Blogging tips wanted–for garden writers

– Posted in: Blogging Art and Practice

GWA symposium logoAs I mentioned recently, I’m going to Oklahoma City this fall to participate in a panel discussion on garden blogs. Yes, these professional writers, accustomed as they are to newspaper, magazine, television, radio, and even marketing work, are a bit intimidated and confused by blogging–so I’m told. Some are downright misinformed. So, along with Mary Ann Newcomer (who suggested my name), and David Perry, I’m going to attempt to educate them. We’ve got one hour, including time for questions.

Yeah, right.

I think, all by myself, I could talk for a couple of hours on blogging, especially if I got into what software to use and how to set it up. Obviously my fellow panelists and I have got to distill our collective knowledge into the most essential points, and present them concisely. So I’m asking you, my fellow garden bloggers, to think back to when you first got started. If you could start over, what would you do differently? What do you wish you had known right from the beginning? What is the least someone needs to know to start garden blogging?

Don’t be shy, but do be thoughtful. And thanks for your help!

About the Author

Kathy Purdy is a colchicum evangelist, converting unsuspecting gardeners into colchicophiles. She would be delighted to speak to your group about colchicums or other gardening topics. Kathy’s been writing since 4th grade, gardening since high school, and blogging since 2002.

What differentiates a bulb from a perennial plant is that the nourishment for the flower is stored within the bulb itself.…There is something miraculous about the way that a little grenade of dried up tissue can explode into a complete flower.

~Monty Don in The Complete Gardener pp. 142

Comments on this entry are closed.

Vivian Perez March 22, 2008, 7:59 pm

Are you seeking garden writers/bloggers now? Thanks!

Kathy Purdy July 31, 2007, 3:54 pm

eliz–never too late to this party. I think I am going to put a link to this whole thread on the handout for the panel discussion.

I personally hope that blogging doesn’t become so entrenched and institutionalized that only one way of handling comments is considered proper. The real value of blogging software is the flexibility it gives the author/editor/publisher. No sense limiting that flexibility because of others’ expectations; just tell them what to expect.

eliz July 30, 2007, 4:07 pm

Boy am I late–Susan told me about this. Just one thing. There is a Buffalo blogger–a very good one–who believes he is helping starting a conversation among others and does not respond to all comments, only when he is addressed (or attacked). So there are different views on this. I respond because there are often questions and they are addressed to me, where with other blogs I often see commenters talking to each other. Which is cool too.

Kathy Purdy July 26, 2007, 6:54 am

Of interest to me, and perhaps to you: Lorelle VanFossen has just published a book of her best tips on blogging. I have recommended Lorelle’s blog on this website in the past. She writes clearly and knows her stuff. I have just purchased a copy to see if I should recommend it at the panel discussion.

I do believe everything in the book is still available (without cost) on the internet, but it is not all in one place or organized effectively. For people who have not been reading Lorelle all along, the book would be a good place to start.

Ellis Hollow July 25, 2007, 7:20 pm

Bright: Don’t forget to include links back to whoever you are quoting. The nicest thing you can do for fellow bloggers is to send traffic their way and expand their audience.

bright July 25, 2007, 1:49 pm

i’m interested that someone brought up plagiarism. i’ve taken a sort of weird attitude toward copying content… it’s my belief that i’m giving away what i’m publishing. i think it’s just too infuriating to think of it any other way. i know that many people are relying on their sites for income, and that probably changes your attitude… but since i’m not and i have no real control over who looks at what i’m making, i’d rather imagine it like a message in a bottle set adrift. at least if i see it mirrored elsewhere, it means someone thought it was good enough to steal. imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. that’s why i’ve adopted the creative commons badge on my blog. that being said, i do think it is common courtesy to credit sources for quotes, ideas and inspirations. entwining everyone together just makes the whole thing lusher.

i agree with susan. there is no reason blogs must resemble each other so much. i’m annoyed with myself for relying on blogger’s template, but i’m not yet confident about generating a new one that would be more distinctive. and as i’m not stingy with my content, i’m absolutely not paying for a platform to hand it to people! i have faith that blogger will get more competitive with wordpress over time.

