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How to Build a Blog Following From the Ground Up

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

If you’re a blogger, do you want to build your following?

I’m guessing that 99.9% of bloggers would answer that question with a resounding YES. Most of us check our stat counter and visitor statistics religiously. We keep track of every new follower and throw parties when we reach milestones (like 100 followers or 1000). And we have good or bad days depending upon the number of comments we get.

Okay, so maybe we’re not that bonkers over building our followings. But the fact is, whether we're a writer or not, we crave genuine connections on our blogs. We’re relational people. And so when we put ourselves out there, we long for a response, for someone to take notice, to care, to communicate back.

Recently I had a couple of emails asking me how I built my blog following, questions like:

“I hold your blog as one of the best examples out there. How do you do it? I find it extremely hard to generate content for my own blog. Do you have any advice for starting down the long road of building an online presence?”

“I hear people mention you and your success and how you had a built-in audience when you finally published your books. I was wondering if you had any tips for building a blog readership? How long had you been blogging before you got an agent and published your first books?”

So how did I do it? How did I build my blog following?

Of course, everyone’s blogging journey will be different (just like our writing journeys will be unique). But I think there are some basic principles that can help any blogger connect with other bloggers (and subsequently find more fulfillment in the blogging experience).

Here’s what I did early in my blogging career:

1. Start blogging well before publication. I began blogging months before I had an agent or book contract. Thus I had plenty of time to build genuine relationships. My followers didn’t have to worry that I was blogging to sell them anything.

2. Actively seek others out and mingle. I didn’t sit back and wait for people to come to me. I made a point of sticking out the hand of friendship to others. I followed the links of bloggers in comments of more popular blogs I was reading (especially people whose comments indicated they might be someone I’d like to get to know). I went to their sites, started reading their posts, and took the initiative.

3. Comment regularly. Whenever I visited a blog, I tried to leave a thoughtful comment that would let the person know I was genuinely interested in what they had to say. Over time, they would get to know me and often would come visit my blog in return.

4. Follow others generously. Most blogs I visited, I signed up to follow. I figured it was supportive to that blogger. And even if they didn’t follow me back, I still was getting my name and avatar into a variety of places where others might see me and follow the link back to my blog.

5. Schedule time for visiting other blogs. During my early blogging days, I’d allot 30 minutes to an hour for reading and commenting on other blogs. After I got busier, I’d usually try to reciprocate visits to those who regularly visited me, or new visitors, or hard core followers. The important thing was that I scheduled blog-hopping and made a point of keeping in contact with followers on a regular basis.

6. Post on your own blog consistently. I also tried to post interesting, thought-provoking, or helpful posts to my readers. I made sure people knew my schedule and I stayed consistent. I also have always kept my name, author photo, and contact information clearly visible. In other words, I’ve tried to maintain a professional but warm appeal to my blog.

So that’s my story for building my blog following. Of course, now that I’ve been blogging for a number of years and have built a solid foundation, the techniques I currently employ in my blogging are very different from when I first started (but that’s the making of a future post!).

How about you? What’s been the most difficult aspect for you as you’ve tried to build your blog following?

64 comments:

  1. Great points. Some people want a magic formula but really it takes time, effort and caring.
    Thanks for breaking it down, Jody!

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  2. Now I just need to have patience. I do all of those things and am continually trying to write better posts and build relationships. It doesn't happen instantly but I feel like nothing is happening. Patience is the key for me right now.

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  3. Hi Jessica and Amie, You're both SO right. It also takes a lot of patience and hard work. Because there's also the factor of old followers getting busy, taking blogging breaks, and falling away. So sometimes it can feel like we're taking one step forward and two steps back. But I think the important thing is to keep socializing. Blogging is ultimately a social experience (not one-sided).

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  4. I'm at the point where I get 30 to 60 + comments per post. I don't want to not comment back and lose my followers (I've seen that happen on other blogs), but it does take time. I really do love all those people who take the time to comment on my posts, and I've made so many great friends because of that.

    I can't wait to read your next part of the topic.

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  5. I'm visiting new blogs today for the first time, so i also thought id wish you a Happy Thanksgiving to you and your readers. And i hope that the day is spent generating positive memories for years to come. Richard from Amish Stories.

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  6. What a great list, Jody!

    I think if a lot of new bloggers would stick those first few weeks -- or even months -- of not recieving regular commenters or acknowledgment out and be determined to have their voices heard they too could have a following as respected as yours!

