How to start a writing blog in 2018: The easy, step-by-step guide

How to start a writing blog in 2018: the easy step-by-step guide to show writers how to start a writing blog and get published.


“So her job is to stay at home and write about her life, and people actually read it?”

“Yep. And now we’re going to publish her book.”

I stared at my boss.

I was an editorial assistant at a New York publisher, and we had just acquired one of the imprint’s first blog-to-book projects. But we weren’t sure whether the blog’s readers—who were used to getting content for free—would pay $22.95 for a book. The skepticism was high, and we kept asking ourselves, “Why would someone pay for something they can get for free online?”

Then the book hit the New York Times bestseller list.

That book sold thousands of copies before it even hit bookstores, and then it sold thousands more once it was published.

It turned out that the author’s readers adored her, wanted more of her writing, and wanted to support her however they could. It turned out that great writing begets great readers, and great readers are insatiable.

how to start a blog as a writer

I decided right then that blogging sounded amazing, and that I wanted to learn how to start a writing blog. (Um, work from home, write short articles, make a great living, and make friends who like the same things you do? Okay!). I lived in the world of publishing-by-committee, so it seemed exhilarating that someone could have a space where they could publish whatever they wanted.

And so I decided I wanted to join the fun & learn how to start a writing blog, too.

Well, actually I had to teach myself how to start a writing blog. I had no idea what I was doing. It took forever to get myself set up, and I spent even longer tinkering with it in my free time. Then when I became a Literary Agent, I finally got serious about it and found a focus: I wanted to talk about books with book people, and I wanted to share what I knew about publishing.

Now, I’ve been blogging for 4 years, make a handy little extra income from it, have met amazing book people, and have more creative discipline then I’ve ever had. Blogging is the hardest thing I do, and it’s also what pushes me to stay current and work harder for my authors.

Looking back on it, I still can’t believe how much blogging has transformed me.

How blogging can make you less introverted

Blogging turned introverted me into someone who, post by post, became comfortable sharing what I knew and what I thought. I pushed me to do things I would have been dead-terrified of. It taught me how the internet works (well, mostly), and it made me curious, instead of anxious, about all things tech.

Discipline + practice + pushing past discomfort? That’s also the secret formula for making it as a writer. And a blog, by its nature, builds both the skills and the readership needed to becoming a bestselling author.

In fact, nearly every single one of my authors has a blog. Their blogs got them their book deals.

I know an author who was turned away by book publishers because he didn’t have a platform. So he started a blog, built it over many years, then was scouted and wooed by book publishers. I know authors who make six and seven figures writing online about what they love, from the comfort of their homes, for millions of readers, who also eagerly buy their books.

That is why I believe it’s so important to take the first step and learn how to start a writing blog.

It’s not an easy path to learn how to start a writing blog and build it, but I still believe it to be the most reliable way to build a readership and a fanbase who will excitedly support anything you take on in your creative life. Here’s why:

Why should writers learn how to start a writing blog?

literary agent book blog

You can become a millionaire by working at home as a writer.

I know–it sounds too good to be true. But thousands of bloggers are doing it and making six and seven figure incomes by writing online. I wouldn’t believe it either, except that I know and represent some of those bloggers and authors. Some even make six-figures by working only part-time or while traveling the world.

Case in point: Lindsay and Bjork from Pinch of Yum make over $30,000 per month from their blog. Michelle from Making Sense of Cents makes nearly 1 million dollars per year from her blog.

And don’t we all want to be able to pay our bills and make a living through our writing and creative work? But you don’t need to write a bestselling book to make big bucks as a writer. Instead, think of blogging as a way to write regularly and hone your craft, all while you increase your creative discipline, build a readership and author platform, and make money.

Blogging really is one of the best ways to be paid very, very well for your writing. And as a writer, you’ll automatically have a huge advantage over other bloggers, because you already know how to write well and captivate readers.

A blog can make your writing career.

That sounds like an exaggeration, but nearly every single one of my published authors has a successful blog. Learning how to start a writing blog and then building a readership that will follow you to anything you do, like publishing a book, is the only foolproof way to succeed as a writer today.

At the end of the day, every writer and creative has to earn their audience, and sharing with that audience regularly and generously is the only way there.

Blogging is a ridiculously fun creative outlet.

reading nook mistakes

Nothing can boost your creativity like a new medium. Blogging is just that—it’s writing in a different format and place than a notebook or manuscript.

And yes, it can seem overwhelming to learn how to start a writing blog sometimes, but I do have a step-by-step guide below to get you started on your writing blog!).

