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Writing the Truth of Your Own Experience

This guest post is by Sean M. Madden of Mindful Living Guide.

The cornerstone of my teaching is to write the truth of our own experience.

They’re fine words, which roll off the tongue with ease. But I needn’t tell you how gut-wrenching it can be to put them into practice.

For when one shares the results of such writing with the world at large it is very likely to anger at least some folk—no matter how clear, how unassuming, and how well-intentioned is what you have to say. And of course, it can be daunting to commit one’s truths to paper.

But the good news is that there’s a flipside.

Write the truth, and others—perhaps only a relative few—will appreciate beyond words that you’ve dared to express what they’ve longed to say, but perhaps couldn’t quite articulate.

Rilke, in his Letters to a Young Poet, advises his correspondent thus:

Go into yourself. Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depths of your heart; confess to yourself whether you would have to die if you were forbidden to write.

This most of all: ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: must I write?

I’ve many times asked myself this question over the course of my writing life, and have reconsidered it afresh whenever I revisit Rilke’s Letters, either on my own or with a group of students. My initial response tends to be, no, I mustn’t write—my life could be well-lived without the act of penning words onto a page. And yet I do write, often as if my life does indeed depend upon it.

Eleven years ago, I participated in a meditation retreat in which I had to relinquish any and all writing (and reading) materials for the course of a week and a half. No problem, I thought. Until several days into the retreat when I found I had something I had to express. So I liberated a blue permanent marker from the men’s toilet area and wrote my then nearly ten-year-old daughter a letter which spanned the full length and width of the fitted sheet I’d brought from home to sleep on. A letter she slept with for a very long time, until—ever so slowly, wash after wash—it finally faded from sight.

And how many times, since, have I resolved to give up writing in response to the egregious crimes of state we witness on a day-to-day basis, only to find myself in the most silent hour of my night writing an article for publication, a blog post, or page after page of handwritten diatribe?

Why, if time and again I tell myself I needn’t write, must I?

At times I write to release my soul from the burden of silence in the face of monstrous lies. Other times I write in response to witnessing the wonderment and beauty of this world. Either way, I write to express the truth of my own lived experience, and am infinitely happier for regularly doing so.

10 Steps to write the truth of your own experience

  1. Jump in headfirst. As with entering a cold sea or swimming pool, it’s much easier to plunge in, headfirst, than to wade slowly cursing the cold each step of the way. Once you’re in, you’re in, and you’ll acclimate yourself much more quickly. Ditto with writing.
  2. Courage grows in the doing. Fear and self-doubt, on the other hand, fester in the not-doing.
  3. Write with pen and paper. Make it a physical act, involving your whole body, your whole being, not just your mind. Thoughts are more likely to come in the doing than in the thinking up of things. Certainly, write on your computer as well, but get comfortable with putting pen to paper.
  4. Write first and foremost for yourself. While you might eventually like to share your work with others, write firstly for yourself without concern for your readers. Remember, too, that the acts of writing and sharing your work are wholly distinct. Share your work only when you’re ready.
  5. Trust wholeheartedly in the process. Simply write down whatever comes up. Trust in this process until the need to trust is replaced by an experiential knowing that the process works.
  6. Be patient and supremely gentle with yourself. Remember, too, that a thousand-mile journey begins with that very first step. Keep walking, and writing, and every once in a while look back to see how far you’ve traveled, and how much you’ve accomplished.
  7. Write with no expectations. Rather, nurture a sense of letting go of the notion of writing well. Good writing will come of its own accord, all the more so when you write regularly and truthfully about your own life experience.
  8. Begin a daily, or near-daily, writing practice. Commit to a three-month daily writing practice as a means to recognize, firsthand, the benefits of doing so, and, thereby, to develop it into a habit.
  9. Recognize that writing topics abound. They’re literally everywhere within you as well as in the world around you. Begin to notice the rich, inspiration-packed details of your day-to-day life.
  10. Write down your inner truths with great courage and honesty. You’ll thereby find your voice. This last step is a repeat from an earlier, closely related article I wrote for ProBlogger which you might find helpful to consider alongside this piece.

What strategies have you found to be helpful in writing the truth of your own experience? Please leave your comments below so that we can continue to learn from each other’s experience as well.

Sean M. Madden is a Creative Writing & Mindful Living Guide who is slow-traveling on a shoestring in Europe with his partner, Mufidah Kassalias. In addition to leading courses and workshops, Sean also works one-to-one with clients worldwide via Skype, email and telephone. He invites you to contact him via email or to follow him on Twitter (@SeanMMadden), Instagram (@SeanMMadden) or Facebook (Mindful Living Guide).

Why Twilight has Such a Massive Following—and How to Apply This Concept to Your Blog

This guest post is by Allison Boyer of NMXlive.com.

I’ve never actually met a fan of Twilight.

