This is my 600th post (according to my WordPress dashboard). Also this month on 20th August this blog will turn five. In the accelerated world of the Net, that’s considered to be an eternity. Actually I would say that’s quite a lot of time in the real world also , enough for instance to have completed another PhD.
Which is why today I put on the cap of cranky old man and fortified by five-years and six hundred posts of wisdom, dispense five totally unsolicited bits of advice for bloggers.
Advice Number 1: Don’t give up. There are several good reasons for deleting your blog or leaving it to rot in cyberspace like a small pile of toxic waste. But don’t merely the fact that no one reads your blog except your mother make you pull the plug. Yes I know. People should not blog for traffic or attention—-a “lonely impulse of delight” (to quote Yeats) is the only thing that should motivate them. However, in my experience, that is rarely the case and if feedback or readership was not a driver for most of blogging then everyone would be scribbling down their musings in a red diary hidden in a desk drawer or password protecting all their posts. A majority of people desire attention and a level of publicity for their thoughts and causes (and there is absolutely nothing wrong in wanting to) and once they don’t get what they want in a certain period of time, they run out of patience and ditch their blogs. Or worse move onto Twitter, the lazy man’s expression medium.
I started this blog for two reasons. One was after graduating with my PhD I moved to a city where I knew no one. Missing my circle of graduate school friends, I stumbled upon blogging as a medium to communicate with similar-minded people where the basis of conversation would be what I believed in and what I thought (as in contrast to social networking sites and chat rooms where people connect based on who they are or more accurately pretend to be). The second equally important reason was to create a readership for my work with the hope that one day it would lead to media opportunities and perhaps even a book. Before conceiving of this blog I had tried various ways to get my writings published, including sending unsolicited material to different media outlets. All of them were met with silence.
Things didn’t get better for quite some time even after starting the blog. No one visited. There were no comments. I got increasingly frustrated and wrote this post. Yes that particular piece of prose makes me cringe today at the immature desperation and the persecution mania that runs through it but at that time there was no denying that this is exactly what I felt. The important thing is that I never gave up, even though I came mighty close. And five years and six hundred posts and 36,805 non-spam comments later, I am still here. And will hopefully carry on.
Advice Number 2: Don’t go into blogging for the wrong reason. Namely just money. No matter what the social media evangelist, the Web 2.0 startup expert, the excited anchor on TV and the online advertising don tells you, blogs, especially in India, are not going to generate pots of gold. No it’s not that your ad placement is wrong or that you are choosing the wrong affiliate programs or that you are not properly search-engine optimized. It’s just that minting money online is not as easy as it is made out to be. Far from it.
Do people not make money from blogs? Sure they do. There is a whole group of clever people who have made money by selling the dream of making money to others. There are also an exceptional few who have indeed managed to generate such an audience for themselves that they can quit their day job and log in to their ad account and see the counter moving up every few seconds. But then the likelihood of that happening to your average Joe are very very slim and if your motivation for blogging is purely to retire on your ad earnings, then the odds are that you are headed towards a gigantic disappointment.
Remember that building up a steady readership is one thing. It is possible with a level of persistence (Advice 1). But the scale at which a blog’s following needs to be in order to make even a decent amount of money is so immense that for 99.9% of us it will be a bridge too far. Alas. I wish things could be different. But that’s just the way it is.
If there is any money from blogging it is not so much from ad revenues but from the possibility of getting writing assignments or book deals based on your content. However getting noticed by those who matter, no matter how exceptional your content is, is largely a matter of luck. And even if you do get noticed it is unlikely that these secondary sources of income will rake in you the kind of cash that you need to have so that you may quit your day job and become that mythical creature—the “professional” blogger.
Advice Number 3: Don’t get too taken in by the technology. I see many newbie bloggers so totally absorbed in the technology that they miss the wood for the trees. Moblogging. Podcasting. Videocasting. Search engine optimization. Pay per click. Pay per impression. Barcamp. Blogcamp.
All this jargon sounds cool and gives you a pleasant buzz. But remember technology is just a medium. What is important is the message.
As an example, you want to moblog because blog evangelist Mr. X says it is the wave of the future. However have you ever asked yourself what is the immediacy of your content that would justify the need for real-time updates via a cell phone? You want to videocast? Are you “Obama Girl”? If not, you have no use for that medium. If you are however, then by all means “bodcast”.
Advice Number 4: Don’t let negative comments put you off. Do not be afraid of critical comments. Keep them on your blog as long as they are not offensive and do not attack you personally. Remember it’s impossible to please everyone all the time. Plus even though you write for an audience and it is human nature to want to be appreciated, the blog’s most important person is you. So write freely on whatever you feel you must. Use user-feedback to improve. But don’t let it be the be-all and end-all.
Advice Number 5: It is never too late to start blogging. Someone was telling me the other day “It’s too late to start a blog in India. The market is saturated.” What I told her was that I thought the exact same thing. Five years ago.
If there is any problem with the Indian blogosphere even after so many years, it is the lack of variety. Which means there are many stories that are waiting to be told. We want personal insights into Indian law. Into the Indian medical system. Into the life of a railway ticket checker. We want to hear from beyond the 15–35 demographic. We want grandma to tell us how college life was in her time. We want uncle to tell us how he felt when he bought his first fridge.
Final words. Write about what you are passionate about—-be it wriggling your ears or collecting match boxes. And most most important of all, produce original content.
Remember once you build it, they will come.