How Betsy Bird Got 4 Book Deals Because of Her Blog

This week, I chatted with Betsy Bird, librarian and KidLit blogger. You can find Betsy on Twitter at @FuseEight, and her blog: A Fuse #8 Production.

My goal is to share conversations with those doing interesting things in the world of publishing, media, and the web.

Click ‘play’ below to hear Betsy’s incredible journey, how she created a vibrant community around her blog, and how it has lead to four book deals.

PlayPlay

Context is the Future of Online Media

I’ve been noticing something recently: People seem to be MUCH more willing to Tweet about a blog post than to leave a comment on a blog post.

There are likely a variety of reasons for this, first and foremost is that the 140 character limit affords less pressure to say something deep – people can just share a link, and say something like “insightful post!” But in a blog comment, there are unlimited characters, and there is a pressure to say something meaningful.

Dan Blank
Below are several lessons for engaging people in online media and communities:

  • Elevate Their Role
    When someone reacts to a blog post, their commentary can be lost, and seen as secondary. It is a reaction to someone else’s lead. When people Tweet about a blog post instead of commenting on it, their role shifts dramatically. Suddenly, instead of reacting, they are choosing to take the lead. They are filtering, sharing, promoting, advocating, and choosing. Instead of being the guy in the crowd listening to someone else on their soapbox, they have jumped onto their own soapbox.

  • Give Them Influence
    When somebody Tweets, they are often hoping to influence their followers. They go from being an “effect” on a blog post, to being a “cause” in their network on Twitter. So many of us want to be a cause, not an effect. We want to drive our lives, and shape our communities.

  • Help Them Build Something
    People are so busy that sometimes they want to feel that their efforts are not just reacting reacting reacting. They want to feel as though they are CREATING. When you post a blog comment, you don’t really own it. You can’t edit or delete it. They don’t really aggregate themselves to build something larger. Sure, some commenting systems like Disqus try to do this, but it’s still not the same level as something like Twitter. When I consider my Twitter account, right away, I see what I have built: more than 5,600 Tweets, not to mention followers or lists. It’s nice to see that all those 140 character updates add up to something.

  • Allow Them To Share With Those Who Matter To Them
    People don’t care as much about a blogger’s audience, as much as they do about their own. Each individual now has their own “following.” This is a dramatic shift that social media has provided us. Even if someone only has 13 followers or 40 Facebook friends or 50 LinkedIn connections, it is their personal community. Sharing interesting commentary to those people is meaningful, and helps them grow those communities.

  • Don’t Interrupt Their Day
    Sharing thoughtful questions or insights is very time consuming. Not just to come up with “a” question,” but a truly insightful one that reflects well on you, addresses a core issue, and does so in just the right way. This is why so many of the smaller social networks failed. Too many try to build online communities assuming that it’s simple for people to ask a question, write a blog post or leave a comment. Really, it’s hard. It causes people to stop and consider, to expose themselves, to invite judgment. Most people avoid judgment like the plague.

Many of these are subtle psychological differences, but they speak to our deeper motivations. These types of things are the keys to helping to grow your community, and to serving those in your market. Let me know if you think I can help.

-Dan
973-981-8882 | Twitter: @DanBlank | dan@danblank.com

How To Write a Great Blog Post in Just 15 Days

I was reading this blog post by Social Media Examiner recently:

How to Write a Great Blog Post in Just 15 Minutes

Dan Blank
It’s actually a really good post, filled with useful tips on how to build good habits to come up with ideas, and create a blog writing workflow that removes barriers. Seriously, you should read it.

Now, I’ve seen posts like these before and tend to enjoy them; but I want to address another issue with creating great blog posts…

Maybe it’s just me, but I can’t write a great blog post in 15 minutes. There have been rare occassions where I have written GOOD blog posts in 15 minutes, but usually it takes much longer, even just for a mediocre blog post.

A GREAT blog post? That is rare. GREATNESS is rare in general. So I want to talk about how to create a great blog post in 15 DAYS. Not minutes, not hours, but DAYS.

Because if you can create a GREAT blog post in 15 days, that is pretty special. I think that should be recognized more often. This isn’t fast food – this is GREATNESS.

So here are some steps to consider:

  • Observe The World
    I find that my best work comes from observing the world outside of the topic I write about. That is why so many of my posts use music as a metaphor, talk about history, or how personal experiences relate to the shifting role of publishing and media. Look to nature, look to other markets, listen to those who are wise, but outside of your industry.

  • Don’t Be Reactionary, Create Something Unique
    Get out of the echo chamber of your niche. Ever notice how a few “issues” seem to dominate headlines for awhile, and then are forgotten for new ones a few months later? Don’t focus on the short term, look at issues that affect your community in the long term. Look for topics that are critically important and under-reported.

