Top Ten Tips for New Bloggers

The Blogoverse has a new citizen and that is a very good thing. Since March, Pam has been blogging at Pass The Honey. pass the honey Pam and I recently started a Facebook conversation about blogging and how to make the most out of a blog. As I started my response to her, I decided to share my thoughts as a blog post.  Pam does have some specific questions, but I am going to share some “basics” first with my top ten tips for new bloggers and save my answers to the specifics for a later post.

Make A Date With The Page

This is the single best piece of advice I have ever been given about blogging. All of the credit goes to Nametag Scott. He advised me to “pick a frequency and stick to it, whether you feel like writing or not.” I prefer a less ambitious frequency to a more ambitious. For example, I blog every Sunday and occasionally create a post on an additional day. If I felt pressure to post three times a week, however, it would be difficult for me to keep that up. “Perspicacity will post every Sunday” also helps readers know what to expect.

Choose A Platform

I began blogging on Blogger and eventually changed to WordPress. For me, the move has been for the better in several key areas. My spam problems (and “anonymous commenter” problems) have been virtually eliminated by the use of Akismet. My ability to use Google Analytics has been enhanced (maybe it’s just as easy with Blogger but I did not start using Google Analytics until I had switched to WordPress).  I find it easier to work with images in WordPress than Blogger.

Quality Writing Matters

No matter how you write (or how widely you distribute your blog), poor writing will hurt your blog and your audience’s receptiveness to future content. Do you want to read mediocre writing? (That said, the main reason I blog is to flex my writing muscle, so I know that some of my writing will be better than other pieces. As with anything else in life, take the time to pay attention to your content rather than posting just to post. (Conversely, I can paralyze myself with worrying about a piece of writing’s readiness. There are times we you just have to press “publish.”))

Think About Images

Different bloggers have different thoughts about images, but for me a post feels almost incomplete without at least one image. I know as a reader I prefer to have a visual to accompany the words. One source of visual content is (wait for it…) our own lives! Here is a post that presents some great tips for creating your own visual content for your blog. Sources of free photo content that does not require permission from the creator are plentiful. I like Morgue File and a WordPress Plugin called PhotoDropper which literally drops in a photo you choose from its collection and attaches the appropriate credit to the post (it is only available for WordPress, though).

A favorite image taken with my iPhone.

A favorite image taken with my iPhone.

Be Accurate

I suppose I worded this one pretty bluntly, but if you are going to write about facts, get them right. I once hosted a giveaway for Jason’s Deli on my blog and stated that there had been a “parade of short-lived establishments since Banjo’s Barbecue had vacated.” There had not been a “parade,” there had been one (not sure where my memory pulled the “parade” from) and a commenter called me on it. Unfortunately, that was when I was still on blogger and the commenter was anonymous (although I am pretty sure I know who it was). The frustration is I would like to have followed up with them personally but could not due to the anonymous comment. (I did make a correction to the post, however.)

Say Yes to Yoast

If you want your posts to be found, one component that is important is your SEO (Search Engine Optimization). A fabulous tool for making your post more “findable” by search engines and the like is the WordPress SEO Plug-in from Yoast.  Among several useful features, Yoast helps the blogger create a “meta description” that is most attractive to potential readers. Let’s take my World Book Night 2014 post, for example. When I first published the post, the meta description was a mess (it appears in the “snippet preview”): WBN Yoast I went into Yoast and made some adjustments (the text in the “meta description” box): WBN Yoast Two

Get Permission

There are protocols that you should follow as a blogger. Certainly if you are going to use an image, give credit to the creator and obey all copyright laws. But “permission” extends to other areas of blogging too. If you are going to excerpt someone else’s writing, link to their original work or credit them prominently and (if it is an extensive excerpt) let them know in advance (or at a minimum send them the link afterwards).

Get The Word Out

I have read various estimates of how many blog posts are published in the world daily. Suffice it to say the number is high. There’s no way you could read them all. For that reason, it is important to make sure your blog gets in front of people.  This is an area where I could certainly make improvements, but for now here is what I do.

  • Make sure there is a place on my blog where people can subscribe by email
  • Participate in Triberr, which amplifies my reach by tweeting out my posts via other bloggers (and vice versa)
  • Participate in Linkups, where bloggers share their posts and agree to comment on others’ posts (a favorite linkup of mine is the SITS Girls Saturday Sharefest)

Talk Amongst Yourselves

Although I blog to flex my “writing muscle,” I would be lying if I didn’t say that comments rock my world. I love to know that people are reading, and I have had some great dialogues via my comments section (as well as heaps of support at various times in my life). “Comment to others” goes in the category of “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.” Share generously on others’ blogs and hopefully many of them will do the same for you. Likewise, respond back when someone comments to you.  Creating a community around your blog (or at least a sense that you’re having an ongoing conversation) is, to me, an important piece of blogging success.

Use Google Analytics

Google Analytics helps you understand how many people are visiting your blog as well as a host of other metrics related to your readership. While it’s easy to get unnecessarily wrapped up in these metrics, it is also helpful to know if anyone is reading (and how long they’re staying, how frequently they’re returning, etc.). I also need to be able to report my Google Analytics data when I am applying for various sponsored post opportunities.

Top 10 Tips


Enjoy it. There is hardly any mistake you could make that would be a fatal flaw. Writing block happens; typos happen. Life gets in the way of posting. Pam, you’re a year away from retirement and, to quote you, “I want an exciting life and I will try my best to have it.” Something tells me you’re going to succeed, and I for one can’t wait to read all about it on your blog!  Pam’s blog can be found at Pass the Honey (link here). Stop by and say hello!

