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This Time it’s Personal

by Larry Brooks of Storyfix.com

Just like pretty much everyone else reading this site, when I began my blogging gig I struggled to find a niche, and a voice within it.

I was confident with the content and the agenda that would be the focus of my site.  And, again pretty much like everyone else, I harbored a quiet resolve to one day make a few bucks from it.  But I didn’t have a substantive revenue-generating plan in mind – a business model – other than that rather blind ambition.

In other words, I was winging it.  Make my mark first, earn a respectable following.  See what happened next, what doors might swing open.

And they did.   A couple thousand subscribers.  A major book deal.  A bunch of ebooks I had no idea I would write when I started.  Even some ghostwriting projects.

Not that this qualifies me to have drinks with the Big Boys as the next blogging conventions. But it’s a start.

This is perhaps the only business venue since the creation of minted cash where such a strategy is actually viable.

Best advice I ever heard in getting there: give it away.  As much and as fast as you can.  It’s not your father’s competitive environment, with its kill-or-be-killed mentality, anymore. 

At least here online its not.

To paraphrase… if you build it (a reader base), they (those minted bills) will come.

Maybe.  It’s still a bit of a crap shoot.

Bear with.  That’s not even my point today

Another great peace of advice was to read and study the blogs of others, both in terms of instructional wisdom (like Problogger) and examples of how and how not to go about things.  In doing so I discovered that blogs tend to come in three flavors: entrepreneurial, instructional/informational, and the highly personal.

All three may, and most likely do, harbor that same money-making agenda, by the way, but these are in general the three faces of blogging.

My website cleanly fit into the middle category.  My mission was, and is, to help writers understand the complex nuances and processes required to turn an idea into a story, and then render that story in a publishable form.

Which meant, while I read and actually enjoyed a few blogs where the author boldly wrote about little else than, for lack of a more strategic term, the author, I couldn’t see myself going there.  Just because I had published a small stack of novels to a minor standard of credible success, that only made me one of about a million writers who could claim the same thing.

And, where the more personal stuff is concerned, my life and what I have to say about it outside of my small and humble field of expertise just isn’t that interesting. 

Or perhaps, something I’d care to admit to.

Or so I thought. 

I soon realized this was narrow, limiting thinking.

 
And that’s my point today.   In a roundabout, forthcoming way.

As I look back upon nearly a year of blogging, and the curious fact that I have actually made an admittedly modest little pile of cash doing so, something rose up off the screen and smacked me upside the head: some of my most successful posts in terms of reader response were those that were of a personal nature.

Not me waxing wise and instructional about storytelling, but me becoming vulnerable and parting the kimono a bit.  Writing about things that have happened in my life and in my head that have helped to shape who I have become as a writer.

Opinions.  Stories.  Observations.  Hopes.  Fears.

The kind of stuff you’d admit to over beer and onion rings with a buddy.  Or, with enough of those beers in you, with a perfect stranger.

Notice that this post is really about its author

Moi.  It still creeps me out to adopt this perspective, especially on this highly global venue, but I couldn’t very well write a post about getting personal without, well, going there.

My site performance review reminded me that this work, unlike any other venture you can name short of politics and sheep herding, is about community.  One that embraces me as a peer as well as a self-anointed guru.

And that particular realization allowed me to recognize this newly-galvanized truth at work elsewhere online.  I find myself unable to click away from a post where the writer is being real, is sharing a moment and the emotions that underpin it, and establish a connection that transcends the intention of the otherwise branded content of that site.

It’s good to connect

To share and be the object of sharing.  To unburden and to leverage the learning curve of the unburdened.

So keep striving to nail your content and embrace your readers with something that serves them, as well as your business agenda.  But don’t hesitate to take a moment now and then to, in effect, share a coffee break with your readers and get downright, unabashedly real.

Watch what happens.  That flood of empathetic feedback is nothing other than a big ol’ hug.

And you know what they say in business school – he who gets hugged sells ebooks.  Because friends buy from friends.  From someone they like and trust.