  • Integrate Ideas
    Sharing a variety of ideas and perspectives can take a bit of commentary from good to great. String together your best ideas to take things to that next level. Consider how different issues relate to each other. The problems facing your community are often much more complex than people make them out to be. Treat the topic with the respect it deserves – don’t simplify.

  • Sketch Out Your Blog Post
    When I write, I may create an outline, and work across multiple drafts. Sometimes these are spread out on two computers, my iPad and my iPhone, as I sketch out ideas over time. I try to bring them together to sort them out, and give the post a purpose and structure that has the most value.

  • Do Your Research
    Oftentimes, other folks will have written about the topic you are covering. Don’t be afraid to find out what they shared, and integrate their work into yours. There is nothing wrong with building on the work of others, as long as you give credit.

  • Let Ideas Breathe
    Sometimes walking away from an idea is the best thing for it. Give a blog post room to breath. Write a solid draft, then take a few days away from it. I do this with a lot of things I create. It’s common for me to get a PowerPoint presentation 75% done, walk away from it for a day or two, come back and revamp the entire presentation. Yes, it’s more work, but the end product is better for it. The goal is not the PowerPoint, the goal is how it helps the audience I present it to.

  • Ask Others For Input
    Send out emails, pick up the phone. People are flattered when you ask them for advice, and would love to be seen as an authority in their field. Don’t be afraid to leak out your ideas to a select few in order to get their input. Challenge your ideas. This will only make them stronger.

  • Edit the Blog Post Across Multiple Writing Sessions
    I often spread out my efforts for a blog post across multiple writing sessions, coming back to it again and again to slowly make it better. This alleviates the immediate pressure to create something amazing in one sitting, and gives you time to process it between sessions. When you can approach a blog post with fresh eyes four separate times, it is likely to be better than if you only looked at it once.

  • Work On the Headline
    Headlines are really important to convey the value and benefit of a blog post. Spend time on them. Consider not just if it describes the topic you are writing about, but if it is compelling enough to encourage people to click. In all likelihood, this huge effort you put into the full blog post could be lost if your headline isn’t great. You may want to consider doing keyword research, and see what types of headlines have worked well for you in the past, or for other bloggers.

  • Build Up Interest Within a Subgroup of People in Your Community
    For many well established bloggers, their ideas and posts are spread so widely because they have established circles of colleagues and friends. These are people who seem to work together to share ideas, to comment on ideas, to spread ideas as far as they can. To give them wings. Build these relationships in your market. Depending on the topics you cover, you may have to focus on many different sub-niches. Content isn’t everything – relationships matter.

  • Cut Away As Much As You Can
    It’s easy to write long, and very hard to write something of value that is also concise. Don’t be afraid to chip away at your blog post, cutting it down to the very best bits. Don’t feel that because you spent days or weeks on it that it needs to be long. Some of the world’s best songs are incredibly short and simple. Blog posts can be the same way.

  • Have Someone Else Edit It
    Put another set of eyes on it, allowing them to check not just grammar and spelling, but the overall flow and purpose of the piece. It can be hard to create in isolation, involve others in the process.

  • Check Your Facts
    It is amazing how quickly information spreads on the web and via social media. Take a moment to check your facts. Don’t always reach for the ‘publish’ button before doing so. One incorrect fact can ruin your entire effort and tarnish your credibility for a long time. Don’t take the risk.

  • Consider How It Relates to Your Business or Personal Goals
    How does this blog post relate to the rest of your blog? How can you set yourself up for where this post will lead? Is it part of a larger topic you cover? If so, how can you link to them? Will you be covering this topic in other ways? When? How? Consider these things before you publish.

  • Plan How You Will Share It
    An inherent part of the content creation process is sharing. How will you deliver this blog post to the world? Are there particular people that you want to share it with, are there certain communities who will appreciate it most? Reach out to them, get them involved.

There you have it. If you are lucky – REALLY lucky – this 15 days of work will not just have resulted in a great blog post, but actually pushed ideas forward within you and those in your community.

And that is how these these types of things should be measured – how did this blog affect those you are trying to serve. How did it help? You can’t measure this by page views or ReTweets. And I DO NOT mean that it is measured by “influence,” a weird term that was being talked about in social media recently.

The goal is to help, not to fill content buckets with new Tweets and blog posts.

Let me know if I can help you in growing your blog: @DanBlank, 973-981-8882 or dan@danblank.com.

Thanks!

-Dan

Social Media Turns Every Connection Into a ‘Warm Call’

Is social media working for you? Don’t be so quick to judge. How we measure success in social media is not about numbers, it’s about the quality of connections.

