Tips and Strategies for Guest Blogging

One of my personal goals at the start of 2021 was to write and publish guest posts on other sites. I figured it was one more way to share my expertise with others and show my writing talent. It also adds to my portfolio that I can show to potential clients. I’ve done enough research on the topic that I’m willing to share what I’ve learned so far.

In content marketing circles, guest blogging is the act of contributing content to another website or blog. A guest post often includes your byline, and the site editor might describe you as a “Contributor” or “guest author.” In addition to gaining a wider audience for your writing, there are numerous other advantages to guest blogging.

* It helps you promote your expertise on a given topic.
* It can help you grow your personal brand or your company’s brand if you work for someone else.
* It can help you expand your audience for your blog
* It can help drive referral traffic.
* It can help you build relationships with other bloggers and online publications, leading to business partnerships or job leads.
* It can help you increase members to your email subscription list

With so many benefits, it’s hard to believe that so many writers don’t take advantage of this outlet. However, it takes time to see your efforts pay off. You have to work at it, and you have to plan ahead what you want to write about and who you want to write for. Most important, you have to know your ‘why” – why do you want to be a guest blogger.

Set goals for your guest posting campaign

Many content marketing experts will tell you that a successful guest blogging campaign begins with a goal. What do you want to achieve with your guest post? Do you want to promote your expertise as a thought leader? Do you want to expand your audience for your blog or website? Do you want to build relationships with other bloggers or organizations?

Once you’ve determined your goal for guest posting, you can begin to brainstorm story ideas that will tie into your goals.

Brainstorm niche topics and article ideas

Say your goal is to be seen as an expert in career issues, but your blog is about office management and productivity based on your experience as an office manager. Maybe you’ve written a few career-related articles for your blog, but you’d like to share your expertise beyond your own audience. Start by making a list of career topics you’d like to write about. Make sure these topics aren’t already covered in your own blog, otherwise they may be rejected. Many sites want stories that you haven’t written and published anywhere else, including your own site. Once you compile your list of topic ideas, set them aside. These are the stories that you’ll pitch later.

Research potential sites

Once you have your list of story ideas, you’ll need to find a home for them. It helps if you are already following sites that you want to write for. If you haven’t done this already, start following them on social media or subscribe to their newsletter, if they have one. This way you can track what they are publishing.

You can also do a simple Google search.  Enter keywords such as “write for us,” “become a contributor,” and “guest articles.” See what comes up. Be prepared, however. There are numerous articles on the subject of finding guest blogging opportunities. Make sure to focus on your niche.

Once you’ve noted the site you want to pitch to, you’ll have more homework to do. Check out each of the sites on your list to see if your proposed topics have already been published – and if so, when. The editor might be more open to your pitch if the similar story on their site is older than a year or two.

Also note how often they post outside submissions. Do they post contributing articles once every few months or several each month? It’s up to you to decide if the site is worth pitching to.

Review editorial guidelines carefully.

Find the editorial guidelines on your targeted site and review them carefully. Many editors have specific instructions. Make sure you follow their submission guidelines or your pitch will be rejected.  

Some sites offer small compensation for your writing. Others offer non-monetary rewards, such as your bio and byline and links back to your own blog and social media accounts.

When your pitch is accepted….

If your story idea is accepted, congratulate yourself. It might be a good idea to have the article already written, or most of it. Based on the editor’s feedback, you might need to make some changes. Make sure your article is polished and well-researched. Remember that a new audience will be reading it and hopefully, becoming part of your own readership.

Make sure to promote the post and the publisher

Perhaps the most important step is to promote your guest post. Share it via all your social media channels and on your site. But don’t let the post-publishing promotion end there, writes Ann Gynn, editor of the Content Marketing Institute blog. You can develop a stronger relationship with the posting partner (the site that published your article) by taking additional steps. Monitor any comments that are posted and be sure to answer each of them, even those that are critical of your content. No need to engage in an online debate with your critic. A simple, “Thank you for reading,” or “Thank you for sharing your thoughts,” will suffice.

