Step-by-Step Advice on Starting a Blog

When we start out to create a blog we should ask a few questions. The answers will point us to the blogging tools we’ll need. The first question might be, “Why do I want to create a blog?”

Is it for business, school, ministry, or as a hobby?

What types of things do I want to have on my blog?

Will I post written messages, videos or photos?

What type of audience do I hope to reach?

Will the blog be for friends, family, church, community, or the world?

And lastly:

How much time do I have available to keeping my blog going?

This last question is an important one that’s easy to overlook. Blogging takes time and if you have a popular blog, it can take a lot of time. Ask yourself how much time you have to devote to maintaining your blog.

Spend some time thinking about these questions and develop an idea of what your blog will be about, what it will look like and how much time it will take to maintain it.

Getting Started
Most bloggers begin by using a template provided by a free blog service. The two most popular services are WordPress and Google’s Blogger. There are other services available but most bloggers use one of these two. (My friend Seneca Shcurbon wrote a great article that covers some of the other options.)

Both services have full-featured blogging platforms and they update their services often. Which service you choose is a matter of preference. Since I already had a gmail account when I started blogging, I started with Google’s Blogger and it worked well for me. I have several friends who have used WordPress and they’re happy with that service. (I’ve used both and I personally found Blogger easier to use than WordPress.)

Blogging is made available as a free service, because blog providers make money through advertising. If you choose to advertise on your blog you could create a source of income by having people visit your blog. You allow the blog service to post ads on your blog and they pay you for using your blog space. Carefully consider whether or not advertising is for you.

Advertising
While some bloggers are able to create revenue from their blogs by advertising, not everyone can and not everyone should. Advertisers look for certain things in a blog before allowing their ads to be posted. Before you’re approved to post their ads, most agencies scan your content to see if it fits their criteria. If your blog passes muster, you’ll be allowed to post their ads. If not, you’ll be declined. If you’re not able to advertise, don’t despair. Blogs with a lot of ads take longer to load and that can be annoying to some readers. Heavy use of advertising may actually keep people away from your blog.

Free or Paid?
Although I started out using a free blogging service, I now use a paid WordPress website that I host through Bluehost. I felt like my needs had outgrown Google’s Blogger so I moved up to the next level. The upside to a hosted blog is that you have nearly unlimited freedom when it comes to design. The downside is that you have to pay for hosting. Managing a self-hosted website is a lot more work than managing a free blog. Although you begin with a template, you have to make it look the way you want and that requires some work. for a discussion on the pros and cons of free versus paid WordPress websites, check out this article.

After you decide which blogging service to use, the next step is to choose a name and address for your blog. Spend a little time thinking about the name of your blog. Consider names that your readers will identify with. Also consider that your blog’s name can be used by other bloggers. If you want a unique name, be sure to do a search to see whether or not someone is using the name you’ve chosen.

Once you have a name for your blog, you’ll need to create a web address for it. Although blog names can be duplicated, blog addresses are unique. If you go with a free blogging service, they’ll recommend available addresses that can be used at no  charge. You may want to experiment a little and try different possibilities. You’ll need to find an address that isn’t already in use.

As long as the blog address ends with the name of your blog service (i.e ‘blogspot.com’ or ‘wordpress.com’) the address should be free. If you choose an address without the blog service ending, you’ll have to register it with a service like GodaddyBluehost or Hostgator. You’ll pay a small fee to register the domain name, which reserves it for your use.

Templates
The next step is choosing a template for your blog. A template is a standard set of instructions written in programming language that gives a blog a particular look. Blogging services like WordPress and Google make a variety of templates available. There are also graphic designers who create free templates for use with WordPress and Google blogs.

There are many aesthetic differences between blog templates, but only a few of them are functional.  The functional differences between templates has to do with the number of columns and how they are laid out.  Some templates have two columns while others have three.

Most templates include a main column for posts and one or two sidebars for add-on modules known as “widgets.” Blog content (the text you are now reading) appears in the main column. If you allow readers to leave comments, they’ll usually appear under the post in the main column.

