The chart above tells quite a story: it shows the growth of Betsy Bird’s blog on School Library Journal’s website.
So today I want to explain who Betsy is, how she does what she does, what it has brought her, and some tips to creating a successful blog.
The Making of a Blogger
Betsy is a librarian in New York City. She has a full time job, is married, and to my knowledge, cannot bend space and time to create the 25 hour day. So how does she do it?
She started out by posting book reviews on Amazon.com (Top 50 Reviewer with 1,500+ reviews so far.) From there she started a blog on her own, launched her career as a librarian, came over to School Library Journal, and most recently, landed a book deal.
Her focus is always Children’s Literature, or Kid Lit, as she calls it.
Some months (like April), she had 60 updates to her blog. I asked how she managed her time, and she described that her writing time was in the hours after dinner and before bed. It seemed oddly normal, considering her output.
After reviewing her blog and chatting with Betsy, below are some tips creating a great blog. These are things that worked for Betsy in some way or another – and I have seen them work for others too.
How to Become a SuperStar Blogger
- Connect With Your Audience Often
In order for readers to feel a connection with you, and for your blog to turn into a community of like-minded folks, you should consider how often you are reaching out to them. At its most basic level, this translates to how frequently you update your blog. While some bloggers update everyday – or multiple times a day – that is not necessary for all bloggers.
The key is to set some kind of schedule and expectation with your readership. Even if you can only update once a week, ensure you keep to that schedule, and that you have a high quality blog post that your readers will love.
If you can update more frequently – put yourself on a schedule: Mondays and Thursdays. This will help you as much as it helps readers.
Check out some of Betsy’s 60 blog entries from April to get a sense of how she reached out to her audience in a single month.
- Create Content Types
The more you define the “types” of content you are creating, the easier it will be for you to manage your weekly blog output. For instance, Betsy has several recurring types of posts:
- Involve Your Readers
To engage your readership, don’t just ask “what do you think” at the end of an entry, give them something to react to that engages their passion for the topic you blog about.
Betsy did this by creating a “Top 100 Picture Books of All Time Ranking.” Her audience voted in March, and throughout April and May, she has been releasing the 100 results in groups of five for 100-25, and then individually thereafter. For each book, she gives audience comments, detailed description and opinion, and lots of photos, videos and fan art.
This is a great way to create excitement during a slow news time, and create series that you can go back to again and again.
- Leverage the Network Effect
When Betsy got into blogging, she knew that no blogger exists as an island. She looked for ways to tap into existing networks, and recommends that new bloggers do the same. For other children’s literature bloggers like herself, she noted that you should go to the KidLitosphere group on Yahoo Group and introduce yourself.
I was recently speaking with a friend who was feeling a bit lonely as she tried to get her blog off the ground. When we started discussing how she can tap into existing networks that are filled with people who are passionate about the topic she writes about – the pressure of reinventing the wheel was lifted. Blogging should be a communal experience.
- Have a Hook
Betsy used to have a recurring feature was called “Hot Men of Children’s Literature.” It got people’s attention, and was a fun way for people to debate the sillier side of their industry. She has stopped doing this feature, but people still bring it up – it was a memorable way for her to stand out from the crowd.
Becoming part of a community is inherently about identity. When I see Facebook groups that have a lot of members, invariably, they have names like “Yeah, I’m a Trekkie – What’s it To You?” – as opposed to just “Star Trek Fan Club.” Something as simple as a recurring series of blog posts with a silly name can go a long way to building a devoted readership to your blog.
- Have an Opinion
People have no trouble finding news and information online, or even opinion, for that matter. But it is rare to find a unique voice that speaks to their passion for the topic they care most about. Don’t be afraid to share your personality and offer commentary. Blogging is like a filter – make sure yours accurately represents you.
Betsy does this in many ways, and you can see it most often in her lengthy book reviews. Some of them are thousands of words in length – as she discusses all aspects of the book at hand.
- Look Around
Be sure to visit other bloggers and see what they are doing. To get ideas for your blog – you should look to bloggers in other industries. Often, things that work for one industry can easily translate to your own.
When I speak to successful bloggers, they explain how some of their biggest successes were inspired by something that was new to their industry – but tried and true in another. When looking for ideas, look outside your own niche.
- Just Show Up
Betsy gets involved. She shows up every day to her blog, to other blogs, to industry events, etc. This is her passion, which makes it seem less like work, and more like hanging out with your friends and talking about the thing you care most about.
I realize that people are apprehensive with putting themselves “out there” too much on the web. But think about offline communities you may be involved with – those who show up see more of the benefit than those who just pop in every so often. When you don’t show up – you miss opportunities that others will gladly enjoy.
The Secret to a Great Blog: Ambition & Ability
This week’s New Yorker has an amazing article by Malcolm Gladwell where he explores how underdogs can increase their chances of winning.
The overall point that he makes is that:
“David can beat Goliath by substituting effort for ability.”
Why do I bring this up in an article about blogging? Because you often see a blend of two things in successful bloggers: a combination of ability and ambition.
I highly recommend that you read Mr. Gladwell’s article – much of it is a metaphor for how the web is reshaping media, advertising, and consumer behavior.