Dear Movies Silently, How can I make my own silent movie?

This is a common question. There are hundreds of amateur silent films online and more are uploaded every day. What do most of them have in common? They are awful. What’s most irritating is that many of the mistakes that these would-be silent directors make could have been avoided if they had spent a little time studying actual silent films.

Continue reading “Dear Movies Silently, How can I make my own silent movie?”

All About the Blogathons Part 2: How to host your own

The Sea Hawk 1924, Frank Lloyd, Milton Sills, Enid Bennett, Wallace Beery, A Silent Movie Review
If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a thousand times: No one wants a puffy shorts blogathon!

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:

Co-hosts

Some things are better together (via allposters.com)

Pros

  • 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

Cons

  • 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

Solo hosting

For when you want to be alone (via Tumblr)

Pros

  • 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

Cons

  • 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.

The Play House Buster Keaton silent movie review, comedy short
Duplicates, do you want them?

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?

Pros:

  • More bloggers will be able to write on popular topics
  • Get multiple takes on famous subjects

Cons:

  • 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”

A magnificent beast! And the horse looks pretty cool too.
A magnificent beast! And the horse looks pretty cool too.

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

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

Title, hosts, dates, all there!
A banner done right: Title, hosts, dates, all there!
Another winner! All the information is in place and the text is very clear.
Another winner! All the information is in place and the text is very clear.

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.)

Video tutorial for making banners in MS Paint and MS Word

Text tutorial for making banners in MS Word

Text tutorial for making banners in Photoshop Elements

Text tutorial for making banners in GIMP*

*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:

Unreadable colors:

wrong-banner-1

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:

wrong-banner-1

Not too easy to make out, is it?

Unreadable fonts:

wrong-banner-2

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:

wrong-banner-2

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.

right-banner

Use dark or bright colors against white and pastels and brights against black. A basic, bold font. Easy, readable, done.

right-banner

Works like a charm.

Here are tutorials on how to draw rectangles in Photoshop Elements, GIMP, MS Paint and Paintbrush.

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!

(And here are the arguments against Comic Sans and Papyrus, if you are interested. Yes, this is an emotional issue. Please don’t use them.)

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.

right-banner-2

And the shrunk-down version:

right-banner-2

Ta-da!

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)

The Barbara Stanwyck Blogathon

The Great Imaginary Film Blogathon

Crickets

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.)

Social media

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!

Time for the blogathon already?
Time for the blogathon already?

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.

Single-post rosters:

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

Oh Doctor Reginald Denny Mary Astor Silent Comedy 1925

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!

All About the Blogathons Part 1: How to partipate

Scaramouche 1923, starring Ramon Novarro, Alice Terry, Lewis Stone, directed by Rex Ingram, a silent movie review
Friends! Citizens! Will you not join the blogathon?

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?

Lurk a bit and see what other people are choosing.
Lurk a bit and see what other people are choosing.

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?

Is Francis close enough to horsiness? (Wikipedia)

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?

The Prisoner of Zenda, 1922, A Silent Movie Review, Ramon Novarro, Alice Terry, Lewis Stone | 1937 Fencing
I hope this fight ends soon or I’ll NEVER finish my blogathon post!

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.

Most bloggers place the banners in their sidebar or in their footer. It’s up to you where you place it.

Also be sure to link the image to the host blog. Here are instructions on how to do this in WordPress and Blogger.

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

Forward! Let nothing stop you!
Forward! Let nothing stop you!

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.

UPDATED | Selling out to The Man, or, how I stopped worrying and learned to love WordAds

mary-pickford-douglas-fairbanks-william-s-hart
People make their money different ways. Me? I’ll stick to advertising.

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!

Original Article

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.

wordads-review2

Once you are approved, you must provide personal information for tax and payment purposes.

wordads-review

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?

doll-ernst-lubitsch-ossi-oswalda-silent-movie-animated-trust-us

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.

Conclusion

Pros:

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).