Sidebars provide space for widgets, which are things you add to your blog. Examples are: images, videos, podcasts, weather forecasts, links to older stories, favorite posts, links to other blogs, social networking links, a Paypal donate button, statistics for your blog, disclaimers, legal information, contact information, advertisements, etc.

A two-column template has one wide column for posts and one narrow column as a sidebar. A three column template has one main column and two  sidebars. (Note that this blog has one main column and two sidebars; one on the left and one on the right.)

Nearly everything in a blog template can be modified to some degree, but it’s always been hard to change a three column template to a two column or vice-versa. Recently however, templates have become available that allow you switch not only from a two to three column layout, but you can move the sidebars as well. My blog template has a lot of flexibility. I can choose between several layouts that have two or three columns and I can create individual pages with a completely different layout from the home page. My template is one that I bought. Most free templates are still limited in layout options.

The template you choose will depend on which layout fits your particular needs. If your blog only requires a single, wide column for images or text, and maybe a few widgets,  a two-column layout will probably work. If your blog will have a lot of add-on components that go in a sidebar, a three column layout may be better for you.

Don’t let the template become an obstacle to getting started. If you aren’t excited with the look of a particular template, rest assured knowing that you can tweak it to make it look better or find another one at a later date. If you begin with a two-column template and find that you need more room for widgets, you can always switch to a three-column template.

Dimensions
The dimensions of websites are commonly referred to in pixels. A pixel is a small unit of measurement that describes the height or width of something formatted for the internet.

The main column of a blog is usually between 350 and 500 pixels wide. Sidebars are typically 150 – 250 pixels wide.

For years, the standard width for blog templates was 750 pixels wide.  A two-column template might have a main column 450 pixels wide and a sidebar that is 200 pixels wide. The combined width would be 650 pixels in a layout that allows for 750 pixels total width. The remainder of the space (100 pixels) is used for padding between columns and edges.

Mostly due to the fact that the average computer monitor has grown considerable wider, templates are now available in wider widths. The template I use for this website is 1140 pixels wide. That’s a lot of real estate for my stuff.

Color Schemes
Color schemes are created by graphic designers to give blogs a certain look and feel. There’s a reason why most of us aren’t graphic designers – they have talents we don’t have. Designers are paid to create nice looking websites. Most of the fonts and colors of a blog can be modified, but it’s a risky proposition. If you make too many changes, you’ll end up with a ghastly looking blog. Be cautious when making changes to the standard fonts and colors of a template.

Images
You can display images on your blog by simply adding them to the post in the post editor page. There is button that allows you to add images from your computer or from the internet via HTML code. You’ll be given choices about whether to display the image at it’s full size or a smaller size. There are options  to display the image to the left, right or centered in the main column and you can choose to add tags or descriptions to images.

Tabs & Pages
A recent addition to blogging is a feature known as ‘tabbed’ pages. For years, bloggers were limited to their main page as the only place to put their stuff. But a few years ago, blogging services began offering tabs to multiple pages. Now you can have different pages for different things. Want to have a page for instruction and a separate page for photos? No problem. Just add another tab. A major reason why I switched to a WordPress hosted website was because I wanted to have the ability to add tabs for different pages and my old Google blog made it difficult. My WordPress theme makes it easy to add tabs at the top of the page and even allows for drop-down menus. I can have each page formatted to look virtually any way I choose.

Frequency
Some bloggers post daily, others post weekly and some only a few times a year. How often you post is up to you. I usually post about every two or  three days, which gives my readers a break between posts, so they can do other things and not miss out on what’s happening. I take advantage of my blog’s scheduling feature, which allows me to create posts and schedule them to be published at a future date.

I often set up a group of posts to publish two or three weeks in advance, with three days between posts. This allows me to have a life aside from being a blogger. When something comes up that I want to post immediately, I create the post and publish it, then reschedule the posts I have waiting to publish.

Getting Social
If your blog is intended to reach a wide audience, you’ll want to connect it to social networks. There are add-ons you can use to connect a blog to Twitter, Facebook, and other social networks. My posts are set up to be tweeted automatically when they publish. I use Networked Blogs to publish them to my Facebook page automatically. Automated services can be a blessing, decreasing the time needed to monitor your blog. When I started blogging, I was getting about 10 to 15 viewers a day. Within a month of connecting it to Facebook, the number of views increased tenfold. Social networking is critical if you hope to reach a large audience.

