Marketing Your Book 101

Blogging has become essential to the marketing machine. You Tweet and Facebook about yourself, but now it’s a “must” to share your knowledge, and ultimately your writing skills through blogs. Marketing expert Erik Deckers answers that burning question about blog length. When is enough enough?

How Long Should a Post Be? Three Tips for Writing Your Author Blog

By Erik Deckers

Someone once asked Abraham Lincoln how long a man’s legs should be. “Long enough to reach the ground,” he said.

I think of Abe’s advice whenever someone asks me how long a blog post should be.

“Long enough to get to the end,” I say. And then I have to explain the whole story, which ruins the effect.

Basically, there’s no magic rule of how long a blog post should be. You need enough time and space to say what you need to say, and that’s it. Don’t say too much, but don’t give short shrift to your ideas either.

Reading Is Different Today
People read differently today than they did 50, 20, or even five years ago. Readers skim and scroll to see what catches their attention. No longer can we write long, Faulknerian paragraphs that stretch on for pages, joined by semicolons and em dashes. In fact, this paragraph is making me uncomfortable, and I really want to hit the return key to make it—

GAAH! I couldn’t take that much longer. You probably couldn’t either.

Basically, we have become an impatient society. People read on their smartphones, tablets, and laptops. We’re not a nation of readers, but a nation of skimmers. That affects how we write and engage our readers.

Here are three tips for writing the ideal blog posts to keep your readers coming back.

  1. Use plenty of white space

Blogging is as much a visual medium as a written one. Imagine a book printed in a sans serif font, very little space between lines, and blocks of text that fill up an entire page. You’d probably quit after five pages.

White space (also called negative space because there’s nothing in it) is important in making a post or magazine article appear readable. It’s more pleasing to the eye, because it looks easier to digest.

I use short paragraphs partly because my fourth grade teacher said they had to be four or five sentences long, and I never do what I’m told.

But I do it mostly because when people skim-read, they think, “I’ll just read a little bit. Oh, that next paragraph is short, I’ll read that one. Oh, and that one. All right, this one too. And the next one.”

If I’ve done a good job with my white space, people will jump from paragraph to paragraph, thinking they’ll only read “a little more” until they reach the end.

And now here you are at tip number 2. See how that works?

  1. There’s no “magic number.”

I can give you several good reasons why your posts should be less than 300 words, around 700 words, or why 1,000 words is perfectly fine.

For example, 300-word-writers will tell you a smartphone screen will hold 100 words. People who research this kind of thing know that readers have the patience to swipe two more times to read an article. That’s—tap (100), swipe (200), swipe (300)—and they’re done.

At the same time, long-form writers point to the growth of sites like Grantland.com and LongReads.com to say 1,000 word articles are perfectly fine, as long as the work is interesting.

Basically, whatever anyone tells you is the “best” length, just remember there’s always a reason to pick another length. So just pick the length that suits you and your readers.

  1. Identify “The Crease”

At the same time, you can have an article that’s too long. If you’ve reached 1,500 words in one article, that may be too much, and you can break it up into smaller posts.

That’s because when people tend to write about a big topic, they start combining two or three smaller points into one big point.

When that happens, look for the crease, that spot where you thought, “And another thing!” and kept writing. That “And another thing!” should instead be another blog post. Cut and paste everything from that point on, and save it somewhere else. Focus on what’s left.

For example, I could have written this article as three separate articles—the importance of white space, word count, and the crease—and covered each of them in about 300 – 500 words. The crease happens between each point.

In fact, breaking up big posts is another blogging strategy. Rather than writing one big post about a subject, divide it up into several smaller ones. You can publish more posts more often, which boosts your personal brand by boosting your blog readership.

Did you see it? Did you see what happened back there? That previous paragraph was an added thought, but if I had kept going, I could have added another 300 words to this post.

That “In fact” was the crease. If this article really did run to 1,000 words, I could have cut that out and used it somewhere else. It was important to the central point of publishing, but it wasn’t so important that I had to share it today.

Blogging is one of those specifically ambiguous art forms where you only have to write enough to make you happy. Just put your ideas out there, explain them thoroughly, but succinctly, and your posts will be exactly as long as they need to be. Just like Abe’s legs.

His hat is a different matter.

Erik Deckers headshot 1065x1065Erik Deckers owns a content marketing agency in Indianapolis, and is the co-author of four books on social media. He is also a professional speaker and newspaper humor columnist, and was named a 2016 writer-in-residence at the Kerouac House Project.

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