and i have to ask rick anderson if you’re still around… what did you mean when you said wordpress was for more serious bloggers?

kate July 24, 2007, 11:55 pm

That’s the problem with Blogger. I would like to switch to a different blogging software, but I’m leery about doing so because I don’t have much technical knowledge. A friend recommended that I focus on the content before switching, but I’m feeling rather limited at this point. For new bloggers, it would certainly help to have a sense of what is the best blogging software for combining text, lots of photographs and responding adequately to comments. Thanks for your help, Kathy. It is much appreciated… this is also an interesting discussion! I wish there were more like this…

Kathy Purdy July 24, 2007, 8:23 pm

Jodi, glad to meet you. If you read Kathy Jentz’ post about last year’s symposium, you know that some members of the Garden Writers Association don’t have the respect for bloggers’ writing that they should. Hopefully many of them have learned otherwise in the past year. I plan to have some links on my handout dealing with this topic, even if I can’t incorporate it into the discussion.

Kathy Purdy July 24, 2007, 5:42 pm

Kate, you most certainly belong in the garden blog community. It’s a very rare blogger who keeps themselves out of their blog, or stays on one topic. And as far as commenting etiquette goes, I think each blogger determines the policy for his or her own blog. The etiquette is in making that policy clear. I bet most bloggers are glad for a response to their comment, but don’t care if it’s on your blog or theirs. Future visitors reading that post and its comments will only benefit if the response is on your own blog, though.

The best thing is to have a way to subscribe to comments, but you’re at the mercy of your blogging software for that.

jodi July 23, 2007, 7:24 am

Late joining the conversation (and reading your blog, new to me and thanks to a fellow garden blogger who pointed it out to me.) I make a living fulltime as a writer, primarily about gardening. My blog I do for the same reasons I do an email newsletter–both are freebies and my way of saying Thank You to the gardening community around me, from whom I learn so much. I’m a decent gardener and have a reasonable amount of knowledge–but am not intimate with every garden in every part of my province or region–or country or continent. Gardeners are a generous lot and swap ideas and suggestions and other knowledge in the same way we swap plants and seeds.
However: while my blog is free and not something that I make money off of by advertising or clicks or whatever else others are doing, I don’t copy from other people’s blogs nor do I want to see them copying from mine. I make reference to something another blogger said, sure, but to copy from them? It’s called plagiarism. So, Kathy, one thing to remind our colleagues in the GWA is about plagiarism and that it runs both ways. We don’t want our work stolen and copied–and we better not do the same to others, be they paid professionals or passionate amateurs (many of whom write far, far better than a lot of so-called professionals.)
Sadly, I can’t be in Oklahoma–I will be plant collecting in northern Nfld and Labrador earlier in the month–but I bet your workshop will be an informative and lively discussion. I wish you all the best with it.

kate July 22, 2007, 1:26 pm

I have been following this discussion with interest. I blog mostly about my garden, but not always. I suppose like most things in life, people specialise and if I want to be considered a “garden blogger”, I’d better stick to writing only about my plants. Maybe my asides on other things relating to life aren’t of interest to serious-minded gardening folk. At the same time, I think it is an issue of remaining true to myself.

The comments discussion is interesting to me. I am of two minds about it. When I first started blogging, I didn’t realise that it was considered fine form to respond to each of the comments that I received. I read them all and loved receiving them because I hadn’t expected anyone besides my family and friends to read my blog.

At the time, I thought it was better to spend the time reading that person’s blog than writing a comment response in my own blog, which so far as I could tell then, was not looked at anyway. If it was, it wasn’t re-commented on, which, to my way of thinking – or perhaps owing to the influence of political blogging – was what indicated that the commenter had returned to read my comment to their comment.

Unlike political blogs where dialogue often occurs in the comments section, it seems rare to me in the world of garden blogging.