A month or so later, check in with the publisher. Share any success stories you had as a result of your guest post. Inquire about opportunities for subsequent posts. See if they’re willing to put you on a regular posting schedule.

Track the results

Content marketing experts suggest tracking results of your guest blogging campaign. There are tools you can use to help you do that. According to the Alexa blog, it’s helpful to track things like:

* Number of new website visitors
* Number of social shares
* Referral traffic
* Number of comments
* Number of new leads
* Number of brand mentions or links
And more…

Tracking these statistics helps you gain insight into which sites helped you achieve your goals and sites that didn’t perform as well. (Editor’s note: Alexa is a monitoring service that tracks that kind of information.)

Want more information?

This is just a cursory overview to get you thinking about the possibilities of guest blogging for your writing practice. There are plenty of resources available about guest blogging. To learn more, check out these articles:

Hubspot: Everything You Need to Know about Guest Blogging
Optin Monster: The Ultimate Guide to an Effective Guest Blogging Strategy in 2021
Neil Patel: Guide to Guest Blogging
Content Marketing Institute: A Step-by-Step Guide to Guest Blogging
Alexa: Guest Posting: A Step-by-Step by for Getting Started

Interested in having me write a guest post to your blog? Contact me at theregalwriter@gmail.com.

14 Ways to Repurpose Your Blog Content

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Check out this week’s writing prompt on my website!

If you think that posting to your blog is the end of your written piece, think again. You can extend a story’s shelf life and expand your audience by repurposing your content.

Repurposing is the process of adapting or re-using something in a different way and for a different reason. For example, in construction, you might repurpose wood from a torn down warehouse to create a front entrance door for your newly built home. Or for a crafts project, you might repurpose wrapping paper by putting it into a frame for artwork you can hang on the wall. You get the idea.

You can do the same with your writing. Each time you write something for your blog, you’re adding to your inventory of written pieces that you can tap into later to create an entirely new product. Repurposing content can help you in several ways:

* It can extend the shelf life of a written piece. What might be available to your audience for six months can have a shelf life of several years or longer.

* It can help you reach new audiences who may not be familiar with your writing. While one audience may prefer seeing your work on your blog, others may find you through a podcast outlet, social media, or on another site where you have a guest post.

* It showcases your writing in different formats, whether it’s visual, aural or in print.

So what types of formats work best for writers? That depends on what your writing goals are and the audience you want to reach. Not everyone wants to do a podcast or host a webinar. But it is something to think about as you expand your writing business.

Here are a few ways to repurpose your content:

  1. Revise and repost to your own blog. Some content gets outdated quickly. If an original post from three years ago has outdated information, consider updating it to include new data and repost to your site. It might be helpful to alert readers that the post was originally published previously but has been updated.
  2. Rewrite the content as a guest post. This can be tricky since most other sites want original content from their guest posters. So be sure to rewrite the whole thing. You can still include key points from previous posts, but rewriting something that you created can extend its life beyond your own readership.
  3. Publish a compilation. If many of your posts carry a similar theme, such as technology or e-mail marketing, compile the best ones for an e-book. Then you can repackage it and sell the collection on your website or on sites like Amazon.
  4. Produce an e-book. This is similar to number 3 above, but in this case, the essays don’t stand alone. You’re actually taking several of your posts and rewriting the material, then reorganizing it in a way that it reads like a non-fiction book.
  5. Create an infographic. Readers like having data at their fingertips, usually in a quick, easy-to-read format. If several posts have a similar theme and related data, you can compile the information into a colorful infographic.
  6. Share on social media as soundbites. Sites like Twitter and Instagram are great for posting snippets of information. You can take key points from your posts and repeat them on various social media sites, one key point or sound bite at a time.
  7. Share information via a podcast. Podcasts are more popular than ever, and the technology has gotten so advanced that it’s easy to create one. Whether you post the podcast to your website or make it downloadable through Google Play or Apple, you can easily expand your audience reach with content that was created elsewhere.
  8. Host a webinar. If you feel comfortable speaking in front of a camera, hosting a webinar might be right for you. Again, you’ll be able to pull content from various posts and presenting it in a live format, which can help you reach different audiences.
  9. Create a slide presentation. This goes hand in hand with any online classes or webinars you host.  A Power Point presentation can present content in small chunks to a new audience.
  10. Develop an online class. Similar to a webinar, an online class puts you and your specialized content in front of new, fresh audiences. Include a slide presentation and a handout, and you become a triple threat.
  11. Produce a workbook or handout. Whether in combination with a workshop or online class or presented as a standalone product, a workbook is a practical way to present your content.
  12. Create a white paper. According to Investopedia, a white paper is an informational document distributed by an organization, government agency or non-profit group to present a solution, product or service to influence readers’ decisions. Usually not more than six or eight pages in length, white papers are another way to present your content, especially if your goal is to have the public see you as n expert in your field.
  13. Distribute a monthly e-newsletter. As part of your newsletter, include an abbreviated version of the original post, so readers get a sample of your blog content.
  14. Create a visual library or portfolio. Last week, I provided tips on creating an online portfolio to showcase your writing. As visual representations of your work, a portfolio can succinctly showcase your best pieces. Add an appealing photo or image to go along with a short excerpt from your best pieces and display them on a separate page on your website.