(Lastly, Pam was Tenley’s (my daughter) English teacher last year. Thank you for making her senior year one in which the joy of words was alive and well!)

Books Are The Best Alchemists (World Book Night 2014)

I never held a copy of The Botany of Desire in my hands until I received my 20 World Book Night 2014 copies from our Barnes and Noble here in Tallahassee.

WBN box

I never held a copy in my hands because I listened to the audiobook via my iPod twice (once several years ago and once when I learned I would be giving the book on World Book Night) rather than reading hard copy.

did read one of Michael Pollan’s other books, “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” in the hard copy version. It was a book club selection at my book club and it rocketed into my top ten list of “books that make a distinct impact on how I lead my life.” My fondness for The Omnivore’s Dilemma is what led me to make The Botany of Desire one of my three choices for World Book Night 2014.

One of the highest hurdles I faced as I planned this year’s World Book Night “giving” was my own expectations. Last year’s experience had been such an emotional pinnacle for me. (Last year, I gave The Language of Flowers to a group of women at Gadsden Correctional Institution.) I went into last year’s “giver night” so prepared, with a three-page presentation, a “project” we would work on together over the course of the evening that resulted in a keepsake, and with the knowledge that my recipients would send in evaluations because they would be strongly encouraged to. The only downside of last year was my discovery that women prisoners are rarely “low readers.” With a lot of time on their hands, they are often voracious readers. But I still put last year’s experience firmly in the “success” column and assume the WBN administration forgave my poor call on identifying “low readers.”

Once I learned that I would be giving The Botany of Desire this year, I shifted my approach. I contacted New Leaf Market, a locally-owned food cooperative, and asked about a possible partnership. Fortuitously, on the evening of WBN, New Leaf had a reading/book signing scheduled with Dixie Ann Black. The New Leaf administrators invited me to be at the coop prior to her book signing, and to give away copies of The Botany of Desire.

Still feeling very much like I was “doing this on the fly” as compared to last year, I prepared a “book giver” button, printed out a table tent, and printed out bookmarks to include with each book I gave away.

WBN table

The Abraham Lincoln quote reads, “The things I want to know are in books; my best friend is the man who’ll get me a book I ain’t read.”

I arrived at New Leaf at 6 p.m. as requested, and the staff set me up at a table right by the exit. When I made eye contact with a customer leaving the store, I grabbed a copy of the book, extended it in their direction, and said, “Would you like a copy of The Botany of Desire?” Reactions varied:

For free?

Just because?

I’ve been wanting to read this!

I’ve already read it (these people declined a copy)


No thanks …

I felt there was special value in a few moments of the giver experience:

The New Leaf employees who asked for copies (of course they got copies!)

The little kids who saw their parents receive a gift of reading “just because”

The woman who said she had read it but wanted to pass it along to her daughter

Meeting Dixie Ann who was preparing for her reading, and her comment to me, “I can tell you have a book inside you”

Any person who walked away feeling just a bit lighter about the world, and the generosity of strangers.

Having shared with you some specifics about how the night went (all the books were gone in half an hour), I will take a hopeful guess about how this particular book, on this specific night, may live on in the recipients:

One principle I took away from The Botany of Desire both times I read it is that we far too easily dismiss nature’s wisdom in spreading biodiversity — in the bee who pollinates a flower with the pollen of a completely different, unrelated genus of flower. It may create something beautiful; it may create a disaster, but it is guaranteed to create something humankind couldn’t manipulate into existence at all.

Maybe it’s the same with these books. Although I have been kicking myself a bit about a second year where I may not have targeted sufficiently “low” readers, how do I know that assumption is correct? Even if they aren’t “low” readers, maybe they are readers who only read fiction, or only read current events, or are in such a rush through life that they get their news from the crawler across their tv screen or fragments of talk radio. Maybe this book will teach them, edify them, encourage them.

Apples, Tulips, Cannabis, Potatoes. Although The Botany of Desire is “about” these four plants, it delves into so much more. History (apples were mostly used for cider until prohibition, after which a move was on to make them a “healthy” choice). Economics (the “tulipomania” of the 17th century, when a futures market existed for tulips, whose value had grown wildly and disproportionately stratospheric). Morality (why does a person in Amsterdam have an entirely different perspective on use of cannabis than a person in Akron?). Hubris (the Irish dependence on a sole crop which resulted in a famine in 1845; the American corporate push to genetically modify potatoes that fend off bugs and make perfect french fries). 

Will a recipient be more willing to purchase an aesthetically imperfect apple after reading this book? Will a recipient share a homegrown flower out of their garden instead of purchasing a “perfect” specimen at a store? Will a recipient have a more multi-faceted understanding of the opposing views of those engaged in the debate about the legalization of marijuana? Will a recipient do what I did and think twice before downing a fast food french fry?

In The Botany of Desire, Michael Pollan wrote:

“Plants are nature’s alchemists, expert at transforming water, soil and sunlight into an array of precious substances, many of them beyond the ability of human beings to conceive, much less manufacture.”

Maybe I should cut myself a break this World Book Night, and rest in the knowledge that these 20 books are better alchemists than I could ever be …. that they will do their job beyond my ability to conceive, much less manufacture ….

This a picture I took at Drazen Orchards in Connecticut in 2012.

This a picture I took at Drazen Orchards in Connecticut in 2012.