So, in an effort to avoid offending my commenters, who I appreciate greatly and enjoy, I have started to respond to their comments. Sometimes I’m haphazard about it owing to life’s vagarities, but I am trying since I don’t want to discourage people who I really like from visiting my blog.

I would rather though be taking that time to be reading and writing a thoughtful on their blogs.

I think that talking about this issue of commenting on garden blogs would be helpful for newcomers so they can learn the correct “etiquette” right from the start.

At the same time, one issue I think is of interest for garden bloggers is how to personalise a garden blog. Perhaps some people feel uncomfortable sharing much of their lives beyond their garden pictures and tales of insect infestations, but these blogs hold little interest for me. I want to get a sense of who the person is behind the blog.

Kim July 21, 2007, 9:32 am

To answer a question that has gone unanswered so far (I think): I do not expect comments when I put up a blog, but I am always appreciative of those who do comment. I especially like it when people whose blogs I haven’t read leave comments–I may not have found them otherwise.

To add a twist to the comment discussion: I tend to answer most people, but I don’t always say much beyond “thanks for stopping by,” and I don’t think it’s necessarily a “must” to address every individual that leaves a comment. However, there are a few bloggers who I have noticed do not answer comments (even questions) and also do not leave comments on other garden blogs, either. If that’s how they want to handle it and it works for them, that’s great… but if they don’t want to participate in the community aspect of blogging I have noticed that I am less likely to leave comments. And then I often become less likely to visit because I am not as engaged with their blog.

Kathy, I agree that there isn’t much time to go over everything you’ll want to cover. Maybe the key to stress is that your blog could be a personal journal, it could be a garden column online, it could be a place for people to exchange ideas, etc. As a blogger, you should figure out beforehand what you want it to be, and then work to keep it the way you want it.

Ellis Hollow July 20, 2007, 8:22 pm

It’s tough to add any more Kathy. I’m curious about the audience. I’m guessing mostly writers who don’t blog or read blogs much. I still wouldn’t waste time on technical details beyond basics and an assurance that if Layanee can figure it out, you can too if you want to do it.

Yes. It’s a visual medium. Text only isn’t going to cut it unless it’s very, very good text.

There’s a dynamic tension in Nielsen. On the one hand, cutting word count is important. But he also recommends writing full articles, not just off the top of your head stuff. Good and useful and short is the hardest kind of writing there is. This audience is going to be incredulous that blogging implies that they just give that stuff away.

Demographics is another issue I’d talk about, especially if their are publishers around. (Even if there aren’t any, writers write for publishers so it’s still relevant.) The garden demographic skews old. We garden when we settle down and buy a house, often after we redo the inside and after the kids get older. Most gardeners didn’t grow up relying on the internet in general or blogs in particular to get information or engage as part of a community.

But the next generation of gardeners will expect to get their information and support this way. Print isn’t dead. But there are opportunities in this medium (and the next one that we haven’t even imagined yet) that will grow and change im the coming years.

Ellis Hollow July 20, 2007, 7:13 pm

OK Kathy. I want to purge one idea after re-reading your post and before diving into the comment thread: There eyes will glaze over if you start talking about the technology. What they need to know is that with blogging (any communications, really) content is king. And what makes all blogging (not just garden blogging) is that the grassroots quickly becomes the arbiters of what’s ‘good’ and what’s not.

Oh, and save this for the end: It’s not a profit center and probably never will be for anyone. It’s at best a marketing expense or (more often) a fulfilling hobby.

The County Clerk July 20, 2007, 6:03 pm

Ha! No, Craig didn’t hurt my feelings. He has always been forthright, interesting and absent malice in every way. SERIOUSLY.

But perhaps, because of his valuable insight, I realized I was revealing too much or painting a skewed picture. I’m a professional with a business and employees (and clients) counting on me. I must be careful. I’m a buttoned-up guy. A rock.

Kathy… my email is right up top. But don’t worry. I’m not going anywhere. I’m just not going to be “sharing” at quite the level I was.

I’m still here.

Thank you for the kind words though!