As you can see, you can take your original content in different directions. Of course, there may be other ideas not listed here that better suit your purposes, or you may come up with a few of your own. You’re only limited by your imagination. But you can see how repurposing original content can extend the life of your writing beyond your own website.

Use Your Writing to Build Authority

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Be sure to check out this week’s writing prompt: Write a story about a childhood memory related to food (learning to cook, family barbecue, tasting something for the first time, etc.)

When you’re just starting a writing career, you naturally want to be taken seriously by your readers. This is especially true if you’re writing non-fiction or starting a blog, or anything based on factual content as opposed to fiction writing.

It can be difficult to establish your authoritative voice in a sea of experts on the internet. How do you set yourself apart from them? How do you establish your own authority? How do you make your voice stand out from the rest?

This is especially important if you’re a beginning blogger. Many beginning bloggers are unsure what to write about, so they write about everything. Unfortunately, this gives the impression of being scattered, so scattered that it’s hard to know what their specialty is. Even publishing expert Jane Friedman has admitted that she did not have a niche when she began her blog. But that’s okay. Sometimes your niche or book concept can grow over time as you post consistently and readers respond to your posts.

So how do you establish your authority? How do you reveal your expertise? Here are some steps you can take to help build authority with your writing.

1. Take stock of your experience. What are you good at doing? What professional work have you done (bookkeeping, legal, marketing, etc.)? Do you have any hobbies or special interests you’d love to tell people about? Most important, what are you passionate about? Perhaps you’re an expert knitter, love animals or play golf? Make a list of all your hobbies, special interests, and work experience, then rank them according to how passionate you feel about them.

2. Focus on a single niche. Once you’ve done your self-assessment from step one, you’ll have a good idea what you’re an expert at – and what expertise you want to promote about yourself. If you’re figuring out an angle for your blog, this step is imperative. A blog focused on one topic shows more authority than a blog that covers multiple topics. A good example is The Art of Blogging (all about blogging).

3. Do your research. Even if you have particular experience about something, there will be times when you need to do some research to supplement your knowledge. Adding quotes from experts or sharing the latest research can put you in good stead with your readers. Adding one or two statistics can bring more meaning to your piece. For example, for the magazine features I write for my client, I usually include one or two statistics to demonstrate key points. When you use data from recognized experts in your industry, it adds to your authoritative presence.

4. Know your audience. Think about who you are writing for. What do they want to know? What types of questions do they ask? Use their questions as a guide for future blog posts or an e-book. By providing readers with answers to their questions, you establish yourself as someone they trust and will come back to for more information.

