Wednesday, July 25, 2007

How I Became a Professional Blogger

Originally posted here.

I didn't really plan it, but I dreamed it.

1. First of all, when I started blogging I knew I had something to offer. One of my strengths is the ability to come up with new and creative ideas. Sometimes what I come up with falls flat, but I always have another three or four ideas waiting as a follow up.

Everyone has something to offer about something. Whatever you are good at or know about, other people will be interested in it. Worst comes to worst, by blogging you'll be practicing your writing and organizational skills. Even if you just do it for fun, like most people.

2. I picked a subject that I'm passionate about to begin with. I really do play games, and I really do evangelize about them. And I really believe the things I write about (at least at the time that I write them).

3. I wasn't afraid of failing, because I started from nothing: no audience, no readers, nothing to lose. When I got some readers, I thought: well, the worst that can happen is that I post something lame or offensive and I lose them all. In which case I'm no worse off then when I started.

4. I have lots of dreams, and only so much time to devote to them. In order to succeed with this one, it was necessary that I made blogging a daily priority. Especially at the beginning, when I didn't necessarily have anything to write, I wrote anyway. I scoured news and web sites. I made it a point of writing every day (at first, three times a week), regardless. Often, usually, about halfway through writing something, I realized that I finally had something to say. I then erased everything I had written and started over.

Sometimes the ideas only start flowing after the pen hits the paper; most people want it to be the other way around, but this doesn't work for me.

5. Since I wasn't getting paid for this, I had to justify the time spent to myself, to my wife and family. I had to fight adversity and answer questions like "why am I playing around on the computer?" Because I am laying the groundwork. I am spending the time now to get better at it, until one day I may be in a position that I will have enough experience and enough traffic, or be offered a blog position, so that I can quit my other jobs.

In the meantime, the time spent is no more wasteful than the time spent in school that you don't get paid for. It's education. It's experience. It's building habits and working through errors. Especially getting those errors out before I have a big readership, when failure becomes a bigger problem.

It was also a commitment; because even if only one other person is expecting me to write something, I feel a need to write for that person, money or no money.

6. I turned to the professionals: Problogger, Performancing, Gaping Void, Seth Godin, Copyblogger, Kathy Sierra, and so on. Some of these are specifically about blogging, while the others are about branding. Both are key. Professional blogging sites help you with the technical stuff: how to be a good blog citizen, how to network, how to optimize, how to write content in attractive ways. Branding/Marketing sites help you identify what you have to offer, how to connect to what people like to read, and how to tap into the creative process. There's an overlap between the two, of course.

7. Not only did I find myself in a good niche (board gaming), but I found things that weren't being covered in my niche and covered them. There are blogs with session reports and reviews about Eurogames, war games, Go and Chess, but basically none that cover all board gaming - which, by the way, is my interest. I collect and report on daily gaming news that nobody else reports. I cover game patents because nobody else does them. I write game poetry because, um, I'm crazy (but I like to do it, and few others do). I maintain an up-to-date blogroll like no one else does.

I also branched out into a few other subjects, when I found myself with something particularly unique or interesting to say (well, at least something that I found interesting, anyway).

8. Any person who has played a negotiation or trading game can tell you that you have to trade promiscuously to win. As such, I am promiscuous with my links. I link to all the hundreds of people that I love and read. If only 10% of them link back to me, thats still hundreds of people with one link (from me), and dozens of links back for me.

9. I maintained focus on my readers. I don't write for transient hits from Google or Digg. Not that I reject them, but I don't make that my focus. If my post isn't good enough for the regular readers, it's not good enough. On the other hand, my regular readers do get a wide range of topics covered.

I RSS full feed. Anyone who subscribes to my feed doesn't have to jump through hoops to get my content. I can count on them coming to my site a few times a year at the very least, which is a heck of a lot more than the other billion people on the internet. I'm not going to purposely annoy them.

I try not to annoy my readers with ads. I played around with ads and rejected most of them because they would annoy me if I went to read the site. I use only a small ad on the top. I use affiliate links to sites where I would also buy products, and which don't pop-up or interfere with the flow of text. I began writing reviews only of sites that I thought contained at least something that I would be interested in, anyway (and rejected many others).

Yes, it's a little extra work to tune ads properly and add all the affiliate links in my posts, but I got used to it. With little exception, I don't think I've annoyed my readers too much.

10. After I had experience in blogging - three years, now - I looked for the opportunities. There are blog positions advertised online, and there are companies that looked like they could use blogging help.

A. The direct results:

By post number 1000, I had made $75, which I gave back to my readers in the form of games. I'm now up to around $50 a month in Text Link Ads ($35), Google Ad-Sense ($12), and Amazon ($3).

Not very impressive, I admit. However ...

B. The indirect results:

I landed a professional blogging position at a company. I went in for a programming position and offered instead to be their company blogger. And they accepted.

I have had a game published by a publisher who is one my readers.

I've received dozens of free games to review.

My writing is getting better all the time.

I know hundreds of great people around the world.

I've had articles published in professional journals around the world. I've even been interviewed a few times on various subjects.

I know a lot about my field and interest.

I'm enjoying myself.

And you can do it to, if you really want to.


P.S. You may also want to read my Ten Lesser Known Secrets of Blogging.

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