That alone, without a dime attached, is worth the time and effort.

Then again, you have a business to run.  What better way to go about it than by connecting with those you intend to serve.

Here online, those agendas almost always go hand in hand.

Larry Brooks writes about the principles and process of writing successful fiction at Storyfix.com.  His book, Story Engineering: Mastering the Six Core Competencies of Successful Writing, will be published by Writers Digest books early next year.  He claims his latest novel, Whisper of the Seventh Thunder, is not remotely about him. 

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Comments

  1. Aaron T says:

    Precisely. And it’s alright to be like this too.
    The problem with my blog is that I don’t get enough community, for one reason or another, but I’ve read that with time that changes, right? I’ve tried to get my readers to comment, but they never do. I never even thought of making a personal blog post to get readers to respond. Great idea, great post.

  2. Guillermo says:

    I was going to write a comment but i lost interest by the third paragraph. May be next time.

  3. I myself am having a growth in my blog’s readership. It’s steady. But I am happy that I am serving them with what they are looking for.

    Very nice and informative post, you have shared with us here.

  4. Good article Larry Brooks! Yet I can’t thinking…but what is a blog, actually? I thought blogs were defined in the beginning as a written journal of our daily experiences. Okay, if so, journals/blogs are personal!!! I understand most people use them as a selling tool, I do with my art blog. And my art is personal and because it comes from deep within me! The problem with what has happened to public and online businesses these days, is it’s not longer personal. If you do experience a personal touch with a business, you almost feel shocked! That’s right, shocked, that they cared for you as a customer, client or as in this article the reader. And we’ve all become a number, bombarded with spam in all forms, and what can we get out of you the customer. Not what can I do for you? Remember those days?

    I usually read women’s blogs for that reason, then tend to be more personal. We woman eat that stuff up! But you know how you men are, perhaps men do fear “the reveal” of more personals matters and feelings. I have to say, even with Darren being a man, and having highly respected numbers in readership on Problogger, it’s quite something to experience some warmth with excellent content. To sum it up, we all do matter.

    Allison Reece
    Artist/NC
    http://allisonreeceoriginals.blogspot.com/

    P.S. Darren, have you read Max Lucado’s book, “Fearless”. It’s one of those books you want to give copies to just about everyone you know.

  5. se7en says:

    This is so true!!! I mostly blog “how to posts” or “lists of resources” but I tell you, when I blog something real from our life… that post always goes through the roof and gets a flood of comments!!!

  6. About once a month, I share a status with my community (coincidentally, today is one of those days -> http://www.observingcasually.com/whats-going-on-2/ )

    I could get more personal, though. My status is typically about how the site is doing.

  7. dur14t says:

    Sometimes very difficult to create articles that can be flooded with visitors, we must know what they want. problogger was the expert.

  8. Going personal is bad most of the times if you are running a blog untill and unless its a personal blog. Becuase it will lost ur readership and visitors. No one will be interested in you untill and unless you are popular

  9. An insightful post, Larry. Thanks for getting the juices flowing this morning.

    People do want to see a human being emerge from our posts, but they also want to read about us conquering something, resolving a problem, arriving at a new insight, or describing some beautiful or achingly wonderful thing. And readers want to feel like they’ve come along on the journey to that new insight.

    Hmmm… there’s another blog post in there. Oh well, I don’t write a How To blog, so here it is:

    Four elements to a good personal blog post.

    * Tell A Story: Beginning, middle and end. Conflict, journey, resolution. A personal post is best when you can create a narrative to engage the reader. Define a problem then write about the personal journey to solve it.

    Discover the Universal: personal posts work best when your problem is everyone’s problem, when your story is about a condition that everyone experiences and there’s no simple, pat resolution to. Beware of the mundane, though. Everyone needs to clip their toenails. Not everyone needs to read about it.