It’s true. I’ve met people who say they kinda-sorta-maybe like the books, but can’t stand the movie. I’ve met people who say they’re reading the series because they’re curious. I’ve met people who say they just watching the movies for a laugh. But I’ve never met, face-to-face, a hard-core, die-hard Twilight fan.

Yet they exist out there. I see message boards and fan sites brimming with excitement over the latest film or gossip about one of the actors, and when they show snippets of the premiers on the news, there are always lots of screaming fans. So why won’t anyone actually admit to me that they are a huge fan of Twilight?

The answer is exactly why I believe this series has such a massive following in the first place—and it’s an extremely important lesson for any blogger trying to grow a community.

The empty protagonist

The protagonist of the Twilight story is a teenage girl named Bella who is forced to move to a new town, where she finds that one of her classmates (and all of his siblings) are actually vampires and that her best friend is a werewolf. Two of the vampires fall in love with her, fight over her, and constantly save her from other supernatural beings.

Bella, as a character, is nothing special. And that’s the point.

At some point, we’ve all daydreamed about a hunky man or beautiful woman falling so deeply in love with us that they’re willing to fight off other suitors and even risk their lives on our behalf. We all know what it feels like to deal with unfairness in life, like having to move to a new town. We all know what it feels like to be unsure of our feelings, like Bella is with both potential partners at some point or another. And the supernatural element is just fun. We all have the child inside, who remembers how much fun it is to play pretend.

Bella is an empty shell, so the reader (or viewer) can image being in Bella’s shoes.

That’s why it’s so hard for people to admit liking this series, even if they have every special edition DVD at home. It’s embarrassing to admit that you just want to be like Bella, living in this fantasy world with two hotties fighting over who gets to save you this time.

(Of course, few people actually want that for real, but it’s a fun little escape from life for a few hours.)

This isn’t the only time an empty protagonist, or an “everyman” type of character, has shown up in a book or film. Ishmael in Moby Dick, Winston Smith in 1984, and Arthur Dent in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy all have these qualities. It’s a common technique used to help you relate to a specific character.

Why bloggers should care

All of us would love to have a massive following like Twilight, right? So how can we take the concept of an everyman character and bring it to a blog about food or social media or fashion (or whatever your niche may be)?

The answer isn’t an easy one, but the solution is to suck your audience into a story they can relate to, using that to support the thesis of your blog post.

Take this blog post for example. I’m writing about how to build your community, but I started by talking about something everyone knows—Twilight. My first line, about not knowing anyone who actually admits to liking the series, was designed to make you think, “Huh. I don’t either!” or even “Wait, I know someone!”

Either way, you’re internally having a conversation with me and this blog post now, rather than just passively reading a list of tips.

Many bloggers do this extremely well. Check out Elizabeth Potts Weinstein. Read a few posts from Erika Napoletano. Browse the archives of Man Vs. Debt for posts from Adam, Courtney, and Joan.

On all of these blogs, with almost every post, you learn something, but only after they suck you into the story, making your nod your head and completely relate to whatever they’re talking about. Even if you haven’t been in their specific situations, you understand what it feels like.

You can put yourself in their shoes.

And that is the key to make people come back again and again. It’s slow at first. People know they like a post you’ve written, but they aren’t quite sure why. So they read some more and then some more, and soon they are subscribed to your RSS feed and signed up to your mailing list and sharing every post you write with their social media followers.

This is obviously not the only way to build a community on your blog, but if you’re struggling to find your place, think about using this technique on your blog. How can you pull readers into your post by using an everyman story? How can you keep your fans coming back for more by helping them relate to you? How can you entertain and inspire instead of just educate?

For more tips on building a community, check out the “Three Very Unique Ways To Build A Massive Community” panel at New Media Expo (NMX – formerly BlogWorld) in January. It’s a can’t-miss session if you’re looking for new ways to find your fans and keep them coming back for more.

Become a Guest-post Ninja in 5 Steps

This guest post is by Timo Kiander ofProductive Superdad.

There you are with a big smile, after slapping together another 400-word post. It took you 30 minutes to write, and now you are ready to submit it to some random blog.

Although you didn’t really put your mind to the post, it got published anyway. Quite soon after this you start to wonder why you aren’t getting any great results in return: no visits, no subscribers, no nothing.

You make the conclusion that guest posting is just a waste of time. You also decide to move to other, more compelling traffic methods that have the potential to drive massive amounts of visitors to your site.

In fact, a certain marketer just published a course that shows you how to get floods of traffic to your blog—by spending just ten minutes per day with his technique.

You figure that’s a much better use of your time than the overhyped guest posting thing, which isn’t working for you anyway.

I’m sorry to hear that you feel this way about guest posting. However, if you let me, I can at least try to change your mind.

Guest posting is more than a simple list post

Too many times people think that a great-performing article is just a simple list post that, after being submitted to a blog, will bring a lot of traffic and subscribers. Then they become frustrated when they fail to get the results they wished for.

This frustration is caused by a lack of persistence. Guest posting is a long-term strategy that requires commitment—not just doing a random post here or there.

