The Displaced Nation

A home for international creatives

JACK THE HACK: Expat authors, time to build a great and powerful blog (2/3)

The expat experience Jack Scott and his partner, Liam, had in the Turkish port town of Bodrum—they were seeking sanctuary from a pressured existence in London—proved literally to be something to write home about, as in a book! They have since returned to the UK, where they are living the life of Riley in Norwich.  Some months ago, we suggested that Jack reinvent himself as Jack the Hack and submit monthly columns targeted at those of you who are still displaced and hacking away at travelogues-cum-memoirsor, in some cases, autobiographical novels. Warning to non-Brits: Don’t be put off by his wry sense of humo(u)r!

—ML Awanohara

Last month I extolled the virtues of blogging as a way of spreading the word about your words—and, in the process, flogging that box of books you’re using as a door stop.

This month, I want to take you further down the yellow brick road to blogger glory, with answers to the following Frequently Asked Questions.

Where do I start?

First things first. Choose a blogging platform—called a “host.” This will be your blog’s home. The biggest free applications are:

  1. Blogger—easiest.
  2. WordPress—slightly more technical knowledge required.
  3. Tumblr—attracts a younger crowd and great for short posts, video and pictures.

Your host manages all the back office stuff so you don’t have to. Once you’ve signed up, you can roll out a new blog in no time. You don’t need to be technically savvy but it does help to have mastered the basics. All the blogging platforms offer online help and/or tutorials. WordPress, in particular, has a large and active user community. You will learn as you go along and this is all part of the fun. WordPress also offers a free self-hosting package through WordPress.org, providing total freedom and endless possibilities to the serious blogging geek (I’m bad but I ain’t that bad).

What’s in a name?

More than you might think. Choose a title for your blog that reflects its subject matter. Simple is best. For example, the Turkish Travel Blog does exactly what it says on the tin and works well for searching. I also like What’s for Tea Tonight, Dear? because it’s obviously about food but has a witty title.

Don’t ask me why I chose the rather obscure title of Perking the Pansies for my own blog. It’s caused endless confusion, especially across the Pond. All I can say is that it came to me in the night and seemed like a good idea at the time.

How do I make it a looker?

All blogging platforms come with a variety of appealing templates to add a dash of style. Select one; furnish it with your personal touches in words, images and music; accessorize from a menu of widgets and plugins; and, hey presto, you’ve got yourself a blog with punch and panache.

Some fancy features come at a premium but they aren’t necessary.

Your blog will be unique, so move the vases and furniture around to see what works feng shui-wise—rather like flicking through an IKEA catalogue.

Add an interesting “About Me” widget or page. The most successful blogs reveal something of the writer’s personality.

Will I be chained to the computer?

Not unless it turns you on. Posts can be written in batches and scheduled to be published over time. Try to post at least once a week, though. It’s good for what’s called search engine optimization (SEO). Don’t be spooked by this. This is just how Internet search engines index and rank your site— it’s all done in the background. Over time, posting regularly will push up your assets better than a Playtex 18-hour girdle.

What will give my blog the kiss of life?

This is the original million-dollar question. The short answer is, whatever floats your boat: something that interests you will help you write something interesting. Variety, as they say, is the spice of life—so choose a broad theme to write around.

Many authors will post book reviews or write about the writing experience itself. That’s fine and dandy, but just because you’re a writer doesn’t mean that you have to write about writing (I rarely do). And it does no harm to go off-message now and again. Surprise your audience with the occasional left fielder.

The blogosphere is an incredibly hyper-active arena. Bloggers through WordPress alone published more than 35 million posts during September this year, attracting more than 4 billion hits (yes, billion). Obviously, you’ll want your posts to stand out from the crowd. Try to ensure that the titles of your posts spark an interest. If your blog is mostly text, make the first few sentences of each post leap from the screen and get the juices flowing. Break up your words with interesting and relevant images.

