The One Big Reason Some Blogs Succeed, While Others Crash and Burn

The One Big Reason Some Blogs Succeed, While Others Crash and Burn

This article is excerpted from Chuck’s book, Create Your Writer Platform.

Most writers’ blogs forever linger in obscurity. These sites never receive a number of page views that would be considered noteworthy (1,000 a day, for instance) or help them sell thousands of books over time.

If you’re just blogging for fun and don’t care about how many hits you get, that’s one thing. But if you’re using a blog as a means to build your writing network and platform, you’re probably curious about what you can do to attract a bigger readership — and I can tell you how to do just that.

So what separates the small percentage of larger, successful blogs from the rest of the herd? This is a question I’ve studied for many years, both while building my own Guide to Literary Agents Blog, as well as when I’ve reviewed other writers’ sites.

The answer is surprisingly simple: the one core element that virtually every successful blog provides. (Note that this key trait is not just relative to blogs; popular social media accounts provide this one thing, too.)

What trait sets successful blogs apart from the rest?

Stop for a moment and identify the first websites you visit upon waking in the morning. I’m willing to bet “My email account” and “Facebook” are the top overall responses.

But why do you visit these websites day in and day out? Why do you spend so much time on them? The answer is so obvious that you might have never put your finger on it. These sites provide immense value to you.

Email allows you to connect with anyone around the world instantaneously and for free. Stop for a moment and remember how mind-blowing that is. Facebook lets you share news, articles and images with all your friends and relatives around the world — again, for free. You’ve likely been using these sites for so long that you’ve forgotten just how amazing they are — and how tremendous the value is for either.

And it’s this element — value — that separates the few big sites from the many others.

Remember that at any given time, dozens (if not hundreds) of things and to-do’s and websites are competing for our attention. That means your blog must provide a darn good incentive to read it. This could mean pulling together hard-to-gather information, or making readers laugh, or informing us, or sharing advice that makes our lives better or easier. Any of these elements translates to value in a blog.

Quick note from Chuck: I am now taking on clients as a freelance editor. If your query or synopsis or manuscript needs a look from a professional, please consider my editing services. Thanks!

Am I providing value?

Let’s say I spend a Saturday with my daughter at a local Cincinnati park. I take great pictures of her on a beautiful sunny day as she swings and slides. Then I think this would make for a great blog column, and post the best pictures online with some silly jokes and comments about how cute she is. Now here comes the money question:

Do you really give a damn?

Do you really care about what I did last Saturday?

In all likelihood, no, you don’t give a damn. You don’t care enough to pull your attention away from countless other (much better) things and glance at my new post. And that is perfectly understandable — because the column provided no true worth for you. In fact, the value was for me; I had a great opportunity to document a fun day with my girl.

People have a hard time wrapping their head around the very simple fact that much of the blog content they create isn’t really helpful for others, but rather for themselves in some way or another.

How to create value

If I truly want to vie for others’ attention, I need to turn the spotlight off myself. The best way to do that is to create something that is of importance not to me, but to people I’ve never met. Note that once I decide to do this, my task immediately becomes more complicated (but that’s a good sign I’m on the right track).

So while you wouldn’t read that picture-filled post I just created, would you read a different post I wrote called “5 Great Family-Friendly Parks in Cincinnati You Probably Didn’t Know Existed”? I’m guessing you would, because this post has instant and undeniable worth for you. It will make your life easier and better.

A simple litmus test you can do when considering if a post has enough value to draw people in is to ask this question: Was the post easy to compose or not easy to compose? [bctt tweet=”The more value something provides, typically the more difficult it is to create.”]

And that’s why most blogs linger in obscurity: because writers don’t spend the amount of time necessary to compose worthwhile content that will demand attention.

Think about it. How long would it take me to create that original blog post with pictures of my daughter? Probably 20 minutes. But how much time would it take me to compose the second post? A lot longer.

I’d have to visit the parks or talk to people who had. I’d need to collect images of the parks, and show you screenshots of where they are via Google Maps. And I’d have to write up the perks and boons of each. My guess is it would take me four to eight hours in total. It’s a lot more work, but the end result is much more worthwhile to readers.