You’ll also need the focus properly when you’re doing the actual writing. Your goal should always be to produce as valuable and meaningful stuff for your readers as possible.

Unfortunately, if you are not focused enough, you end up offering some superficial advice that has been said elsewhere many times over.

The more time you spend on guest posting, the more certain you can be that you’ll get the big rock rolling—and you’ll get great rewards in return.

On the other hand, if you expect the results fast or you are not willing to put enough hours in, then you should definitely start figuring out some other promotional strategy that suits your better.

Mindset and success are connected

The lack of success is traceable—to your mind. In other words, you might lack the proper mindset to succeed at guest posting.

To succeed, you’ll need to be consistent and persistent with your efforts. You also have to be ready to test and tweak different things related to guest posting: headlines, landing pages, and the blogs you submit your posts to.

Unfortunately, guest posting is not for the person who wants to reach the big figures in this very moment: the traffic, the subscribers now, and the sales. Sure, you’ll get those, but only with enough commitment and intense work.

If you don’t own the right mindset, guest posting is just another way to get some random traffic to your site. A lack of focus is going to give you a lack of results.

Becoming a guest-post ninja

Do you want to become a guest-post ninja? Well, I have good news for you—it’s totally doable!

Instead of jumping around like a real ninja warrior, I want you to develop a proper guest posting mindset. You can do this using the steps I’m about to tell you.

First, don’t hold back on anything!

I remember the time (when I started writing guest posts) when I was always thinking, “Is this post too good to be given away, or should I publish it on my own blog?”

If you are feeling like this, then stop. Don’t hesitate to give your best stuff for other blogs.

My blog doesn’t have tens of thousands of readers (at least, not yet!), so it’s useless for me to publish all my best content over there.

Instead, I try to get my content published on those blogs which already have those tens of thousands of readers and who will (at least partly) come back to my blog for more.

Second, writing is just one part of guest-posting.

Guest posting is also about interacting with the readers of the guest blog’s audience. If you think that your job is done after getting your post published, you are wrong.

The worst thing to do is to stay quiet during the conversation. This just proves to the blog’s author that your posts are not worth publishing in the future.

Third, the biggest fear in guest posting is about rejection.

I can totally understand this—especially if you are just starting out. However, the more posts your write, the less you’ll experience this feeling.

You can always offer the rejected post to another blog and, unless it’s badly written, it’ll be published elsewhere.

Fourth, systematize your work.

When you start writing posts on a regular basis, a good system will help you a lot. This means that you have certain guidelines to follow whenever your write a guest post, and you’ll be able to produce great posts easier and faster.

Finally, plan ahead.

Never start writing your posts without outlining or planning them in advance. This becomes especially important if you are building your blog while you have a day job and a family.

Every minute counts! The more effective you are, the more you get done with your available time, and the better the results you are going to get.

Put that black mask on, and become a guest-post ninja!

Now that you understand the guest posting mindset, and how to become a guest-post ninja, it’s time to look at the action steps that you can take next.

1. Give away your best stuff

Don’t save the “good stuff” for your own blog—give it away, especially if you are just starting out. Your blog gets more exposure that way, and so do you.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be writing awesome stuff on your own blog—of course you should! But you should publish your great content where the people are, rather than posting it only to your blog.

2. Reply to comments

There are really two parts to this piece of advice.

First, I batch process all post comments at once, on a daily basis. This way all the comments get a reply. This is also what the author of the blog you’ve been a guest on expects.

As soon as I know that the post is live, I’ll let the author know that my comment policy is to reply to all the comments once a day. I also let the blogger know if I’m travelling and I can’t reply to comments right away. This way the blogger is informed and knows that eventually the comments are going to be replied to.

3. Kill your fear of rejection

To feed your fear of rejection, write your first guest post and try to get it published on a big blog.

A much better way to kill that fear is to get your stuff published on smaller blogs first, and then, once you’re more confident, to go after the big fishes.

This is exactly what my strategy was in the beginning, and the fear of rejection is nowadays pretty much non-existent.

You should use this strategy too: start on the lowest steps of the ladder and then proceed upwards, one step at a time.

4. Create your system

You can create your ownguest-post system from scratch, or borrow a system from someone else.

I have a certain way of writing posts and this system works for me. On the other hand, you’ll definitely want to put your own tweaks to existing systems, so that they suit you better. It’s the best way to create quality guest posts that get results on a consistent basis.

5. Plan and execute

Finally, there is the planning part, which shouldn’t be underestimated. In fact, the planning is critical part of my system, but I wanted to bring it up as a separate step.

Every Sunday, I outline my posts for the coming week. This ensures that I’m ready to start writing as soon as I wake up.

Mornings are technically the only part of the day when my home is quiet enough for writing. Besides, writing stuff after getting back home from work is not practical for me as I want to spend time with my family or with my hobbies.

Like me, you’ll have to find the optimum time for you to write. Then, plan and write around that schedule.

