by WordPress.com
NOTE: Ten days after publishing this article, I had a terrible shock. I had just published the announcement for my Lon Chaney Blogathon and had several browser tabs open. Then I heard it– an autoplay ad! Of all the types of ads on the internet, the autoplay video ad is the one I cannot tolerate. So, I went on a search and destroy mission. Was my face red when I saw that the offending ad was on MY site!
I was angry. I shook my fist and demanded answers. I also suspended WordAds on my site. Then I sent the URL of the autoplaying ad to the WordAds Twitter account.
(The stupid thing ran for TWO SOLID MINUTES!)
Anyway, the folks at WordAds contacted me and this is what they said:
Hi there. We just got word back from our ad partner, this was clearly a mistake on their behalf. We are extremely sensitive to auto-play. We work with a lot of partners, and finding one bad ad can be a daunting task. We’ve tracked the ad and this should not happen again.
This all occurred within 24 hours. So, all-in-all, I am pretty happy. Just wanted to share my experience!
You may have noticed that my blog has ads. There’s a reason for that. I have signed up for the WordAds program from WordPress.com. It seems that a fair amount of bloggers are curious about the program so I thought I would share my experiences.
First, here’s a brief overview of WordAds.
What is it?
An advertising revenue sharing program that is open to some users of WordPress.com. This is significant since the WordPress.com terms of service forbid the use of other ad or affiliate services (for example, AdSense) on a WordPress.com hosted blog.
Ad revenue is paid out in $100 blocks. So, if you make $37 in ads, you will have to wait until your total reaches $100 before you are paid.
Who can use it?
Your blog must be hosted by WordPress.com, not a self-hosted WordPress.org site. So, if you pay money to GoDaddy or Bluehost or Host Gator or any other hosting service, you do not qualify for WordAds.
You must purchase a premium domain name (that is, you must be www.example.com, NOT www.example.wordpress.com).
Your blog must be “family safe” and must not engage in piracy or other nefarious acts.
There are minimums for number of visitors and user engagement. However, I have been unable to find any actual numbers for this. (Some sites have published what they claim to be the minimums but they are not accurate, at least from my experience.)
How it works
You must request an invitation and wait for it to be processed. This can take several weeks. You will be informed by email if you are accepted.
You will see a new option in your settings menu.
Once you are approved, you must provide personal information for tax and payment purposes.
You will also be prompted to change to a theme that supports maximum placement of WordAds. Finally, you will be given the choice of showing the ads to all visitors or just to non-WordPress users. (You can buy a No Ads upgrade for $30 a year, if you wish to be completely free of advertising.)
That’s it! Your earnings are calculated monthly and you are paid once your total reaches $100.
My experience with WordAds
I blog about silent films because I love them but I am not going to lie: I would like very much to make a bit of money. Not a fortune but maybe enough to cover my hosting fees and even a DVD or two.
I applied to be a WordAds site in June and received my approval email in July. The setup was very easy, I was done in a few minutes. one thing concerned me, though. There was an alert saying that my theme was not optimized for WordAds, which might lower my earnings. I investigated the optimized themes but didn’t really see anything I liked better than my old Sight theme.
(For the record, what I like about Sight is the nice slider with big images and plenty of text, the infinite scroll feature, and the fact that the just first few sentences of my latest posts are listed without me having to insert a More tag.)
I kept checking the earnings tab and was pleasantly surprised when I saw earnings for June appear. I had applied in that month but had not expected the earnings to kick in until July, when I received notice of being approved.
The big question: How much?
Well, after two months, I have made nearly enough to cover my hosting for the year (domain registration, mapping and privacy is $26). Not too shabby considering that almost no work was involved. (Yes, I realize writing the blog is work but I’ve been doing that without being paid.)
How much will you earn? The math is a little different for everyone. My blog seems to be on the high end as far as money-per-impression goes. This probably has something to do with the fact that the vast majority of my readership is from more mature online advertising markets.
You’re not going to make millions of dollars right off the bat but the nice bit of cash is welcome. The average blog simply does not have enough traffic to generate huge ad revenue. It’s all about being realistic. Your blogging ads will probably not cover your car payment but they might be able to cover a few lattes. That’s better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.