So the next time you go on a vacation to the Maine coast, don’t return and assume strangers will want to hear about how your trip went. Remember what Freakonomics taught us: Incentives make the world go round, so give readers a reason to take notice. If you write about the trip and call it “Our Crazy Vacation on the Coast,” I’m going to ignore it. But if you compose a post called “7 Fun Places to Visit in Portland, Maine,” then you just might catch my attention.

We’d love to hear from you: How do you create true value in your blog posts?

Quick note from Chuck: if you’re looking for a writing conference, perhaps one of these below is in your neck of the woods. I’ll be presenting at the following events in 2019:

  • Feb. 23, 2019: New Orleans Writing Workshop (New Orleans, LA)
  • March 2, 2019: Minnesota Writing Workshop (St. Paul, MN)
  • March 8, 2019: Alabama Writing Workshop (Birmingham, AL)
  • March 9, 2019: Atlanta Writing Workshop (Atlanta, GA)
  • March 9, 2019: Pittsburgh Writing Workshop (Pittsburgh, PA)
  • March 29, 2019: St. Louis Writers Conference (St. Louis, MO)
  • March 30, 2019: Kansas City Writing Workshop (Kansas City, MO)
  • April 13, 2019: North Carolina Writing Workshop (Charlotte, NC)
  • April 27, 2019: Seattle Writing Workshop (Seattle, WA)
  • May 4, 2019: Michigan Writing Workshop (near Detroit, MI)
  • May 4, 2019: Writing Conference of Los Angeles (Los Angeles, CA)
  • May 11, 2019: San Diego Writing Workshop (San Diego, CA)
  • May 18, 2019: Cincinnati Writing Workshop (Cincinnati, OH)
  • June 8, 2019: Florida Writing Workshop (Tampa, FL)

The giveaway for Chuck’s book Create Your Writer Platform is now over. Thanks for all your comments. Congrats to Nikki!

Other TWL Guest Posts by Chuck Sambuchino:

  1. How Successful Authors Use Social Media to Sell More Books

  2. Tips for Pitching a Literary Agent at a Writers’ Conference

  3. When Can You Call Yourself A Writer?
Filed Under: Blogging

271 comments

  • Rose says:

    Loved this post. I look forward to exploring your book, one way or another!

  • LeeAnn says:

    Like a few other commenters, I have been researching, reading, and taking notes before actually starting my blog. This should be the first piece of advice given to aspiring bloggers. It narrows ideas and sharpens focus if you have to consider how you’re going to apply them in a way provides value to your reader, rather than just being something you’re interested in.

  • Marilyn Read says:

    I had never analyzed just why I go to certain sites. This post was eye-opening as I am in the process of creating my website and blog. Wow! And for free. Thanks, Chuck.

  • Gloria says:

    I am in the beginning stages of creating my blog/website. This is helpful, and timely, information. Thanks!

  • EJ Speakman says:

    I’m an author who’s just now creating a Facebook promo page for my upcoming novel. Thanks for the great insights!

    • Roving Jay says:

      I just published a book and also created a Virtual Book Launch event for the launch weekend, and it drove lots of engagement, and additional traffic to my website.

  • Ben Sobieck says:

    Chuck is spot on. If there isn’t value, what’s the point?

    I write about the guns and knives in fiction at CrimeFictionBook.com. It’s a niche area with a broad appeal (at least I think so). There’s enough value there that Writer’s Digest is publishing my book on the topic later this year. Check it out!

  • Jane Endacott says:

    I couldn’t agree more. I appreciate what you said about how it takes more work to create great value. We can’t expect great content to come instantly.

  • Candi says:

    Thanks, Chuck. I am just beginning to get serious about starting a blog, and your information is succinct and timely. Glad I took the time to read your article. It gives me a good place to start.

