How To Have A Popular Blog

A few days ago I got an email from a former student of mine. She told me she’s about to graduate from college (to which I responded WHAT NO THAT CANNOT BE RIGHT I AM NOT THAT OLD, except that the math adds up, so, DANG IT YOU’RE RIGHT) and she’s writing an article on effective blogging. She had some questions for me about my own approach to blogging, as well as my perception of what makes a credible and effective blog.

And it got me thinking: Why do I blog the way I do? Do I have a specific way I blog? Why are there some blogs I check every day and others I hardly check at all?

Now, I don’t know why people read MY blog. My guess is that they stumbled upon it one day (maybe thinking it was a lolcat blog, because given how many lolcat pictures I use, I could totally understand that misconception), and before they could close the window, their computer froze with the arrow on the “refresh” button, and now all they can do on the internet is click “refresh” on my webpage, which means they are now forced to read my blog because the only other choice is NOT TO READ ANYTHING AT ALL.

(I’m not sure why all these people have not called the Geek Squad or whatever. I guess they’re just too busy.)

But I do know why I read the blogs I read. And so I give you:


Anne Riley’s Guidelines To Having A Great Blog And Also Generally Being Awesome On The Internet


1. Be funny. 


This one sounds easy, but DO NOT BE FOOLED, GRASSHOPPERS. Being funny is an art. It requires practice.

I have read MANY a blog in which the author tried to be funny, but alas, they failed miserably. And when those bloggers discover that failure, it generally results in a lot of defensive complaining.

(Don’t worry, I’m probably not talking about you. Really. I can’t even think of a specific example right now. This is a massive generality. BREATHE, PEOPLE.)


2. Present yourself in a cheerful way. 

OH, we all have bad days. Remember when I suddenly lost my agent mere hours before I planned to send her the full manuscript of PULL? That wasn’t fun, and I definitely talked about how un-fun it was, but mostly I try to keep things pretty upbeat around here because “upbeat” is what I look for when I read someone else’s blog.

I’ve never enjoyed a blog in which the author complains about writing, editing, peer review, sales, bad reviews, rejections, etc. on a CONSISTENT basis.

Pointing out something difficult that you’re dealing with every once in a while? Totally cool. Makes you seem more human, in fact. But constant comments about how terrible your life is as a writer and how you never have time to do anything and how no one is reading your book–well, it makes me think perhaps you’ve chosen the wrong profession.

But I’ll never know if you choose a new one because I’ll stop reading.


3. Keep (most) of your opinions to yourself. 

This one goes back to the old “don’t talk politics or religion” idea. Now, I occasionally mention something about my faith, because it’s a huge part of my life. But I don’t talk about it much because most of my blog readers don’t share my beliefs, and I don’t want them to feel cyber-bullied because they don’t believe what I believe.

If you have very strong convictions about something–whether it’s self-pub vs. traditional pub, cats vs. dogs, Mohawks vs. buzz cuts, epidural vs. unmedicated, Democrat vs. Republican–I advise you to save your opinions for the times when you are around like-minded individuals, in real life, where nobody can screenshot your comments and plaster them all over Twitter.

Opinions are opinions, and lots of people might disagree with you.


4. Don’t be passive-aggressive. 


Blogging about “a certain person” who “did that rude thing” and OH, you just CAN’T BELIEVE THEY DID IT, but you won’t say any more because you don’t want to give away who they are, but you’ll just include this ONE LITTLE DETAIL, and oh my goodness can you believe that they did THIS OTHER THING and oops! You just gave us enough information to figure out who you’re talking about! Well, how did THAT happen?

This kind of thing makes bloggers seem a bit petty and borderline obsessive, and it also gives me that feeling in my stomach where I start to think that MAYBE I’m going to throw up, but the urge isn’t quite strong enough to send me running for the toilet, so I keep sitting on the couch with a trash can nearby just in case, WAITING for the vomit to present itself . . . if it ever does. 

That is to say: it makes me feel icky and I’ll stop reading.


