[Remember, keep sending in your questions to email@example.com with the subject line "W.A.W. Mailbox" and I will answer each Friday. I will use your first name ONLY unless you tell me explicitly that you'd like me to use your full name or you would prefer to remain anonymous. My comment policy also may mean one of your comments ends up in the mailbox. I may save really small questions until I can bundle them.]
Are all your mailbox questions really questions people have sent you?
Not exactly....not technically. Not all of them.
But yes. ....kinda.
I'm only just starting to get enough write-in questions to be able to answer one a week. (In fact, we've had so many questions lately, that I had to take a pass on a couple for publishing here and just answer them the best I could directly to the people who sent the question.) But prior to the deluge of this summer, questions sometimes trickled in slower than a water fountain when you're really thirsty. I sometimes had to get a little creative.
Most of them are really write ins. Almost all of the hate mail is verbatim. But all of them are really real questions. It's just that sometimes I twist a conversation I'm having in person into a question for The Mailbox, or I take a question that someone asked in passing on a Facebook post or something and turn it into a Mailbox. I've been known to ask people in the middle of conversations "Hey, do you mind if I put that question on my blog and answer it?"
Have you ever really had a threesome.
Back in the day, Sonic Gal used to be fast in all kinds of ways--not just at subduing criminals, if you know what I mean--and there was this one time when we were in a fight with Everclear (whose liquid crystal eyes cause anyone to just sort of fall into them and make questionable life decisions). Now, Sonic Gal had laid out The Mechanist, but she just didn't turn around fast enough to avoid Everclear's gaze. And I'm just a side-kick, so I was no match for a super-villain. Before I knew it there was a pile of fishnets and spandex next to me, and Sonic Gal was screaming "FASTER!" at both of us. Fortunately, Everclear could only really use the full force of her gaze on one of us at a time and we were able to pound her into submission.
After that we fought.
My other blog, Writing About Threesomes, got shut down by Blogger or I'd just link you to the full story there.
Where the heck is this Reliquary you're always talking about where old articles are. Is it as hard to find as a real reliquary? Do I need to put on a fedora and grab a bullwhip? Will I have to solve a series of intricate puzzles written by the ancients?
Yes. I can't have just anyone getting in.
I have hidden The Reliquary in darkness so that only Laura Croft/Indiana Jones, and the bravest of their acolytes, can possibly find it. First you would have to have the Scepter of Basic Observational Skills which you would have to combine with the well-guarded Crystal of Ocular Contemplation. By combining these two artifacts together in one special spot on my blog known as Pagina Domium (or The Home Page), the pathway to the Reliquary can be made clear. However, you will have no chance of finding it unless you know how to interpret a series of lines, curves and swoops into a codex of symbols known to Archeologists as: Written English. If you have these artifacts and these skills, you can look up from the "Home" position, and notice there, nestled within the top menus of this blog, hidden from all the world but those with your enhanced vision and skill at reading, is the entrance to the fabled Reliquary. Tread softly, adventurer. You walk where no human has walked and breathe air from the time of the Pharaohs.
There's also a copy of it about one screen down on the left hand side. But that's even harder to find. It involves a psychic alien artifact known as The Scroll Wheel. Knowledge of the use of this xenotechnology is understood only by top men. Top. Men.
I recently discovered that authors use critique groups when writing their drafts. How do I find a critique group that I can trust?
This can actually be pretty tricky. Problems with writing groups abound--from the fact that they're flakey as fuck to to wildly varying kinds of skill or even genre elitism. If you think someone who only reads half your story, is writing at a level years lower than you, and hates your quirky brand of Gothic Steampunk Romance Zombie story is going to give you good feedback you should...um....well you should do something quite ridiculous because that just isn't going to be true. You may never find a critique group that meets regularly the way a book club or something does. Most writers have to content themselves with a few "beta readers" and their editor--especially by the time they are writing professionally.
Especially now with the internet, writers often just tap their beta readers when they have something they'd like read, and in turn are tapped by them from time to time.
A workshop class in a writing program is only nominally better. You'll be getting feedback, but most of it is crap. The problem here is that a really good instructor can make a class critique worth your time, by how they place grade value on the quality of feedback and the questions they ask, but most instructors will just group you randomly and have you chat with each other for a while. It's like being forced to meet with a shitty writing critique group for four months. If you're very lucky, you end up exchanging names with one or two people at the end and you keep in touch with them.
The ubiquity of online groups can make finding people a little easier, but you usually have to sift through more dross to get to the good stuff--kind of like the internet in general. That's why when you find someone who you feel is giving you valuable feedback, you want to develop a personal connection with them right away and never let go. Most seasoned writers have half a dozen people who would read something if they asked. And they would read something of those people in return, if asked.