5. Surround yourself with outside experts. While you may focus on one niche, there may be times when you want to cover a topic that is related to your niche but goes beyond your expertise. Then you’ll want to refer to subject matter experts. Ask them questions to fill in the blanks of your own knowledge and experience. Know who you can go to when you don’t have all the answers. Be sure to provide proper attribution when you quote them. Sometimes being an authority means recognizing that there are some things you don’t know. To find an SME, check associations, booksellers, universities and think tanks for possible leads.  

6. Provide real value. Once you understand your audience’s needs, you can offer meaningful and helpful content for your readers. Avoid writing fluff content that only fills space. It might help to think of one takeaway you can include in each blog post you write. Or if writing a non-fiction book or e-book, think of takeaways for every section or chapter. What can readers learn from you that they can’t get from anyone else? Readers want information that is readily adaptable to their own needs. When you provide meaningful, practical information, readers will begin to see you as an authority.

7. Be consistent. If writing a blog, be consistent with your posting. Whether you post a story every day or once a week, make sure it’s posted around the same time or on the same day of the week. Readers who follow you will begin to look for your story at that time.

I once produced a bi-monthly residential newsletter for an apartment high-rise community. Every other month, the newsletter would be slipped under their doors. If by the first of the month, the newsletter didn’t appear, the management office would receive calls from residents asking where it was. They knew when to expect the newsletter because we were consistent with the schedule. When you’re consistent with your schedule, readers are more likely to trust you.

8. Limit attributions. It’s not necessary to attribute every piece of information in your blog post or work of non-fiction. After all, your stories reflect everything you’ve ever learned by the VIPs, teachers and parents in your life. However, attributions are necessary if you are using a direct quote or sharing a principle that someone else formalized. While you still need to give credit where credit is due, if you include too many attributions, people will wonder how much of the writing is coming from you. If it isn’t original, it isn’t authoritative.

9. Use a variety of media to share your expertise. Once you establish you’re authority, you may want to broaden your reach. If you love social media, use it to establish a following. Write e-books, guest posts for other blogs, magazine features or opinion pieces for local publications. Alternately, you can establish your own YouTube channel, produce a weekly podcast, or appear on local radio shows. If the media isn’t your thing, you can teach workshops or make presentations.

Keep in mind that building authority with your writing takes time. If you find you lose interest in your chosen topic, it’s okay to switch gears. But you’ll have to go through this process all over again, and perhaps find a new audience.

With consistent practice and patience, you can begin to garner a loyal following of readers who see you as a trusted authority on your chosen niche.

Seven Easy Ways to Make Readers Love Your Writing

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This week’s writing prompt: If there was a “Do-over” button, what event in your life would you like to do over or have a second chance at? Rewrite that event in your life the way you’d like it to turn out.

It’s not always easy to get people to read your stories or blog posts. It’s even harder to get them to like your work, share them or comment on them. How do you know people are reading your works? How do you know that they like what you’ve written? Figuring it out is like shooting an arrow at a target in the dark.

The most important thing is to pay attention to any feedback they give you. Which posts are getting the most likes? The more likes you receive, the more likely they enjoyed that story more than others. That might be a sign that perhaps they would like to see more content like that.

They may not always like the work you put out there, but that’s okay. As long as you meet certain expectations, they will like YOU. It’s up to you to give them what you want.

While you may not control how readers respond to your stories, you can control what you write and how it’s delivered. So whether you’re managing a blog or creating short stories or essays to share on Medium, here are six easy ways to make readers appreciate you what you do.

1. Be consistent with your writing. Set a schedule for when you post stories. If you manage a blog, decide how often you can post updates, whether it’s only once a week, or once a day or somewhere in between. Then stick to that routine. When people recognize the schedule you follow, they will likely follow along with you. They will begin to expect it. So if you post a story on Monday morning, they’ll look for it in their inbox. Readers like consistency and routine. It makes you easier to follow when you set that routine for them.

2. Keep your work clean and error-free. You might spend most of your time drafting stories and doing research, but don’t overlook the importance of proofreading. Check your grammar, spelling and punctuation to make sure it’s spotless. There’s nothing more annoying than reading a blog post filled with misspelled words; it’s distracting and it sends the message to readers that you don’t care about your work. Sure, there will be times when a misspelled word slips through after you’ve posted the story. That will happen. Readers will forgive an occasional error like that. Just be sure to take the time to proof your work before hitting the Publish button. Or if you’re unsure of your proofing skills, have someone else review it for you.