5. Give me a glimpse of your personal life.

I’ll be honest, y’all: I’m worn out when it comes to industry blogs. I’ve been swamped with so much conflicting information, I hardly know which way is up in the publishing world anymore.

So I rarely, if ever, read something that claims to know what is happening in the book world and why I should write about sea creatures but NOT ZOMBIES OR VAMPIRES OR WEREWOLVES, because those are DONE, but maybe I should write about them after all because you never know when the new wave is coming, and did you know that you should ALWAYS tell agents you’re querying other agents, except for the ones who secretly DON’T want you to say that, but there’s no way to know which ones they are except with your Super Psychic Powers, and BY THE WAY, blog numbers are the only way you’ll ever get published, except that most editors don’t bother to look you up and even if they do, all they care about is your Klout score, but don’t worry about that because everyone knows Klout is meaningless.

Do you see what I’m saying?

I’d much rather hear a funny story about your kids or see that cool thing you did with the curtains in your kitchen. If I feel like I kind of know you, I’ll read everything you post.


What do y’all think? What keeps you coming back to a blog again and again?

29 thoughts on “How To Have A Popular Blog

  1. (Warning: Lurker speaking up! Onoes!)

    I got flooded with industry blogs/posts after a while, too. I got tired of reading how-tos, especially when I realized I usually A) severely disagreed for very good reasons or B) sort of already knew that. A lot of the things that are super-popular are 101 posts, and if you’re past 101 in any given area, they’re going to get boring after a while.

    I read your blog out of very few nowadays. It isn’t because I have read and loved your books. (I don’t usually read YA, so it’s me, not you. ~_^) It’s because I really enjoy your voice, your randomness, your attitude, and the spontaneous lolcat pictures. Because I like how you write, I’ll read any of the things you put up here, even if, were I judging by topic alone, I’d pass on half of them.

    So, essentially, yes, it really is the personality behind the page that keeps me coming back. 🙂

    (I will now resume lurking. You may return to your regularly-scheduled commenters. *salute*)

    1. Well hey there, Ty! So glad to see you! I’m honored that you read my blog. Really. Thank you. And I’m glad you enjoy the randomness. It’s my spiritual gift.

      I hope to see more of your comments in the future. This was great!

    1. Oh, comments are great! Unless they are mean, and then they aren’t so great. But you aren’t ever mean, so you’re good!

  2. Awesome, awesome insight, Anne. You list all of the reasons why I greatly enjoy your blog (and you make me wish there were more blogs out there like yours).

    Also, you just made all bloggers (including me) gasp and get all self-conscious from the line “those unfunny bloggers–who believe that they are, in fact, QUITE funny”. What if she’s talking about me??

    It’s a good reminder that we’re never as funny as we think we are. 🙂 I can try to get people to laugh and converse through my blog, but I shouldn’t ever EXPECT people to laugh and converse. It’s not their job to please me–it’s my job, as a blogger, to find ways to please them while writing about things that excite me. As soon as I adopted that reader-centric approach to my blog, it really took off.

    1. OH. No. I wasn’t even thinking of anyone in particular when I wrote that, just that sometimes an attempt at humor, while well-intentioned, CRASHES AND BURNS.

      Hmmm. I might go tweak that line a bit.

      1. I see that you changed it, but I truly wasn’t critiquing the original version. I, too, have read plenty of blogs where the writer tries to be funny, and it simply doesn’t work. I thought you said it well: Humor is a skill that takes a lot of trial and error to develop.

        On that note, if I may suggest a #6: Length. Basically, size matters in blogging. Sure, there are those days when you have a lot to say, and it’s all on topic and hilarious and insightful. You can break up those entries with short paragraphs and photos (as you do so well). But I think that the goal should always be to write as short an entry as possible. This is something I constantly struggle with, but as long as I keep that goal in mind, I can usually prevent my entries from spinning out of control. What do you think?

        1. I know you weren’t critiquing, but the last thing I want is for people to think I’m passive-aggressively trying to tell them they aren’t funny! Especially you. I cry when I read your survival posts. OMG.