Critics
If your blog attracts readers, it will eventually attract critics. Bloggers have a choice in either allowing or disallowing comments. If you allow readers to comment, you’ll have the pleasure of dealing with feedback – both good and bad. How you handle feedback is critically important. If you handle criticism well, you’ll likely have a good blogging experience, but if you struggle with criticism, your life as a blogger may not be very happy.

Spend some time honestly assessing how you handle praise and criticism and set up the comment feature accordingly. We suggest moderating all comments before they post as your blog will inevitably get spammers leaving comments that will detract from the flow of your blog.

The blogging environment has become a lot more flexible lately. For today’s blogger, the possibilities are nearly endless. We hope you found this message helpful. If you have any questions on getting started as a blogger, we’d be happy to help. Just leave a comment or send us an e-mail.

Articles on blogging by Frank Viola:

How to Start a Blog from Scratch – A Quick & Easy Guide

Advice for Bloggers

What I’ve Learned in Two Years of Blogging

Tips for Bloggers

8 Reasons Why I Don’t Read Your Blog

 

Is Self-Publishing for You?

This message will introduce you to the world of self-publishing and help you decide if self-publishing is for you.

We did a lot of research before we decided to self-publish our first book. We investigated and compared all the different routes of publishing—the cost break-down, terms of contracts, the quality of printing, customer service, etc. We weighed all the things we’d learned and decided that self-publishing was the way we wanted to go. One major factor that weighed into this decision was the fact that we know quite a lot about graphic design. Much of the cost of publishing a book goes to pay a graphic designer for the time and skills they have to create a print document and a cover image for your book.

If you’re reasonably skilled in graphic design, or if you have access to someone who is willing to lend you their skills at a discounted rate, (or even better – for free) self-publishing is by far the most economical way to go. If you don’t know much about graphic design or if you have no access to someone with the skills – you may need to hire a professional graphic designer, that is, unless you want to use the free (but limited) design services offered by Amazon.

There are basically three ways to get your book published. The traditional route is to submit a manuscript to a publisher (or many publishers) and wait to have them offer you a book deal. This offers no guarantee that your book will ever be published. And if it is published, the royalties are very low, by comparison to other routes available.

The second way is to use a “vanity” publisher. An example of a vanity publisher is Destiny Image, which is a Christian publishing firm. They review your manuscript and if it meets their criteria, they’ll agree to publish it. But they require a substantial financial investment from you, first. An unknown author must usually agree to purchase between $10,000 and $15,000 worth of books before printing begins. Publishers do this because they don’t want to assume all of the financial risk — so they pass it on to the author. In essence, they have you cover their up-front costs for printing.

The third option is to self-publish. There are a number of companies that offer self-publishing. Amazon makes the process pretty straight-forward and very cheap. They offer graphic design services for authors who don’t have access to their own designer. You have to pay for it, but their rates are pretty reasonable. Their artists are not world-class, so don’t expect a killer book cover. Amazon offers packages at various prices, depending on what your needs are. You can add whatever services you like including editing, marketing, etc. They also offer free (but limited) design services in the form of pre-formatted templates.

E-book or Paperback?
The traditional means of publishing books on paper has been turned upside down in the recent years with the advent of electronic publishing. Print books require more graphic design than e-books. The higher requirement for graphic design work means that publishing a paperback is more costly than an e-book. The low cost of publishing e-books has made this market very lucrative. The explosion of interest in e-books has created enough demand that if you market your books well, you can reach a wide audience with an “e-book only” approach to publishing. The upside to an “e-book only” approach is that it’s much cheaper and easier to publish e-books.  The downside is that you limit your book to people who have access to e-book technology.

Amazon uses two different companies for authors who want to publish with them. Kindle Direct Publishing handles their e-books while Create Space does their print books. We chose to publish  with Amazon for a number of reasons. They’re by far the largest marketer of books in the world. We felt like the book had the best chance to reach a global audience if we put it in the hands of Amazon, and so far – it’s working out very well. The second reason is cost. Amazon’s services are very affordable.