3. Write conversationally. Imagine that you are having a conversation over your favorite adult beverage with a close friend. You would likely ask the other person questions. You would probably use “you” to address them, and “I” when talking about yourself. Avoid heavy-handed descriptions and flowery speech that readers may not understand. Be blunt if you need to be, and don’t be afraid to break a few English writing rules if that’s what it takes to express yourself personally. The experts at Copyblogger have a few additional suggestions for writing conversationally on your blog.

4. Be passionate about your topic. Whether you’re writing a blog, a short story or an essay, be passionate about your writing. Indifference will come through, and readers will notice it. “It’s astounding how much better writing is when we write about something we care deeply about. The words flow easily, and we are much more convincing and engrossing,” writes Amy Newmark, publisher of the Chicken Soup for the Soul series in a Forbes magazine interview.

Maybe your passion is caring for your dogs. Then make dog care the focus of your blog. Then stop writing about things that have nothing to do with dog care, like the last restaurant you went to or the DIY home improvement project you attempted last weekend. When your topic is all over the map, you’ll have difficulty finding your target audience. When you stick with your core topic – dog care – you can expand your audience to include not only dog owners, but dog walkers, veterinarians, pet shelters and anyone who like dogs. Again, it’s about managing your readers’ expectations. If you establish early on that your blog is about dog care, readers will expect it from you again and again.

5. Give readers what they want. This is an extension of what I wrote about above. Pay attention to likes, comments and feedback from readers. They’ll tell you what they like best. If they respond positively to a particular story, say starting a dog walking business as a side hustle (to use the example above), then perhaps that is the angle you should keep writing about. If you’re a fiction writer, then give them fiction stories.

6. Give readers added value. Give them a few extras that will whet their appetite for good content. For example, I recently offered a weekly writing prompt which is consistent with my blog content about writing. In your case, you may decide to offer a weekly trivia question or a survey question related to a blog post. Those little extras become something new and interesting that readers can share with others, and makes them want to come back to see “what’s next?”

7. Be sure to respond to questions and comments. If readers really like what you’re writing, they’ll tell you by leaving a comment or asking a question. There’s nothing more flattering than receiving a compliment from a reader. Be sure to thank them though. Engage with them. Be responsive to their questions and comments. A simple thank you goes a long way to establishing trust with your readers.

It takes time for readers to find you and even longer for them to love you. But these simple steps will make it easier for them to appreciate what you have to offer.

Fresh Start 2019: 11 Easy Ways to Refresh Your Website

With apologies to the queen of decluttering, Marie Kondo, “Does your blog or website make you happy?” Does it excite you to read it or post to it? Or does it feel stale and uninspiring?

Maybe it’s time to declutter your website?

It can be easy to overlook your website or blog once it’s up and running. But like anything else, it can quickly turn boring. And if it’s boring to you, imagine how your readers feel about it. If you don’t feel excited about your own site, you’ll put in less effort to make it so with good, relevant content.

Another fresh start to 2019 (I promise, this is the last one) is looking at ways to freshen up your website. Here are a few ideas that can help give your blog a new lease on life.

1. Update your bio. When was the last time you reviewed your About Me page on your website? Does it still give readers a realistic view of who you are? If it’s a bit thin, think about adding more details about your experience, either as a writer and blogger or as someone with specialized knowledge and expertise. Have you published any pertinent articles, taken an exotic vacation recently, or completed relevant education that would add to your credibility? Add that information to your bio. Your professional development doesn’t stand still, so neither should your professional profile on your site. With every new life experience, education course, or job change, review and update your bio. In fact, I recommend reviewing your bio at least once or twice a year, just as you would your resume.