Remember that blogging is a long-term project. Just like learning to write well, you’re not going to understand all the mechanics and have all the skills right away. But if you take the next right step, one day at a time, you’ll be blown away by what you can eventually accomplish and how much fun you’ll have by relaxing into the learning process.

Even if you decide you don’t want—or need—to turn your writing blog into a side hustle and make extra income from it, you’ll find that the creative energy it brings to your days is its own reward.

You’ll meet amazing, inspiring people through your writing blog.

Many writers are introverted, so the idea of putting your writing online for anyone to see can be completely terrifying.

You don’t even know how much I get that. I didn’t share my blog with anyone but Jarrett for over 6 months. And it’s my job to encourage writers to put their work out there. How’s that for goofy?

But one post at a time, I started to break down my resistance to sharing my work and started to let myself be inspired and motivated by my amazing authors, who are doing so much good in the world by stepping out in a public way.

And as I tried to stay patient and improve 1% at a time, into infinity, I started to meet sweet and generous readers like you, who shoot me emails to thank me for an article, or ask a question, or just chat.

I’ll try not to gush too much, but you guys are what makes blogging worth it. I can’t tell you how much your sweet notes and smart thoughts mean to me, and if I know one thing, it’s that I want 2018 to be a year where we get to hang out and talk books more. Can we pinky swear to that?

Okay, now that I’ve gotten completely sappy on you (forgive me?), let me walk you through exactly how to start your writing blog in 2018, the easy, step-by-step way.

 

How to start a writing blog in 2018, the easy, step-by-step way

how to start a blog as a writer

1. Register your domain with a hosting service.

When I learned how to start my writing blog, I spent half an afternoon researching hosting services and trying to untangle what in the heck I should do. I ultimately went with BlueHost because so many other bloggers I admired used them, and then I went straight to them when I helped Jarrett set up his portfolio site last year.

Here’s why I love them:

  1. It’s insanely easy. I knew exactly zero about tech when I started my writing blog, but Bluehost made it impossible to screw up. And with my tutorial below, you’ll see that your brand new, shiny blog is just a few clicks away.
  2. It costs just $4 per month. When I started out, I wanted to keep blog costs as low as possible, and it’s hard to find a better deal than the $3.95 per month for BlueHost. I also saw that—overwhelmingly—other bloggers I followed used and recommended BlueHost. That made it an easy, slam-dunk decision.
  3. They include a free domain name. Again, I recommend keeping costs down when you’re starting out, so getting a free, custom domain name for your site is a huge win.
  4. I definitely need good technical support. You know what’s annoying? Something going wrong with your blog, and you have no clue what it is or how to fix it. I’ve leaned on the BlueHost support live chat service many, many times, and I love that it makes you feel like you have your own tech geek on call.
  5. They have a guarantee, just in case. Let’s say you sign up for BlueHost, all excited to launch your blog, but tomorrow you wake up and realize you want to be a professional bull rider instead of a writer. That’s okay—they’ll refund you every penny within 30 days. And yeehaw for you!

A note on self-hosting, because I see this mistake all. the. time.

Some bloggers start out with a URL that has “.wordpress” ”blogspot” or another provider in their domain name, but I strongly discourage this.

First, readers are much less likely to take your blog seriously if it doesn’t have a direct URL (www.yourblogname.com); second, it will drastically limit your ability to design and format your blog the way you want; third, it will make it difficult to monetize your blog.

Even when I helped Jarrett set up a simple portfolio site for his writing, I insisted he go with self-hosting on BlueHost, because I think it’s one of the best investments you can make in your career. And if I bossed him around on that point, you know it’s because I really think it makes a difference!

2. Click the green “Get Started Now” button.

Navigate to BlueHost through my link, and you’ll be able to lock in the same $3.95 per month price I get through their affiliate program. (And thank you for your support!) Once you get there, click the green “Get started now” button to start setting up your WordPress writer blog on BlueHost.

how to start a writing blog 1

 

3. Choose your plan.

I’ve always paid by the year, since it gets you a much, much better price, and I’m a big believer that you should give yourself time to settle into blogging and to experiment. The cheapest price, though, is for the 36 month package, so that’s the best option if you know you’ll be blogging for the long haul.

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4. Choose your domain name.

I love that BlueHost lets you start with the fun part: deciding what to name your site! Ideally, you’ll want to choose a website name which has that domain (the URL) available.

(Otherwise, you’ll end up like me where people don’t know whether to call your site cooks and books or cooks plus books. [For the record, the blog name is said as cooks and books. Cooksplusbooks just happened to be the only domain I could get.] But I give past-Maria an eye roll every time someone asks.)

