I'm not sure exactly how, but somewhere between the lemurs, the books, the dinners, and the ridiculously short sleep sessions that I encountered at Science Online, I managed to learn quite a bit from many of those science writers to whose level of awesomeness I aspire, and am consequently left with a handful of scattered thoughts.
Here is the first set of those scattered thoughts. Comments are, as always, welcomed and appreciated.
At the first of two sessions that I helped co-moderate, we discussed ways for the more established science writers to help support new talent. There is a bit of a Matthew effect (named for Matthew 25:29), in the online science ecosystem where the most tweeted/linked individuals and posts get more and more exposure in a continuing upward cycle, while the least tweeted/linked individuals and posts get caught in a downward cycle (or at least, stagnation). Many of the elder statesmen (and -women) in the room noted that when they find good content, they try to promote it. Many of those same elder statespeople also rightly pointed out that they have to become aware of a new blogger in the first place, before they can do any promotion. But is having good content enough to become "noticed," and promoted? These things take time and persistence on the part of the n00bs.
I suppose my experience is a bit on the extremely-speedy side of things, as I started my Wordpress blog in the middle of January and was on Scienceblogs by the beginning of April, just three and a half months later. I became the psychology/neuroscience editor for ResearchBlogging.org the same week that I moved to Scienceblogs. That said, here are some things that I've learned, that new bloggers can actively do to promote their work:
- Register your blog at ResearchBlogging.org. As a content editor, I try very hard to feature new bloggers in my weekly editor's selections (while not forgetting about the superstars either). I am convinced that the only reason I am where I am now is because of an early post I wrote about ant navigation (in my second week of blogging) that Dave Munger chose as an editor's selection, and then wrote up in a column at Seed Magazine. That post was also nominated for the 2010 Research Blogging Awards for best post (in which I lost, understandably, to duck sex). Moral of the story: sometimes it only takes one post to get you "noticed," at least initially. (But if you want to keep being read, you've gotta keep writing awesome posts, naturally.)
- Comment on other blogs, and leave a URL in the little comment form. I look at every comment that comes in on my blog, and if there's a link that looks halfway interesting, I check it out. If you comment a few times, and make it obvious you're not just a drive-by commenter, I'll be that much more likely to tweet or link you. As someone (Christie?) pointed out in the session, you could link to a specific post, even, rather than simply to your blog.
- Ask for promotion! This has to be done with tact, and it can't be done repeatedly, but if you have a piece you think is particularly terrific, send some of your blog icons an email, or a DM on twitter, or something. As Ed pointed out in the session, don't do this when you've just written your first post. But I'd be happy to honor such a request after you've written 4 or 5 posts.
- Get on twitter. Involve yourself in conversations, thoughtfully. Speaking for myself, if you're just tweeting links to your posts, you'll be summarily ignored. If you're participating in the community, sharing your perspectives, linking to good stuff you're reading elsewhere, I appreciate that.
- Submit your stuff for writing competitions, like Open Lab, or like the 3 Quarks Daily Prize in Science, or the annual NESCent Science Online travel grant competition. Even if you don't win, you will have promotion and traffic and more eyeballs on your blog, and those are wins in my book.
- If you screw something up (particularly something ostensibly factual), acknowledge it, change it, and move on. We're all human, and we all screw up from time to time - even the best of us. Seth Mnookin, for example, has already published a corrections list for his brand new book, The Panic Virus. If you do correct or change something, do it transparently.
Have more advice? Add it in the comments.
In planning for the session, fellow primate enthusiast Eric M. Johnson and I batted around some ideas for a science writing laboratory, or a big blogger/little blogger mentorship program. Perhaps we could match up new and established bloggers for a limited period of time (8 weeks? 12 weeks?), in an informal sort of way, based perhaps on thematic interests, or background. The "big blogger" could act as a sounding board for the "little blogger," providing feedback for post ideas, some light editing/comments on posts, an extra boost of promotion and linkage, and so on.
Or perhaps we could set up a forum or wiki, where bloggers could put blog post drafts for commentary from a set of established bloggers. I'm not certain how this would work logistically, but I'm sure something could be organized so as not to overwhelm anybody.
I would love responses and feedback on some of these ideas, or recommendations of ideas haven't mentioned or considered.
Thanks for sharing these tips! Joining the conversation is definitely a bit daunting when you start to realize how many big players are already out there, but as long as you're enjoying the writing... It's worth contributing, even if it sometimes feels like baby steps!