At Inkity Press, we have our own editor and graphic designer, so we did not need help in those areas from Amazon. Writing books is easy, but marketing them is hard for most authors so Amazon offers marketing services for a fee. We planned to do the marketing ourselves through Facebook, Twitter and other social media. So we didn’t need those services either. The more you can do for yourself, the less you have to pay others for their services. We simply wanted to have Amazon print our book and make it available.

The total cost we paid to Create Space to print our paperback was $10.00. (That’s not a typo.) We paid $10.00 to buy an ISBN number to have the book cataloged and that’s all we paid them. We did have other costs of our own, like purchasing the rights to images for the cover design, but the money we paid to Amazon was surprisingly small. An e-book doesn’t require an ISBN number, so we paid Kindle Direct Publishing nothing to publish our book.  That’s right—they published it for free.

How is this possible?

Create Space is a digital print-on-demand service. They only print a book after it’s ordered. They carry no inventory. So if nobody ever orders your book–none are printed and their cost to carry your title is virtually nothing. If they receive orders for the book–they print copies as needed and ship them. It’s a very efficient process that keeps costs at a minimum. That’s why it only cost $10.00 to publish our book. It costs even less to publish e-books because an e-book sale is a simple, inexpensive transfer of data.

Now before you get too excited, let me explain the other side of the equation. My team spent hundreds and hundreds of hours of their own time creating the book manuscript and cover image. The process of editing and editing and editing some more went on for almost a year. My wife and I did the first rounds of editing, but eventually we recruited the help of someone with a better eye for the job. Lydia Blain took over as our editor and she did an excellent job.

It’s common for authors to downplay the need for editing. I think it’s a serious mistake to think you don’t need an editor. Frank Viola is one of my mentors when it comes to writing. He’s published many good books and is one of the most successful Christian bloggers. Frank advises all authors to find a good editor and allow them to do their job. Good editing makes a book better.

If all you want is to have your book in print, regardless of how many typos, missing words or grammatical errors you have in the book, by all means, skip the editing. But if you want a book that shines; one that will be taken seriously by its readers—you’ll need an editor. If you need help with editing, let us know and we’ll put you in touch with Lydia or you can visit her website.

Professional editing isn’t cheap. You’re going to have to pay someone for their time and expertise if you want them do a decent job. That is, unless you know someone who has the skills to be a competent editor and they’re willing to do it at a discount or for free.

You’re probably wondering what kind of royalties you might expect from a self-published book. Depending on the choices you make, the royalties range from around 35% to 70% of the retail price of the book.

If your Kindle title is between $2.99 and $10 – the royalty paid to the author is 70% on each copy sold. If the retail price is more than $10 or less than $2.99 — the royalty is 35%.

The royalty for a print book is around 35% for purchases made on Amazon. Traditional publishers offer royalties that are only a fraction of this.

It is possible to make a little money selling books at royalty rates this good, but you have to find people to buy your books. While most authors are pretty good at writing books, they’re often clueless when it comes to selling them. We won’t go into the ins and outs of marketing a book in this message, but if you want to ask questions in the comments we’ll do what I can to answer them. (We will publish articles on marketing in future messages.) Books don’t sell themselves.  Every author needs a plan to get the word out about their book. If you need advice on marketing, contact us and we’ll do what we can to point you in the right direction.

Lastly — A big downside to using vanity or traditional publishers is editorial freedom. Most publishers reserve the right to edit the content of your book according to their own standards. We consulted with Tyler Johnson on this issue and he shared a horror story he had with his first publisher, who decided to chop out some vital sections of his book because the content did not agree with the publisher’s theological perspectives. That incident caused him to pursue the route of self-publishing. If you’re likely to have content in your book that won’t measure up to someone’s theological yardstick—rest assured knowing that if you self-publish, you have the final say on content.

Well, that’s wrap. I hope you’ve found this message informative. If we can help you in any way, or answer any questions, let us know. Thanks for dropping by.