Are you a guest-post ninja?

Guest posting works, but you have to concentrate on it properly if you want to get good results. To get that concentration, build a strategy and a system for your guest posting efforts. Take these steps as a starting point or implement your own system if you want.

Have you done any guest posting? What is the most important lesson you have learned so far?

Timo Kiander, a.k.a. Productive Superdad, teaches WAHD superdad productivity for work at home dads. If you want to improve your blogging productivity, grab his free e-book, 61 Ways for Supercharging Blogging Productivity.

The Well-rounded Blogger: How to Become the Best at Your Craft

This guest post is by Brandon Yawa of Brandonyawa.com.

It goes without saying that every writer who has excelled has his or her niche.

A “niche” gives writers a focal point, a demographic, a particular place in the world where his or her voice resonates. But niches without proper attention kill great writers.

The problem with specifications

You are walking down a busy street and fall. Unfortunately, you break your leg and the ambulance rushes you to the nearest Orthopedist. You meet Dr. Niche in his blue scrubs with his head held slightly higher than everyone else’s, suggesting overwhelming confidence in the subject at hand.

He looks at your leg, and in what seems like a millisecond, your leg is in place and the cast is fully set. Baffled by the expertise of Dr. Niche, you ask, “Is there anything I can do nutritionally to speed up the healing process?” Dr. Niche’s skyscraper deposition lowers as he almost incoherently mumbles, “That’s outside of my niche . . .”

Dr. Niche is absurd.

Great writers do not become so specific that they lose sight of the body in writing. Whether your niche is creative writing, blogging, non-fiction, or poetry, it is equally important you understand the mechanics of all the above. Great writers use the knowledge of writing to excel in their niche. Okay writers use the knowledge of their niche to excel in their niche.

How to be well-rounded

  1. If your specialty is blogging, expose yourself to other areas—poetry, literature, creative writing—and familiarize yourself with the mechanics of all of them. You’re not exiting your specialty; instead, you are arming yourself with more tools to excel in your niche.
  2. Don’t limit yourself to only writing about your niche. Live a little outside of your comfort zone. If you’re a poet, write what you know about blogging. If you’re a blogger, write a poem. Don’t just familiarize yourself with the mechanics; actually contribute your voice in other realms.
  3. Look at your voice like you would Dr. Niche. Dr. Niche is a genius if the world and the human body were limited to just bones, but it’s not. If you want to be a real world genius, don’t limit your voice to one particular thing.
  4. Separate the content your readers want from what you have to do as a professional to evolve. Continue to produce the content your readers look forward to, but practice new ways of delivering your content in privacy.
  5. Start today, not tomorrow. Don’t get into the habit of putting off what will make your voice special today. It’s a really bad habit that needs an entirely different blog.

The blogging world has shown that one person’s success can be countless people’s success when we share our experiences. Go out, try these new methods, then comeback here and share your insights. We look forward to hearing from you in the comments.

Brandon Yawa is a retired pro athlete turned blogger. His motivational blogs combine lessons learned from surpassing the limits in his life, with a deep-seated passion to help people transcend the limits in their lives.

Reusing Freelance Writing Online: the Pros and Pitfalls

This guest post is by Emma Merkas of $30 Date Night.

It was my blog that landed me my weekly newspaper column.

I’m a huge advocate of self-publishing, If you know you’re talented at something, and if you have an opinion you want to express, a song you want to sing, or a specific skill you want to teach, go right ahead and do it.

The Internet has more than levelled the publishing playing field—judging by the state of traditional media outlets right now, it’s all but demolished it.

I’d been thanklessly blogging for about 18 months—five posts a week, very little to show for it in the way of traffic, and regular comments … all was going steadily, but not gangbusters—when I received a call from the editor of mX newspaper here in Melbourne.

She’d been reading my blogs and since her relationship and dating columnist had left for another publication, she wondered if I could do for the paper what I’d been doing online.

Yes, I could! Of course I could. I remember jumping around the loungeroom like a complete idiot while trying to keep my voice steady on the phone. My husband wondered what the heck was going on.

Readership of 700,000 across the Eastern seaboard of Australia. My photo and byline printed alongside it every week. My website plugged at the bottom. And an opportunity for a legit writing job…

Suddenly, I was a real writer. A proper, paid, professional writer.

But the column also gives me great new content for my blog.

I have my newspaper deadline every week. Even on my off days, even through my uninspired weeks, and even when I just can’t be bothered writing (every blogger battles it), it gets done. Because it has to.

Which is amazing, because then I get to post it to my blog, giving me steady and quality content for my site and ensuring I’m not burnt out by constantly writing the same stuff over and over again. If I had to rewrite every article on the same topic just so I could publish something, I doubt I’d last very long.

So here are some key points on reusing your freelance content for your own website, based on my experience.

1. Remember: your copyright is your livelihood

If it’s at all possible, retain the copyright on the works you produce for paying publications.