In our visual, coffee-on-the-go, no-time-to-read age, the right picture can be more eloquent than a thousand words. Keep your pages clean and uncluttered. Fussy, multi-coloured fonts and busy designs can hurt the eyes and put the reader off. Don’t forget to use relevant categories and tags for each post. They’re good for SEO, too.

And the kiss of death?

If you’ve a book to flog, promote it lightly—otherwise, your readers will change channels quicker than you can say “click here.” By now, I reckon most of my regulars have either bought my book or would rather read the back of an envelope, so there’s little point banging on about it (until the next one, of course).

Don’t use your blog as a daily diary (use Facebook for this if you must). Even your dear old Grandma won’t be that interested in what you had for breakfast or that you broke a nail taking out the rubbish (unless something funny or profound happened on the way to the tip).

If you want to be seen as an authority on something, you need to write with authority.

So, until the third, and last, thrilling installment, I leave you with this final thought:

BLOGGING TIP FOR EXPAT AUTHORS NO 2:

While it’s important to blog regularly, it’s okay to take a break because real life is, well, real. If you have nothing to say, don’t say it.

* * *

Readers, any comments, further questions for Jack the Hack? He’ll be back next month with the third, and final, installment in his blogging advice trilogy: “Making Friends and Influencing People.”

Jack Scott’s debut book, Perking the Pansies—Jack and Liam move to Turkey, is a bitter-sweet tragi-comedy that recalls the first year of a British gay couple in a Muslim country. For more information on this and Jack’s other titles, go to his author site.

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, another installment in the life of our fictional expat heroine, Libby. (What, not keeping up with Libby? Read the first three episodes of her expat adventures.)

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, with seasonal recipes, book giveaways and other extras. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

Related posts:

Images from top, clockwise: Hand with pen / MorgueFile.com; Boats in King’s Lynn, Norfolk / MorgueFile.com; Jack Scott, used with his permission; Turkish boats / MorgueFile.com

5 responses to “JACK THE HACK: Expat authors, time to build a great and powerful blog (2/3)

  1. expatlog November 6, 2013 at 3:48 pm

    “posting regularly will push up your assets better than a Playtex 18-hour girdle” Showing your age there Jack (and indubitable experience of course)!

  2. Jack Scott November 7, 2013 at 8:44 am

    You’re so right. I remember the TV ads in the Seventies (or was it the Eighties?).

  3. ML Awanohara November 7, 2013 at 1:58 pm

    Can we move over to more serious topics, if only for a few exchanges? I’m wondering, Jack (and anyone else), what do you think about:
    1) length of blog posts (a much discussed topic here at the Displaced Nation, as many of our posts — tho not yours, I’ll hasten to add! — are on the long side). Do too many long reads (posts of more than 1,000 words) defeat the goal of building readership?
    2) number of photos. When we were in the planning stages for this site, we were advised that one main visual was the industry standard (partly b/c of the time it takes to load the page). However, on many international travel sites, blog posts consist of more pix than words. I know things have gone even more visual in the course of two years. Does it help to break things up with more pix? Or do you find them distracting? (Would you rather go to Pinterest or Instagram for that?)

  4. Jack Scott November 8, 2013 at 7:13 am

    I can only speak for myself, of course, but short posts tend to work for me as a blogger (because I post so often and I don’t want to drown my readers in words) and as a reader (because I’m a bit on the busy side and I’m subscribed to so many blogs). Some of my most popular posts have been barely more than a few lines. So my personal mantra has always been ‘less is more’. In terms of images, I guess it all depends on the blog theme. It’s no surprise that travel blogs use loads of images since. stirring the imagination is their stock in trade. I tend to try and use one good picture per post to bring it alive. We live in a visual age and I’m a firm believer in strong imagery. I post the best pictures to the blog’s Facebook page (with a link back to the post) which often gets more hits than the original post. I think this illustrates the point (if you forgive the pun).

  5. Pingback: The Yellow Brick Road | perkingthepansies

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: