This and That

Random bits of my life

Review: “Sister” Diane Gilleland, Making a Great Blog

Posted by Avital Pinnick on February 7, 2010

Good books convey information. Great books engage you and spark a creative dialog in your mind.

Diane Gilleland’s ebook, Making a Great Blog: A Guide for Creative People, falls into the second category. Some of her ideas and questions will stick in your brain and bubble up at odd moments. For the first time I found myself asking”Well, what do I blog about anyway?” and was able to come up with some answers. If you’ve noticed some changes in this blog, it’s because of her book. I added a small photo of myself, a blogging statement, and a fledgling blogroll. I also started using my real name on my home page and Flickr account.

This is a the book I wish I’d read before I started blogging. If you’re thinking of starting a blog — not just a craft blog — do yourself a favour: buy this book and save yourself a lot of floundering and re-inventing the wheel.

Background

Diane’s blog, CraftyPod, and her podcasts have been on the craft scene for quite a while. Her first podcast came out in May 2005. Diane’s blog is a seemingly inexhaustible fount of interesting and well-edited content (does she ever take vacations like ordinary mortals? I’m not sure). If you’re not familiar with the story behind “Sister” Diane’s nickname, this article from the Sisterhood Project will fill you in.

The Book

In four chapters (Table of Contents), Diane covers questions to ask yourself before blogging (but if you’ve already plunged in, that’s okay!), what kind of content to put in your blog, how to have a great-looking blog, and how to interact with your readers and their comments.

Diane’s writing style is informal and chatty. She packs in a lot of information and offers tons of encouragement for new bloggers. I especially like her head-on approach to problems that bloggers run into eventually, like “blog fade” (or what to do when blogging just isn’t as fun as it used to be), taking a vacation, and writing posts that will appeal to your audience. One of her most useful tools is the old-fashioned notebook for recording bursts of inspiration. At this point, I should tell you that Diane’s mother, Pam (aka Gingerbread Snowflakes), has written an outstanding piece on organizing blog entries.

Diane has excellent advice about creating content: It’s not about you. It’s about them. Someone should create a printable PDF for us bloggers (seasoned and newbie alike)  to print out and tape to the wall beside the monitor.

Almost from the first posting I had readers commenting on my entries but I had no idea that it was okay to reply, until I read Diane’s section about forming a blogging community. So I swallowed my personal shyness and wrote to a stranger who had left a comment on my blog. I answered a couple of her questions and I complimented her on her blog and she actually replied! Now we’re following each other on Twitter — her tweets are going to give my French a workout.  Hurrah! Interacting with people who leave comments was the most important thing I learned from Diane’s book (and if you haven’t read the recent posting on Make & Meaning on this topic, Thanks for Visiting!, you should).

The information about creating eye-candy was less useful for me, but that’s only because I’m coming from a background in Photoshop and photography. If you want to improve your graphics and photos, her chapter on the improving the visual appeal of your blog offers a lot of useful tips. Pay special attention to the advice on light, backgrounds, and props.  (I would only add that if you want to tweak your photos and organize them, download Picasa. It’s free and has some very good editing tools.)

Do I have any quibbles? Maybe just about the importance of an eye-catching header. If I blogging for commercial purposes, I would definitely create a header because it’s a crucial aspect of branding. Vendors have to create a recognizable image and presence on the Web. But since so many people use Google Reader and RSS feed aggregators that don’t show the header or sidebars, I question its importance for personal bloggers. (That said, if one of you out there writes, “I’m tired of looking at this red bar at the top of your blog. Why don’t you get a decent header?,” I’m willing to reconsider!)

Making a Great Blog is colourful and well-organized, with a good layout and illustrations. It includes a resource list and worksheets.

Link to buy: http://shop.craftypod.com/great_blog

Cost: $12.50 (I think it’s good value for the money)

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8 Responses to “Review: “Sister” Diane Gilleland, Making a Great Blog”

  1. pam said

    Thank you. Avital, so much for letting me know you had posted this amazing review of Diane’s e-book! Being in the middle of my Valentine cookie project, I have again fallen behind in reading my favorite blogs.

    Funny thing though – I have found your blog to be so informative, fascinating, and compelling, and your photography so visually appealing and technically excellent that to be truthful I never missed much less even noticed it lacking a blog roll or personal statement or fancy header. In my opinion, the high quality content you provide in your blog stands solidly on it’s own.

    One of the things I appreciate most about Diane aside from her inexhaustible creativity, is that she is an excellent teacher. She puts so much thought into how best to communicate a technique or concept to insure that the person she is teaching completely understands. I became very aware of her skills when we worked together on Kanzashi in Bloom. Every step of every project was carefully explained and backed up visually so that anyone can understand the process and make a lovely flower on the very first try.

    And I want to thank you for the mention and link to my little post about blog organization. What a lovely compliment coming from you especially. I feel honored to have been included in this review because from my perspective she is my HERO and I totally walk in her shadow. And let me tell you, she casts a BIG shadow!

  2. pam said

    And P.S.! I am honored and thrilled to be a part of your new blog roll. I will try to live up to the compliment.

    • apinnick said

      Pam, your content is fabulous! You are so well-organized and have so many interesting things going on in your life. How could I not include your blog? 🙂

  3. Wow! Avital, thank you so much for this thoughtful review. I’d love to excerpt it and link to you on my Reviews page.

    Really, I couldn’t agree with you more about the design aspect of a blog being less important than its content (or the blogger’s outreach). I do see bloggers all the time getting more focused on whether they have the right sidebar graphics than whether they’re giving their readers good value.

    In some ways, a blogger’s photography is a much more effective emissary of his or her blog. You’re right – so many people are turning to feed readers, which strip away the header and sidebar stuff. One of the reasons I read your blog is for the amazing photography, and your insights into how you got your shots.

    …But I digress, as usual. 🙂 Thank you indeed for the review!

    • apinnick said

      You are more than welcome to use my review. I would be honoured. It really was a pleasure to review your book and I hope it gets the attention it deserves. It really made me focus on questions about blogging and organization. Keep up the great work!

  4. What a well written review – this is the only one of Sister Diane’s blogging books that I don’t own but it sounds like there’s information in there that would be useful to me, even though I’ve been blogging for a while now.

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