This should generally be standard if you are freelancing for a publication, rather than being employed as staff by the company, in which case they may have legal rights to the content.

The only way you can transfer your copyright is by signing a document. So be careful of what you’re signing!

If you don’t understand the agreement, wave it under the nose of a friend with some legal background (lawyers are a dime a dozen, right?).

2. Understand exclusive and non-exclusive rights

While I do own the copyright to my content, the paper has exclusive rights to my work for a period of time, meaning that I can’t resell or licence the content to any other third party in that time.

However, I am entitled to use my own work on my own website. If you’re not sure about this, clear it with your editor first, or do it as a courtesy anyway.

Always, always credit the publication when you publish on your own site. This creates goodwill and they’ll welcome the cross-promotion.

In my case, after the paper’s exclusivity period runs out, it still owns perpetual rights to my work that the editors can use as they see fit in their standard publications. As my agreement includes a clause that my work should always run with a byline, I’m not too fussed by this arrangement. The more promotion and publicity, the better for me and my website.

3. Give them first jump

Of course, the publication you’re writing for always has the right to publish the works first. In my case, I leave it at least a few days before I go live with my articles on my blog.

As mX newspaper is one of the rare beasts that doesn’t have an online portion, my columns are gone and forgotten—with no digital footprint—along with yesterday’s news. My blog ensures they live on.

Chances are, if a publication has taken you on to contribute work, they’re impressed already with your blog, your work, and your brand. Use that to your advantage when negotiating your contract and get as much access to reuse your own works as possible.

If you want to learn more about your rights as a content creator, the US Copyright Office or the Australian Copyright Council is a great resource for FAQs and legal advice.

Are you a freelance writer? Do you reuse your articles on your own blog? Share your negotiating tips and advice with us in the comments.

Emma Merkas is the author of the weekly ‘How Was It For You?’ relationships and dating column in Australian newspaper, mX. She is also the co-creator of the $30 Date Night date ideas website and blog. Find her on Twitter @30dollardate.

Advice from Famous Authors a Blog Writer Could Use Today

This guest post is by Colin Olson of Fresh Essays.

Every high-school superstar longs to follow in his sport hero’s footsteps. Small business owners idolize those on the Fortune 500 list. Likewise, blog writers can hope for the greatness of past literary giants.

While many of the world’s most famous authors are long gone, their words of wisdom still resonate today. Listen to the advice these famous authors have left for blog writers.

“What I try to do is write… And it might be just the most boring and awful stuff. But I try. When I’m writing, I write. And then it’s as if the muse is convinced that I’m serious and says, ‘Okay. Okay. I’ll come.’ ”—Maya Angelou

When writing an article, just let the thoughts flow. Constantly stopping and starting will break your train of thought. Don’t stop to correct typos, grammar errors or punctuation mistakes. All the editing can be done later. Don’t pause while writing to go looking for facts and statistics. Do all the fact-checking at once.

“If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.”—Elmore Leonard

One of the most unique features of a blog is the laid-back, conversational tone that can be implemented. Blogging is a chance for customers to see the person behind the brand.

Don’t be stuffy, pompous, or too formal. Engage readers in a conversation.

“If my doctor told me I had only six minutes to live, I wouldn’t brood. I’d type a little faster.”—Isaac Asimov

A great way to earn loyal readers is to provide content no one else is willing to discuss. 

Sit down and make a list of all the controversial topics, hard-to-answer questions, and pressing issues that are related to your industry.  Then, write content to address each item on the list. 

Be the first one to talk about the touchy subjects, and readers will come to trust and appreciate what you have to offer.

“I try to leave out the parts that people skip.”—Elmore Leonard

Blog readers tend to be skimmers. They like grabbing bits and pieces of information. So make that process easier for them.

Use headings, bullets and lists.  Keep paragraphs to a few sentences; big chunks of text can be intimidating.

“A short story must have a single mood and every sentence must build towards it.”—Edgar Allen Poe

When writing blog posts, be concise.  Choose one topic and stick to it.  Wander too far off on a tangent and readers will be lost.

“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”—Ernest Hemingway

Write about topics that are interesting. If you wouldn’t want to read it, no one else will either. And make sure blog posts have genuinely helpful information. Readers who are subjected to constant product pitches won’t stick around for long.

Write about topics people are passionate about—topics that they hold dear to their hearts.

“Quantity produces quality.  If you only write a few things, you’re doomed.”—Ray Bradbury

Nothing says, “I don’t care,” like a dormant blog. At the very least, bloggers need to post once a week. Readers who always find the same old posts won’t bother to come back again.

Also, try to be consistent about when your posts appear. Use the site’s analytics to determine when readers stop by. Then, post on that day(s). If posts appear sporadically, readers won’t know what to expect.

Don’t be afraid to tell readers when a post is coming, too.  Make a simple announcement on your social networks.

“Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print. Never use a long word where a short one will do. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out. Never use the passive where you can use the active. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.”—George Orwell

Blog writing is different from just about any other type of writing for one very simple reason—it is global. Loyal readers can come from any corner of the world, and for many, English is a second language.