2. Update the Resources page. A helpful tool for your readers is a list of resources related to your blog topic. A separate page with resources can include links to other websites and blogs, organizations you support, publications, and downloadable materials that may benefit your readers. Double check the links at least one or twice a year to make sure they are still active. If you don’t already have a resources page, consider adding one to your site. When you share resources on your site, it positions you as an expert just as if you had created those resources yourself.

3. Update site images. Be honest with yourself. When was the last time you updated images on your website or blog. If you’ve had the same images since the day the site went live and that was more than three or four years ago, consider replacing with new photos. Either take your own photos (make sure they’re high quality) or use one of the free image sites like Pixabay or Flickr. Be sure to give credit to the source of any photo you use that isn’t your own.

4. Change the layout. If you’re bored with your site, maybe it’s the layout that needs updating. If you’ve used the same layout on your site since day one, consider changing it up. What I like about WordPress is the numerous themes they offer, and new ones are being added all the time. Maybe you still like the theme but use a slightly different layout, like two-column instead of one-column. Test out different themes and layouts to see which ones look best. You may find after testing them that you like what you have. That’s okay. At least you made an educated and informed decision.

5. Update your color scheme.
Maybe the color scheme has gotten stale, or it no longer appeals to your sense of artistic integrity. Maybe it comes across too somber when what you really want is something more cheerful, or conversely, maybe it comes across as juvenile or immature when you want your readers to see you as more mature and professional. You want a color scheme to reflect your site’s topic and appeal to your readers at the same time. If your color scheme isn’t working for you, test out new combinations. A new color scheme can breathe new life into a tired-looking site.

6. Add more video. Experts say video is key component to your website content. They have a sticky quality to them because they encourage visitors to linger longer on your site. Video is especially valuable for teaching purposes. Think demonstration of yoga poses, how to use carpentry tools, or cook a meal.

7. Interview experts. If you’re tired of writing the same types of stories or you run out of ideas, consider doing interviews. To start, stick with a few brief questions, like five questions. Seek out people who have expertise in your selected topic. For example, if you write about outdoor adventures, consider interviewing a biking enthusiast who just completed a 100-mile trek, or the leader of an adventure travel group. Five easy questions can make an easy-to-write post into an interesting-to-read story.

8. Write a book or movie review. Read any good books lately? See any great films? Book and movie reviews are another way to add strong relevant content to your site. They’re also helpful for stirring up discussion and debate.

9. Conduct surveys and post the results. Want to know what your readers think about a particular topic? Just ask them. Set up a survey on a site like Survey Monkey, then link to the survey from your blog or website. Once you compile the results, be sure to share them with your readers. For example, a movie fan website might do a survey about the Academy Award nominations. Surveys are a great way to generate more interactivity with your readers.

10. Invite guest posts. If you’re connected to other bloggers or experts, consider inviting them to write a guest post for your blog. This approach is especially helpful if you plan to be out of town for vacation and won’t have time to contribute articles to your blog. It’s also helpful if you simply run out of creative ideas. Having guest posts can expand your audience to include the guest blogger’s readers as well as your own.

11. Write how-to articles. We live in a continuous learning society, and readers are always looking for easier ways to get things done in an easy-to-read format. How-to articles are a great way to showcase your expertise, especially if you can clearly explain complex subjects.

A site that looks and feels stale won’t inspire confidence in you or your readers. Any one or combination of these ideas can make your site more interesting and reader-friendly.

 

Fresh Start 2019: Better Content Planning for Your Blog

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Photo courtesy of Hubspot

If your goal for the New Year is to launch a new blog or refresh the one you already have, an easy place to start is with content, namely story selection. It can be a challenge knowing what to write about as you stare at a blank page or computer screen.

If you’re constantly wracking your brain for story ideas, it could be that you haven’t planned your content ahead of time. Any successful blogger can tell you that having good content and posting frequently are keys to attracting and keeping readers. A content plan (what I sometimes refer to as an editorial plan) can help you develop your story ideas before you begin to write them and schedule them over the coming weeks and months. Having a content plan helps you sort through all your story ideas by theme and by month, while giving you some flexibility to add stories as news breaks that is worth following.

