Thursday, January 26, 2012

Tips & Tricks: Q & A Edition 3

What You Will Learn

A few weeks before Busting the Newbie Blues and Busting the Big Blogger Blues went live, Ruby and I posted up a question form. Readers were encouraged to write whatever newbie or oldie questions they had about blogging.

We've addressed many of these questions throughout our events, but there were a few questions that we either couldn't fit in anywhere else or didn't need an entire post devoted to them. So that's where this post comes in.

If you feel your question still hasn't been answered, please ask again in the comments!

If you have a question you would like answered in a future Tips & Tricks post, I would love it if you filled out THIS FORM. Tips & Tricks posts go up once a month, so it may take a little while for me to get to your question, but I promise you I WILL answer.

Let's Do This!

How do you add originality to your blog? How do you take ideas from other blogs without seeming unoriginal or copying?

The best piece of advice I can think of is to say look at yourself, not everyone else. YOUR voice is what will bring originality to your blog. Let your personality shine through and your blog will be uniquely yours.

But what about features? Memes? Honestly, I wouldn't worry about them. When answering the Busting the Newbie Blues questionnaires, you know what a lot of people DIDN'T like about blogs? When they're filled with memes. You know what people DO want? Quality reviews.

Still stuck? Try this approach:

Other people can be hugely inspiring, but when you look to others for inspiration you walk a tightrope with originality on one side and plagiarism on the other. Of course you do NOT want to end up on the plagiarism side of things (and keep in mind, paraphrasing or taking an idea IS plagiarism!).

Ok, so you're not looking at anyone else now, right? Now I want you to forget about your readers for a minute. *GASP*

Yes, your readers are hugely important, but when you think about them in this context, you're probably thinking of how you can please them. Do you know what that means? PRESSURE! It's incredibly hard to be creative when you're feeling that kind of pressure.

So now you're not looking at anyone else for inspiration and you're not thinking about your readers. What do you do next?

Look in a mirror. Ask yourself, what do YOU want to see? Focus on what YOU want. When you read a review, what do YOU want to know about the book?

How about frustrations? Is there anything that you as a reader and a blogger experience that frustrates you? A problem you've faced? How can you fix that problem? For me, my latest feature was born out of a need for book recommendations.

Once you've brainstormed some ideas, search around a little and see if anyone else is doing something similar. If no one is, then wonderful!

If they are, then no worries. Sure, maybe you'll scrap that idea, but you have discovered that someone is doing something you wanted. Even if it's a loss for the "original idea" category, discovering their feature is still a win for you.

Now get back to that mirror and think of another idea. Or don't. I said this earlier in my discussion post but it bears repeating:

  • When the muse is out on extended vacation, embrace the basics. There is nothing wrong with a review blog with nothing but reviews. You do not have to be the NEXT BIG THING to offer something of value. 

How do you get your heading banner thing to become centered on your blog? Mine isn't.

This probably has to do with your code. I'm not sure what's going on, but try looking in your code for words like "Header," "Align," and "Padding." Maybe your padding is set unevenly? Or your align isn't set for center? I'm sorry I can't be more helpful!

How, in comments, do you link your site so people commenting can check it out?

That is called anchor text, and it is fantastically useful! Check out my Tips & Tricks post called How to Make Anchor Text to learn how. Let me know if you have any trouble with it.

I've been trying to link up my Word97 to make it easier to post but it's just not working. I just love how other bloggers have these neat nice rating images and boxes in their post. I'm so not good with design.

Hm, I'm not sure what you mean about linking up Word97. I will say though, that when it comes to blogging DO NOT use Microsoft Word if at all possible (it took me a while to figure this out). Microsoft Word adds all kinds of extra code that could mess up your formatting and potentially cause errors. See:

Click to see in all it's awesomely bad glory
This is a blog post after I copied it from Microsoft Word. See the arrows? See all that green text? It goes on for almost THREE HUNDRED LINES OF CODE. It is entirely useless and is only there because Microsoft Word wants to be the bane of a blogger's existence.

Every time someone tries to view your post, their browser needs to read every line of code you have written. Look at all that useless code! Sloppy, sloppy.