    Engage the Unique: This is the most personal part. This is the element that you see in your problem and resolution that you think makes your post important. Readers will love your story about toenail clipping if you discover some unique angle. (But you’d better engage that uniqueness from the first paragraph, or I’m outta there.)

    Make it Real: Description, baby. Tell your readers about your world. For example, never use the three “UL”s: terrible, awul and horrible. Don’t tell me something is terrible, describe the terribleness of it. Don’t tell me an event in your life inspired a flood of memories, describe the memories. Describe the setting, the people in the story, your feelings.

  10. Gayle Pescud says:

    Yes, I found the same thing by accident. I took a leap and wrote a piece about managing IBS traveling in developing countries and it seemed to strike a deeper note than all the posts focused on the blog’s main subject–travel in a particular country. Similarly, when writing about managing cross-cultural relationships or overcoming a serious problem I get more of a response than those helpful posts I labour over.

    It’s nerve-wracking to reveal personal stories, but I imagine it helping people and it makes it worthwhile and not too scary after all.

  11. I always strive to give personal touch to all my posts, and try to make it more interactive and i think now it is gradually picking up the readership.

  12. Siddhartha says:

    Congratulations on your success. Did I get that it all happened within one year of starting? That’s an amazing accomplishment.

    I believe you’re right about being open. I struggle with how much of myself to reveal on my blog. On the one hand I want to be honest and open with my readers, on the other hand I am hoping that prospective clients will read the blog as well.

    I don’t want to say anything that would make them reluctant to hire me.

  13. I think I finally figured some of this out, too. I blogged for almost a year and never got much in the way of comments even though I thought some of them were pretty good. Then I talked briefly about me a couple of times and here come the comments. Interesting concept.

  14. This is something that I struggle with and need to relax a little on: I strive to be instructional in order to inspire. However, the best way I can do that is to live my advice and then share my experiences.

    I’ve been rethinking my strategy, and this post targets my weaknesses. Thanks for pointing them out and offering such good advice!

  15. B. Durant says:

    It’s easy to write a story and give it a personal voice, but really hard to make a blog post instructional AND give it a personal touch. The people who can do that have some of the best successes.

  16. Jeff says:

    I myself am having a growth in my blog’s readership. It’s steady. But I am happy that I am serving them with what they are looking for.

    Very nice and informative post, you have shared with us here.

  17. Joshua Noerr says:

    Larry, your article is encouraging, because like you, I got into this thing with the first and foremost motivation being helping others. I am still working out some of the other details, but it seems that is a good start.

    At first, I felt wierd about having some of my personal stories and anecdotes out there on the internet for untold millions of people to read if they so desired. But, responses have been so positive, and the simple act of posting personal things so cathartic, I am now wondering how I ever went without doing it!

  18. Larry, thanks for the tips about providing the personal touch. I will keep this in mind writing about our family.

    Mmmm, maybe that might not be such a good idea if members of our family read the personal posts. Anyway, good food for thought!

  19. hokya says:

    Opinions. Stories. Observations. Hopes. Fears.

    that’s what my blog’s content all about

  20. Ishrath says:

    I started blogging so that I would have something to look back when I become really old. And to see that life was well spent.

    Being a private person I cannot get personal beyond a point. But with age, one learns that there is nothing to be afraid of. Your life is as wonderful as anyone else’s.

    I did not have a clear idea about blogging but had a great urge to record the growth and development of my little garden farm and the things that I made out of waste.

    Now, it is a decent blog that records life’s nothings as it goes by, and also helps others.

    I wish I had started blogging half a decade back – so that I could have logged so many things that I made and painted.

    Share – better late than never.

  21. i did not understand the point of this post, except some of them, the author is a real story writer, as he has the ability to make long post with some bunch of points,
    thats good.

  22. Larry says:

    Thanks to all for your comments and your personal perspective. Thanks for “getting” it.

    @bloggerchamps — the point is that readers often have an unexpected positive response to the blogger’s own experience rather than just their pitch or other instructional perspective. It’s good to get real, get vulnerable.

