Recently I had someone ask me how an academic could get started writing for a popular audience. This is something I have backed into doing by accident over the past 20 years. (Imagine how much further ahead of me any of you will be if you do it on purpose!) Here’s an edited version of some pointers I gave them:
- The best way to get known for blogging and to get good at it is to actually blog. There are all sorts of resources out there which allow you to set up a website in a sort of “plug and play” fashion at various price points.
- You’ll want to think a little bit about design and branding, but you can overdo that pretty quickly. I’ve maybe thought about branding for an hour in my entire life. Pick something that’s clean and readable and allows room for a little bit about you and a place to put up blog posts, and then go to it.
- You’ll get stuck on what to write about pretty quickly. Book reviews are always good. Series are a good way to not have to have a new idea for a while. (Blog through each clause of the Nicene Creed, for instance. Come to think of it, I should do that sometime.) Top ten lists will work if you feel really stuck. (ahem…clears throat…) You can Google lists of writing prompts pretty easily.
- Frequent and short is better than incredibly well-crafted but once every six months. Years ago when I was in a blogger bootcamp for Patheos I was told 600 words was a good length to aim for.
- Use images, but don’t ever use any that aren’t public domain or creative commons or your own, and credit everything. Lawyers’ bots trawl the web looking for people to sue that are using unauthorized images. Unsplash, Pexels, Pixabay, and Flickr are all good sources.
- Social media is a mixed bag in terms of publicizing your writing. It can be a huge time suck. If you want to use social media to promote yourself as a writer, find some form of social media that you will actually update in your own authentic voice, and post about what you’re doing there, and don’t worry about it otherwise. (Don’t pay to boost posts on social media – it’s a tremendous crock.)
- In my experience, no one ever got a book published by sending it in over the transom. So, meet people and get known so that someday they will invite you to submit a book proposal. 🙂 Go to conferences in your field (I know this costs money, so be as strategic as you can), visit the exhibits, and talk to the booksellers. Get a few business cards made so you have them if people ask. Submit papers and get on panels (a moderate amount – it is possible to overdo this and find yourself writing a lot of uncompensated words). Go to receptions and introduce yourself to people. Go to the business meeting. My plan for world domination is to always go to the business meeting. 🙂
- If out of all of this someone offers you a chance to write something for money and it doesn’t violate your ethics or upset your work-life balance, TAKE IT. Then keep to the deadline and allow yourself to be edited without complaining.
(Okay, at least it was a top-eight list instead of a top-ten list this time…)
Image: Unsplash. (Look, Ma, a credited image!)