Writing

Why I’m Removing Posts from My Blog

I’ve run over 400 posts on Rogue Priest. I’m about to prune that down to a much smaller number.

Like any writer, I don’t always love my earlier work. Some older articles remain important parts of my philosophy or tell part of my story—but many don’t. That’s why I’ve gone through everything from the beginning and tagged 75 posts for removal.

Just because a post is tagged for pruning doesn’t mean it’s a bad post or that I no longer agree with it. In some cases that’s true, but others promote products (which I no longer do) or take a tone I don’t like. My voice has, I’d like to believe, matured a lot since 2010.

But the majority of these posts will be pruned simply because they are completely off topic for the main themes of this blog, which are:

  • Living a life of adventure and travel
  • Becoming a writer
  • Exploring religious traditions
  • Practicing formal philosophy and making it applicable to real life
  • Heroism

Chances are, if an older post doesn’t directly relate to one of those five topics, I’ve decided to take it off the site.

None of the posts have been removed yet. I realize I have fans out there who might like some of these old posts more than I do, and I didn’t want to prune them off without warning.

Worried a favorite post of yours will disappear? You have 7 days to save it to your own computer. You can see all of the posts in question under the “Pruning” tag here: Posts to be Pruned

Although it may be more fun to see them oldest-first, which you can do by starting here.

All of those posts will disappear Sunday night.

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Writing

On Being a Writer

Photo by MP Clemens.

I have failed at many things in life, but I did become a writer.

This is, perhaps, in spite of myself. Early in Rogue Priest’s history, I produced a lot of posts that weren’t very good, and some that were downright combative. I judged my progress in terms of site traffic. But that is the same metric that guides the direction of low-quality news and entertainment sites. It’s equivalent to the metric used to guide television programs, and it is very easy to become the daytime TV of the internet.

Pandering to large numbers has a predictable effect (“large” being relative to your platform). It changes how you title your work, how you open your work, the tone that you take and to some extent the very topics you choose to discuss. “5 Ways to Be a Hero” with an open ending will attract more eyes than “Heroism Is a Spoken Song” with a definitive closing thought.

Literature is hard to eat.

Then I began to use my website as a place to sell things. I would market other people’s products and get a sales commission. If I were a business, that would be fine—although the bloggers who head down that highway do not seem to know how clownish it makes them look. Your conversion rate is the inverse of the number of people who see you for what you are.

The essential problem is this: I’m here to promote a philosophy, a way of life. I want you to try traveling away from familiar surroundings because I believe that journey will help make you a more whole human being. And if I have these products to sell you, maybe it’s because they’re great products that will help you on that journey. But maybe they aren’t so great, and the whole thing is a sham. How can you tell?

This conflict of interest eventually overrode my desire to “monetize” and even my faith in the products I recommended. Less than one year after starting, I removed all affiliate products and services from my website and I made an official policy never to promote them again.

ISBNs

I do believe in selling my own writing, and my book will be available on this website (release date: “soon!”). Lúnasa Days began as a wild idea, a series of daydreams as I biked through a blighted landscape. But readers believed in it and slowly, painfully, I made it real.

The bun is in the oven.

Learning to manage myself as a writer has been hard. Smart and encouraging bloggers—with helpful affiliate products nested on their sites—report that this is the age of the Indie Author. If that’s so then authors everywhere must be developing a new sympathy for giant publishers, who speculate real money on potential losses.

Not that I’d give it up. It’s nice to be the one speculating, and far nicer to be independent. But to give an example of how it’s been hard, let’s talk about ISBN’s.

Every book should have an ISBN. It’s a long number that you’ll never notice or care about, unless you happen to work in the library or publishing worlds. A book isn’t required to have one, but it makes some vague difference in your sales figures, that no one can ever explain well. Perhaps all those chain bookstores rushing to stock self-published novels won’t know where to shelve you if you don’t give them the number.