Make blogs post simple to read. Avoid clichés—not everyone will understand them. Even posts that are translated into a native tongue will benefit from clear, concise, accurate language.

Check out these two great resources to learn more about passive and active voice and commonly misused English words.

“Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia”.—Kurt Vonnegut

Have a target audience, and write for that audience. 

For a business blogger, the target audience is not the bigwigs with corner offices who sign the paychecks. Writing to please them is a big no-no. And a target audience of “women,” isn’t specific enough.

Narrow down the target audience until it seems there could only be one possible person in the world who fits that description.

“Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible….Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why…”—Kurt Vonnegut

Get to the point quickly. Readers shouldn’t have to wade through half the article before coming to the main point. Tell the readers what they’ll get from the article within the first few sentences.

“Cut out all those exclamation marks. An exclamation mark is like laughing at your own joke.”—F. Scott Fitzgerald

After writing a post, go back and proofread it. Not only do spelling errors and grammar mistakes need to be caught, punctuation blunders should be noted too.

Overuse of comas can be distracting. Long, ugly sentences that would benefit from semicolons are annoying too. Consider consulting the AP Stylebook. At the very least, note AP style calls for only one space after a period or colon. Numbers ten and under should be spelled out (with the exception of age: a 5-year-old boy).

“Read, read, read. Read everything—trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read!  You’ll absorb it. Then, write.”—William Faulkner

Reading the content of other industry leaders can provide useful information. First, insight will be gained as to what the competitors are up to. Second, inspiration can be found on other sites. Lastly, valuable lessons can be learned about what not to do!

There is no better way to end this article than by sharing G.K. Chesterton’s words: “I owe my success to having listened respectfully to the very best advice, and then going away and doing the exact opposite.”

This post was written by Colin Olson. He is a content writer and editor at Fresh Essays – an online writing services provider. He likes to write essays on history and education related topics.

How to Write a Must-read Product Review

This guest post is by Karol K.

Reviews are one of the more common types of content on the internet. I’m sure you’ve looked for a review of a given product yourself once or twice. However, being on the receiving end of a review, so to speak, is a completely different ball game than actually writing one.

First of all, some people mistake reviews for sales messages. Some indications that you’re dealing with a disguised sales message, rather than a review, are: too big a focus on glorifying the product, the presence of numerous affiliate links, and a lack of actual information about the usage of the product or service being reviewed (only promotional speech).

So how can you be the good guy or girl and actually craft a proper review? This post presents the essential techniques you should use, but first…

What’s the purpose of a review?

A good review is not intended just to make some affiliate sales … at least, it shouldn’t be.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not against affiliate sales, it’s just that if making money is your only goal, this makes it impossible to present an unbiased opinion of the product or service. You still can include an affiliate link at the end of your review, but treat it as an extra opportunity, not the goal in itself.

So what’s a better purpose than affiliate sales for a review? To answer that question, take a look at why people read reviews. If you decide to cater to that need exactly, you will create a truly valuable review.

In my opinion, the most common reasons why people look for product reviews are:

  • to learn the pros and cons of a given product
  • to find out if the product is meant for them
  • to find out if the product is of high quality and easy to use
  • to find out about alternative solutions
  • to find out about other users’ experiences with the product
  • to ultimately learn if the product is worth buying.

With those needs in mind, let’s look at what you can do to craft a truly valuable review.

Buy or ask for the product

This is the first rule to writing a review! Sometimes I’m really amazed at how many people continue writing reviews without even owning the product they’re reviewing.

I mean, it’s doable if you just want to make a few affiliate sales, but if your goal is to provide value, then it’s absolutely crucial for you to have the product in your hands (or on your computer).

Now, there are a range of ways you can get the product. The best way is to simply ask the product owner to give you a copy for free (just mention that you’re writing a review).

If this doesn’t work, you can sign up as an affiliate and buy the product through your affiliate link. This will allow you to get up to 90% off the retail price, depending on the affiliate commission you’ll earn. Be aware, though, that some affiliate programs don’t allow you to buy through your own link—check the terms and conditions of the arrangement before you do this.

Consider becoming an affiliate

As I said briefly a couple of paragraphs above, I’m not against affiliates. As a matter of fact, I’m an affiliate for plenty of products.

To put it simply, if there is an affiliate program available for the product you’re reviewing, by all means do sign up. Just don’t make affiliate sales your main goal when writing the review.

Tackle the problem of honesty

Why am I calling it a problem? The problem is that not every product is a quality one.

Every once in a while, you’ll stumble upon a product that is simply garbage. And the problem here is that people (including you, I hope) are naturally nice. So we don’t want to hurt anyone by publishing negative reviews of their products.

And this is where the problem of honesty arises. A natural approach here is to simply omit some negative experiences from your review—to not say anything about them. I really don’t advise you to do this.

