Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Stephane Grenier's "Blog Blazers": Book Review

Interviews with 40 bloggers reveal many similarities. They advise you to keep pace, write well, and promote yourself. 90% of the discussions are by marketers, software developers, and financial gurus, so this book will benefit professionals more than amateurs. However, as the latter, even I learned a lot.

Only one interviewee likes my Fionnchu-dot-Blogspot-dot-com as "Blogtrotter" host, Google's e-Blogger, for example; while WordPress is favored by a few for its plug-ins, most respondents lament that they did not start blogging under their own domain name. This reliance on Blogspot or WordPress may separate we amateur bloggers from the pros. They tend to dismiss "free" or "hosted" blogging sites. Unsurprisingly, they like us hate annoying ads, although most monetize, with varying degrees of success from a six-figure income to apparently not enough to pay for a video game with gift certificates earned from Amazon Affiliates.

Stephane Grenier asks each blogger what to read when learning about blogging. Darren Rowse's ProBlogger site overwhelmingly earns acclaim, with the book "Naked Conversations" and text "Cluetrain Manifesto" also frequently mentioned. Many bloggers, however, tend to dive in and link and comment on other blogs, forums, social networks, and websites. (Twitter is mentioned by only one person, however, and I failed to see Facebook's potential explored pro or con as it might have deserved.) Pursuing SEO (Search Engine Optimization: terms lack a glossary and this may baffle the newcomer that this book's intended to assist) remains a holy grail; pros scrutinize Google Analytics and stoke FeedBurner, being tech-savvier than the common web visitor, perhaps, and most know how to tweak network systems. They point you to sites and widgets, blogs and examples, throughout the text, but I suspect some of these may overwhelm newcomers.

As to writing, Strunk & White's "The Elements of Style" keeps its favored status as an exemplar even among technorati. Pacing one's self as a writer, they urge, will gradually pay off in readers. Most post daily; some especially in the software and marketing fields encourage five daily posts, however brief. They all warn of the burnout that traps most novices into abandoning their efforts far too soon. Stephane tells himself and us in his own interview to avoid negative, scathing comments about others, and to concentrate upon asserting your own opinion rather than parroting other content done better by bloggers more famous.

One must build one's reputation with what one knows best. Instead of commenting on other content, they counsel you to mainly write about what inspires you. Not the cat, the girlfriend, or your own life, however. "Added value" may be our decade's buzzword, but it's good advice.

Headlines draw attention, as many RSS feeds and search engines have barely more than this to dangle before the eyes of a potential visitor to one's blog. Pictorial elements, crediting other sites, and an attractive layout encourage the passerby, skimming the screen, to linger and become a regular customer, or a friend. Short paragraphs, bullet points, and catchy leads transfer journalistic trademarks to the DIY industry that has become, for 70 million blogs, a crowded field where less than one percent generate sufficient traffic, revenues, and word-of-mouth to sustain themselves. Even among these successful bloggers, nearly none make a living off blogs alone. They may, given the preponderance of financial wizards, not be satisfied with a modest income, on the other hand!

Key term matches tempt a reader further, and scannability as opposed to in-depth reading must also be elemental when creating an appealing entry. While the social networking aspect per se seems underexamined, StumbleUpon and cross-currents that flow from one entity to the other on the Net appear to be quite the norm for most bloggers here. No graphics are given, so the reader might want to visit the blogs mentioned, of course, to see how successful bloggers integrate words with graphics.

The book reads briskly, with a welcome index, but I would recommend pausing after a few interviews. They tend to run together otherwise, and you will see "ProBlogger" over and over. Given the stress by bloggers here to polish one's prose, quite a few typos remain, but these may have been silently "unedited" by Grenier, as with capturing Manolo Blahnik shoe-magnate's unique style of expression. The ESL did throw me off here, and I wondered why it was given in this manner without editorial comment. Perhaps the questions might have, after an initial exposition, been reduced to avoid repetition, as they are asked of each interviewer and after forty times, they do tire the "scanning reader." However, even if alphabetized by first rather than last name, the transcripts do manage to get the feel of a personality across now and then which speaks well for that blogger's own sense of style on his or her blog.

Steph interviews himself among the success stories, as Stephane, as well as 39 others. His own comments compare blogging to a New Year's resolution. Most give up after feeling ignored by the lack of readers or customers. He and his colleagues show how the one-percent of bloggers might include you. (Posted to my blog and Amazon US 7-7-09.)


vilges suola said...

Is there any pleasure in writing for those who just scan? It seems odd to advise 'polishing your prose' for people who will whizz through it as if it were the Yellow Pages. I sometimes look at my Sitemeter page and think, 'five page views in one minute twenty seconds??? You needn't come back!'

Fionnchú said...

Point taken, VS. It does seem a bit at odds to labor over what seems so disposable. Yet, we never will know, as with the epistolary correspondents of old, who will mull over our scribblings turned peckings a century from now in some unimaginable medium. So, I figure that care does count if only for my posthumous reputation.

However, speaking of speed, I read rapidly before slowing down to savor many a blog post I find, and lots of the short page views may be, as they are for me with your blog for example, just checking in as I pass by to see if anything's new that day. Even though I get a blog feed update from Blogger, I often forget about it or I like to see comments added to posts that I've recently read on blogs like yours. So, don't be discouraged.