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4. Enter in your account information.

This is as simple as it gets—just fill in your name, address, and the plan you’d like. I personally didn’t purchase the add-ons when I first set up my blog, but I’ll admit that I had to learn and add some of the search engine, backup, and security functionalities later on the hard way. Up to you!

 

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5. Enter your billing information.

I think we all know how to do that, right? 🙂

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6. Choose a password.

This is also as easy as it sounds. (The not-easy part is remembering all our passwords, right?)

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7. You did it! I’m proud of ya.

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8. Pick a theme for your writing blog.

This part is also fun: choose a theme that looks pretty to you. But don’t overthink it—you’re self-hosted, so you’ll be able to select from thousands of blog themes and fun blog customizations later on.

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9. Done! Now you’ll go to the WordPress portion of the set-up.

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10. Choose whether your writing blog will be for business or personal use.

It doesn’t matter too much, so don’t worry if you’re using it for a little bit of both.

how to start a writing blog 10

11. Next, you’ll come to a landing page, where you’ll want to click the blue “launch” button.

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12. Enter your blog name and description. Don’t worry, you can edit these later on.

how to start a writing blog 12

13. Congrats—you’re in! Your basic writing blog is now set up, and you can start learning your way around it and fiddling with it.

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Extra credit:

Now that you’ve learned how to start a writing blog, I highly recommend adding a new theme to your blog, since many of the standard themes that come with the blog look generic or cheesy. (And here are 4 other common mistakes writers and bloggers make with their blogs.)

I love Creative Market and Bloom for gorgeous, professional-looking themes. And most theme builders have excellent step-by-step guides on how to set up the theme on your blog and offer support for any questions you have about your blog, so don’t be shy about leaning on those resources!

Now that you’ve learned how to start a writing blog, here’s what to do next:

  1. Decide what to write about on your blog (includes a free workbook for brainstorming blog posts!)
  2. Make sure you have these 7 things on your blog
  3. Learn about the one thing you should do as a writer that gives you a HUGE advantage in blogging
  4. Discover how to convert blog visitors into book buyers
  5. Use these 2 steps to grow an awesome readership that is super engaged (another free printable!)
  6. Learn how you can get a book deal with your blog

And if you want more step-by-step tutorials for blogging, try a few classes through Skillshare. They have a huge archive of very affordable classes that can walk you through the step-by-step of blogging so that learning how to start a writing blog will be the easiest thing you do this year. 🙂


What I’m Reading This Week

The Book Diaries, Part 1: The Book Deal (Nik Sharma of A Brown Table): Awww. Guys, Nik is one of my authors, and he wrote the sweetest post about how much fun we had getting his book deal. This one goes in the “Keep Forever” file. It’s also very informative and shares Nik’s path from rejection to book deal and his words of advice for other authors interested in getting published. And to read the next parts in his Book Diaries series, follow along at A Brown Table!

The Simplicity Cycle: Returning to Paring Down to Find Your True Needs (Leo Babuata of Zen Habits): If “simplifying” is one of your new year’s resolutions, this is a great place to start. As Leo puts it, “Simplifying your life isn’t a single project that you can finish and be done with — it’s actually a cycle.”

The 16 Best Nonfiction Books Of January 2018 To Get You Ready For The Year (Stephanie Topacio Long for Bustle): And look who’s #1! How To Get Sh*t Done, by my author, Erin Falconer. Cue the confetti! Erin’s book is amazing and will make you kick the guilt and procrastination to the curb and start achieving more by doing less. You do have your copy already, right? 😉

Optimizing Your Books for Amazon Keyword Search (Penny Sansevieri on JaneFriedman.com): This is a great step-by-step tutorial for making your book more discoverable on Amazon (and what’s more important than that these days?).

The Cookbooks That Cookbook Authors Give as Gifts (Annaliese Griffin for Quartzy): Want to know what cookbooks Christophe Kimball, Amanda Hesser, Merrill Stubbs, and Cathy Erway gift, and how they choose them? Well, here ya go. (H/T to Dianne Jacob, who first included this in her roundup.)

The Short Story Shuffle: 12 Months of Short Story Writing (E.M. Welsh): Not ready to start a blog? How about committing to writing short stories this year instead then? I love this fun challenge because it takes the scary out of writing but also teaches you so much more about story arc and mechanics than spending a whole year on one novel can.