Alright.

There is only one authorized ISBN agent in each country. They sell you the number, you register it and put it in your book. Kind of like registering a domain. Domains cost around $8. An ISBN costs $125.

I’ll need two of them—one for print, one for digital.

Graciously, you can buy them in bulk to save money. For $250 you get ten. To put it in perspective, that’s more than the entire cost of having my book professionally laid out by a printer.

Or you can go to a reseller. Resellers buy them thousands at a time and sell them for between $10 and $100. But the reseller’s company name will forever be locked into the ISBN, and they appear as the publisher of record for your book on some industry catalog.

That causes bad things, but they are vague and hard to explain.

This week was my ISBN Learning week, just like last week was Cover Art Learning week and the week before was How to Format an eBook. There is always one more hurdle, it seems, before I can make my book go live—and simply go back to the business of writing the next one.

Lúnasa Days, I’m proud to say, creaks onward.

Words

It’s an honor to work as a writer. I spend most days writing articles, but then, so did Hemingway. What gets me is: if he hadn’t needed to eat (and drink) when he lived in France, if he hadn’t spent his work days on newspaper dispatches, would he have created more great books?

Or would he not have created any at all?

Increasingly I view myself as a writer on sojourn from one typewriter to another. My journey provides me with all the literary and philosophic wool that I need—but until I reach a quiet place to work, it cannot be spun. Sanctuary is spending two days or a month completely buried in writing.

Last week’s redesign of Rogue Priest is part of that change. The new look puts the focus squarely on the written word. The change in voice to a more philosophic tone—oddly closer to my in-person tone—is intentional, too.

While there are many things I have yet to discover on my journey, there is no longer any doubt what my art form must be. I always wanted to be a writer, but it wasn’t a likely career; they say it’s impossible to succeed. Some days it feels like they’re right. But I make my living that way now, and it fuels me.

I want it to be something more. I’ve learned to combine words, and if there is a way to hold that before me like a sword—if there is a way to use words to change our species—I count myself armed.

Armed, and wandering the earth. Penniless as a ronin. But just as ready to struggle for the right lord.

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Andre Sólo, Spotlight, Writing

How to Format a Guest Post

Photo by Michael Donovan

I had no idea what I was doing. My head was stuck in the age of the Word doc. I was happy just to see 20 page views; the science of blogging—and it is a science—wasn’t even on my radar.

But I saw that some things worked better than others. And by “worked” I mean led to more readership, farther sharing, and more reader engagement in the form of comments and response posts.

Every good blogger develops their own unique style, and we don’t need to be slaves to marketing advice. But I believe there are such things as “best practices”—especially when it comes to formatting—that make your blog more readable and more user-friendly. As a side effect, that also increases shares and traffic.

This is particularly true around guest posts. Most bloggers, including established high-profile bloggers, format guest posts in a way that’s awkward and hard to read or share. It basically kicks sand on the guest author’s face. Bad formatting means less clicks to the guest author’s site. Why did you even invite them?

Here is how I format a guest post to get the best results.

The Title Never Says “Guest Post”

The first line is in italics and says: This is a guest post by So-and-So. 

The very next line is their actual post. It dives right in with no prelude or commentary from me.

Their post goes on to say many great things in a snazzy, well edited style because I took the time to edit it before publishing. And since I’m not a jerk I made sure they were okay with the edits.

At the end, in italics again, is the complete byline or bio for the author: André is a philosopher who blogs about adventure. It always includes a link to their site and it can be as long as they want; chances are they wrote the blurb themselves.

This kind of post gets results. Again, “results” means traffic and sharing, but in this case it also means clicks through to the guest author’s work. Clicks are always low but should be as high as possible; your guest essentially wrote you free content. Hook a brother up.