    @Guillermo — your short post is the very essence of irony (look it up), and on several levels. Thanks for the grin.

  23. scheng1 says:

    I guess the blog becomes too personal when your readers know you better than your wife.
    if the readers can guess what you will say next, and your wife cannot even understand what you are talking, then you are in big big trouble.

  24. Steve says:

    An insightful post, Larry. Thanks for getting the juices flowing this morning.

    People do want to see a human being emerge from our posts, but they also want to read about us conquering something, resolving a problem, arriving at a new insight, or describing some beautiful or achingly wonderful thing. And readers want to feel like they’ve come along on the journey to that new insight.

    Hmmm… there’s another blog post in there. Oh well, I don’t write a How To blog, so here it is:

    Four elements to a good personal blog post.

    * Tell A Story: Beginning, middle and end. Conflict, journey, resolution. A personal post is best when you can create a narrative to engage the reader. Define a problem then write about the personal journey to solve it.

    Discover the Universal: personal posts work best when your problem is everyone’s problem, when your story is about a condition that everyone experiences and there’s no simple, pat resolution to. Beware of the mundane, though. Everyone needs to clip their toenails. Not everyone needs to read about it.

    Engage the Unique: This is the most personal part. This is the element that you see in your problem and resolution that you think makes your post important. Readers will love your story about toenail clipping if you discover some unique angle. (But you’d better engage that uniqueness from the first paragraph, or I’m outta there.)

    Make it Real: Description, baby. Tell your readers about your world. For example, never use the three “UL”s: terrible, awul and horrible. Don’t tell me something is terrible, describe the terribleness of it. Don’t tell me an event in your life inspired a flood of memories, describe the memories. Describe the setting, the people in the story, your feelings.

  25. Finding that balance between informational and personal is so important – and so difficult. I’ve found, too, that once I’ve established the “tone” of my blog as informational or instructional, it’s difficult to shift to the more personal posts. Your advice is important, and I probably need to take it to heart. What’s currently missing from my blog is readers’ comments. I need to work more on that sense of community, and you’ve reminded me that if I want readers to share, I need to share first.
    Thanks for a thoughtful post.

  26. Jason says:

    I find it interesting that some people believe it is unprofessional to include their own personal experiences in a business blog.

    The main ingredient in word of mouth business is people. If visitors to your site get to know and like you, the chances of them using your business is so much higher.

    It’s because trust is built through personal relationships with customers. And trust is a vital element in any online purchase.

  27. The personal touch helps you establish a relationship with your readers. They get to know the sort of person that you are, and that would bring them again and again to your site. But I do know of a couple of blogs which are impersonal but still attract many readers. How many readers you have depends on what you write as well; if they like your content, they will come back for more.

  28. Patrick says:

    @Steve

    Ummmm…. Thanks for reposting my earlier comment verbatim ???

  29. Carolyn says:

    I have a personal blog with a small following, but even on that scale I’ve noticed that the blogs that get the most hits are not the carefully crafted humorous ones (like I thought they would be). My most popular posts are the ones where I’ve sat down in a very raw frame of mind and just put myself out there on some issue. I was surprised by that, but I think it says something nice about society, for once. For all the pushing away we do, every so often, we really do just want to connect. I think it’s great that you found a way to do that in the context of a more informational blog.

  30. Mendel Klein says:

    Excellent post, Larry. Everything (OK maybe not paint drying) can be made personal and get people to care about. All you need is a hook, thanks you for the advice on achieving that.

    @Patrick: Great points on creating personal blog posts.

  31. Matt Blick says:

    “parting the kimono”

    ugh! Bad mental images!! Make it stop!!

    What are you trying to communicate with this metaphor? No on second thoughts, don’t tell me.

    I’m just going to imagine you fully dressed in a three piece suit under your kimono Larry.

    Other than that eyeball burner – great post!