  • E. L. Irwin says:

    Very good points. Thank you. I’m an, as yet unpublished writer, trying to build that necessary and infamous platform. I blog at LoveWriteLive, but traffic is slow. My niche is fiction, specifically YA fiction and it must contain romance in some form or function. Yes, I’m that girl. I’ve completed one novel already and am working on a second. I blog about them, as well as books I’ve read and am reviewing, and about my experience in the submission process. Again, your analogies were good; makes more sense now… Thanks!

  • Charles Murray says:

    In the first two months of developing my blog, charleslmurray.blogspot.com I’ve found the deeper I delve into my own struggles with balancing creative focus and survival, the more readers are able to relate out of their own writing experience. The key for successful self-promotion in this forum, I think, is to offer up your own experience in a way that is humorous, entertaining and instructive enough that readers can apply it to their own work, feeling the “spotlight” is as much on themselves as it is on you.

  • Tara Aarness says:

    “People have a hard time wrapping their head around the very simple fact that much of the blog content they create isn’t really helpful for others, but rather for themselves in some way or another. If I truly want to vie for others’ attention, I need to turn the spotlight off myself.”

    In other words those with un-diagnosed Narcissistic and Histrionic Personality Disorders would struggle with this concept. Lol

    Thanks for leading us down the trail toward the clearing. It’s good to know that I’ve stumbled upon the right path.

  • Carole Connolly says:

    Thank you for this simple yet pertinent information. My blog started out as a group email to friends regarding my recent move to Costa Rica. When the number got too large for the email comfort of some of the recipients, a blog was suggested. I thought: “Who cares?” about my escapades. Well, it turns out a lot of people do because I make them laugh. I don’t intentionally write ‘humor’, they just are quite entertained by my stories. Now that I hear about “value”, I will consider that in my blogging. If I can get my message across and give somebody a good laugh, I consider that value. Thank you for posting!

    • Chuck Sambuchino says:

      If you’re gathering readers, you are doing something right, so don’t fix it if it ain’t broke. Blogging about Costa Rica is a lot more interesting to the lay person (i.e., valuable) than blogging about parks or pasta or pinnacle.

  • Sharon P Lynn says:

    Thanks for your post. I have seen the same behavior among young journalists who want to write columns full of personal experience and inside jokes. I’ve tried to encourage them to write about others in order to build a loyal readership.

  • Kay Gibson says:

    How about humor tho, you usually have to make fun of yourself?

  • Susan Kicklighter says:

    I just started a blog last week, and I think this post will really help me frame some upcoming posts and increase visitation. In fact, two of the posts I’ve already put up are proof that you’re exactly right; the soapbox post didn’t receive nearly the traffic that the funny post about a popular, newly released book did. Thanks for the guidance. Hope I win and get to read the rest of the book this was excerpted from!

  • Rochelle says:

    Was anxious to read the “one big thing” and was totally thinking it would be something about design or attractiveness, but what a great and common sense surprise…and needed reminder.

    Sometimes when I’m struggling to push an idea out, the struggle trips me up and I wonder if I’m really meant to be even trying my hand at this in the first place. What you’re saying drives home the fact that, in the back of mind, nine times out of ten I’m trying to produce something that sheds a different angle on “hot topics” like race, interracial family dynamics, grief or slice-of-life while also providing hope.

    So thanks…this was the reinforcement and nudge I needed.

    • Heather van der Hoop says:

      Sometimes the most useful and important reminders are the simplest, aren’t they? I’m glad the post was helpful for you!

      Heather
      TWL Assistant Editor

  • Wendy Macdonald says:

    Chuck, I agree with you that we need to put the necessary time and effort into creating the best post we can. For me that means creating a beautiful one. The goal of my blog is to inspire others to stop and enjoy creation and its Creator. I want to bless my readers with the feeling they’ve just had a break out in nature so that they can go forward in their day with the hope and peace that God cares about them individually.

    Blessings ~ Wendy ❀

  • Deanne says:

    I’m building an online platform through book reviews and Twitter, since I find the very word ‘blog’ annoying and reading about other people’s thoughts incredibly boring, but this way I can appease my inner narcissist. We all want to talk about ourselves but finding a way to connect is vital for interest. Thanks for the reminder!