The Reasoning

There are specific reasons for each of the steps I recommended. They are:

  • In the title, I never mention “guest post” because it reduces traffic. It does this twice over. First, because your audience likes you and doesn’t necessarily care what some other person has to say. Second, because most of your traffic is determined by how good your titles are. There are several ways to write a good title or headline, but none of them involve adding administrative clutter like “Guest Post.”
  • The first line is just one sentence for a reason. It’s a barrier between the reader and actually reading the post. The more blah blah you put here, the less people actually end up reading the article. Honestly I wouldn’t put anything here, except then people would think it’s my own writing.
  • Editing their post should be self explanatory, but often it’s skipped. You are a publisher. Make their post look the best it can.
  • The bio goes at the end because that’s where it’s most effective. At the beginning, no one cares who this person is. Let the post speak for itself. At the end, if the post was good, the audience wants to know more. Now you can put in their paragraph-long bio with links to their work.

Anytime I submit a guest post, I expect the blog owner to be professional enough to format it like this, or very close. And I always do it for the guests that I invite on my blog, because it helps lift up their great ideas and carry them to the most readers possible.

If you have improvements on my best practices, or if you do it differently, I’d love to know. Please leave a comment and share.

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Uncategorized

What do you think of spotlight posts?

Photo by Lotus Carroll.

Readers, I need your opinions.

A few months ago I started doing a lot of “spotlight” posts. These are articles where I basically start with a long quote from someone else’s work, link to that work, and provide some brief comment about it.

I started doing this because I run into a lot of interesting articles online, and if find them interesting I figure you might, too. It’s also a way of giving some public love to the author of the piece (or sometimes, critique).

How often I post these has varied; sometimes it’s been one or two a week, other times I go weeks without a single one. They never substitute in for my own writing: I publish an original essay of my own every Wednesday, no matter what.

Predictably, these posts get few comments or feedback (after all, the author isn’t usually here to talk with), but they do seem to get a fair amount of traffic, and boost traffic to the site overall. That made me think they were reasonably popular with my readers. But maybe not.

One of my most dedicated readers contacted me and told me she doesn’t like them. Her reason made sense: she comes here to read about my philosophy and my adventure, and these excerpts from random articles I read are usually irrelevant to that. They have nothing to do with this site’s topic. She said they’re a good idea but should really be on a different blog.

I think that’s actually pretty insightful. I wonder how many people agree?

Here are three examples of recent spotlight posts:

What do you think? Should I do posts like these regularly, whenever I find an interesting article? Or should I only spotlight material if it connects in some way to the heroic life?

I’m really interested in knowing your opinion. It’s always a struggle knowing how to focus this site and keep its message clear, but interesting. I know a lot of you will tell me to write whatever I want to write—and I appreciate that, I truly do. But I also want to know what you like reading, and whether posts like those get you excited or just get a “meh.”

Please leave a comment and let me know. What do you think? Spotlight posts, good or bad?

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Business, Favorites, Writing

New Policy: No More Affiliate Links

Rogue Priest is the first real blog I ever started. Considering that it’s gone pretty well. Swimmingly in fact, and I owe that to all you awesome readers, adventurers, and encouragers who keep coming back for more.

But it hasn’t been without its learning curve.

Like any smart blogger, I read about how to do a blog “right”—how to be profesh and really engage your audience. It was helpful. I know how to lay out an article with pictures, headlines and boldface to really grab your attention.

See What I Did There?

But there’s a downside to that same “profesh” blogging approach, and that’s the emphasis on marketing.

I’ve used this space to promote paid products including books, courses and membership sites. There are three things to note about these products:

  • I usually got a kickback
  • I usually said up front that I was getting a kickback
  • All the products are things I personally endorse, and swear by in my own work

There’s nothing wrong with this kind of affiliate marketing. An author likes a product, the author has a chance to make some money endorsing the product, and the author is transparent about the whole thing: okay. That’s the way capitalism should work; that’s capitalism at its moral best.

But an author can do more than “just” be ethical.

