If there’s one tool every writer should have, one place they can send interested readers, it’s a blog. A blog is basically your centralized hub where you send readers from your other social networks. Think of your social media as a wheel — the different networks are the spokes, and your blog is the hub that joins them all.
Your blog (which doubles as your writer’s website) is a public journal where you publish posts about things you’re working on, personal observations, book reviews, and even short stories. You can set it up to function as a regular blog with a few pages behind it (Contact, About Me, Books), or you can set it up to look like a website with a blog attached to it.
But setting up a blog can be a little intimidating, especially if you’ve never set one up before. If you aren’t sure which one to choose, here’s a quick startup guide for you.
First, you need to choose your platform. Do you want to set up and host your own blog on your own server? Or did that last sentence just scare the hell out of you?
If it did, you want a hosted blog. That means the company that owns the blog software will host it on their servers for you. But if you want to do it all by yourself, you want a self-hosted blog.
The easiest way to get that is buy a web hosting package on GoDaddy.com for $8.95 per month, and then use the WordPress 1-Click Install option to install it for you. Pick your favorite theme, and then bada-bing, bada-boom! — you’ve got a blog!
Of course that means you’re responsible for all maintenance and security, keeping your plugins up to date, and maintaining your own backups. It can be pretty technical and requires some advanced computer knowledge. Or at least a friend who has all that, and is willing to trade work for lunch.
But if that all sounds terrible, the hosted blog is by far the easiest option.
I like these three because they’re easy to create, easy to use, and the software engines running the blogs are constantly being maintained and upgraded.
I personally have blogs on all four options. My newspaper humor columns are published on a Blogger blog I set up in 2003; two years ago, I started a WordPress.com about being a “Misplaced Hoosier” when I moved to Florida (and haven’t touched for a year); I have a Tumblr blog that I occasionally post funny photos and ideas to; and, my professional work blog is a self-hosted WordPress site that I’ve had for eight years.
So for now, your biggest choice is to choose whether you want Tumblr, Blogger, or WordPress.com. And there are pros and cons for each of them.
Very easy to use and post content. You can even automatically post Instagram photos to it. It’s not great for long form writing though, so 5,000 word short stories are a tough to read. Think of it more for 200 – 300 word pieces and photos. This is a “blog-only” site though, so if you wanted other pages like Contact and About Me, you can’t have them. Sorry.
One of the oldest blogging platforms, and it’s also fairly easy to use. It’s a little simplistic though; while WordPress was focusing on developing all kinds of solutions and widgets, Blogger just sort of sat there. Everything is solid and works great, but it can’t do a lot of great stuff. Still, it’s owned by Google, so it ties in with everything else Google owns/does — Gmail, YouTube, Google Photos, and so on. This is mostly a “blog first” site that lets you add additional pages, but they’ll be “behind” the blog. Also, Blogger doesn’t allow for a lot of customization or additional plugins. It’s very elementary and basic, which some people want. But if you want to do things like adding places to sell books, you can’t do that.
I’ve got a love-hate relationship with WordPress. For one thing, it’s one of the best and most widely used platforms in the world, and the WordPress developers community keeps all kinds of new changes and improvements coming. The downside is that they charge for a lot of stuff. Want to get rid of the ads on your pages? That will cost you $2.99 per month. Need advanced design options and the ability to put videos on you site? That’s $8.25 per month. And you can spend $24.92 per month for the ability to install any plugin and run Google Analytics.
One note: If you want a self-hosted WordPress site, which gives you the freedom to do anything and everything with your blog, it costs $8.95 per month at GoDaddy. Compare that to $8.25 per month to do a lot of things with your WordPress.com site. On the one hand, you have complete design and functionality freedom, on the other hand, you give up that freedom, but all your security needs and updates are handled for you.
(Oooh, that sounds like an allegory for something. . . )
Or you can get the best of both worlds for $24.92 per month.
Which should you choose?
There’s no one best blog platform, although I think WordPress comes awfully close to it. It’s certainly the one I choose and recommend for all my clients.
Of course, if you go the self-hosted route, you’re either going to need someone who knows how to set it up, or you’re going to need the patience and technical know-how to figure it out. It’s not too difficult, but it’s not for the faint-hearted either.
If you’re not sure, I recommend starting out with one of the three big options — Blogger, Tumblr, WordPress.com — get familiar with it, and get used to publishing stuff to it. Then, once/if you need a bigger blog, hire someone to set up a self-hosted WordPress blog for you, and transfer everything over. Just know that it’s easier to transfer from WordPress.com to self-hosted WordPress.
Blogging is a great way to share new ideas, events, and stories with readers. It gives you a place to post your news, back stories to your characters’ growth, and your own short stories. It’s a valuable tool for a writer and it’s one that lets you scratch your writer’s itch without committing to a whole new book, or trying out new ideas and techniques.
Next month, I’ll share what kinds of blog posts you should write and how to write them.