A few days ago I started a series where I share my views on starting and running a (hopefully successful) RPG-themed blog. Last time I tackled the “Why” which covered the reasons to start a RPG-Blog. Today I’ll tackle the “How”.
Blogging Platforms and Hosting:
The very first things you have to decide are what blogging software to use and where to host your blog.
A blog is nothing more than a website whose content gets added to in reverse-chronological order (i.e. newer entries come before older entries), with a more or less important number of side features (like links, ads and various webpage gadgets).
I won’t be talking too much about platform choices. First, because I know relatively little about them, and secondly, because Wikipedia does it better.
However, in order to write about your Risus campaign, you need to adopt a software that fits your needs and your tastes. The last thing you want is to use a blogging interface that makes you waste time or energy fighting with it, time that would be better spent writing!
It’s therefore not a good idea to rush through this part and settle on the first platform you find. Chances are you’ll be spending hours working with the software’s interface so make sure you don’t hate it.
What about self-hosting then? It’s a matter of choice and resources really. You can now “rent” space and server resources for a few dollars a month. This gives you your own web address (URL), private blog email account, and tons of space to store images, create forums, host your own picture galleries, etc.
I really like the liberty it gives me, but paying for 2 years upfront (about 250$) can be a barrier for newish bloggers with no revenue.
Alternatively, platforms like Blogger, WordPress, and Live Journal all offer free hosting albeit minus the email accounts and unique URL (your blog would be, for example, blogname.wordpress.com).
Bottom line: Chose the software you feel comfortable with and start posting your 1st article pronto!
Layout and Design:
While new bloggers want to dig in and start blogging right away about their latest house rules for D&D (as well they should), some time must also be spent creating the blog’s layout and design.
This can be really simple, monstrously complex, and/or expensive depending on your vision, skills in coding, “friends in the biz,” and time to sink into this.
A successful blog does not need a special theme or awesome plugins, but they can help readers recognize you and feel “at home.” I invite you to experiment with themes and layout in the early stages of your blog, while no one is watching you.
What it definitely needs is ease of reading and making the life of your readers/commenters as easy as possible. You blog because you want to be read by people, right?
In that sense, I strongly encourage you to keep things dead simple. Take a neutral background, either pale (white, or a soft color like my background) or black. Use a text color that is VERY visible on the chosen background (like white on black or the inverse). Many potential readers have impaired visibility and having yellow over a navy blue background is very bad!
I also guarantee you that you’ll go crazy with plugins and widgets (those counters, doodads and whatnots in your blog’s sidebars). I won’t tell you not to use them, but I now believe that most are useless. You want to bring attention to your content, not the sideshow freaks populating the surrounding real estate.
Consider trimming them to the bare minimum once you stop playing with them. Focus on plugins that encourage readers and commenters. Keep things like “Recent Comments” and “Subscribe to RSS Feed”, which are very useful things to have on a blog.
One of the dangers you’ll meet in this phase is that you’ll grow used to how the blog looks and you’ll stop seeing its imperfections as barriers for readers. Worse, you might even resist honest feedback by thinking that the blog’s look represents your artistic expression.
This is not a painting people, it’s an electronic newspaper!
Also, a short word on ads: Don’t.
Even at my level of readership (500+ subscribed readers), Google Ads pays peanuts and I only get a few cents a day from Project Wonderful. I’m currently having more success with Text-Link Ads, but I don’t know how long this will last and I had to wait 6 months for the 1st ad to show up.
I therefore strongly suggest that you save yourself the work (and the temptation to click your own ads, something widely frowned upon) and establish your credentials as a blogger (i.e. get readers) before you go that way. Later, if that’s a goal for you, start exploring monetization techniques by talking to the other bloggers you’ll have networked with. You can also try reading some of the gazillion “make money online” blogs, but I don’t recommend this since most are run by charlatans.
One thing that might be worth considering is to go for a unique banner to identify your blog. This is the first thing that newcomers will see and that can set your “brand” as a blogger.
Depending on you skills as a Photoshopper you can grab some RPG-themed clip art (check for copyright!) and create your own.
Once I decided to move the blog to WordPress and since I was skill-less in the graphics department, I emailed an artist whose webcomic I liked and commissioned her to create a banner. Best 80$ I ever spent if you ask me… I even got a bonus avatar!
If you feel like you need help and have a few dollars to spare, I invite you to ask help from professionals.
For example, my buddies at Men with Pens are experts at doing just that.
Bottom line: Keep your design and layout dead simple so that the blog is easy to read. Posts are king! Get a nice looking banner if you can.
Even if you’re a hyperactive speed writer like I am, you will be spending countless hours writing on your blog. Thus, it’s a good idea to make your writing environment (both virtual and physical) as conducive to productivity as possible.
For example, you should set up your desktop/laptop close to your gaming books so you can reach out to reference them without interrupting your creative flow. You also need sufficient light, a comfortable chair and some way to tune out the sounds of your household (or, heaven forbid, workplace). A soundproofed game room and/or sound dampening earphones are good examples.
From a virtual standpoint, you need to set up your workspace so that all the game references (rules, forums, similar blogs, wikipedia) you need are within one click. Using a browser that supports multi-tabs (like Firefox, IE, and Opera) and putting the websites you often use in your bookmarks simplify things a lot.
Bottom line: Blogging is a lot of work, make sure that your environment fosters effective work habits.
Quality of Language and Editing:
You don’t need to be an English major or even a native speaker to be a successful blogger (I’m neither). You must, however, know how to build a sentence and formulate a thought in such a way that someone other than you can understand.
While spelling is important, you can get help by installing the Google dictionary (assuming you use Firefox) and pay attention to all those little underlined words.
If you’re not used to writing, keep sentences short and simple. You also need to keep paragraph as short as possible. Nobody likes to read walls of texts, as soon as you said what you wanted to say about a particular topic (in two, three sentences), switch to the next paragraph.
Writing is an exercise and as you do more of it, you will get better. For instance, my writing style has evolved tremendously in the last year. I’ve seen similar things in fellow bloggers, some so dramatic that they went from “hard to read” to “engagingly well written” in just a few months!
Finally, you’ve got to read yourself, slowly, only once before you post. If you are anything like me as a writer, you build your text as you write and focus on content more than form, leaving behind countless typos and sentences that don’t quite read as you intended. Editing your work is as important as writing it. The few extra minutes spent on this are worth it.
Bottom line: While spelling and grammar are not hyper-critical (and can be helped by online tools), writing clear sentences and ordering your thoughts in a comprehensive way is very important.
So that was a very rapid (although still lengthy) pass on how to setup and start an RPG blog (or any blog really).
In the next post of this series, I’ll tackle the “What” (Game-related Content) and “Who” (target audience, forming networks and advertising) of RPG blogging.
I hope this is useful to you; it sure is fun to write.