The blog planning tool I use is very simple and straightforward. It consists of three columns: the topic, keywords and date posted. (See image below for sample form.) You might be able to find similar planners online or adapt one for your own use. Make sure there are enough rows to write down your list of stories.

blog worksheet2

Here’s how the blog content planner works:

1. Begin brainstorming story ideas. Think of as many as you can related to your blog’s central theme and jot them down on a blank sheet of paper or your laptop. For example, if your blog is about budget-friendly travel tips, you might come up with stories such as using Groupon to plan tours and visit restaurants, cheaper alternatives to hotels, and cheap or free things to do at your destination.

If you struggle to think of story ideas, have a friend help you. Sometimes they may think of angles you had not considered. It might also be helpful to keep a file of news stories that may be worth covering on your blog.

2. Assign each story to a category.
As you complete your list of story idea, you may notice common themes developing. For example, you may notice six stories about tours and sightseeing trips and a few others related to overnight accommodations. In the space next to the story idea, write the theme or category. Most if not all of your stories will fall into one or two categories.

3. Jot down categorized stories on the planning worksheet. For every story categorized under tours and sightseeing, for example, write them down under the topic heading on your planner. In the line that says theme, fill in the blank with your category (Tours and sightseeing trips). Each category will have its own page, so you will want to have multiple copies of the planning worksheet. One sheet will be story ideas related to overnight accommodations, another for cheap eats on the road, and a third for tours and sightseeing, and so on.

You may only have five or six story ideas per category. That’s okay. You can add to the list as you think of more stories.

4. Determine which month your stories will be posted. For example, you might post a series of stories about springtime weekend getaways that would be ideally suited for posting in March or April, while stories about staycations might be a good choice for late fall or winter. My theme for January is “Fresh starts and new beginnings,” so my stories have that theme. February will have a different theme and my story selection will reflect this new theme.

blog worksheet3

5. Keep to a schedule.
As you post a story, enter the date in your blog planner. Most important, set a schedule of posting and stick to it. Write regularly and consistently. That way your readers will know when to expect to see updates to your blog. Consistency is key to driving readers to your site.

A blog planning worksheet can simplify your thought process and save you a lot of time down the road. Once you’ve done the brainstorming and assigned categories to each story, the hard work is over. Planning content around a monthly theme means you don’t have to scramble looking for ideas. It’s especially helpful when you’re pressed for time because you don’t have to think about what your next story will be. Just refer to your blog planner for your selection of stories. Then begin writing.

On Being Thankful for Being a Writer

affection appreciation decoration design
Photo by Carl Attard on Pexels.com

As you gather with your families and friends this Thanksgiving holiday, think about what you are most grateful for, especially as it pertains to your writing. Perhaps you are grateful to have a mentor to guide you through difficult lessons, or maybe you are grateful for Daniel Webster for publishing a dictionary.

I was inspired by a post by Laura Stigler, President of the Independent Writers of Chicago, “On Being Thankful We Can Write,” to create my own list of things I’m thankful for.

* A mother who loved to read and instilled that love of reading in me. When you see a parent reading a book, I believe it encourages kids to become readers too.

* Former teachers who recognized my skill from as early as seventh grade and encouraged me to participate in writing contests. Each compliment and kind word of support made me want to keep writing. There’s nothing like a personal cheering section to keep you motivated.

* Former bosses who appreciated the fact that I could find the best words to explain a process or write a letter to an important client. Other times their tough love approach to critiquing my work only strengthened my resolve to improve.

* Friends who have shared a love of books and reading and who don’t mind talking about the latest book that they liked or didn’t like.

* The authors whose work I have enjoyed over the years, from Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Women” to Carolyn Keene’s Nancy Drew mysteries when I was young girl to the early works of romantic suspense authors Mary Higgins Clark and Joy Fielding that I enjoyed in my twenties and thirties to more recent favorites, such as Alice Hoffman and Sue Monk Kidd.

* Libraries and librarians, book stores and book discussion groups, who all keep the love of books and reading alive and makes sure there is always a potential audience for the stories writers write.