Always try to fight the natural resistance and mention every negative aspect you’ve stumbled upon. This will strengthen your brand and also ensure your readers know that you’re an honest source of information.

Craft the core content

Setting all the issues with purpose and honesty aside, now let’s focus on the core contents of your review.

Make sure you provide information on:

  • Features: Cover information on what the product does.
  • Target group: Include information on who the average user of the product is, and why they would want to use it.
  • The main benefit: There are always some benefits a given product has to offer, and listing them is usually the biggest value a review brings. Just to define the idea of a benefit briefly: it’s what the features of the product mean to the users, and how those features improve their lives.
  • Practical details: Cover things like the price, where to get the product (you can include your affiliate link here), what the guarantee is, how long customers have to wait for the delivery, and so on.

List the alternatives

This is optional. You can do this, but it’s not a mandatory element of a good review. Besides, sometimes there simply aren’t many alternatives to a really specific product.

Even if there are, there’s often no point in listing them. For example, when you’re reviewing a novel, even if there are other novels in the same area, it’s not likely to provide much value if you list them as alternatives.

Cove the pros and cons

The pros and cons section is a feature of every good review. Listing the pros is usually easy, as the product creators always try to make them clearly visible, but cons are a completely different story.

The first thing you need to realize is that there are always some cons, no matter how good the product seems at first. Your job as the reviewer is to bring them to the surface.

One more tip. Please don’t list cons that aren’t really cons. This is one of the tricks used by affiliate reviewers. For instance, when dealing with digital products, affiliates tend to mention the fact that the package takes a long time to download as a downside. It isn’t.

Cons are only significant if they somehow make the product less usable in some way. Focus on those.

Other people’s opinions

If you take a look at Amazon, you’ll find loads of customer reviews for every product. They’re not there just for the sake of it. People are simply very interested in other people’s opinions.

If you have access to reliable customer reviews or opinions that you can legally use, by all means include them in your review. Try to find both positive and negative ones.

Share your final opinion

Finally, share your personal opinion about the product. Mention whether the product is worth buying or not, and what your overall experience of it was.

Don’t be afraid of speaking your mind freely here. If you love the product, say that you do. If you hate it, people should know about this, too.

Also, include your affiliate link if you want to recommend the product to your readers. You don’t have to make it look overly promotional—a big Buy Here button might be too much. Simply hooking up your affiliate URL to the product name is usually enough.

That’s it for my advice on writing a proper product review, but feel free to share your own thoughts and ideas. Do you write a lot of reviews? Have you experienced any difficulties getting products? I’d love to hear your tips, too.

Karol K. is a freelance blogger and writer. Currently, he’s all about providing blogging advice to real estate business owners, and getting the word out about las colinas real estate.

One Essential Characteristic of a Pro Blogger [Not Your Everyday Blog Writing Advice]

Each week, my Content manager Georgina turns away around 20 or so posts for publication at ProBlogger. She tells me that maybe 5-10% of those are of a publishable standard, but they just don’t fit our audience or purpose. The rest aren’t pro-level pieces.

Learning

Image courtesy stock.xchng user Valsilvae

Forget for a moment that these are guest posts—which are supposed to be bloggers’ best content.

Instead, I want to think about what that means for the average blogger, toiling away on their blog day in, day out, trying to reach and captivate their audience.

What is “pro blogging”?

Pro blogging isn’t just about making money through a blog. You don’t need to write a word to do that. But I think most of us would expect pro bloggers to be able to write reasonably well.

Why?

Because Pro bloggers need to be consummate communicators. Whether they hire others to write for their blogs, or use video, audio, or images rather than text, clear expression is a hallmark of any pro blogger.

Clarity doesn’t just mean error-free writing. It means:

  • content that touches readers, showing you empathize with them
  • relevant, helpful content
  • consistent information, in terms of frequency, tone, etc.
  • content that delivers what it promises, and has integrity.

A blogger might use writing for a range of purposes, too:

  • to attract readers, and keep them coming back
  • to promote their blog or sell something
  • to approach potential collaboraters
  • to build relationships and networks
  • to make money directly (e.g. through an information product).

There’s plenty of great quality advice about writing and content marketing online. Writing tips abound.

This week, we want to present a few different takes on writing for your blog. Over the next four days we’ll publish some posts that focus on some nitty-gritty aspects of writing—ideas that go a bit deeper than usual.

Writing to make money

Our first post will look at writing product reviews that deliver real value. Among other things, the post explores the challenges bloggers face in exposing the negative aspects of a product they’re reviewing and may want to encourage readers to buy (if they’re an affiliate for it).

Handling that tension is exactly the kind of thing that pro bloggers work to master. This post will show how showing the full picture supports authority, and can actually encourage more sales than a purely glowing review.

Writing to improve

One great thing about blogging is that everything we do is practice—each post we publish should be an improvement on the last one.

Looking to leaders for advice on writing is an excellent way to develop your skills. Our second post will reveal the thoughts of some of the world’s greatest writers, and provide starting points to help you apply that advice in your own posts.