  32. Sanjay says:

    I knew this trick, oops better to say it as a strategy. Sharing personal thoughts and experiences with the readers is likely to attract some part of their attention. But lack of creative writing skills is the main problem here with most of the new comers like me.

  33. Fran Civile says:

    Thank you for clarifying that for me Larry,,, I have been
    on the fence for mixing the personal with the business aspect of my blog… although I have experienced in
    offline business what Jason touches on in his comment about the personal being very important in ‘word of mouth’
    growth.

    Larry, about this “The kind of stuff you’d admit to over beer and onion rings with a buddy. Or, with enough of those beers in you, with a perfect stranger I would say
    the reverse is more likely…. it would take more of those
    beers in you with a buddy than with a stranger!

    Fran :)

  34. Patrick says:

    @Mendel — Thanks! Great blog you’ve got there, too. Pretty and useful. =)

  35. Julius says:

    We are naturally attracted to things that have a personal story attached to them. It gives us a sense of realization that the author is just like us, and if in case we’re lonely, reading something that has a personal touch can be very inspiring.

  36. louise says:

    I hadn’t thought about it tbh. I just thought those who had hundreds of followers were the ones who had a following already from their books, movies etc.

    I interview new authors on my blog, I’m informative too along with being personal. It’s all about connecting with others in your field, and I agree with someone else on here who said it’s the ladies who’re better at blogging – along with Larry, of course (are you female?)

  37. i-Blogger says:

    This one really hit home with me. It’s funny because a lot of other bloggers who are starting to become more and more successful, basically started out the same way and with similar stories.

    Brian M. Connole | i-Blogger
    http://www.i-Blogger.info

  38. Larry says:

    Thanks to all for your comments and your personal perspective. Thanks for “getting” it.

    @bloggerchamps — the point is that readers often have an unexpected positive response to the blogger’s own experience rather than just their pitch or other instructional perspective. It’s good to get real, get vulnerable.

    @Guillermo — your short post is the very essence of irony (look it up), and on several levels. Thanks for the grin.

  39. Mary E. Ulrich says:

    Larry, I recommend storyfix to all the writers i know. Hugs.

    So do you still think there are three kinds of blogs? Sounds like the personal blog just merged with the others.

  40. @Larry
    oh! ya its true. As long as you write interesting and value posts. I think that experts of ever field of life have there own value and response in the eye of society.

  41. BigW says:

    As a result of this post, you now have another reader of StoryFix. Hopefully it’ll help to re-kindle my fiction writing jones.

    I’ve been a subscriber to Angela Hoy’s WritersWeekly newsletter for 13 years for the same reasons you point out in your post.

  42. Great post, and what a great perspective! That’s something that I was thinking about the other day. As a blogger I can be informative as I want, but I’m still blogging online, and it should still have an inherently personal atmosphere around it.

  43. Christopher says:

    I guess the blog becomes too personal when your readers know you better than your wife.
    if the readers can guess what you will say next, and your wife cannot even understand what you are talking, then you are in big big trouble.

  44. I often get personal in my posts. I run a “man” blog so I try to share my experiences from time-to-time. They usually go over pretty well.

  45. Euro Boy says:

    One good example of this kind of blog is the one written by Hulk Hogan. He shared his life experience from the death of his son, his divorse and what he learned from his experience.

  46. The problem with what has happened to public and online businesses these days, is it’s not longer personal.

  47. saç ekimi says:

    As a blogger I can be informative as I want, but I’m still blogging online, and it should still have en inherently personal atmosphere around it……

  48. I always considered the monetary system inherently zero some. And coming from an aspiring investor, that’s saying quite a lot.

    I have to give you credit though. The blogging community is not zero sum. It assuages that inherent cut-throat mentality vastly. Which is something else that drew me to pursuing such a medium.

    And besides.. You’re only as good as the communities that you surround yourself in.

  49. Finally the first person to comment. You make some great points here. I was reading John Reese’s blog yesterday about building friendships and I see that you make a point in this post about building friendships and relationships. They are definitely important.