Cons:

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.

How to broaden your blog’s audience (expanding it beyond your loyal niche followers and possibly ruling the world)

Take a look at your own site to see how you can expand its appeal.
Take a look at your own site to see how you can expand its appeal.

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?

Show People, Marion Davies, William Haines, King Vidor, Silent Film review
Spreading the word about 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.

In conclusion:

Kitten
Would you like a kitten with your giant pin of a chili pepper? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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

Only Me 1929 silent comedy short film review Lupino Lane
Try something new!

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.

Samples:

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

douglas fairbanks mary pickford
Try out new 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

Tiny and cute!
Make sure your content looks its best!

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.

Recommended



A few mistakes bloggers make (and how you can avoid them)

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

Dewey Decimal
Keep your blog orderly and you will win over readers. (Gexydaf)

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.

Be default, WordPress will list your post as Uncategorized and tagless. We can’t have that! WordPress even has tutorials for adding tags and categories! There’s really no excuse not to use them.

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

Emerging blogs need to pay attention to... Ok, Ok, I just wanted to use this weird egg hatching girl image!
Emerging blogs need to pay attention to… Ok, Ok, I just wanted to use this weird egg hatching girl image!

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

Do you want your site to scream GENERIC? (fuelyourbranding.com)

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.

Recommended

Blogging awards and what to do about them

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.

Sample:

Nominee List

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!

How to be charming on Twitter

Goodness knows I need these reminders. No one is perfect and I certainly slip more times than I care to admit. Consider these to be a general guide.

I use Twitter for work and to promote my website. Since I blog about silent movies (a fairly obscure subject), getting the word out is especially important for my site traffic. These suggestions are based on mistakes I have made, things that have annoyed me and problems I have seen crop up. On the positive side, there are also tips that have helped to network and (hopefully) amuse people.

Say please and thank you

Remember everything they taught you in kindergarten and you will be fine! Thank people for follows, retweets, #FF (Follow Friday) mentions, etc.

But don’t overdo it!

If you have a fan who often retweets you, it may be a bit creepy to thank them every single time. Use discretion. Perhaps a blanket “thanks for all your support” on occasion would be best.

Don’t be a know-it-all

(explosm.net)

Ok, so you’re on Twitter, you’re excited and then, joy of joys, you find someone tweeting about your very subject of interest. Oh frabjous day! But then you notice that they got an itty bitty detail wrong.

Do you:

a) Immediately correct their foolish error. Ha! You win the internet!

b) Let it slide since it really doesn’t have much to do with the conversation

Look, I’m not saying that you have to ignore glaring errors. But if the conversation is going well, is it really worth it to derail everything by pointing out that the Treaty of Whatsit was signed in June of 1765 rather than May? Good rule of thumb: If you would let it slide in real life, let it slide on Twitter.

(Of course, if the entire conversation is based on the treaty being signed in June vs. May, have at it!)

Samples:

No!

Miss Take: I went to Florida to see my grandparents. I wanted the kids to know them before they passed on. JJ was so excited to see a crocodile!

Mr. Know-it-all: Actually, Florida has alligators. Specifically Alligator Mississippiensis of the family Alligatoridae.

Ok!

Miss Take: Why do they say Florida Gators when they have crocodiles there?

Mr. Know-it-all: Actually, Florida has alligators. Specifically Alligator Mississippiensis of the family Alligatoridae.

See the difference?

Another rule of thumb. Think about what you are typing. If you read it aloud and you sound like Malvin in War Games, consider rephrasing.

If someone know-it-alls you

Smile (digitally) and thank them for their information. They may be a newbie, didn’t think before tweeting or some other issue. That being said, if someone is continually boorish and causes you stress, unfollow them or block them as soon as possible.

DM’s can annoy people

Direct Messages (DM) are a great way to quietly mention something or ask a question. However, if you use this function to solicit site traffic or to try to sell items, you are becoming a telemarketer. DM’s are best reserved for real interactions.