Kathy Purdy July 20, 2007, 5:55 pm

Oh, dear, Ellis Hollow, I think you hurt Hank’s feelings. He shut down his blog. Comments are closed. Keep in touch, he says. How can one keep in touch if the comments are closed? This is the fourth time a very interesting blog has gone missing on me. It’s the part of blogging I have the most difficulty getting used to–when great bloggers decide they’ve had enough and just disappear.

Ellis Hollow July 20, 2007, 4:36 am

Susan: Sorry I misunderstood. Exactly on doing something to get away from standard template so that sites are visually distinctive.

Hank: Come on. Give me a break. Part of what makes your blog so interesting is your willingness to share about all the interesting folks you met in Sweden, your officiating at a wedding, your struggles about what to do with all those plants you started while you were gone. That’s drama. It’s the spice that makes the satisfying meal your blog offers so tasty.

Now that kind of writing does make me ill. But it’s early and I haven’t put my filters on yet.

The County Clerk July 19, 2007, 9:27 pm

Ellis Hollow:drama of his personal life
I’m going to be ill.

susan harris July 19, 2007, 9:05 pm

Craig – I’m suggesting that people customize their blog instead of use the standard templates that we get sick of seeing because so many bloggers use them. I’m not suggesting that a particular blog should regularly get a new look, so we’re probably
in agreement.

Ellis Hollow July 19, 2007, 7:47 pm

Way late to the party, and I only read about 10 percent of the thread. Will have to go back and digest it so I can comment intelligently. But a couple things:

Kathy: If it hasn’t been mentioned here, Jakob Nielsen’s blogging design mistakes provides an interesting framework, but is probably better if you were addressing bloggers, not writers interested in blogging.

While I visit garden blogs because I’m interested in gardening, I don’t mind if people stray. Does anyone read Hank because of his garden prowess? No. We read for the drama of his personal life and his insights into history. Pam (the microbiologist, not digging) has much to say beyond the garden. I can only surf through so many ‘look at this flower’ blogs and I try to avoid that myself.

Susan: Graphic continuity is a plus. Sure, change your banner images from time to time. But folks find comfort in the ‘sameness’ of a site. It’s your identity and in this crowded world of garden blogging you should be more concerned with the content within your design than in rotating that design every few months.

Sorry I didn’t join the fray sooner. Can’t wait go back and read what I missed.

Kathy Purdy July 18, 2007, 9:01 am

Genie and Susan–give me a bit to work on that, got a pretty full calendar this week. Just want you to know I’m not ignoring you. Genie, why don’t you go here and let them know you want them to incorporate that plugin. Or maybe there’s a similar page for your version of WordPress.

Genie July 18, 2007, 8:17 am

Yeah…I wish my version of Wordpress offered a better comments subscription option. You can subscribe to an RSS feed of comments, but I really like the option here at Cold Climate Gardening much better — I like just having all the comments emailed to me individually…especially in the case of this lively and interesting discussion!

Susan, I always think of Garden Rant as opinionated, but not necessarily political. But maybe that’s because I so often agree with you guys? Kathy, I’m interested in more expounding on that, too — curious about your thoughts.

susan harris July 18, 2007, 4:55 am

Let’s see. I’d urge people to customize the design of their blog because we get really sick of looking at the same templates over and over, and Typepad makes it easy even for people who don’t know code (like me). Use lots of photos (and not the too-dark ones we see so many of). Make it easy to find out where you’re located. Install that subscribe-to-comments plug-in (we’ve GOT to get one over on the Rant.) Link like crazy to expand your post – this may be the biggest difference between print and on-line writing, and I think it’s a huge advantage we have over print.
Now Kathy, your comment that half the posts on GardenRant are political has me pondering – what makes them political? They’re not partisan, so do you mean because we have an environmentalist and pro-consumer perspective? Say more!

Kathy Purdy July 17, 2007, 4:07 pm

Kathy: great minds think alike. Or is it that blogging Kathys think alike? Thanks for stopping by.