Again and again, I find examples that it’s not quantity that counts, but quality. Maybe you have been developing a Facebook Page, Tweeting several times a day, commenting in a forum, and trying to keep up with your blog. It’s hard work, no doubt, and sometimes a stagnant follower count can seem like you aren’t making any progress.

Dan Blank
But who are your followers? They aren’t just a number – some of those people actually exist, and love hearing from you. I’m not going to lie, sometimes I see someone who has 40,000 follower and think “Wow – what did they do to attract such an audience?”

But that is balanced by the many experiences I have where I am amazed at who is finding me online, be it my blog, Twitter feed, or newsletter. There have been several times where I approached someone I really respected and wanted to meet, only to find out that they already knew who I was because of my presence in social media.

It goes beyond being a conversation starter… it’s a relationship starter. Why? Because it just takes one person to reshape your life. If you engage in social media for personal reasons, it takes just one person to become an inspiring friend. If you engage in social media for more professional reasons, it takes just one person to catapult your career.

You know how sales people have ‘cold calls’ and ‘warm calls?’ Well, social media increases the number of warm calls in your life. It means that people are already familiar with who you are, and have established a foundation of trust before you ever say a word to each other.

So the question shouldn’t be “how many followers do I have?” but, “who am I connected to?” And then of course, “How can I help them?”

This is especially true when you consider how well suited social media is for niche markets. Likely, your potential audience isn’t hundreds of thousands of people to begin with. Likely, you are focused on one segment of one market. And even within that total population, there are some individuals in particular that you especially hope to connect with. Are those people already following you on Twitter? Have they read a blog post you wrote online? That follower count and page view number doesn’t indicate the quality of your connections.

It reminds me of the legendary story of the first ever Sex Pistols show. About 40 people showed up, and they mostly sat and stared at the stage. But within that tiny crowd were people who went on to form some of the biggest British bands of the 1980’s: Joy Division, The Smiths, The Fall, and The Buzzcocks. It’s heralded as one of the most influential gigs ever.

Is that your Twitter feed? Your blog? Tiny, but influential?

Let me know if I can help: @DanBlank, 973-981-8882 or dan@danblank.com.

Thanks!

-Dan

Everything is Content

One of the biggest challenges new bloggers face is coming up with ideas for content. There are plenty of great systems to help, such as mindmapping, editorial calendars and the like. But today, I want to talk about how content is all around us – all you need to do is harness it.

Dan Blank

When I look at great bloggers, it is clear that blogging is embedded in the fabric of their being. They are living their blog. Ideas aren’t external things that they have to go find, every moment of their day is a potential blog post, and they are gardeners, slowly growing ideas, shaping the landscape and harvesting the best bits.

Let’s take an easy example, Fred Wilson’s blog avc.com. His blog is his life and his life is his blog. When he talks about why he likes the iPad, he tells a story about how his family uses it. When he wants to talk about metrics, he shares the Google Analytics data from his own blog. When he goes to an event, he finds topics from the conversation on stage. When he can’t keep up with email, he writes a post about it.

Fred doesn’t sit at home every day and blog. He is very active in his career, traveling, spending time with his wife and three kids, and with his hobbies. And yet, he posts some REALLY great blog posts every single day. It should be noted that while he isn’t a writer by trade, he has become an incredible communicator.

If that wasn’t enough, Fred updates his Tumblr with little updates every day as well. And yes, he Tweets too.

Fred is a great example of ‘everything is content.’ He lives his passion, and his blog fuels it even further. He has become a very well known commentator in the tech & startup world – based not just on his expertise and experience, but his ability to share and communicate via these online platforms.

For about six weeks now, I’ve been blogging every weekday. Prior to that, I had only been blogging once a week. What I have found is that blog posts are all around me, and that all I need to do is be open to them. To my great surprise, it hasn’t been a struggle to come up with ideas or find the time to write. In fact, I think my spelling has even improved because I am writing so much.

We all spend our day thinking about things: interactions we have, what we are working on, what happened at the food store, and on and on and one. Why not channel these thoughts into something constructive.

When you create a blog, you are sharing a part of yourself. This goes beyond ‘content marketing,’ this is about self expression, this is about sharing your expertise and passion.

When I talk to a colleague, several blog posts can come out of the conversation because I am learning so much about what people are doing, what inspires them, what concerns them. Sure, I may end up only writing about one of the ten concepts we discussed, and I may tie it together with something I read three weeks ago, but still – it’s content. When something doesn’t work – that’s content. When something succeeds – that’s content. Everything is content. Your role as a blogger is to find the best bits and share them in the most compelling manner.

Let me know if I can help you in blogging efforts: @DanBlank, 973-981-8882 or dan@danblank.com.

Thanks!

-Dan