Fortunately, you have one thing going for you. Something that most narcissistic itch-scratching writers don't know, but a lot of the more serious, professional ones have figured out one way or another: as a writer you will learn ten times more about what makes for good writing by GIVING good feedback than by receiving it. So you can go out there and "try out" lots of different people and groups and trust that even if you decide that person and you don't click, you are greatly improving as a writer for the experience.
Things to look for with someone you want to hold onto is an appreciation of the type of writing you do (genre, style, voice). A comparable level to you. (Starting writers and Iowa Workshop MFA's just don't have enough productive advice to give each other.) And someone who will call bullshit on you. (It's nice to be told we're great, but you need someone who will tell you what's not working too.) And of course someone who gives you feedback in a way you can digest without having your self esteem ripped through your soul and out your chest. (Olivier in Six Feet Under is not particularly good at feedback, for example.) When you have all of these criteria met, critique can be a pleasure.
So go fourth and critique with wild abandon, look for people you click with to forage longer lasting bonds, and avoid this guy.
Now that you've written something viral [Mike is referring to the "Creepy Guy" article I published back in July] and it doubled your page views overnight, do you still think this idea of generating tributaries is the way to achieve blogging success? Given the numbers on that post, it seems like writing a few great things is a better idea.
I think it more than ever! [Writer's note- Mike's "tributaries" reference is to a post I wrote about a little less than a year ago called Generating Tributaries; I've also touched on similar ideas in another mailbox and even in my FAQ since I get asked regularly by other bloggers about how to get more page views.] The success of that article has really given me a glimpse into how a single-author blog can possibly grow it's numbers. Like Bradbury said, quantity is quality.
1- You never know what's going to go viral. I've written several articles that I thought were totes amazeballs, and the reaction to them was the page view equivalent of the internet saying "No...honey, it's okay. It doesn't always have to be about me. I had a lovely time. Will you hand me my toy? No, the big one with the three pronged plug..."
I've also written things I didn't expect to go as far as they did. That article, ironically, is a perfect example. I figured my friends would share it and it would get a few hundred page views. (I sort of suspected it would do pretty well--I just had no conceptual grasp of how well.) A quarter of a million hits later, and I am kicking myself for not revising it several times or writing it to a broader audience than the readers of a blog about writing. I had no idea it was going to resonate with SO many people. You just never know what's going to stick to the fickle wall of Internetland when you toss at it a handful of The Spaghetti of Content.
So if you've got some crazy plan that you're going to screw the, "generate good, regular content" advice by simply writing one viral post a month (or something), it may not go quite how you expect.
2- People stay when you have content. A lot of people came to read "Creepy Guy" and then looked at something else while they were here. Eight Things Prometheus Can Teach You About How (Not) to Write got four thousand page views in the month that "Creepy Guy" was at its apex. I got about 300,000 page views during that time. That means about 50,000 hits came from people looking at other articles or the blog as a whole. If I didn't really have a lot of other content, some of which looked interesting, they probably would have come, read, and then left.
I also picked up about two hundred new readers, some subscribed, some started following G+ or Facebook. And while some left once they discovered that I wasn't a social justice writer or that this blog wasn't specifically a feminist blog, many stayed because they enjoy the content I do produce. If you don't really have content, no one is going to stay. They just figure the next time you write something exciting, someone will point them towards it.
|Only the most foolhardy mountaineers would consider braving|
the western face of Mt. Creepyguy.
4- Look at how "Creepy Guy" is doing today. Yesterday I got 400 page views to "Creepy Guy." But I got 1700 page views total. Creepy Guy brings me a lot of traffic, but it's till less than 25% of the total. If I somehow could know ahead of time what was going to be my best performing articles and ONLY write those (let's say the top 25 or so--a little more than one per month) I would have only half the traffic I currently do.
Don't get me wrong, "Creepy Guy" will probably always be a metaphorical Illinois or Ohio River when it comes to its caliber of tributary, but it is not the sum and substance of this blog--no matter how huge its numbers.
5- Without people, I'm not sure it ever would have gone viral. I had a hundred or so regular readers when I wrote "Creepy Guy." I'm not sure it would have gone as far and wide as it did if I didn't. If it had been my first article, it would probably still be sputtering along. The fact that it exploded in so many directions at once, I attribute exclusively to the fact that I had a small group of people who were enjoying my work prior to writing it. If I were too good to be writing regularly, I wouldn't have had that audience.
While there are a few "tricks" a blogger can use to increase traffic, like being or hosting guest bloggers or interacting with their audience, most of their numbers are going to come simply from writing as high a quality content as they possibly can and producing it on as regular and frequent a schedule as they can manage.