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Cristian Mihai on Growing Your Blog and Building a Readership

Cristian Mihai

From the feedback we receive, we know that growth and traffic are important to you, and that you’re interested in ways to grow your blog and build your readership. Today, we’re excited to chat with Cristian Mihai, a twenty-two-year old writer based in Romania, who has built a large community around his popular blog at cristianmihai.net.

Cristian writes primarily literary fiction and has published books like The Writer, which experiments with magical realism, and Jazz, a novel about ambition and deception. He launched his site in April 2012, and to date has 54,000 followers and counting. As you poke around on his blog, you’ll find short stories and essays in addition to posts, and get the sense of a prolific writer who is passionate about storytelling and curious about the human condition.

We’re glad to chat with him about his approach to blogging and promoting his writing online.

Tell us about yourself. How did you get into writing?

Well, I got into writing when I was thirteen. I spent my high school years writing all kinds of stuff: from science fiction to fantasy, magical realism, literary fiction. I seriously got into writing in 2010, when I took part in NaNoWriMo. In January 2011, I self-published a novel, but I only sold two e-book copies and two paperbacks in four months. So, it was back to the drawing board.

The thing was, I didn’t have an audience. Yes, I’d written a really bad book, but the fact remained: no one knew I existed. Friends and relatives never make much of an audience, no matter how many of them you have. So I started posting excerpts of my stories on Wattpad, an online community for aspiring writers.

The overwhelming positive feedback I received there made me seriously consider writing. I was writing more and more, and in April 2012 I had two completed novels and two short stories. That’s when I decided to give self-publishing another try.

I write mostly literary fiction, though I also like to experiment with style, narrative technique, and point of view. Most of my characters are artists, though not necessarily writers. Sometimes there’s a beautiful woman involved as well.

When did you create cristianmihai.net? What was your initial goal for your blog, and have you accomplished it?

I created my blog on April 24, 2012. Truth be told, I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. My goal was to find an audience for my books, and I knew I couldn’t afford to give up.

Have I reached my goal? I far surpassed it, because I never thought the stuff I wrote would matter to so many people.

At the time of this writing, you’ve got over 54,000 followers. What’s your secret?

The secret is to do something you’re passionate about, something you care deeply about. Because if you do so, odds are that someone else will relate to what you’re doing. If every post you write means something to you, it’ll undoubtedly mean something to other people, too.

Blogging is not a numbers game. . . . Every like, comment, and follow is an action performed by another human being.

Another key aspect is consistency. It’s not all about quantity — posting every day, for instance — but also about quality. Readers should know what to expect every time they get notified that you posted something new on your blog.

Blogging is not a numbers game. Yes, as you become more popular it’s easy to lose track of things; it becomes more and more difficult to realize that those numbers are actually people. Every like, comment, and follow is an action performed by another human being.

Statistics only offer you a cold perspective of what’s going on with your blog, but what matters more is the level of interaction that you manage with fellow bloggers. Also, if you think too much about followers and such, you’re going to try too hard. And you’re going to fail.

In your experience, what types of posts perform better?

Popularity simply means how many people relate to what you’re doing. Engagement means how many people care enough — whether they agree or disagree — to actually respond.

It’s almost impossible to determine why some posts perform better than others. Sometimes it’s ironic, because you worked really hard on a certain piece — did a lot of research, tried to make it all come together in the most attractive way possible — and you just don’t get people to care enough to leave a comment. Other times, the exact opposite happens.

Popularity simply means how many people relate to what you’re doing. Engagement means how many people care enough — whether they agree or disagree — to actually respond. The goal is to figure out what it is that makes people follow your blog. What type of posts do they enjoy reading most? That’s when your stats may prove useful. If you analyze the posts that perform better, you’ll see they’re often similar in theme, structure, and so on. That’s what readers want most.

Hall of fame

Let’s take a closer look at your blog.

I started out reviewing books, which wasn’t something I was terribly good at. Then, somehow, I began writing short essays on art. That’s when I won the jackpot. For whatever reason, people enjoy reading my posts about the artistic process.

If we take a look at my ten most popular posts, we see four essays about my struggles as an artist (“The Portrait of a Writer,” “Never give up on your dreams,” “Jazz: A (sort of) Foreword,” and “I am an artist because…”). They’re all personal, about my own journey and process, but they also describe every artist’s struggle.

Then there’s “The 7 Golden Rules of Blogging.” Lists, if done right, perform better than regular posts. It’s one of the few posts I’ve written about the blogging experience, so I can see why people like it so much. “Famous Rejection Letters” is also a “list post,” and it performed so well that Random House posted a link to it on their Twitter profile.

“Struggling Artists and Pain” was the first post to get Freshly Pressed, so I suppose that’s why it’s so popular. “What’s irevuo?” is about my other blog, an online magazine that promotes independent artists. This is one of the top ten posts because it was “sticky” for an entire month. The last one on the list is “E-book vs. Print,” which is kind of a surprise, even though it’s a subject that many people are interested in reading about.

It’s also about timing: the most you can ever hope to achieve is for another person to read your words when they need them the most. And, sadly, there’s no step-by-step guide for that.