          YES. Length is key. I like short, but I don’t mind long if it’s funny and engaging, and if there are pictures, like you said. I always try to break up long posts with SOMETHING. I think your posts are great–always on the short side, always with pictures, and always with a great point!

        2. Thanks Anne! I wasn’t fishing for compliments, but I appreciate that.

          I don’t know if you’d be willing to post this, but I’d love to hear any recommendations you have for blogs that meet the above criteria. Particularly if the bloggers post on a regular basis.

  3. I agree about being funny and upbeat. I learned really quick (from experience, unfortunately) that blogs with too much complaining or *extreme* sarcasm is not accepted very well, unless you enjoy critical comments that are aimed to maim you. People read blogs to find something fun to read… they don’t want to find themselves fired up about something.

    I personally enjoy the blogs that are REAL… not just informative, or whatever. But where the person is telling about their real life, with real life events and family and mishaps and embarassing moments. You know, the fun things in life. 🙂

    1. YES! I love real blogs, too. I like to feel like I know the person, even if I’ve never met them. I read several that strike that particular chord, and they are wonderful. I look forward to their new posts so much!

  4. Hey Anne! The other day Matt saw me reading your blog and was like, oh is she the Spanish teacher? And I responded that I never think of you as a teacher but as the “other Anne” that I knew when I was in high school…which made me feel old, haha. Anyway, I just wanted to say hi and that I enjoy reading your blog! (And that your little girl is adorable by the way, but I’m sure you know that already :))

    1. Oh my gosh! I could not figure out who you were until you said “the other Anne” and then I was like, AHA! Hahahahaha. I’m so glad you said hello! Tell your husband hey for me! And yeah, we think the wee one is pretty cute as well 🙂

        1. haha thanks! good to hear from you guys 🙂 yeah I married Matt Robertson who is 6’8″ and was 2 years younger than me in high school. For the record Anne, Matt and I are living in Spain, he is playing pro basketball – and he wished he had paid more attention in Spanish class, so tell your students to pay attention because you never know when you might end up living in Spain! (I took Latin, so I know nothing, but I’m learning!)

  5. This made me think….why do I like Anne? Why do I check her blog after I check Facebook but before I check email? I mean, it’s a daily thing….Facebook, Anne’s blog, email….so, why do I like it? Well, I like you because you’re nice. You always have been and I doubt that will change anytime soon. You also make me laugh. Partly because I know some of the “insider” things (which make me feel VERY special, btw) and partly because you really do have the spiritual gift of humor. So yeah….I like your blog.

    P.S. But it makes me sad when there’s nothing there. No pressure. HA!!

  6. Anne–I thought of a number 7! This is one that you particularly embody on your blog: Reply to comments. This is not a universal rule–I read plenty of blogs for which the writers don’t engage in the comments section. But it sure is a nice bonus. It take extra time and effort, but you do this remarkably well, and I think it’s a huge testament to the popularity of your blog.

    1. Oh, well, thanks! You do a great job of that, too. I just want people to know I read and appreciate all their comments, and what better way to do that than to reply, you know?

  7. I don’t think you’re telling me I’m not funny. I know I’m hilarious. 😉

    And I agree about the last one. I can read a writing/industry blog anywhere. I want to read about the accomplishments of people I care about!

  8. Great article Anne and one that hits just at the right time.

    I often used to think about what I wanted my blog to be and I kinda twisted myself up in knots trying to give it an angle.

    Now, I think of my blog in terms of who I am and I tend to blog appropriately. The cool thing about that is – in a lot of ways, I’m still trying to work out who I am as a person, so I think I’ll have content to keep me going for a while.

    But you hit the nail on the head in one of your suggestions. The blogs I’m most drawn to are the ones which give me a little insight into the perso behind them.

    The rest are just background noise…

  9. I agree with you on industry blogs. I like to read about “inside the publishing world” but I also like to get to know people. Know what they’re up to, what they like to read, what they do outside of writing. I like to read blogs where I know the personality of that person.

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