I know some people even request no DM’s in their Twitter profile. I personally do not have a problem with the messages as long as they are from someone who really wants to communicate or ask a question and not just push a product or website. However, I respect the wishes of the users who prefer not to be contacted this way.

Your automated services can annoy people

Be careful with that infernal machine! (allposters.com)

There are a few services that can be good if used properly. And then there are services that annoy most everyone.

HootSuite helps you monitor your social media and it can automatically tweet for you. This can be very useful as it keeps your account active. However, you must be careful not to be spammy and always be sure to check your @ messages to see if anyone has answered you. Also, please mix it up. Some folks on Twitter use HootSuite to send the same 10 messages over and over and over again.

TrueTwit. Oh how I hate TrueTwit. It’s a validation service that checks to see if new followers are spammers. The problem is that you can usually tell that by checking to see if they tweet about diet pills or get rich quick schemes. TrueTwit sends a DM to new followers asking them to confirm their humanity. (Premium users do not have to send DM’s.)

Here is a reenactment of what goes through my head when someone uses TrueTwit:

Me: Ooo, a Twitter account about silent movies! Hurrah! I shall follow!

DM: The Account uses TrueTwit Validation Service. Please click here to validate.

Me: What? But I just want to read tweets about silent movies… (clicks) A Captcha!?!?! What foul deed is this? (closes window, forgets about following the account)

Please, please, please do not use this. Follow me or not as you choose but don’t assume I am a spammer without reading a single tweet. 

I know spam followers are annoying. But if you have them, only you are annoyed. If you use TrueTwit, you will manage to annoy EVERYONE who wants to follow you.

JustUnfollow is another service that I use. It lets you see who has followed or unfollowed you on Twitter. This is incredibly useful for obvious reasons. However, it also allows you to send automated DM’s to folks and these can easily become annoying.

Also, I am not a huge fan of automatically tweeting one’s following and unfollowing activity. I dare say that no one cares that I gained 4 new followers and lost 2. Fortunately, both the DM and the tweeting of stats are opt-in propositions.

Remember to be human

If you have a blog or a business, it is easy to fall into the “read this!” “new product!” rut. Remember, though, that Twitter is social media. Answer questions, retweet (but don’t overdo it), and generally act like a human and not a robot.

Take part in the fun!

Weekly events like Follow Friday, Mention Monday or Writer Wednesday are great ways to network. Basically, you tweet the handles of folks you think others should follow.

Okay, I have to make a confession. The first time I saw my Twitter handle attached to #FF, I wondered if I was being insulted.

Never done it before? Here’s what to do:

Choose who you want to mention. Everyone has a different method. Some do #FF for new followers, some have a set list of folks they tweet about every week. Me? I like to mention folks who have mentioned me, retweeted me or left interesting feedback on my site.

Make your tweet. Start with the hashtag FF, followed by the Twitter handles of your selections. It helps to add a short intro phrase since this makes your tweet more interesting.

Sample:

#FF Great food bloggers! @example1 @example2 @example3

or

#FF Good people to know –> @example1 @example2 @example3

If someone gives you a mention in this way:

Thank them! And also consider retweeting their mention.

Do you have to do this every week? If you want to but it’s not required. It’s just a fun way to network and give a shout-out to deserving users.

How to grow your blog traffic (at least what worked for me)

Greetings! I have been active on WordPress for 6 months so I thought that now would be a good time to talk about traffic.

First, a little background. My site actually started in 2009 but I started the migration to WordPress in 2012. Life interfered and I did not return to the migration until January of 2013– spurred on by the imminent expiration of my contract with my former host. When I was self-hosted, my traffic was stagnant but I decided that when I launched on WordPress, I would do it in style! Aggressively court traffic, is what I mean.

Here are the most effective methods for me. Keep in mind, though, that I blog about a fairly niche film topic (silent movies) and different methods work for different blogs. I do hope you find some of these techniques useful. Also, some of my techniques are WordPress-centric. What can I say? I am brand loyal.