    Well done for all your hard work, and thank you for all the wonderful posts you've brought us over the years, Jody!

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  7. Thanks, Jody. I have made sweet friends online just by visiting other blogs and interacting. And to me the friendships are more important than the "following."

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  8. The key is starting early....but not too early. There's always that fine line in publishing.

    We don't want to wait so long to dive into blogging because we don't want our readers to feel manipulated - like the only reason we're doing this is to get people to buy our books.

    But on the other hand, we don't want to start so early that we feel overwhelmed and get sidetracked from the most important thing - which is learning how to write a good book.

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  9. Thanks for this list of wise advice and sure-fire techniques.

    The hardest part for me is keeping my comments to a few sentences. HA! I want to write a short story for every blog I comment on, so that eats up time to visit other blogs.

    Relationships are the key. Since my blog comments come to my inbox, I often respond personally to comments via email, as well as popping back to their blog to comment.

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  10. When I first began blogging, I practically made myself sick looking for other bloggers, commenting on blogs, and writing post after post. It eventually got to the point where I wasn't having fun anymore and I wasn't writing fiction as much. Now I give myself a break if I don't blog every day (or every week) and I read the blogs that matter most to me. I have found that the number of visitors per month has stabilized and that I have genuine connections with people. For me, that is the most important thing about blogging.

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  11. Great tips! I just started at the end of September and am really enjoying it, though I need to be better about it not controlling all my time. Timely post for me, thanks!

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  12. I agree with so many of your points. I never want to be the blogger that shoves a product down my readers' throats. I don't like that; they won't like it.

    I look at blogging as a journey that I LOVE to do. It's really more than a hobby and if God uses that as a platform someday, that's awesome. If not, that's okay too. Because I've gotten to know so many followers and they have gotten to know me. And through that, I have been able to minister and uplift and encourage. And that is priceless.

    Thanks Jody! You always give me something to think about. :)

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  13. I started my bog last Thanksgiving as an experiment to discover my life purpose. Not knowing anything whatsoever about blogging, social media, or that I would soon be writing books, I just plowed through it week by week on my personal mission. The bloggers I visited never visited me, but I enjoyed seeing what others were up to and gave them encouragement as I could. Challenges? We'll have a cup and talk some time. Thanks for sharing your experience.

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  14. Another admirable post, Jody. Thanks for the information and encouragement.

    Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours. :)

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  15. You've been so successful at blogging and building a platform--I always enjoy reading your tips!

    I would also say that as time wears on and we find we're trying to follow blogs in the triple digits, to not stress out about reading every blog we've subscribed to. Time does become a factor. Prioritize!

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  16. Thanks for your advice, Jody. This is exactly what I needed to hear, as I'm at the beginning stages of blogging. I've followed some of these suggestions and have seen some success so far, but you're right--it's easy to get discouraged if someone who has been commenting stops. It makes me doubt myself and wonder whether my content is getting dull, etc. But I've definitely had greater success now that I'm blogging regularly 3x a week.

    Since diving into the blog-o-sphere, I've connected with several writers who are a few steps ahead of me in the process, and some who are right where I'm at. I'm loving the connections and friendships I'm building.

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  17. Thanks for your advise on building up my blog. I've been blogging for quite awhile, but I'm not getting the comment volume I'd like.
    Diana
    www.pencildancer.com

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  18. Jody, this is seriously an answer to prayer. THANK YOU for posting your advice on your blog. I have a dream of writing a mother's devotional book and I would love to gather a following before I go to actually finish writing and publish my book.

    Love your writing style by the way. And I homeschool, too! How do we find the time to do all this? We MAKE the time because it's what we love to do!

    Blessings to you and your ministry!

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  19. Like everyone else, really appreciate your advice! I've started a blog recently and have been struggling with it to be honest, but these is a lot here that is really useful, so its onwards and upwards. Thanks :)

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  20. Great tips, Jody! I like to look at blogging as an exercise in real-life relationships, because the people behind those pictures are real people! :) So just like in real life, I wouldn't turn away from a person talking to me, I don't want to ignore comments and visits from others. Reciprocation and genuine care for others is so important.

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  21. You're a shining example of blogging done right. I met you through your blog, quickly learned that I could count on consistently valuable content, and we became friends. I admire the way you interact with so many in a genuine way. I'm eager to learn what your blogging efforts look like now that you're a bestselling author.