The ads are aimed at a general audience, rather than being tailored to your blog content. This is probably a good thing in my case as I blog about an extremely niche topic (silent films) but I can see a food blogger wanting to have food-related ads for their blog.
Other than money, common complaints against WordAds are that the ads are not separate enough from content and that they cheapen the brand of the blog. I personally think the ads look like ads and should not confuse anyone. As for cheapening one’s brand… Well, I think that’s getting just a bit precious. I mean, if you sign up for online ads, don’t be shocked if your site gets online ads that look like online ads. If you hate them that much, you can always cross WordPress’s palm with silver to have them removed. (By default, WordPress shows ads to all non-WordPress visitors to your site, whether you are using WordAds or not.)
In short, don’t be Carlo! Or, contrary-wise, if you want to be Carlo, don’t sign up for online ads.
Minimal setup, you should be done in 5 minutes or less.
A way to make money from a WordPress.com blog.
Relatively few ads per page (at least in my case).
Not too many templates are WordAds optimized.
It may take a while to be paid.
Your blog is involved in vulgar commerce. Ugh!
Overall, I am pretty pleased with my WordAds experience and plan to continue with the program.
I blog about a niche topic within a niche topic. Classic movie blogs are niche enough but I specialize in silent movies.
Want to know my favorite kind of comment?
“I have never seen/wasn’t interested in seeing/only have seen a few silent movies but I want to see this one.”
It makes me so happy to read this. But how do you get people to take that first look at your site? I am going to share some of the tricks that have worked for me. Some of them have already been covered in my post on increasing your blog’s traffic but I am going to revisit them with broadening blog audiences in mind.
How widely do you want to spread your blog?
That is the most important thing to consider is how far you are willing to spread your blog’s topics. If you blog about cooking, would it make sense to add sections on gardening, entertaining or travel? Only you know the answer to that.
Let’s cover some risks of stepping out of your niche:
You risk alienating your core fans: If your most devoted fans only want to read about cooking, suddenly adding a lot of semi-related posts will make them less likely to return.
You risk unfocusing your blog: If you add too many new topics or topics that are not closely related to your main theme, you risk losing focus on your blog. A new visitor must be able to immediately know what your blog is about. And if your blog is purposely eclectic, say so on the landing page.
Here are some rewards:
You might get readers who may never have visited your blog otherwise: Sure, you have loyal readers for your articles on French cheesemaking but adding reviews of supermarket cheeses will give you access to a much broader readership.
You might find yourself having fun: Writing a regular blog is a challenge, even for the most passionate. Thinking of ways to expand your topic can make your blog new to you once again.
Eclectic content and off-topic posts are fun to write and read. However, when you are expanding your content, never forget the original purpose of your blog. Venture out but don’t forget to come home again.
(Of course, there are cases of blogs changing their purpose entirely but that was a decision made by their creators, not the result of too many topics. And, again, some blogs are purposely eclectic.)
Adding new topics and features
What new topics and features? Again, it depends on your blog. In my case, I wanted to make silent movies more real and relevant to modern viewers who may not necessarily be film buffs. Figure out your target and then try to come up with ideas that will appeal to them.
You have a blog on classic English literature. You decide that you want more non-readers to take a look at your site. You decide to start reviewing modernized film versions of the classics.
You have a blog on fine cooking. You decide that you want to appeal to the busy mom/dad reader. You decide to start posting about quick and easy shortcuts that bring gourmet food to a busy household.
In my case, I started reviewing modern sound films that featured silent movies in their plots.
Varying post length and branch into other media
If you are regularly writing 1,000+ word posts, consider interspersing smaller, more digestible posts. Someone who is new to your blog may hesitate to commit to a 2,500 word review but will be more than happy to look at a 350 word feature. Plus, the challenge of having fewer words available is a great writing exercise.
Also consider varying your content. What do I mean? Well, if you are a passionate blogger, you are using the written word. Have you considered adding images to the mix? Movie stills, vintage illustrations, animated GIFs…
By the same token, if you are an image-centric blogger, maybe consider adding a small amount of written content to mix things up.