Also, it goes without saying, but some of these tips just involve being a good, active citizen of the blogosphere.

Follow fellow bloggers and do not assume that you must only follow in your genre

Following other blogs is a powerful way to generate traffic for your own blog.

Start with browsing blogs that write on similar topics to yours. Use the Topic Search in your WordPress reader tab and start looking. For example, I started my search with topics like “movies” “films” and “classic movies” as well as the all-encompassing “entertainment” topic. Don’t just follow willy-nilly. Select the blogs that are interesting, informative and currently updated. After all, why would you want to follow a blog that is boring, dull or no longer maintained? Also, some blogs may be well-written but are just not something you are interested in. That’s fine. Don’t just follow blogs for what you can get as a blogger, follow them because you enjoy them as a reader.

Next, think about your other hobbies and interests, the ones you are not blogging about. For example, I also like to read about crafts and tea. Follow some blogs on those topics as well. Worst case scenario, you get to read more about subjects you already like. There is a good chance, though, that the folks you are reading may have interests that overlap with yours. They may not blog on the topic but they are happy to read about it.

Finally, when you read a particularly good post, check the bottom to see who “liked” it or left a comment. Visit the users’ blogs, if they have them, and see if they are someone you would like to follow. Active bloggers who visit other sites are often a blast to read and can become your loyal readers in turn.

To sum things up, what does following other blogs get you? Followers! If someone follows me, I almost always visit their blogs and I will often follow back.

I cannot emphasize enough, however, that I follow blogs first and foremost to enjoy their posts. The traffic boost is the icing on the cake.

Join up!

When you are first starting out, it is essential that you network if you are serious about driving visitors to your site. If you don’t like to network, fine. Can you still grow? Sure. But it is a whole lot slower.

What should you join? I get a lot of traffic from blogger associations and blogathons.

A blogger association is a club for bloggers who write on the same topic. I currently belong to two movie blogging associations and have applied for a third. The type and number of blogging associations you can join depends on the topic you write about. Most associations maintain a site where member blogs are listed. This in itself will drive traffic to your site and it will also give a to-do list of blogs to visit and network with. Be a good citizen and promote member blogs that you particularly like.

A blogathon is an event that involves numerous bloggers writing posts on a chosen subject during a particular time frame. Blogathons have been very kind to me. They have won me loyal readers, introduced me to wonderful blogs. They also opened me up to writing on topics that I never would have dreamed of covering.

What makes a blogathon so powerful? Well, all of the participating blogs are driving their traffic toward one another. You may read Blog A’s post for the blogathon and then be led to Blogs B, C and D, great blogs you never even heard of before the event!

Most of all, though, blogathons are fun and they allow you to grow as a writer. That’s reward enough, even if you do not get a traffic boost.

Tweet as you have never tweeted before!

Twitter is a powerful traffic driver for my blog. (bloggeritis.net)

Twitter is a very powerful traffic driver. WordPress has a handy tutorial on linking your Twitter account to your blog.

Here are a few tips on using Twitter:

  1. Follow interesting folks, but not too many at once. If you are following 2,000 people and only have 25 followers, you might want to consider cutting back a bit. There are lots of tools that let you monitor new followers, unfollows and non-followers. I use Just Unfollow but there are many, many choices.

  2. Tweet old posts as well as new. Your newer followers may have missed your posts when you first tweeted them. Remember, though, that you can come off as spammy if you are not careful.

  3. Periodically search for new people to follow. Also be sure to see if the blogs you already follow have Twitter accounts. You will also want to check and see if your Twitter followers have blogs.

  4. Be sure that your Twitter profile clearly defines the topic of your blog and that it includes a link to your blog. A shocking number of people forget this important step.

Do not let your blog go inactive

An inactive blog is a very sad place indeed.
An inactive blog is a very sad place indeed.

How often should I post? Is a common query for beginners. A good rule of thumb is at least once a month. More often is better but you need to do what is realistic for you.