Click to make larger
Ah, THAT is what I wanted! See how neat and clean it is? See how I couldn't even fit the whole blog post in one screen cap when it was copied from Microsoft Word, but in reality MY work only takes up five tidy little lines? MUCH better.

I highly recommend Notepad or Notepad++.(which is the program I've used to show my code in both of those pictures). Personally, I write all of my blog posts in Notepad++ because it does code highlighting (this is what makes the text different colors, and I am a color coding fanatic).

As for the rating images, I love them too! You can try sites like All Silhouettes or All Vectors to get an image you like for your ratings. You can crop the images using a program like Paint or something more advanced like Photoshop or Gimp (free).

By boxes, if you mean colored boxes, I have a tutorial called How to Make Colored Boxes that explains how you make them. I hope that helps!

And don't worry if you're not good at design. You'll learn! A lot of design is much easier than it seems at first. It's easy to be overwhelmed by design, but if you try to learn things in bite sized baby steps, it's a lot less intimidating. Also remember, a neat and easy to navigate blog is far more important than pretty graphics. 

The form is anonymous, so please don't feel shy at all!

I'm certainly not an expert, but I'll try my hardest to explain what I do know and research what I don't know.

Click here to read previous Tips & Tricks Posts 


  1. @Small:great great answers! Especially the 1st one! To write your thoughts without thinking what the others want, is the best and the easiest way to write something original.
    And you said, many don't like memes and i am one of them.

    you write your posts via coding?

    *How do you get your heading banner thing to become centered on your blog? Mine isn't.
    Depends on many things. If you uploaded the banner through the Layout tab of Blogger then your header should be at the center. But usually you have to search for "header-inner" and fix the "align". This might help you more: here.

    *I've been trying to link up my Word97 to make it easier to post but it's just not working. I just love how other bloggers have these neat nice rating images and boxes in their post. I'm so not good with design.
    +There is a big chance authors send you interview/guestposts/etc via word files. In that case to avoid the green coding small mentioned above, instead of copy the "post" from the word file directly to blogger - first copy it to a txt or Notepad and then take it from there and copy it to blogger. It will lose all the formatting (except paragraphs and enters) but at least you will be able to make sense at the HTML tab when paste it.
    And you can always ask for help, a blogger which have done something you like. I asked Small about the reply link at the comments only some days ago and imagine coding is something i study.Still i didn't know. Don't be shy! There are many people who are willing to help you.

  2. Thanks for answering my question. :) I'm always amazed at how nice book bloggers are. They're so friendly. And yes I really suck in design.

    1. Don't be shy..ask for help in design too. There are people who will help even in that for free :) I always do if it's not much work and take me out of schedule (coding a design or making graphics can be tricky and might take hours)^^

      And Small is awesome! I like how she helps people, newbies or older ones :)

    2. You're welcome, Primrose! I hope I answered it well enough. If you have any other questions, please feel free to ask them. :) Your blog looks lovely.

  3. Well now...that's sad..i've written a huge comment with some links and tips and comments and disappeared :( Let's see if i remember what i wrote....

    Great post! The first answer especially is the best!

    On the 2nd question, i had mention that usually the "align" that needs to be fixed is inside the "header-inner" code. It all depends on the template though.

    On the 3rd question, i have a plus for people who get interviews,guestpost,etc from author or for another reason via word. If you don't want the weird coding Small mentioned above, they could copy-paste first the "post" into a txt or Notepad, and then copy it from there to blogger. It loses all the formatting except enters and paragraphs though.

    And i really can't believe you write your post via notepad :p

    1. Arrgh! I hate it when that happens! :( Thank you for taking the time to re-write you comment! Also, thank you for the sweet words you said :)

      GREAT piece of advice! I use Outlook for my email and it allows me to preview the file. I usually do that and then copy the interview from the preview. It doesn't bring over any extra code when I do that.

      Haha, well, I don't use Notepad. I use Notepad++ I am in love with their code highlighting :) I also have a portable version, so I put it on a flash drive and then I can take it with me to use at work.