* For my blog followers, thank you for reading my posts, sharing comments and showing your support.

Most important, I am grateful that I have the talent (or gift, as some writers suggest) for writing and the desire to use it in personal and professional ways. In fact, I think I enjoy the world of books, reading and writing more now than I ever have.

As you spend Thanksgiving with family and friends, remember it’s a time for bonding over shared experiences and swapping stories. And as you share old family legends and tales for the umpteenth time, don’t forget to create new ones to share next year.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Uncovering Fake News: Advice from a TV Journalist

photography of a person reading newspaper
Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

News stories are everywhere – on TV, the Internet, social media and good old-fashioned print newspapers and magazines. But how do you know whether the news stories you  read are true or fake?

In a program sponsored by the Chicago chapter of the League of Women Voters in late September that I attended, journalist Dorothy Tucker of the local CBS affiliate addressed these issues. Fake news, she said, is deliberate misinformation. Sometimes called “yellow journalism,” its roots can be traced back to pre-Civil War and slavery. During those days, newspaper cartoons often depicted slaves as content and at peace with their role in society, which was not true.

When immigrants began moving to America, they were portrayed in political cartoons negatively, often as ignorant and subservient, which was also not true. The intent in both these cases was to depict these minority groups in ways that gave the wrong impression to the public. These stories were the original “fake news.”

Fast forward to the 21st century. Facebook is the by far the biggest source of fake news. Tucker said an estimated 22 percent of news stories funneled through Facebook prior to the 2016 elections was fake news. These stores were planted by Russian agents with the intent to deliberately mislead the American public about the candidates. In some cases, pages were set up by and for non-existent groups to feed off people’s fears and create divisions within the public.

To complicate matters, there are more news outlets covering events today than ever before. Twenty years ago, there might have been only a handful of journalists covering a story, five or six at the most, Tucker said. Today, with the impact of the Internet and blogs, there may be 50 or 60 people covering a story. Not all of today’s bloggers and website owners have a background in journalism or understand basic journalistic standards and practices. They often report events without checking the facts.

It’s a crowded field, and with so many people vying for a chance to break a news story before the next person, the truth can get lost in the shuffle. And with so much news out there, how does an individual like you and me decipher what is real and what is fake, or gossip, or just plain wrong?

It is up to us, as individuals, to be more discerning about the stories we hear and see. We can’t assume what we read on the Internet is truthful, nor can we assume that what we hear in any news media is fake. Tucker outlined some things we can all do to check out a story.

1. Check out the media source or news outlet that ran the story. Do a Google search to see if news outlet exists. If so, what other stories has it published? Does the organization have a website? If so, check it out. Is there an About page? What does that page say about the organization? Is there an editor or editorial board? Is there a way to contact the news organization? If there is no About page, no information about the news organization and no ways to contact them, chances are they are a fake organization publishing fake news.

2. Check out the author of the story. Search Google to see if their name exists. Have they written other stories at other news outlets? Do they have a website? Check their bio on their website, and make sure there is a way to contact them. Most legitimate author sites will have this information.

3. Check the published date of the article as well as any photo or image that accompanies it. Check the source of the photo or image. It might have been “stolen” from another Internet site, often without the knowledge or consent of the person photographed. The photo or story might have been published a few years ago. Fake news outlets have been known to take a story from a few years before and embellish it for their purposes. If you can trace it back to the original story, then you found a fake news story.

4. Check the content of the news story against fact-checking services like Snopes.com, Poynter Fact-Checking Tips and Factcheck.org. Insert the URL of the story into the space provided and these services will scan the story to determine how much of the story is factual.

As we move forward into the mid-term election season, we all have to exercise better judgment and stronger awareness of news sources. We need to look at each news story with a keen eye and healthy dose of  skepticism about what is factual and what is fake. We all have to take greater responsibility for the news we share with others too, especially on social media sites. We may inadvertently be spreading fake news. Like the old adage, if it sounds too good (or ridiculous) to be true, it probably isn’t.