How does this drive traffic? Well, when I visit a blog, I often look for the latest post. If it is three months old, how urgent is it for me to return? In a few months or so. Maybe.

But what if I see that the blog is updated monthly, weekly, daily? I am much more likely to return frequently to see what is new.

Updating often also means you will appear in the blogrolls of linking sites and on the reader page of WordPress.

If you like it, say it!

If you like an article, don't stay mum.
If you like an article, don’t stay mum.

If you enjoy a post, leave a comment complimenting the author. It’s a nice thing to do and is universally appreciated. It makes you a good citizen and it will help you make friends with fellow bloggers. A side benefit is getting your own blog’s information in the public eye.

How to compliment a blog post:

  1. Be sincere. Don’t just comment to win followers. You don’t want to be like those spammers who leave hilariously generic comments.

  2. Be specific. Say what you like about the post and why you like it. It will make your comment more interesting to read and will be useful to the blog’s author.

Consider your audience and how to expand it

Is your blog aimed at devotees of your subject? Consider adding posts that will attract a more general audience. Does this mean that you abandon your core followers? No, of course not. But everyone is new once. Adding posts that are aimed at newcomers will make your blog more attractive to dabblers and readers who are unfamiliar with your topic.

Another way to expand your audience is to consider posts that relate to your overall topic in a way that is of interest to a more general audience. For example, my animated GIFs and After the Silents posts are some of my most popular features.

A word of caution though. If you post on too many subjects, your blog may seem unfocused and disorganized. This is fine if your blog is meant to be eclectic but it can turn off your readers if you stray too far from your original purpose. A few off-topic posts are fine but week after week of them will drive away loyal readers. If you are finding a lot of success with your off-topic posts, consider rebranding your blog or launching a new blog that covers those subjects.

Exploit you pet peeves

Probably the most common misconception about silent films… (uverseonline.att.net)

No matter what topic you blog about, there are sure to be misconceptions about it. You know, that annoying question everyone asks every time you mention your hobby or passion.

For me, it was this:

Me: I like silent movies.

Them: Aren’t those the movies where women get tied to railroad tracks?

Me:(hits them with bagel)

So I took my frustrations and wrote a blog post on the subject. It remains one of my most popular posts and pulls in a lot of search engine traffic. I like to think some of this traffic is from smartypants who are trying to win an argument by proving that lots of women were tied to railroad tracks in silent movies. Mwahahaha!

If a lot of people believe a myth, a misconception or a rumor then your post will likely draw in traffic and entertain your readers. Everyone likes a good debunking, the popularity of Snopes proves that.

Work on your craft

Improve your writing by writing even more! (flickr)

All of these tips are worthless if a blogger has poor writing skills. A poorly written blog may get traffic but it will not likely get repeat business. How do you improve? Read, read, read and then write, write, write.

Ideas to improve your blogging:

Join a real world writer’s group and get critiqued. This may seem odd for blogging but it is quite effective. Here are some tips on locating a good writer’s group (they are not all created equal).

Ask a fellow writer to exchange critiques one-on-one.

DON’T think that reading your post to your mom, boyfriend, best friend is the same as a critique. It’s not. Unless one of these people is a ruthless editor. In which case, go ahead.

Grab a copy of Strunk & White.

Read your work out loud. It is amazing how many awkward phrases and repeated words you will catch.

Remember, writing can be technically correct and boring as all get-out. Check for flow, rhythm and be prepared to cut if it seems like there are dull bits.

Check your writing with an outsider (someone with little to no knowledge of your topic) to see if it is understandable to a casual reader.

Well, those are just a few of the things that helped me increase my traffic. I hope you enjoyed the article!

Recommended

How I make animated GIFs

This is probably the number one question that I receive from fellow bloggers so I thought I would do a quick post on the topic.

1. I use Corel WinDVD to capture the GIF.

The software allows you to press a button and capture up to 15 seconds of imagery in GIF form. (It is also what I use for my review screen caps.)