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  22. Hi everyone!! I'm enjoying reading through your comments today!

    One thing to be aware of is if you're NOT getting return visits and reciprocal comments from the blogs you're visiting, then you might be targeting the wrong blogs. I realized pretty early on, that I got the most reciprocal visits from other bloggers who were in my "stage" of blogging. In other words, they were still pretty new themselves, were in the same situation of building a following, and were actively seeking out new followers. So if you're NOT getting return visits and comments, you may want to re-evaluate your "target plan."

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  23. Thank you for this post! This is so helpful!

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  24. Those are great tips, Jody! There's not a surefire perfect way to do it, but taking time each day or week and putting your efforts in the right place will definitely have a result. You've done a great job with your blog! My biggest challenge has been finding the time and staying consistent, so I've had to re-prioritize and that's made a world of difference. Thanks!

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  25. I think the hardest part is finding the time to visit other blogs, but I like the idea of scheduling time to do it. I go in spurts and visit the bloggers I want to get to know better. You've encouraged me to be more consistent.

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  26. Thank you for the great tips! My biggest challenge is being consistent. Life is very busy. I struggle finding the time to blog along with my responsibilities as a Mom & Wife. Your tips will help me as I prioritize my time in order to blog more consistently.

    Mary

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  27. Great post, Jody and I like Katie's comment too. Have a lovely Thanksgiving this week.

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  28. Hi Jody! Good reminders. I just took an on-line class about this very same subject and started my very first blog on November 1st. I'm learning and following and hoping to build as well.

    Thanks for sharing.

    Patricia Rickrode
    w/a Jansen Schmidt

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  29. I've been blogging for a little more than 3 years now and it's definitely been an adventure. I wanted to offer more to my readers than just posts about my books.

    The first thing I did was offer author interviews. I met a bunch of great people over at Kindleboards. We were all just starting out and it was fun to get to know them.

    Now I blog about writing, epublishing, author panel discussions, guest posts, author interviews and I post book reviews as well.

    Posting 5 days a week is a lot of work and I may have to change my schedule in 2012 to make time for blogging and writing.

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  30. I watched and learned from other bloggers about 2 years before I started my own. It was funny because I am following your steps, but I think you should of included how long it takes to build followers and comments.

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  31. Great tips, Jody. I've followed a similar path as you did (I think around the same time, lol) and have found similar success using those things you suggested. I think the biggest keys are being genuine, friendly, and putting out great content (which you always do).

    It does get hard to keep up as fervently as when you start with the reciprocation though. The commenting back and visiting other blogs becomes tougher and tougher when you start working under deadlines for books. I'm working on finding a balance with that. It's not that I don't want to visit everyone's blogs, it's just there's only so much time in the day.

    So I think my advice to newer bloggers would be to not be wracked with guilt when the wheels start spinning faster and you can't be the perfect bloggy friend like you were in the beginning.

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  32. This is a great post! Thank you.
    I have been blogging for quite awhile now but my following is small. The ones who regularly visit and also leave wonderful comments really make it worthwhile.
    I appreciate all the encouragement available to me. :)

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  33. Hello Jody,
    I began blogging early and to be honest, I love it. What made it so much fun for me was being genuine with readers and enjoying each milestone.

    Sometimes what happens is I am seeing people think that there is a one size fits all formula or either it takes "X" amount of time to build "X" followers.

    No. What will always build followers is a) great content b)reciprocating others before yourself and c)being genuine with your audience.

    Great post and wishing you a lovely Thanksgiving :-)

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  34. Hi Jody!

    I enjoy reading your blog and I agree that every journey for every person is slightly different. What works for some, may not work for others. You can be doing everything correctly, get some pretty good visitor numbers but still not a lot of followers. I think there's some luck involved too. :)

    Oh yes, and good point about the "target plan".

    I have followed all of these tips (and more) for my blog and after 2 (is it 3 years now?) of blogging with only 2 followers and not a lot of comments, it gets frustrating. Kind of like, "Hello, out there! Is anyone listening?" lol

    I started a new more creative rather than informative site (well, both actually) and have stalled on that one for now.

    With so many voices wanting to be heard, blogs to be read, even if you network well, make great connections, follow all the tips out there, it can be a rough road.