What We’re Eating This Week

We ate so healthy and balanced over the holidays that I think we can finally indulge a little now. <–Says no one on the planet. Ugh. I am so FULL that I can probably live off my own stored-up calories for all of 2018. Instead of trying that, here’s Plan B:

Monday: Technically still a holiday, so technically we ate Chik-Fil-A, giant bowls of pasta, and 7/8ths of a tray of brownies. Technically, it doesn’t count at all, so ha ha ha.

Tuesday: Reality beckons. But so does pork fat. So we had shredded pork shoulder and black bean bowls. But with BROCCOLI. Thank you.

Wednesday: Salad. (With salami, but I think we had all agreed to overlook this last year, right?)

Thursday: I’m going to a girl’s night paint-your-own-pottery, bring-your-own-wine type of affair, which will absolutely not end in Jumbo Slice.

Friday: An exciting meal! We were generously given a moose loin from a family friend who went hunting up in Canada, so we’re taking our cues from a favorite cookbook, Buck, Buck, Moose by Hank Shaw, and turning it into Jagerschnitzel. Somewhere in here there’s a joke about cooking lean meat in 1/2 cup of lard, but I’m too full to find it.

Cheers!

Read More

How to get a book deal with your blog

How to go from blog to book–the 3 things publishers and literary agents look for in bloggers!


“Can you give me a number I should aim for?”

I could hear the hopefulness in her voice, the resolution to get started. I shifted in my desk chair and moved the phone to my other ear. I hate this question.

Now, don’t get me wrong: I loved this blogger and her writing. I’d admired her work for a long time, and it had been so much fun to finally talk to her and hear the behind-the-scenes of her blog.

But there was just one tiny problem.

Her author platform wasn’t big enough yet for a book deal.

from blog to book deal

She was doing all the right things—writing consistently, sharing her work, getting to know her readers and other influencers in her space. But I knew publishers would want her stats to be higher for a book deal, and I knew she would need to have a bigger readership to make a book successful.

I squirmed and gently suggested that she wait a little longer to pursue a book deal.

I knew she had a book in her, and I could just see how beautiful and inspiring it would be. But I also know I’m not doing anyone a service if we put a book out too early in an author’s career, before they have thousands of loyal fans who are clamoring to buy it. It’s worth doing a book at the right time in your career.

But how do you know if your blog can get you a book deal? How can you gauge whether you have enough readers to support a book? What are the blog traffic and social media numbers to aim for?

Read More

The only program I’ll recommend for writers + bloggers

It’s Friday, and it’s summer, and probably the last thing on your mind is next week’s to-dos. Pepper is definitely checked out already:

literary agent book blog

(Job update: our local post office is hiring, and we’re helping Pepper work on her resume and cover letter so she can apply. Progress is slow. Hope is dwindling.)

Anyway, if you give me your ear for just 2 minutes on this pretty summer Friday, I want to tell you about one of my favorite things ever: Food Blogger Pro, which is closing for enrollment this coming Tuesday, the 27th.

If you don’t know Lindsay and Bjork of Pinch of Yum, they’re behind FBP, and they run one of the best blogs out there. Let’s pause on that thought: they run one of the best blogs out there. Not best food blogs, but best blogs, period. (And yes, FBP is great for all kinds of bloggers!)

I’ve worked with hundreds of bloggers, all who were already at the peak of their games, since by the time they get to me, we’re talking about publishing a book. I’ve read and scouted and sorted through thousands of blogs over the years, and there are only (and forgive me for saying it, but literally) 5 blogs I follow regularly, religiously, excitedly. Pinch of Yum is one of them.

And you know why? It’s not about the food. (But you should definitely eat this, because WEEKEND.

It’s because Lindsay and Bjork have what every blogger and writer wants:

an authentic voice + a big-time platform + integrity.

Lindsay and Bjork can teach you how to grow a blog and make a fantastic income from your writing, without having to be one of those shout-y, pushy marketing types who make the internet just plain annoying.

As you all know, I almost never recommend courses in this space. (Because the truth is: most “experts” out there aren’t experts. They’re just trying to brand themselves as experts. And part of my job is weeding out the true experts from the hyped-up, big-talkers.)

But I have the utmost respect for Food Blogger Pro because I’ve seen it produce dozens of top-tier bloggers who went on to get big book deals. Everybody who comes out of FBP, whether they’re a food blogger or blog about anything else under the sun, has that special mix of voice + platform + integrity. And I won’t name names, but probably some of your favorite authors have gone through FBP in the many years it’s been running.

