November 22, 2004

So, kid, you want to start a blog?

What, are you nuts?

Not at all. How often have you watched a movie/tee-vee show and thought to yourself, "Where do they find the monkeys to type this crap? I could do better!" How many times have you talked back bitterly to Peter Jennings/Dan Rather/Chris Matthews, or wanted to reach through the screen and wipe that smug cannuck smirk off Alex Trebek's face?

What's fun about blogging is the ability to do just that: think you can do a better job? Then let's see what you got, punk! To quote the immortal philosopher Kant, "Come on Meat! Let's see some of that weak-ass cheese! "

Wait, that wasn't Kant, it was Heidegger. Or something.

So without further ado, here are the official Tasty Bits(TM) Yips n' Tips for the new blogger:

1. Never ever violate the "Sgt. Hulka Rule"

Sgt. Hulka of course was the gruff, cantankerous drill sergeant from "Stripes," from whom we take the first rule of blogging: when in doubt, "Lighten up, Francis." Want to be a "citizen journalist" and define new parameters for the Columbia Journalism Review? Fine. Just don't get all snippy when we mock you. Never forget that three quarters of what we do is just "log."

2. What will you do when your Mom reads your blog?

You need to decide early on how public your blog persona is. By this, I don't just mean whether you blog under your real name and talk about parts of your life openly, but whether you let your friends and family in on your new hobby. We're split on this around here: Robbo's mom has been a regular reader since day one, where I've never told anyone in my family (other than my wife), and only a few other folks. I guess for me I just never wanted to explain the whole "llamabutcher" thing. That, and it might undercut my whole "I've been sooo busy lately...." mantra.

Of course, there's another reason you might want a quasi-private or anonymous persona, mainly addressing whether you are going to go on the offense about issues dealing with the Religion of Peace, some of whose supporters so firmly believe in the justice and peacefullness of their religion that they'll threaten to kill your kids if you say otherwise. Also, you might want to think about how thrilled your employer would be, so it's a good rule of thumb not to bring them in at all. Unless you have tenure....

*Yeah, I know, the Onion did that as a piece, but they lamely have it behind the subscription screen now. Bastards.

3. Learn some HTML

A little bit of HTML goes a long way to fixing little problems. It's like learning how to check the oil on your car. I recommend the HTML Goodies page---it's simple and easy, and they have a very large collection of color codes.

In that vein, study the blogs that you like, and ask yourself what is it about their style that makes you come back---not what they are writing about, but how the thing looks? For example, I love to razz the heck out of Jeff, but look at the way his blog is laid out---it's like a tabloid, which is a compliment. You can practically touch the glossy paper. Look at how he uses his graphics---not too much, but enough to add a lot of pizazz. Or, in the other direction, the Commissar's---how well the contrasting colors work there, when they often don't (think Axis Sully's page).

4. Write about what you know

I'm not sure it's common, but I started about six blogs before we launched the LLamabutchers. I just never found the right groove and feel to it until I started writing with Rob. The key, I think, was that I treated my posts as if I was writing to Rob (and for the first couple of months, it was basically that, and Rob's mom). It's kind of like when you are doing radio, the thing to do is just focus on having a conversation with the other people in the studio, albeit a weird conversation where you are making hand signals and gestures, and trying to get the other people to crack up when talking about something serious.

The point is that blogs which are fun to read are the result of the writer either having fun or being really good at faking it. The goal is to have people come to you regularly--better yet, daily. To do this, you need to find the right mix of things to talk about. No matter how good you are, how much expertise you have on a subject, if you only talk about one subject area, I'm not going to visit all that often. That goes double if the one subject area you talk about is either 1. Politics, or B. the War. The exception to this rule is if you have a unique, front-row perspective or if you are a true genius (like Wretchard at Belmont Club).


So you are plugging away and out of the blue you get zapped by Glenn or Vodka Pundit or someone else from the Olympian heights of the TLLB. Now what?

A big link is something to savor, and it's then you can feel the addictive nature of blogging. But what do you do next? What you need to realize is that first of all, it's fun while it lasts, but the tide will go out as quickly as it comes in. What you need to do is to keep doing what you were doing, and hope that you can pick up a small percentage of your new readers as regulars.

At the same time, you need to remember the most important corollary to the Sgt. Hulka rule: no one owes you anything. If you are going to link-whore, be polite about it. No one owes you a link, let alone even a response. Don't sweat it.

6. Dance with the ones that brought you

One of the neatest things about blogging to me has been getting to know the bloggers you come up with---there's a bond that's forged when you are down at the bottom of the TLLB that adds an unexpected element of fun to the whole hobby. When we started this, I wanted links and traffic---I had this vision of the big bloggers hanging out like the "5 Club" at SNL. To be perfectly honest, I keep at the blogging not just for the continuing conversation with Rob, but for the conversation and banter we've developed with folks like Rusty, Bill, Rae, Jen, Chan, Chai-rista, Ace, Gordon, Kathleen, Margi, Sheila, Lawren, Katie, Willow ( I reserve the right to add to this list in case I've left folks off!)

And if you do make it high up? You better damn well remember the ones who you used to know when. And keep an eye out for the newbies coming up----one of the coolest things is discovering and helping newbies who then make it on their own.

And how do you do that, if you are a newbie? Get yourself on the ecosystem, leave lots of comments (not personal spam, but things on topic), don't be afraid to email folks good stuff (it helps if you give an angle to it on the subject line), and don't be offended if they don't link or don't respond. But by all means don't give up (but then on the other hand don't be indiscriminate and send links to all your stuff). Get sitemeter, and most importantly get off of blogger as soon as you are able. Blogger is lousy at sending trackbacks (ie "pings"), and trust me on this: the pings the thing. It took us nine months to really realize this, and trust us: it really does matter by letting people find out about you and your blog. Our biggest mistake was not getting off of blogger in April when John and Ted wrangled us an invitation to join Moo Knew---we wised up over the summer, and the difference is profound.

Last, and most important

7. Quirks of the bigs, and lessons learned the hard way.

Frank J. is a self-important snippy buffoon who can dish it out but not take it.

Never EVER piss off Michele Catalano!

And the Commissar is a marketing genius.

Well, thats all I've got. Rob I'm sure will have something more coherent and erudite to say. It's hard to improve on the Crime and Punishment of this genre, The Commisar's gem on building a blog.

Posted by Steve at November 22, 2004 11:55 PM | TrackBack

Get sitemeter, and most importantly get off of blogger as soon as you are able.

Hmmmmm ... I recall saying something like that to you ... over and over and over again ...

Posted by: Bill from INDC at November 23, 2004 11:37 AM

Yep, you did, and did we listen? NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! Why? Because we were punks then. Well, we're still punks, but a wee bit more in the know.

Posted by: Steve the LB at November 23, 2004 03:19 PM

I'm sure glad you guys came over to MuNu. Good advice about blogging, too. I remember it took me almost a month to get my first 100 hits at BlogSpot, and now I get at least that many per day (thanks in large part to links from the Llamas).

Posted by: JohnL at November 23, 2004 10:41 PM
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