Guest blogger Jack Scott on “From blog to book, start to finish.”
Within the last fifteen months, I’ve been mad enough to create a blog, design my own personal website and write a book. For most of my meandering expedition, I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. A combination of trial and error, intuition, gentle encouragement from an inspirational publisher and not so gentle cajoling from my partner, have turned an unplanned and uncoordinated series of chess moves into the production of a well-received book that I am proud to have created. My probation has been illuminating - about writing, plot content and construction, network building, promotion and engagement. The list is endless. If you’re thinking of writing a book about your life as I have done, you may find some of these tips useful:
1. Just write - Okay, there are some amazingly talented writers out there. Every word, every sentence and every nuance is described with perfection and beauty. There’s no way you can compete, right? Wrong. All writers have their own style, and most people have ability. It’s a matter of flexing your writing muscles first before finding that creative Nirvana. Just start writing. It doesn’t matter if it’s imperfect. You have to begin somewhere. The more you write, the better you’ll get.
2. Be yourself, be unique - Each of us has our own back story. In theory, this means that we all have the potential to write something unique - and interesting enough to engage readers. Putting that theory into practice is the hard part. Think carefully about what will make your writing stand out from the crowd. How is your message different? What’s distinctive about your angle? Who will your writing appeal to? Writing beautifully about a glorious sunset may well get some admiring comments but won’t necessarily help you rise above the ordinary. Are you prepared to reveal the real you?
3. Think about ‘form’ - This is one of the biggest lessons I learned when turning my blog into a book. A story, even a real-life story, must have order, pace, plot, a compelling blend of highs and lows and a sense of purpose. I created a story-board for my book (much like creating a film script). It changed everything. I instantly saw the gaps and inconsistencies in the storyline, the flabby narrative and superfluous characters. A straight chronological account of your life may not be absorbing enough. Introduce some dramatic tension. Write as if it’s fiction. Get that reader to turn the page.
4. Think visually - Set the scene and describe your characters and situations colourfully. Help your readers visualise your story in their mind’s eye. Use dialogue to break up the narrative and keep the speech realistic. Don’t over-egg the pudding with dense, old-fashioned diction. You’re not writing Pride and Prejudice.
5. Edit, edit, edit and when you’re done, edit again - Be bold and decisive. If something adds little to the plot or message, cut it. Unless you are absolutely confident about your writing skills, re-examine long, flowery sentences and make sure the reader doesn’t get lost in the prose. I made an early decision to keep my book extremely tight and fast-moving. That involved some painful and dramatic pruning.
6. Share your writing - Sharing something you’ve just written is a brave thing to do. If you’re a new writer, as I was, it’s the only way of getting a real feel for how you are doing and how your written style will be perceived by others. You can start gently by asking those close to you for an opinion, though a critique from somebody completely independent is, in my view, more useful. Ask for feedback. Then take a deep breath. Take the comments on board. Some of them will be rubbish but some of them won’t. Try not to take things personally and never spit back.
7. Start a Blog - Blogging is a great auditioning process for writing, and the best way to experiment and grow your fan-base. There are many blogging platforms out there (Wordpress, Google, Wordpad, etc) and most are easy to set up and use - providing a range of professionally designed templates to select from. For a small consideration, these applications will also set up your own domain name linked to your blog. I use Wordpress.com linked to my own domain.
In the crowded blogosphere, content is king and the best content is fresh, new and frequently updated. My blog became popular because I wrote little and often around a small number of specific themes that quickly found an audience. Break up your words with interesting and relevant images. Keep your blog clean and uncluttered. Fussy, multi-coloured fonts and busy designs can hurt the eyes and discourage the reader from continuing.
8. Think about Search Engine Optimisation - Don’t be spooked by this. Search engine optimisation (SEO) is just how a page is ranked on search engines and by this I mostly mean Google. If your blog doesn’t appear in the first few pages of Google then you might as well not be on the internet at all. There are many companies that claim they will increase your ranking for a fee. Don’t waste your money. Follow these few steps and you’ll soon by up there with the pros:• Publish a post at least once a week
• Engage with your blogging peers with comments and guest posts
• Add share buttons to your posts so your readers can spread the word
• Create reciprocal links by listing other similar blogs on your blog
• Join blog directories. Most are free and some specialise (women bloggers, ex-pat bloggers, for example).
9. Get Yourself Interviewed - Online interviews are a great way to increase your profile. For instance, many ex-pat sites are always looking for interesting people to interview. It provides them with content and you with exposure.
10. Exploit Social Networks and Forums to Grow Exposure - Join social networks and make friends. Facebook and Twitter are the most popular and influential. Create a Facebook page for your blog (and for your book when your masterpiece is done and dusted). Autopost your blog posts to both Facebook and Twitter so you don’t have to add them manually. Again, this really helps with SEO.
If forums exist for your area of interest, join them and participate meaningfully. Engage gently and be careful not to over-promote. People will catch you out.
11. Create a Personal website - Your work of genius is written but unless you want to be stuck with a box full of books propping open a door or languishing unloved and unread in the attic, you need to make sure people know about it. Use your blog to get the message out. Plaster the good news everywhere, particularly your social networks. Create a personal website. This isn’t the expensive faff it used to be. There are a number of free or inexpensive website platforms available that require very little expert knowledge. I use Weebly for my site. It’s a free service that’s easy to use with all the widgets you could want.
And finally - Exhausted? You will be. This book lark takes hard graft. I know. I’ve never worked so hard.
About Jack Scott’s recently published and well-received memoir, Perking the Pansies – Jack and Liam move to Turkey, is a bittersweet tragi-comedy that recalls the first year of a British gay ex-pat couple in a Muslim country. For more information, please click here.