Now for the big question: are these posts my best so far? Some of them, yes, I would’ve picked them myself. But I’ve written so many other posts that never got more than a few likes and comments, even though I thought they were really good.

The thing is, we really are our worst critics, and it’s difficult to determine what posts will trigger certain reactions. As I mentioned, lists, rules, and so on tend to perform better. Everyone wants to read a how-to guide on doing something they’re not really sure how to do.

It’s also about timing: the most you can ever hope to achieve is for another person to read your words when they need them the most. And, sadly, there’s no step-by-step guide for that.

Do you have an editorial schedule, or do you just go with the flow?

Cristian MihaiUsually, I plan and write posts at least a week or two in advance. But it does happen that I write a post and publish it the same day, because I believe it’s a topic of particular interest to my readers and can’t wait to see how they react.

What widgets or tools do you use to promote yourself and your work?

Besides all the widgets that allow me to promote my social media accounts, I also use text widgets to add covers of my books in the sidebar.

How do you use social media to promote your blog, and what platforms do you find especially useful?

The Publicize tool is extremely important. You want your posts to automatically (and instantly) go on all the social media profiles you have. Also, there’s no good reason not to allow sharing on all the social networks, even if you don’t have a presence there.

I use different social networks (TwitterFacebook) to provide people with different types of information, especially information I can’t share on my blog. For instance, if I stumble upon an interesting quote on art or writing, it wouldn’t make sense to write a new post for it, but I can easily share it on Facebook.

Social networks allow you to create a more dynamic image of what your blog is all about: it drives engagement and allows you to interact with your readers on more than one level.

You offer a newsletter. What have been the benefits of offering a newsletter to your followers?

The newsletter is “marketed” as a way to find out about new releases, special offers, and giveaways. I created one early on, mostly because it’s a good idea if you self-publish — not everyone who reads my blog is interested in reading my books. So when folks subscribe, they know what to expect: e-mails about releases, offers, and so on.

On the other hand, when they subscribe to my blog, they expect to read more than just a few posts a month about this or that book being made available for purchase on various websites. In fact, most followers won’t buy or even download any of my books (when a particular title is offered for free). Why? Because they’re only interested in the subject matter of my blog, not the books I sell. One way to close this gap is to blog about the subject matter of your books, but this can’t always be done.

What’s the most useful feature available to you on WordPress.com?

It’s not exactly a feature. The community. I’m always amazed to see how people interact with each other. A blogging community is modern technology at its best — it helps us reach people and places we wouldn’t be able to otherwise.

For instance, I live in Constanta, Romania, thousands and thousands of miles from all my readers from the United States, yet I can interact with them on a daily basis through my blog. That’s the brilliant thing about a well-developed blogging community: it provides a perfect habitat for online interaction.

We hope you enjoyed this Q&A with Cristian. See what he’s up to on his WordPress.com blog, Twitter profile, and Facebook fan page.

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  1. “The thing is, we really are our worst critics, and it’s difficult to determine what posts will trigger certain reactions.” Thanks very much for this post, I think it is going to help me too much on my own blog.

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  2. Some interesting things here and a shame to here that part of the success might be down to spamming.

    But definitely some things for me to take away and I do agree the most surprising thing for me was the blogging community. I was expecting my readership to come from facebook and twitter but quite a lot has come from the blogging community that I didn’t realize existed.

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  3. Very informative and helpful ..Stats are not important, personal connection with what you write is. Totally agree.

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  4. I don’t have a problem with visitors and people following my blog because I have a sizeable number of following but most just like my post and i don’t get a lot of comments. I believe comments are important because it helps you improve. I have learnt a thing or two. Thank you

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      1. Basically I wrote the link to my blog for friends and colleagues to check it out. I also used twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn to promote it then lastly I also take part in the daily prompt offered by wordpress.

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      2. It is a daily writing prompt by wordpress which you can subscribe to and what they do is give you a sort of different topics daily to blog about. Google and read all about it or visit a wordpress forum and learn more.

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    1. Sure! You can make blockquote blocks of text gray using custom CSS if you purchase the Custom design upgrade. You may need to adjust it depending on your theme, but here’s a set of CSS that can serve as a good starting point:

      blockquote.right-align,
      blockquote.left-align {
      background-color: #EDEDED;
      padding:1em;
      font-style:normal;
      width:50%;
      font-size:1.75em;
      }
      blockquote.right-align {
      float:right;
      margin:0 0 1em 1em;
      }
      blockquote.left-align {
      float:left;
      margin:0 1em 1em 0;
      }

      Then in the HTML inside the post, you’d want to make sure to add class=”right-align” or class=”left-align” to your blockquote tags in the HTML editor.

      If you have any questions at all about how custom CSS works, please post at http://en.forums.wordpress.com/forum/css-customization/#postform

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      1. No problem! I like your blog 🙂 You might also consider setting a background color in Appearance > Customize > Colors. It could add a little punch.

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  5. Thank you for sharing your journey. I found your article to be just what I was looking for. It helped me to understand some of the reality of a blog vs selling a book. Thanks!!

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