Videos are powerful and search engines love ’em. Just be sure that the video is either in the public domain or is otherwise authorized to be posted. Of course, your own videos would not have copyright issues, assuming you follow the rules of your video hosting service. (Here is the official word on Fair Use; the actual definition of it varies from site to site.)
Test drive your content
I’ve mentioned before that I belonged to a small writers group and that it helped my writing a lot. Here’s why.
The group consisted of four women, not including me. We were all from different backgrounds and were different ages. We all wrote on different topics. Only one of the ladies had ever seen a silent film. What did this mean? I got to test out my reviews on an audience who did not know Wallace Reid from Sessue Hayakawa. If my references were too vague or too obviously intended for insiders, they would tell me so.
You see, as a fan of your subject, you may take for granted that your audience will understand your references and jokes. Am I advocating talking down to your readers? Heavens, no! What I am saying is that it helps me a lot to try to imagine a newcomer reading one of my posts. Would it be clear and fun to read? It should be.
While I no longer belong to a writers group, I think I benefited from my membership. In addition to helping with the basic craft of writing, it also helped me to see my work with fresh eyes.
I was overwhelmed by the success of my previous post on blogging. The kind words from my readers were really a treat! So, like any good Hollywood producer would do, I have decided to opt for a sequel.
These are mistakes I have made myself and have seen others make. I use WordPress and will be heavily referring to their tutorial section but I think most of these ideas can work for any blogging platform. Here goes nothing!
Not using tags and categories
Uncategorized. What does that tell you about a post? Nothing. Thanks to social media platforms like Twitter, the hashtag (you know, #topic) has been helping people organize and comment on their content. That’s what the tags and categories in WordPress (or Labels on Google’s Blogger) do for you. Simply put, tags and categories make it easier for your readers to navigate your blog and read posts similar to the ones that they already enjoy.
What’s the difference between a Tag and a Category? Well, according to WordPress, a category is for the general topics of your blog, while a label is more specific. For example, if you run a craft blog and want to post an easy wool scarf pattern, you might use the Categories of Crafts and Knitting and use the Tags of Scarf, Easy, Wool and Knitting Pattern.
Don’t sweat too much about which is a tag and which is a category, just use a system that makes sense to you and that you think will make sense to everyone else. The main thing is that you not neglect your tags and categories.
Also, do not go crazy and overtag. This is a red flag to Google and it looks silly.
Not paying attention to site analytics
Site analytics are a powerful tool. They tell you how many visitors came to your site, how many pages they viewed and which ones. If you want to know what gets counted and what doesn’t, WordPress has a handy guide. Almost every blogging service offers some sort of stats.
Here are some things that you can do with your site stats:
You can measure how engaged your readers are. How? Well, if your blog got 100 visitors but only 102 page views, that means the readers are only reading one or two pages before leaving. If your stats consistently show this, it may be time to consider livening up your content or providing interesting links that will encourage your readers to stick around.
Find out what features are a hit with your readers. A store owner would be a fool not to check what items are selling and what items are gathering dust on the shelves. Your site stats will tell you which post has received the most hits. Should you be a slave to your stats? Of course not, but why not to follow up a particularly successful post?
Discover who is referring people to your site. Sometimes, you will have a new fan outside of your blogging ecosystem and you won’t even know it until they link back to you. Follow up on referrer links and see if you can make new friends.
Pinpoint your blog’s slow days. Some bloggers report that they have low traffic on a particular day (often Saturday). I enjoy a healthy readership in time zones that are 8-9 hours ahead of me and this seems to prevent me from having a Saturday slowdown. However, it is worth checking out. After all, there’s no point in posting big news on a low traffic day.
But! (This is important) Don’t drive yourself crazy by constantly checking your traffic. Sometimes, you will just have a slow day because that’s how the world works.
Leaving on the default banner for your template
Okay, this may seem pretty minor but let me put it this way: If you buy a pretty picture frame, do you leave the generic images inside?