    However, I'd also like to add, don't be afraid to change your writing schedule for your blog or even your topics, theme, or voice. Play with it and have fun! Your blog should evolve as you learn more, decide what to write about, and find your voice. :) Thanks again, Jody! ~Lisa (@lablady)

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  35. Oh, my goodness! This is so helpful! Thanks so much, Jody, for your generous heart! Happy Thanksgiving!

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  36. You forgot the part of the formula that's hard to duplicate: your genuine, sweet attitude, encouraging tone, and no-nonsense hard work.
    Happy Thanksgiving!
    C.

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  37. Glad to hear somebody else setting aside specific time for blog reading and commenting; it's on my list for writing goals in the new year--for now I'm just trying to get through a first draft...and the holidays!

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  38. Jody, thank you for sharing your journey. Very helpful! I've been following your blog based on the advice of Kristen Lamb, and only just now looked at what your book is about. And I'm fascinated. It's going on my Christmas list. We lived in eastern Oregon at one time, and are familiar with that whole area where your novel is set. AND we are missionaries ourselves to a people group, so have a heart for ministries like that. And I love historical novels closely based on fact. So I can't wait to read yours!

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  39. Hi Jody .. great post - an essential read for all who wish to have a faithful following and friendly readers .. as well as conversational commenters .. thus keeping the professional published author happy in their work .. thanks - Hilary

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  40. I'm really enjoying all of your feedback and tips! Thank you everyone! As Lisa mentioned, even when we do everything right, building a blog following involves some tough stretches. At times it really is a rough road, and it has been for me too. So take heart!

    Donna, so glad that you stumbled upon my book and that it looks like one you would enjoy! I hope that you truly will!

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  41. I so appreciate your tips. I am a new blogger- and loving it. I think at first I felt shy to comment and reach out, but working on that.

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  42. Wise and concrete advice, Jody -- thank you!

    I've made some mistakes along the way (did you read my post on the Water Cooler about how I emailed Jon Acuff once to ask him if I could guest post at his blog? No lie. I am mortified...but I still learned a good lesson from the whole humiliation) -- blogging is always a work in progress for me!

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  43. Awesome blogging tips, Jody. Thank you for sharing them!

    I find the blogging community friendly and helpful. People in general like to reciprocate, so the best way to build those relationships is to frequently visit the other people's blogs and comment.

    Sharing the links on Twitter and Facebook works wonders for me too. Twitter hashtags are invaluable as well :-)


    Sharing the links on Twitter and Facebook works wonders for me too. Twitter hashtags are invaluable too :-)

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  44. Thanks so much for that really helpful post!

    I think I have most trouble with figuring out what to post about, which is why I settled into some posts linked in some way with writing or reading, and some muddled up with more everyday things anyone can relate to. I'm still very much a blog novice.

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  45. Fantastic advice, Jody. I'm like CD Meetens, in that I find it difficult to come up with ideas for blogging. What's left to be said? I wish I had your knack of offering great advice about trivial-sounding things, it really is helpful.

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  46. All great advise to go by. But I don’t know how you ever got through the blogs in 30 minutes. I find hours can quickly disappear if I’m not careful.

    I’m just getting started and I allowed myself time to build up that following. But the time I used to have for my MS has greatly diminished. I hope to find a better balance soon.

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  47. No matter what your topic, your posts are always worth reading because you let your readers into your world. I think that personal connection is what draws readers to keep coming back. For me, the relationship-building is more important than the numbers, but in all honesty I have to admit the posts that draw a good response always make me feel as if I've done something right.

    Complementing blog posts with Facebook comments and Tweets helps to keep in touch with a larger number of friends than I could manage by only blogging. It's impossible to comment on every post by every friend or follower and I think most people understand that and are forgiving. At least, I hope so!

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  48. Those are great tips. I have a question, though; I also post Tuesday and Thursday for the most part. But I fear proclaiming that on my blog in case something happens where I can't post. Would stating that I post twice a week be as effective? What benefit do you see for naming the exact days?

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  49. I Spy Animals, I post the days so that readers know what to expect from me. I think the more specific and consistent we are the better we'll be able to retain our readers. Plus, if we put the dates out there, then we give ourselves accountability. However, I do understand your concern. And I think one of the best things is to schedule your posts the weekend ahead. Then they go "live" no matter what else is going on in your life. But that's just my take!