And because I could shout about FBP from the rooftops all day, but I promised I’d only take up a few minutes of your precious Friday, here are just 2 more things I especially love about it:

  • Learn From The Best: Every writer and blogger I know dreams of making a full-time income from their words, but they don’t know how to get traffic or monetize their creative work. Every month, Pinch of Yum makes between $40,000 to $60,000 in income and receives over 4,000,000 page views. Why learn from someone else when you can learn from the best?
  • It’s a Surprisingly Great Deal: You get 300+ videos, access to a forum where you can ask more experienced bloggers anything (!), and discounts to tools you really need, like ConvertKit, Tailwind, SwankyPrints, and others. Also, because they’re overachievers, this year Lindsay and Bjork are also including their Edit Academy course (which teaches you how to make food videos and usually sells for $129) and Nutrifox (which is their nutrition labeling tool and costs $89/year) in FBP membership. Which by the way, costs only $29 per month. Which by the way, is less than I spend on treats for Pepper each month. Which by the way, results in no return whatsoever in my investment.

But enough from me–if you’re interested in learning more, you can read all about Food Blogger Pro here. If you decide it’s for you, you can use my link to get 10% off membership. I get a tiny percentage if you use my link; you get a great discount off the retail price; Pepper gets an allowance to buy treats. That’s a win-win-woof. (I couldn’t stop myself! Please forgive me.)

Read More

How many followers do you need to get a book deal?

When you work in an industry like publishing, you tend to get the same questions over and over.

Where do I start with publishing my book?
How long will it take for my book to come out?
How much creative control will I have in the process?
How many followers do I need to get a book deal?

I hate to see authors feeling in the dark about these things, which is why I aim to build an archive right here to help shine a light into the sometimes mysterious workings of the publishing world.

So today, I’m answering that last question–how many followers do I need to get a book deal–over on Dianne Jacob’s blog!

how many followers to get a book deal

Here’s a little snippet, but head on over to her site to read the full piece. And while you’re there, take a poke around her archives. Dianne has an incredible wealth of information on cookbook writing and publishing!

So, how many followers do you need to get a book deal?

When I was an editor, my publishing house did one of the first blog-to-book cookbooks. We were only allowed to do one, because obviously, we had to wait and see if this “blog” thing was going to blow over.

Now, every one of my authors is a blogger or vlogger (except the chefs). It still amazes me how blogging can build deep and lasting relationships. Yet, too often, I get that inescapable question: How many blog followers is enough? How much traffic do you need to get a book deal?

Click here to read the rest of this piece on Dianne’s blog!

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What I’m Reading This Week

How to Stay Positive on Your Path to Getting a Book Published (Adrienne Proctor on The Write Life): This is a great, great post, because it’s a reminder that nothing worthwhile happens overnight. I think cultivating the skills of patience and persistence is just as important to success as a writer or blogger as plotting or character development skills. I believe in this so much I created a cute art print to remind me and others of it! Click here to download this free art print:

you can't rush something you want to last forever quote printable

This is Why You Should Still Buy Cookbooks in 2017 (Julie R. Thompson for The Huffington Post): This is a must-read for any author writing (or thinking about writing) a cookbook. As I always tell my authors: you need to give the reader something they simply can’t find on Google.

Book Promotion: Do This, Not That – February 2017 (Amy Collins on The Book Designer): If you’re not already following these “Do This, Not That” posts, you should! Why make your own mistakes if you can learn from the mistakes of others?

Authors: Think Twice Before Paying to Exhibit at Book Expo (BEA) (Jane Friedman): In summary: “BEA is a quality industry event, and it is a legitimate marketing and promotion opportunity. But for the majority of indie authors, it does not make sense to invest what are likely your limited resources in BEA.”

3 Keys to Finishing Your Book Once and For All (Chad Allen on Goins, Writer): Chad always has great posts with practical, compassionate advice for authors–here’s another great one on setting up a 3-step process that will help you finally get your book done.


What We’re Eating This Week

Home, sweet home. Let’s cook!

Monday: Very unfussy, no-recipe stuffed peppers, which I did not even cover in cheese. That was my Willpower Accomplishment of the week. And it gave me full permission to spend the entire meal telling Jarrett how much better the stuffed peppers would have been with cheese.

Tuesday: Pork ramen with stock made from our giant Virginia country ham. As Dorothy Parker said, “Eternity is a ham and two people.” Welcome to eternity.

Wednesday: Italian chopped salad, with extra salami. Life motto: It’s not a salad without salami.

Thursday: Root vegetable and sausage pie from Victuals. Mmm.

Friday: This cacio e pepe recipe, because my deep adoration of cacio e pepe was rekindled when we ate at The Shack in Staunton, VA. (Jarrett and I split a plate of the cacio e pepe during our main course, then I ordered another plate for myself as dessert. YOLO?)

Cheers!

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