Thursday, August 19, 2010

The One Thing Your Blog Must Do

I see a lot of postings, linked from Twitter and elsewhere, about the Five Things Your Blog Must Do or the Twelve Things Your Blog Must Contain or the Ninety-Eight-Point-Six Things that Every Blog Must Have. The ones I’ve read are not bad advice per se, but I find that every single one of them misses what I consider to be the sine qua non, the raison d’ĂȘtre, the single absolute imperative that simply must be reflected in your blog and in every post you make to it:

It’s Gotta
Make You Happy

That’s it. That’s the single thing that your blog must do.

It may do other things, too—inform, entertain, infuriate, I don’t care. But, again, whatever other things it might do all point back to the prime directive: It has to please you.

Everything I read on the subject of blogging is geared toward maximizing the number of readers—or, more correctly, hits. It’s all about traffic; it’s all about counting beans, or eyeballs. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with that—and let’s not kid ourselves: visits to this little blog of mine typically number in the double digits, every so often in the low triples, and I’ve never made a dime from it, so if a big fan base and/or money is your blogging goal, we may well be talking past each other here. But I have always maintained, in the books and stories I have written as well as my various fledgling online excursions, that, well, it’s all about me. If I like what I’m doing, there’s a better than even chance that someone else will, too.

But if I don’t like what I’m doing—if I’m writing for The Market or The Demographic or The Least Common Denominator—I’m convinced that that always shows through and that the reader will pick up on the cynicism of it, sooner or later (probably sooner), at which point he or she will prove to have exactly the same low level of interest in the undertaking as you have, and move along.

The great John D. MacDonald once said, “My purpose is to entertain myself first and other people secondly.” In my previous house, I had that quotation pinned over my writing desk. I consider it the single most important piece of writing advice I’ve ever encountered.

I would rather be read by a smaller number of people who enjoy what I’m doing (for the most part: they can’t all be gems) because they know that I enjoy it.

But of course that’s just me, and I have never claimed to march to any well-known drum beat.

I recommend you find your own beat and march to that. Some will follow, some not. But I think you’ll find the march more enriching.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Credit Is Due. In More Ways than One.

Since I seldom hesitate to complain about the various slings and arrows that life shoves at us (actually, that's not true: I hesitate quite a bit. But then I usually plunge on), I try also to give equal time to praise-singing. The former, I find, comes pretty easily; the latter requires more volition.

(Aside: When I was in the advertising game 20-some years ago, we used to share with clients an important bit of information: The ordinary citizen, if pleased with goods, services, or experiences, will share that news with two people, on average. If displeased, he or she will share the news with an average of eleven people. Here endeth the aside.)

Last month, before the kids jetted off to Europe, we spent upwards of an hour at a local Verizon store trying to arrange things so that the kids could call us via our son's Blackberry, which has international capabilities or whatever they called it. So the people at Verizon, after a certain amount of confabbing among themselves as to the best way to make our wishes come true, decided that we needed to sign up for some Global Something-or-Other (which required the extraction of the SIM card from our son's phone--no easy feat) and give Verizon money, and then get set up with a Skype account, and give them money. The kids then would be able to call back here via Skype, which would be cheaper per minute.

I am here reminded of the line from Disney's adaptation of The Wind in the Willows: "There was only one thing wrong with Rat's plan: It didn't work."

Every time the kids tried the Skype trick, they were informed that international calls could not be placed with Skype on the Verizon network.

So yesterday I sent e-mail to Skype's customer service informing them that, like Rat's plan, Verizon's didn't work, and inquiring about getting a refund on the Skype Credits I'd purchased.

To my surprise, I had a nice reply yesterday evening already--Sunday, mind you--apologizing for my troubles and requesting some additional information. I sent off the info this morning and--again to my surprise--received in short order another nice note from someone at Skype, again apologizing for the inconvenience and informing me that my credit card would be credited the full amount.