As of this writing, the software has a 30 day free trial period.

2. I edit the GIF in Photoshop

I edit the speed of the GIF, the size and other features using Photoshop. The much-much-cheaper Photoshop Elements is also capable of editing GIFs. I have also heard of folks using GIMP (a freeeware image editor) successfully for their GIFs.

There are tons of tutorials available online for you GIF-makers. I am just a hobbyest so if you have any tech support issues, please contact the software maker. 😉 I am not posting a tutorial because there are already so many fabulous ones already. That’s how I learned. Just click on a link and have fun! (If you need a beginner Photoshop, Photoshop Elements or GIMP tutorial, those are easy to find as well.) I’m not offering tech support, is what I’m saying.

Also note that my GIFs are sized for WordPress, which treats GIFs like any other image file. Tumblr users have to stay under a certain file size (I have heard the limit is either 1MB or 2MB but I have never had a 2MB GIF work well for me.) I repost to Tumblr but size for WordPress.

Is this GIF method the only way? Nah but it works for me and I’m happy.

Naturally, the GIFs and screencaps are used for criticism and commentary.

Silent movie review process

I have had a few fellow bloggers ask some technical questions of me so I thought it would be fun to do a post all about my movie review method, such as it is.

Film selection

Are the films that I review new to me or not? About 25% of the time they are. The rest of the time, they are films that I have seen before and filed away as to-be-reviewed. There are a few films that I have seen but do not plan to review for various reasons. However, generally speaking, if I watch it, I will eventually review it.

I always re-watch a film before I write a review. Memories are slippery things and there are always nuances and details that I had forgotten.

I am most likely to review American films of the silent feature period (1915-1929) but I like to step out of my comfort zone for variety. I try to balance my reviews between the famous and the lesser-known.

Note-taking

I usually take notes as I watch (or re-watch) the movie I am reviewing. Silent films take a lot of concentration, though, so most of my notes are 3-5 word reminders to bring out a particular element or to research a topic. For example, while I was reviewing The Bells, my notes were something like this:

Exact shot in Caligari

Research mesmerist role in play

Blood on snow, understated

And so forth.

Research

If the film is based on a novel or play, I like to read the original source material, if it is available. One huge advantage is that most of the books that inspired silent films are in the public domain and are easy to access. Reading the original material gives me insight on what the scenario author was thinking and why they made the decisions that they did. I find that what they leave out is just as interesting as what they keep in. Plus, I have an excuse to read!

I also try to track down information on the making of the film. My best sources for this are autobiographies and interviews. I also look through my collection of scholarly works to see if film historians have insight on how the film was made. I try not to read other reviews of the film until after I have written mine because I don’t want to color my views.

Screen captures

I use WinDVD to capture sample images from films. I consider screen captures to be essential when reviewing silent movies. Silent cinema was such a visual medium and the pictures help the reader enjoy some of the beauties that these films have to offer. Naturally, these images are for the purpose of criticism and commentary.

I also use WinDVD to capture my GIFs and then I edit them in Photoshop. I try to find little moments that really capture the flavor of the film I am reviewing.

Read it out loud

This trick is often overlooked but incredibly valuable. I like to read whatever I write out loud. It helps me to get rid of awkward sentences and typos. It also helps me catch repeated words. Do I still make mistakes? Of course! But reading out loud helps me catch the major ones before I hit the “Publish” button.

Let it rest

I like to let my reviews rest for at least a week before I publish them. I am one of those people who does best with time to sort out thoughts and opinions. The extra rest time allows me to consider my review and to look at it with fresh eyes. Sometimes what seemed like a clever quip was actually a little mean. Sometimes a theme from the film that was not obvious at first becomes clear. Whatever the reason, I think that my reviews benefit from the resting period.

I generally have one month of posts written ahead of time. However, if a sudden whim overtakes me, I revise my schedule to accommodate it.