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  50. When building an online platform, what kind of numbers would be needed to define a platform? My twitter account has 12,000 followers, my blog 2,000 hits per week, but it's difficult to know when you've actually built a platform without knowing the thresholds.

    Thanks.

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  51. The thing that gets me is that I have great numbers (not astronomical, but enough to surprise me) but hardly ever comments. For whatever reason, my posts do not seem comment worthy and I guess that's something that bugs me that I always need to work on.

    I was telling another blogger friend the other day, that I'd give up blogging in a heart beat just to have an interactive community. That's why I started in the first place and that's what I desperately wish for www.ChristianHistoricalFiction.com to be. But I guess only time will tell.

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  52. deidraalexande asked: When building an online platform, what kind of numbers would be needed to define a platform?

    My thoughts: It sounds like you have a fairly good start to your platform. I don't think there is any consensus as to the numbers a fiction writer needs to have a "good" platform. Numbers are slightly deceptive anyway. But obviously the bigger your following the more potential you have for building a team. But the social aspect is still the most important.

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  53. I'm a new blogger-just testing the waters. Thanks for a informative post! I found many of the follow-up comments helpful as well. Definitely find visiting other's blogs and building relationships the most helpful in any endeavor.
    Cheers!

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  54. Great post! Starting a group blog is a great way to build a following. I started the Kill Zone a few years back with a handful of authors. We've been slowly expanding and gaining readers ever since. It also helps to have a defined theme and general topic area to one's blog.

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  55. Kathryn, Thanks for swinging by! I enjoy your group blog and think you guys have done an exceptional job at it. At the same time, I've seen some group blogs that flounder. I'd be curious to see if you think the group blogging effort puts enough spotlight on each individual author so that you feel it's been beneficial enough to grow your platform. Or do you sometimes get lost in the crowd, so to speak.

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    Replies
    1. Jody, sorry to catch up so late to your question! As individuals, I think we can either grow or "lurk" within the group blog setting. If I'm pouring a lot of effort into a new book promotion, the blog provides a good way to outreach. If I'm coasting along for a bit, my occasional blog posts sort of stand alone. I've done it both ways. I've noticed that each time we've added a new writer to the roster, our readership has increased, as one would expect. Nowadays many of us at TKZ are sharing days, so that we don't have to post as often. The nice thing is that the group blog keeps one's name active in front of many regular readers. The thing I really love about TKZ is that we relate to our readers very much as a community. When I decided to start the blog a few years ago, I reached out to a number of writers I'd met only online or through professional connections. I didn't know any of them personally at the time. Now whenever there's a big conference, we have a "TKZ Happy Hour" at the bar!

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    2. Loved hearing your perspective, Kathryn! From what I've seen it takes some savvy to make a group blog work. And it looks like you have that! I also think that if a group blog gets too big, it could detract from each individual author. But from what I can tell, you guys at TKZ are still individualistic enough to standout, but also sharing the load. Wishing you guys all the best!

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  56. Good tips here. Thanks for sharing them. Most advice for better blogging is pretty much common sense, but we all need to be told, and then told again.

    I think at the moment the one I struggle with the most is concistency, both in my own posting and in reading other people's blogs. It's just that time of the year when I barely have the energy to go to work each day, to say nothing of anything writing-related.

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  57. Great post, Jody. I'm building my following the same way you built yours, with the same goals in mind. The hardest aspect of building my blog, for me, has been time. I work full-time as a writer and media strategist for a company; I'm working on my novel; I'm writing shorter stories and essays to get published around the country; I write freelance magazine articles; and on top of everything, I publish one blog post a week. I wish I had more time to read others' work regularly, but in reality, I can only read one or two blogs posts a week. And I try to be loyal to those most loyal to me. So for me, it's time. Time, all the way.

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  58. I found this to be really useful - especially since I've recently relaunched my own blog which had been dormant for a while. Particularly like the idea of fixed time-period scheduling for blog-hopping and commenting so it becomes a habit - but which presumably also helps prevent it becoming an addiction!

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  59. Hi Simon! Glad you found the post to be useful! Wishing you all the best with your blog relaunch! Yes, the scheduling definitely has many benefits one of which is keeping blog-hopping in perspective.

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  60. I will start my new blog with your instructions! thank you!

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  62. This is a great, I just started blogging and I am looking for all the info that is available to help me. My blog is called 50+ and of Exceptional Worth.

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