An author can also inspire, build, set things in motion—or fail.

My goal is build the greatest living philosophy I can discover. A philosophy of adventure, transformation and selfless action. If I treat that as a brand, as designer-label ad space, I’m putting my career ahead of the philosophy.

By using affiliate marketing links I introduced a conflict of interest with my core goal. As soon as I’m earning a commission there has to be a question of motives—is this link really good for my readers, or do I just want a pay check? That kind of doubt doesn’t build fellowship.

So here is my new policy.

I will not place affiliate links in any Rogue Priest posts.

Not for anyone—no matter how good the product is, or how relevant it may be to my readers.

I feel no remorse about my past affiliate links: those products are awesome. If you joined Location Rebel, I’m glad you took such a big step for yourself and I hope you’re making money with it like I am. If you bought one of the ebooks, I hope you enjoyed reading them as much as I did. I stand by all the products I’ve promoted, but I don’t want marketing to distract from my purpose.

Corollaries:

  • I’m still a professional author and still intend to sell my own work.
  • I may still promote products I think you’ll like. But I will turn down the chance to make money doing so.
  • I understand why other bloggers choose to use affiliate marketing, and wish them only the best.

This policy introduces a new level of risk for me. Five weeks from starting the Great Adventure, I scramble to afford quality gear and make final preparations. Relinquishing an income stream is not strictly in my best interest.

So what’s my plan?

My plan is to make money not as a salesman, but as the philosopher you want to support. I have a new book about the Heroic Life on its way, and this one will be available for Kindle. I’m still working on a premium subscription for dispatches from the road, and continue to accept donations toward the Great Adventure.

In other words, I want to provide you the very best and most intimate access to the Adventure that I can offer, in the belief that it’s something worthy of your support.

Will that work? The Heroic Life says live for your ideals. Here’s me trying it.

If you enjoy reading Rogue Priest, believe in my journey, or just love seeing a spirited adventurer on the road, please consider making a donation to the cause. Your gift will help fund professional-quality equipment for the Great Adventure. It’ll keep me safe and help every step of the way.

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Writing

How to Write a Blog

Lately several people asked me how I write such a popular blog. I was nervous about answering. My trade secrets are a proprietary blend of strategy, training and raw gut instinct… like a bear on a motorcycle.

But I love you guys, so I’m sharing those secrets with you today.

How You Write So Good?

There are five things you need to write a good blog. They are:

  1. A laptop that is the same color as your ear buds and your phone. Mine are kind of a zodiac blue. Like Mega Man meets Philip K. Dick. But you have to chose a different color, that one’s mine.
  2. You have to listen to moody, inspiring electronic music with ethereal female vocals. This’s what I always listen to while I write and my blog is taking off pretty good, so it must work. Try seeding your play list with Metric’s Gimme Sympathy, and the bands Kill Hannah, Jes, Goldfrapp, and ATB. Or just eat this playlist.
  3. Maintain unhealthy work habits. Everyone knows the greatest writers of the last two centuries were strung out on opium and acid respectively. But that shit’s expensive! I find that you can be almost as unhealthy just by pushing yourself to stay up writing till 3:30 am. My most popular posts were forged in those hellish fires.
  4. Cuss like an HBO special. It never hurts and it often helpsSee also: the paragraph above.
  5. Dance Breaks! When no one is around, or I think no one is around, I periodically get up and dance around my work area like I’m on some kind of early 2000’s music video. My dancing is not particularly good, but it is enthusiastic, and sometimes I sing about my blog post topic as I dance. Or I just cuss.

If you follow all these tips your blog will soar like a feathered serpent over Mexico.

You thought I was kidding.

The truth is I learned how to write a blog from Chris Guillebeau. I started with his free ebook 279 Days too Overnight Success. It isn’t the only influence on how I started this blog, but the basic ideas he puts forth were my stepping stones as a beginner. I recommended it, and you can get it for free here.

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