Create Your Own Blog: 6 Easy Projects to Start Blogging Like a Pro
By Tris Hussey
Dimensions: 7-3/8 X 9-1/8
Amazon Price $14.95 (affiliate link)
When I first discovered blogging and podcasting in 2005, Tris Hussey was one of the first bloggers I learned about, so I knew he had the chops to write a book on the subject of blogging. (No, I don’t know Tris personally; my only disclosure in writing this review is the usual one, that Pearson Education sent me two free copies, one to review myself and one to give away at the East Bay WordPress Meetup.)
Even so, I was honestly surprised by just how useful I found this book. After all, I’ve been blogging for a while now, so I mostly expected to be evaluating the book in terms of its usefulness for newbies. But even experienced bloggers have rarely done as much blogging as Tris has, since he does it for a living, on many different blogs. Not that many of us have set up a personal blog, a business blog, a podcast blog, a video blog, a portfolio blog, and a lifestreaming blog just for ourselves, but Tris has.
Those, in case you’re wondering, are the 6 easy projects. I don’t think Tris picked the title, because nowhere in his text or his table of contents does he refer to these as the six projects, even though he has a chapter for each one—and also a chapter, which he mercifully leaves for last, on making money with your blog. I say “mercifully” because there has been far too much written on the topic of how to get rich quick by blogging. Tris knows that if you want to quit your day job in order to blog, it’s going to take both time and hard work, and probably luck, too.
In any case, the “6 Easy Projects” are not what get you started: they form the second half of the book. The first half covers important basics of blogging, including domain names, hosting, and different blogging platforms—though like any sensible person, Tris uses self-hosted WordPress for most of his examples.
The book is nicely designed, with new terms defined in callout boxes and bright blue sidebars addressing topics ranging from the worst domain names of all time to the Paste from Word button to reasons not to have comments on your blog. Tris’ style is friendly and accessible, and he explains things well. He would, however, have benefited from a more eagle-eyed proofreader, as there are a number of word substitutions of the sort that spelling checkers rarely catch. The funniest comes on page 121, under the heading “Writing.”
You don’t want a perspective client saying to themselves, ‘Jeez, they couldn’t even spell check their posts. How will they handle my business?’
That should be a prospective client, though people in a few fields do have clients for whom they do perspective work.
The six projects overlap quite a bit. Tris actually covers all forms of multimedia in the personal blog chapter, but doesn’t go into detail about them. Likewise, any business blog might use photos, audio, or video, but in this case Tris introduces some new elements, like screencasting, as well as discussing comment policies and corporate blogging policies. He also tells you how to get Google Analytics to e-mail reports to you.
The podcasting chapter is a good capsule treatment of that subject. Tris describes some basic audio editing techniques, introduces the concept of podsafe music, enjoins readers to make sure they use correct ID3 tags, laments the shortage of hosting options for audio, and shows you how to submit your podcast to iTunes and use the Blubrry PowerPress plugin. If you’re serious about podcasting, there are more books to read, but all this advice is sound and will get you off to a good start.
The video blogging section introduces us to the rule of thirds and the importance of good audio quality for video, as well as providing more important reminders about copyright. The surprise takeaway for me was the reminder that Windows Movie Maker does more than create slideshows from still images. I don’t record much video myself and haven’t bothered to learn how to use Adobe Premiere; the little video editing I’ve done has been in Camtasia. The idea that I might be able to do something useful with Movie Maker is encouraging.
Tris also addresses the vexed issue of video formats and makes a good argument for taking YouTube’s guidelines as a useful set of standards. As in the podcasting chapter, he covers hosting and iTunes. (The basics of embedding a video into a WordPress post are back in the chapter on setting up a personal blog.)
The chapter on portfolio blogs spends a little time on themes, and a little time on plugins (note that Featured Content Gallery, which he mentions on page 194, is getting a bit long in the tooth; I just tried SlideDeck for WordPress and like its ease of use and versatility), but also addresses issues like shopping carts and photo-sharing sites. On the whole, Tris appears to be of the belief that you should host your media files somewhere other than your own server if you possibly can, and not just to avoid storage and bandwidth charges.
Tris moves away from WordPress in the lifestreaming chapter, pointing out, rightly, that this is primarily the realm of a variety of hosted services that aggregate your content from other sources. He covers Twitter, Friendfeed, Posterous, Tumblr, and Cliqset—the last of which I hadn’t heard of until reading this book. But he also tells you how to create a DIY lifestreaming blog in WordPress, then wraps up with a quick look at the comment-aggregating services Disqus and Intense Debate.
The final chapter is, as I said, “Making Money Through Your Blog.” It’s a refreshingly sensible and straightforward approach to the topic. My only quibble is with his division of methods into “direct” and “indirect,” because I would consider all of them “direct” methods. Indirectly earning income from your blog is getting hired as a consultant or speaker because someone is impressed with your blogging. But there’s advertising revenue and then there’s fee-for-service revenue, the kind that comes when you are a blogger for hire or when you produce sponsored posts on your own blog.
I highly recommend this book, and believe it will be almost as valuable a year from now as it is today, because most of the guidance it provides isn’t about the state of the technology.