Thursday, September 18, 2008

Increasing Blog Readership, Etc.

My dad (“Father Dan,” as he’s known, and no he’s not a priest) pointed me to, which has made a name for itself by providing advice to aspiring bloggers who want to increase their readership. Among the tips this blogger provides is to be “laser focused” on one particular topic.
Now I confess that I’ve got Google Analytics tracking the amount of traffic I get on this site, and I find it fascinating how many ways one can sort and sift the data. However, I’m doing this blog for my own pleasure. A writer who says they’re writing for others first is fibbing. I tried to stay focused on space-related topics. However, my interests are more varied than that. So I don’t look at this as a site for a particular type of writing, except mine. My interests include space, philosophy, politics, history, literature and the arts, management practices and behavior, and whatever catches my fancy on particular occasions (see my site for an idea of how my bookshelves are composed).
Some audiences don’t forgive “genre” writers for talking about other things outside the writer’s usual haunts. (“What’s Ellison doing writing mystery? I want to read more of his science fiction!”) That’s an unfortunate trait of the literary world—markets and bookshelves have become targeted. “General fiction” has given way to historical fiction, romance, science fiction, mystery, etc. Nonfiction has become very much the same way, with the internet accelerating this process. After all, if you’ve got specialized interests, you can add them to your “favorites” list, and surf around for only stuff that interests you or news or opinion that appeals to you. Woe to the writer who dares step outside his box. The dedicated reader of someone’s space columns or political analyses will breeze by the same blog or unsubscribe from it if the author starts blathering about human resources or his trip to Europe.
This, of course, is why Jeff Foust and Keith Cowing have a serious following in the aerospace community while I get sporadic hits depending on how useful or pertinent my work has been on a given day. They can stay focused. Good for them. I prefer to write, as well and as interestingly as possible (I hope), about whatever’s on my mind. I average 10 readers per day, and I’m cool with that, because odds are I know all 10 of them. In short, I’m an amateur, and comfortable with that.
However, as Gary Cooper said as Howard Roark in the movie version of The Fountainhead, “Before you can do things for people, you must love the doing.” My buddy Jason calls blogging an exercise in “sharpening the saw,” a reference to Steven Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, and I tend to agree. To be a writer, you must write. And if you take yourself seriously as a professional, the late Robert A. Heinlein would tell you that you must sell what you write. I once had aspirations of being a science fiction writer. Now I settle for the comfortable and more natural role of nonfiction and opinion writer. If I’m not particularly sharp about anticipating the future, I can at least take a good crack at analyzing the present. Since I’m not making any money from this adventure in internet blathering, again, I must consider myself an amateur. There will come a day when that is NOT the case, but it is not today.
So if you’re reading this and have an interest in blogging and NOT being an amateur, by all means, go visit and go forth and conquer. I will continue doing what I’m doing, happily and without pay because I enjoy the doing.

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