I imagine it says something about the state of customer "service" these days that I find it remarkable that a company
    1. Does the right thing
    2. Does it right away
    3. Does it without having to be cajoled, threatened, or blackmailed
    4. Does it in a polite, even friendly fashion
but that's precisely my experience with Skype. In a word: Wow.

Not that I wouldn't have liked it better had the Skype trick worked. I've had a peek at the next cellphone bill. Not pretty. But worth it to be able to stay in touch with the travelers.

Perhaps needless to say, I'd be more than willing to give the Skype thing another go next time I want to be in touch with someone traveling abroad, or if I find myself in that situation. Certainly I'd recommend Skype. 

Indeed, it seems I just have.

Famous? Writers?

Via Twitter this morning I came upon a link--at Online University Reviews, which strikes me as an odd home for it--to "100 Famous Writers You Can Follow on Twitter." For some reason I was expecting a list of, you know, famous writers that I could follow on Twitter. Guys like Neil Gaiman, for instance, whom I have followed for some little time. Instead I got a list of more or less "famous" people, some of whom can legitimately be said to be writers, others who... Well, some of them aren't even people. Here's one:
    16. Threadless: "This a community of t-shirt designers who often write odd, yet inspiring messages on clothing. Follow them to read the latest shirts or find out how to add your own."
Hmm. Call me a snob, but Threadless hardly meets my definition of "famous writer." Likewise (snobbishly, maybe), I am perplexed that the section of "Famous Book Writers You Can Follow on Twitter" comes sixth on the list, after "Famous Political Writers You Can Follow on Twitter," "Famous Inspirational Writers You Can Follow on Twitter," "Famous Actor/Writers You Can Follow on Twitter," and "Famous Music Writers You Can Follow on Twitter." We're up to #48 on the list of "writers" before we get to book authors!

At least book authors manage to get in there ahead of "Famous Internet Writers You Can Follow on Twitter," "Famous Screenwriters You Can Follow on Twitter," "Famous Comic Book Writers You Can Follow on Twitter," and "Famous Gossip Writers You Can Follow on Twitter," to say nothing of the oddball category "Best Collection Of Writers To Follow On Twitter" (sorry, but neither "Fox News" nor "CNN" qualifies as "a writer").

To be fair, some of the other categories feature individuals who can properly be said to be book authors--Barack Obama, Al Gore, John McCain and others who appear in the "Political Writers" list, for instance. None of those three, by the way, strikes me as a "political writer," but the point probably is open to debate.

The list is especially shaky--and sketchy--when it comes to the "Actor/Writers" and "Music Writers" sections. For instance,
    27. David Henrie: This young actor is best known for his role on “The Wizards of Waverly Place.” He often responds to his fans tweets and lets them know what is going on with him.
Well, he sounds like a nice young man. The reason he appears on a list of famous writers, though, eludes me.

The list of "Music Writers" is especially off-point. Where one might expect a list of people who write about music, one instead gets a list of musicians and even bands. Not even writers of music, based on some of the descriptions:
    40. Ashlee Simpson Wentz: Married to the above and a recent mother, Ashlee is best known for her hit “Pieces of Me” and her controversial performance on “Saturday Night Live.” Get baby pics, love notes to her husband, and random thoughts.
I have plenty of random thoughts of my own, thanks. For instance: What makes Ashlee Simpson Wentz a "famous writer"? Singer, sure; actress, okay; celebrity, yep. But "famous writer"? Nope.

Let's be clear: I am not commenting on the legitimacy of different kinds of writing. Well, except to say that tweeting, which I have done a certain amount of, is not "writing." I don't view screenwriters or comic-book writers as better or worse than book authors. Alan Moore, who is on the list, is indeed a famous writer; his work just happens to be in the comic book/graphic novel medium. No, what I'm commenting on is the validity of the list, which is pretty low.

I'd rather see a list of famous writers who are in fact writers--not just celebrities on Twitter.

Shoot, I'd be equally happy with a list of non-famous writers.