The banner is the first thing people see when they visit your blog. Even if your visitors don’t notice that it is generic, that banner is taking up prime real estate and not doing anything for you. Wouldn’t it be better to have a banner that communicates what your site is all about?
You can make a banner with Photoshop, Paintshop Pro, GIMP or even MS Paint! You know, the freebie that comes with Windows. What if you don’t have these programs and do not wish to learn? Just search for “banner maker online” and you will find numerous websites that can generate a custom banner for you. Or you can bribe your sister’s kid to make you one. Some brownies or a frappucino should do the trick.
WordPress has a handy tutorial for this too (the header, not the kid bribing.
If you are new to blogging, you may notice badges on a website’s sidebar. Versatile Blogger, Liebster, Super Sweet Blogging Award… But what are they? Who gives them out? How can you get one? Do you want one at all?
Here is an easy guide with the newcomer in mind.
What are the awards?
They are awards given by bloggers to bloggers. The awards have rules attached that are usually some variation of this:
- Thank whoever gave you the award and link to their site
- Answer a certain number of questions and/or share a certain number of personal facts
- Nominate a certain number of bloggers to receive the award (usually between 10 and 20) and inform them of it by commenting on their latest post
- Display the award badge on your site
That’s it! You can wear your award!
If I accept, do I have to follow all the conditions?
I guess you are supposed to but most bloggers (myself included) have bent or broken the rules on occasion. Sometimes we just answer the questions and don’t nominate anyone. Sometimes we nominate too many or too few. Remember, this is supposed to be fun!
Who can I nominate?
Some awards have rules as to who can receive the award but most are open to all. I should note, though, that some bloggers do not accept awards.
Why would anyone refuse an award?
Here’s the thing: Blogging awards are quite time-consuming. It may not sound like much but it can really eat into blogging time. Some bloggers just don’t care for the concept, which is fine. Others have received so many that they no longer accept new ones. Don’t worry though. Bloggers who do not accept awards generally know how to graciously decline them.
Three good reasons to accept blogging awards (especially if you are new to blogging)
I absolutely respect the decisions of bloggers who do not accept awards but I am going to list three reasons why newer bloggers should seriously consider participating.
1. It can spike your traffic
You should see a spike in your traffic when you create an award post. Why? Well, the award-giver will probably visit your site, as will their readers. And people just generally like reading about awards. Why do you think the Oscar, Emmy, Tony and Grammy award broadcasts are so popular? Obviously, this is on a smaller scale but you should see a boost in traffic.
2. It can help you network
Giving out awards is a great way to get to know other bloggers. They will appreciate your recognition and support, even if they do not accept the award.
3. It can create links back to your site
When someone accepts an award from you, they will include a link back to your website. This is important for building your search engine ranking (though spammer abuse of links does mean that the ranking rules change once in a while) but it also helps you get more human eyeballs looking at your blog. This makes it all worth it, even if there was no search engine advantage!
(Don’t get too enthusiastic, though. Google does not look kindly on link exchange schemes. Nor should they.)
If you give an award to, say, ten bloggers and three of them write posts on it, you have three posts that are linked directly to your blog. That’s huge for a beginning blogger!
Of course, the most important reason to participate is because it is fun!
Tips on award success
If you have time, write a tiny blurb about the blogs you are nominating. This will make your award page more fun to read and will encourage your readers to visit the nominated sites.
Swell Cooking Blog | Mary shares the secrets of her mother’s recipe card box
Swell Book Blog | John blogs about the newest literary fiction releases in reviews of 300 words or less
Swell Movie Blog | Jane reviews classic Japanese film with the newcomer in mind
It is also a good idea to mix up your nominee list once in a while and make sure that you are cycling in new blogs for the award love.
It is also good policy to leave a comment on the blogs of your nominees. Nothing elaborate, just saying that they have been nominated. You may also add a little ending that makes it clear that you do not expect or require them to participate. Synkronicity phrased this very well, I think.
“I hope you will consider this a big thank you and pay it forward to someone who delights you. If you aren’t into this sort of thing, then just know that someone out here admires your work.”
Isn’t that nice?
Well, I hope this helps you deal with the world of blogging awards! Happy blogging!