(see? I'm a fast learner. :)
One thing I missed, that Tom Levenson reminded us of: read, and read a lot. And not just for content, but for style.
I'm teaching science communication to PhD students this spring and would love to set them up with bloggers for mini-externships. Had been toying with idea of incubator like the forum/wiki you describe, but this would be even better.
As another primate aficionado who really wants to get a better handle on writing better blog posts, I'd love this. Like, a lot.
Also, excuse me while I peruse your primate section here~ I'm so glad I saw this from BoraZ over Twitter.
comments & research blogging is what i look for. though comments especially. puts a "face" to the blog. re: twitter, if u retweet my posts i pay attention too. i knew of jason before he retweeted my jewish genetics posts last spring, but it got my attention.
The biggest eye-opener for me was definitely that 'superstar bloggers' are more than willing to help you with a tweet or some tips on your blog posts. I never considered asking for promotion or tips directly, but the truth is that this is one of the best ways to get noticed (if done tactically and politely of course). As I said in the panel, for the first 6 months I was blogging in the dark. I really hope this advice can help newer bloggers to get new readers quicker!
I agree with all your points. Though not half as well known as you, I was picked up by a network after 6 months or so. That was also the time I started using twitter, and that made a big difference in and of itself.
Great post Jason! It's good to hear how you achieved such rapid success and status in the science writing community and that you're so willing to share advice with others who aspire to it. I recently left academia and moved into writing and editing. Though I'm not a particularly regular or prolific blogger, I love to write about science and read other people's blogs and get involved in the Twitter community. One thing I found was a huge help to me was a science writing group I got involved with in the last year of my postdoc. The university I worked at had a section of the English dept that was interested in science comms, and one of the faculty set up the group. It eventually whittled down to a group of about 5 regulars, and was the highlight of my week. It helps to have the support of like minded people who you can bounce ideas off and show your writing to, get some feedback and constructive criticism. I often brought along someone else's blog piece to discuss if I hadn't gotten around to writing anything myself. If nothing like that is available, it's well worth aspiring writers to think about setting something up themselves. Like Lucas I've been blown away by how friendly and open everyone on Twitter is, it's a great little community. Even though I didn't attend Science Online, it was well covered and I almost felt like I was there and got quite a lot out of it from the live streams etc.
Getting into the blog carnival circuit was great for me. It got me noticed, and gave me a good excuse to spent a few hours a week scouring the blogosphere, looking for good stuff (and making new contacts along the way.)
Also valuable in the conversation at Science Online was a collective sense that "imposter syndrome" (where somebody considers their success to be based on something other than expertise, and so is afraid of being revealed to not be all they were cracked up to be) is pretty ubiquitous in writing, and that many very successful bloggers write about things that they are not experts on - in fact, journalists make a living doing this, being experts in communication itself. It's helpful to keep in mind that everybody is just as human as the next person, even in an online world where we can control our public image and people often come across in a somewhat larger-than-life way. That brilliant person whose posts you've been reading has the same sorts of insecurities that you do. Conversely, it's likely that you have the potential to be just as successful as they are.
More of my thoughts on this conversation are up at Cephalove - click-throughable on my name, I think.
Yes. I didn't even really know what #scio011 was. And now I feel like I have benefited greatly from it indirectly through the internets. This is like the 5th 'advice to n00bs' post I've read.
The first I have commented on, however.
To the point: Big fan of the BIG BLOGGER/LITTLE BLOGGER idea. Sign me up!
Thanks for this. Really great advice. I agree with Mike that the "imposter syndrome" can be a big issue. I find it easy to second guess myself when I want to promote something I'm proud of and sometimes even over clicking "publish". I can see how a mentorship type program could help new bloggers with pushing past the self doubt while also improving their writing.
Thanks Jason, for putting this list together!
Like Mike, I would also recommend blog-carnivals.
Even with a niche-blog like ours (about honeybees and filmmaking), we were always accepted when we submitted one of our more "sciencey" posts. And it always brought new readers and interesting conversations.
Thanks for putting this up (there's some great advice here, I just need to find some time to try out some of your suggestions), and thanks for choosing one of my posts for your editor's selections last week at ResearchBlogging.org! As a fairly new blogger I definitely appreciate advice and encouragement from more established bloggers.