    2. I have Notepad++ too, it's awesome for coding, i agree to that. But why not through the Blogger editor?

      And my old comment appeared now..LOL

    3. I do use Blogger's editor sometimes, but Blogger adds in so much useless, empty code and that often messes with the formatting. I use Blogger when I'm lazy or when I'm inserting a bunch of pictures.

      I've noticed blogger's been really glitchy with their comments ever since they upgraded to threaded commenting. They're throwing a bunch of legitimate comments into the spam folder. I have to remember to check it periodically now.

  4. I used Windows Live Writer for a post with lots of graphics the other day and was very pleased.
    I think the key thing for voice and book reviews really is to be yourself. If you try to be funny in a way that you're not, it will come off stilted. If you try to be fancy when you're really not, you'll sound stuffy or stupid. I just write my reviews as they pop into my head. They're not as pretty as others (and some days, they're really bad), but they sound like me and get the job done.

    1. Ah, that was the name of the program! I couldn't remember the name, but I remembered some bloggers mentioning the program positively. Thanks!

      Perfectly said! I couldn't agree more with you. I cringe when I see forced humor. My humor may be embarrassingly cheesy and bad, but it's genuine :P I think your voice comes through very well in your reviews. It makes me feel like I'm talking to YOU and not just reading a generic review from some unknown person.

  5. What do you do when an author gives you a book to review and it's not good? Do you write a review explaining that the book is almost unreadable because of all the grammar errors or do you refrain from writing a review on the book?

    1. I always dread that situation. It's so awkward. How you handle it is really up to you and what you feel most comfortable doing.

      If you don't finish the book, then there's nothing wrong with just not reviewing the book. The same applies if you finished the book but did not like it. It's your blog, and accepting a book for review is NOT a guarantee of writing a review (which you should also state in your review policy). Likewise, accepting a book for review is not a guarantee of writing a positive review. You are doing your job by writing your honest reaction to the book, whatever your opinion may be.

      If the author is waiting for a reply, you can politely tell them that the book was not for you and you will not be reviewing it at this time. That is an acceptable course of action.

      You could also let the author know that the book was not for you and your review will reflect that. Then, if you want, you can let the author decide if they would rather you not review or if they prefer you post your negative review. Sometimes just getting their name out there, even if it is attached to a less than favorable review, is still worth it to them.

      In all cases, if you have a print copy, you could ask if they would mind if you hosted a giveaway for your copy (if you want to do this) or if you could donate it to your local library. Usually the author won't mind and might appreciate you passing their book on to someone else who might decide to review it.

      I've done both (not reviewed and posted my negative review). If you do choose to review the book, then it's important that you write an honest review. It may be hard to do that, but it is important that your readers know they can trust your reviews.

      I hope that helps! There are probably many ways to approach this situation, but this is how I have handled it in the past.

  6. I'm no good with design stuff AT ALL! But luckily have my good friend Lori to help me with that.
    I do agree that people need to look at themselves and what is them when designing their blog. And I agree that too many memes is BORING! I actually only do IMM these days. Most days I do reviews but once in awhile I have an author on for a Q&A or guest post. I've been simplifying things for myself though because blogging can easily get overwhelming.

    1. I do love IMM. I don't think I'll ever get tired of oogling pictures of books :P

    2. Ack hit reply too soon!

      I agree, it is SO easy for blogging to become overwhelming. It's important to step back. I think that's one of the things newer bloggers don't realize. It's OK not to be always posting up something big. I know I was surprised by that revelation :P

  7. I love design stuff and I will say that the one question about header placement most likely has to do with the padding setting OR it's not in the right section of the code. Sometimes you need a brand NEW code to set it where you want. I've had that problem.

    Anyway, this is good, helpful stuff Small. Thanks! :)

  8. I insist that your boxes tutorial is the bomb!
    And I agree about Microsoft! I tried creating posts with it but it just never worked!
    I didn't know why though.

    Thanks for the tip on Notepad++

  9. I don't know when but recently I noticed that I have a button under paste called paste as plain text. I am in love with it. It makes my life so much easier even I write most of my posts either directly in Blogger or I send it to myself with my iPod with mobile blogger.


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