  • Krystal says:

    This was really informative. I’ve been pushing around the idea of starting a blog but I just didn’t know what to write about because I wanted it to be successful and for people to enjoy it and the information I was giving them. Thanks!

  • Brittni says:

    While I agree that value in a blog is important, I would argue that the stories about people’s vacations or favorite activities can provide value just like any story if they are written to make a point or provide humor. I would also disagree that I visit Facebook first thing in the morning solely because it is valuable; I go there to see what’s new. If no one posts anything new, I don’t go there as often. I think this is another key to a successful blog, and one that can be difficult to implement without a great deal of self-discipline.

  • Patty says:

    Sound and common sense advice for anyone who wants to build a readership/fan/client base.

    I have actually followed –and enjoyed — blogs that weren’t created to deliver something of value to the reader, including one which chronicled a woman’s experiences living in a foreign country, and one which was a journal of a woman sailing the Pacific. I think what kept these styles of blogs fresh was the fact that the writing was extremely “readable,” and the bloggers didn’t weigh their posts down with the mundane. They only touched on those things which were universally interesting or humorous. Make me laugh, and I’ll keep coming back.

    But then, I guess that IS something of value to me, isn’t it?

    You’ve given me much to think about. Cheers!

    • Chuck Sambuchino says:

      You’re actually proving my point here. This woman sailed the Pacific, and shared her journey. Was that an experience you were familiar with? No. Was it common and available to read in thousands of other sites? No.

      It was unique, and different, and hard to create (and she had to SAIL THE PACIFIC to write it!). So it shared a unique experience with us that we are not familiar with, and thus there is the value.

      But if you write about your kids at the park, or a fancy dinner you had at a Thai place, or how you’re struggling through the query process, none of that is unique or hard to come by — hence, no value.

      “Value” does not directly translate to “instructional.” If someone wants to travel down the Amazon and blog about it, it’s unique content that’s difficult to put together, and I’m interested in reading it.

  • Troi says:

    Ah, and here I was thinking that all the hair-pulling and bursting into tears trying to finish a post boiled down to my tendency to overthink. Without a doubt I still have tons to learn about blogging, but what I will say is that this article has encouraged me to keep going with a new realization for the process.

    Thanks!

  • Kaili says:

    Great advice – I am about to join the blogging world – been a print journalist for years. Trying to find my digital mojo … can you talk about keywords/metadata etc in getting your blog “out there” or am I way behind the times!

    • Chuck Sambuchino says:

      I would simply Google things like “Advice on SEO” and “How to Create SEO” and then you can immerse yourself in search engine optimization and learn why some blog posts come up high in Google. They will discuss how keywords work better than I can. Remember that SEO comes over time — you will get better at it as you go along, and even go back to old posts and spruce them up.

  • Jerry McGarrity says:

    This was very helpful and I would like to see more on this topic, especially for fiction authors. Blog topics for non-fiction are pretty straightforward. But fiction writers, especially, unpublished ones, need to be very creative in writing something of value that appeals to their readers and relates to the book. I just started blogging two weeks ago with a plan to blog in the humorous voice I use in my novel and on the topic of phobias, which relates to my main character. As Chuck said, it’s not easy.

    • Heather van der Hoop says:

      Thanks for the feedback, Jerry! We’ll work on coming up with some posts on blogging for fiction authors. You might want to check out these posts in the meantime:

      http://ilblogdellorco.info/yes-fiction-writers-can-develop-awesome-online-platforms-too/
      http://www.lindapoitevin.com/2014/02/17/why-fiction-writers-need-to-blog/
      http://jodyhedlund.blogspot.ca/2013/01/the-big-question-what-should-fiction.html

      A few fiction writers who blog, off the top of my head: Joanna Penn (http://www.jfpenn.com/blog/), Chuck Wendig (http://terribleminds.com/ramble/blog/), C. Hope Clark (http://hopeclark.blogspot.ca/ and http://fundsforwriters.com) and K.M. Weiland (http://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com/).

      Best of luck!
      Heather
      TWL Assistant Editor

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