Writing to build your profile

When bloggers think about content marketing, we often ponder the question of content reuse. If you do it right, it can be an efficient way to get the most out of the time you spend writing—it can boost your visibility, your publishing schedule, and your available time.

Our third post this week explains how freelance writers can best reuse their freelance content on their own blogs. This isn’t a straightforward topic, and this post highlights the potential advantages and pitfalls so that if you’re a freelancer, you know where to start looking into content reuse.

Writing to experiment

For many bloggers, after high-school or college essays, and workplace emails, blogging is the first focused writing they’ve done.

We’ve all heard the advice that if you want to be a great writer, you need to be a big reader. But the final post in our series shows that to be a better blog writer, you need to be a better writer, period. It prompts us to look beyond blog posts for opportunities to write, and topics to write on. It shows that through experimentation, we can learn skills out of context that we can bring back and apply to our blogs.

Are you up to the challenge?

The advice we’ll cover this week goes beyond the everyday. It assumes you’re already serious about being good writer, and are facing the challenges of becoming a great writer. There’s no hype in these posts, and no write-your-way-to-a-million-dollar-income-in-five-minutes advice. They’re posts that aim to provide a different perspective on post writing.

Where are you at as a writer? Are you ready to challenge yourself to become better? Or do you think you’ve reached your limits, either in terms of potential, or interest in writing? Share your perspective with us in the comments.

Set a Posting Schedule that Encourages Shares and Pageviews

This guest post is by Lindsey Dahlberg of Bloggingtips.com.

We’ve all heard the saying, “great content gets shared.” But what happens if yours isn’t getting shared? Does that mean you don’t have great content?

Not necessarily. It could mean you have top-notch content, but you’re not posting it at the most opportunistic times of day.

Maybe you aren’t interested in social shares but would like to know why your killer content isn’t generating lots of pageviews.

Perhaps you’re suffering from the same malady: your content isn’t getting viewed because you aren’t posting on the best days of the week.

According to Shareaholic, the day and time you post your content will determine how many social shares and page views it receives. The following information was taken from data received in 2011 (social shares apply to Facebook and Twitter).

Social shares

If your top priority is social shares, you’ll want to know the best day and best time to post your content. Here is a breakdown of both those stats.

Best days

According to research, content posted on Thursdays gets more shares than any other day—10% more in fact. From there, sharing days decrease in popularity as follows: Wednesday, Friday, Monday, Sunday, and Tuesday.

We can take two things from this information. First, people are using Facebook and Twitter at work. Second (and more relevant to you!), posts made later in the week do better than posts made earlier in the week.

Best times

Now that you have determined which days you should be posting, you’ll want to know which hours are best.

According to Sharaholic, 27% of all social shares occur between 8am and 12pm EST. There is a definite surge of activity between 9am and 10am. After that, social shares are on the decline for the majority of the day. There are two other small peaks of activity around 2pm and 9pm.

Apparently, we like to take in our information with the morning news, get an update after lunch, and check in before bed.

One popular blogger shares his posting schedule. He posts at 4:30am. That way, his content is ready for his US audience while his UK audience is still awake and active.

Pageviews

If you are interested in driving traffic to your blog, and you’re not too particular about social shares, your posting schedule will be completely different.

Best days

The four best pageview-related posting days are the same as the social share posting days. However, the winners are in a different ranking. Of the top 100 pageview days in 2011, 43% landed on a Monday. Tuesdays received 28%, Wednesdays 24%, and Thursdays finished the list with 5%.

Note Saturday and Sunday didn’t make the cut.

Best times

Most pageviews take place between 7am and 1pm EST, Monday through Friday, with the majority occurring between 9am and 10am. From there, views decrease significantly.

What this means for you

There are several takeaways we can gather from these statistics.

First, you need to determine how you want your audience to find your content. Do you want them to click from Twitter? Do you want them to subscribe via email? The answer to these questions will determine how you implement a response to these statistics.

Second, these statistics should act as a guideline only. They provide a nice place to begin your testing. However, you’ll want to check your own numbers and adjust from there.

These statistics don’t apply to everyone and they aren’t carved in stone. Pageviews and shares can vary from topic to topic, time zone to time zone, and country to country.

Third, you should determine which time zones read your content and when. Some businesses focus on the US east coast, since the majority of the country resides there. However, other companies draw a large band of followers from the west coast or Europe. Use your site’s analytics to determine where your target audience lives.

Lastly, be ready. Have your content up before the peak viewing time occurs. Also, it wouldn’t hurt to let viewers know it’s coming. A simple social media post along the lines of, “check the blog tomorrow at noon for a hot new post—you won’t want to miss it!” couldn’t hurt.

If you have been churning out stellar content and not receiving the traffic or social shares you’d like, try making a few changes to the times at which you post your content.

Lindsey Dahlberg is a blogger at http://bloggingtips.com and http://ppc.org/.