Let us continue where we left off yesterday–the second half of my interview with Beth Staples, Hayden’s Ferry Review Managing Editor:
What has been the reception of the blog? What kind of readership do you have?
We get about 100 hits a day, and I get a lot of good feedback about it. I guess my one major problem with it is we don’t get a lot of commenters, which is incredibly frustrating. I feel like there are certain blogs that have sort of a culture of commenting, and our blog just isn’t one of those blogs. And I don’t know really how to change it, which has been frustrating. We’ll occasionally have all of the other interns comment on the blog in the hope that it will spark some conversation, but that doesn’t seem to really work either. We’re trying to be a lot better this semester about driving people to the blog. For example, one of the interns is doing a post on different form stories in literary journals. So we get new journals and she goes through them—and that’s one of our goals, to sort of support what other journals are doing too. So when she finds a form story, she writes about what it’s doing—so, for instance, there was a story in Black Warrior Review that was using charts and graphs to explain a relationship between two characters. So she wrote about that, and I asked her to send an email to them and say, “Hey look, we did this.” And ideally they would sort of come to the blog and hopefully comment on it. So I think we probably need to be more proactive about going out and driving people to the blog in that way.
Have you tried many survey-type posts that directly encourage comments?
Occasionally we’ll do something that’s like, “Please comment on this post!” and that generates maybe five comments. But then you look at a blog like HTMLGIANT where it’s a billion comments on every post. And I think their topics are more rousing—you know, they usually write about things that are controversial or really exciting. And the writing on that blog is more journalistic; the posts are much longer. And I think our blog is kind of like, “This is fun!” so it isn’t necessarily comment inspiring. Someone might write like, “Yeah, this is great—thanks!” So, I don’t know that it’s necessarily problematic; I can see when I check the stats that people are going to the blog. But I’m not sure that when people come to the blog they feel like the conversation that I initially was talking about as to why I started the blog—I don’t think that conversation is necessarily happening. And actually we’ve been having more conversations with Twitter. So that’s becoming more of a way to kind of drive content toward the blog, which has been really cool to see happen.
Can you speak a little more to how you’ve been integrating Twitter with the blog?
Well I owe it all to an amazing volunteer. She just totally trained herself on Twitter. As far as I’m concerned she’s a social media/Twitter genius. So she’s on there all day long, and she’s just made Twitter totally friendly. I mean obviously on Twitter we can communicate in real-time in a way you can’t on a blog, where we sort of post information and people can respond or not and then we can respond. But on Twitter she’ll post something and then people will respond, and using the hashtags she can kind of create a little conversation. And she’s super friendly, and she’s been good about trying to give people a behind the scenes peek at what’s going on here in a way that feels really informal and fun. So for example, we started asking people to tweet questions to us. And then we’d collect the questions and answer them on the blog. We’ve done that three times, I think. We did it once just with our editors, and someone asked something like, “What makes a piece of fiction get past the first round?” So we pulled all our editors and came up with the top ones and posted them, and that got a ton of conversation. And then for the second two questions, I think one was “Do you have advice for starting a lit journal?” And then the other was something else more administratively oriented. So we took the questions and pulled eight other literary journal editors, and then we collected them and edited them. Again—trying to get other literary journals involved, and hopefully making the Twitter followers feel like they can actually talk to us, even though we’re obviously collecting the information and editing it. But that drove some traffic to the blog. And we got a few more comments on those than we did on some of the other posts.
Do you have any specific advice for literary presses or magazines trying to start or revamp a blog?
I think the regular posting has been a godsend, because if you know you can sort of plan ahead of time, it takes some of the pressure off. And I guess the posts are sort of related in a way to our mission. You know, what is our mission: to support emerging writers. And then to be HFR oriented, but to also look outward to the larger literary community. So some posts are related to HFR, some are absolutely looking out at other journals, and some are just more like “How do you be a writer in the world?” kind of things. I think having some consistent posts in each of those categories and trying to continue them is helpful. And the voice thing, I sort of didn’t think too consciously about it, like “How do I want this blog post to sound?” Although I guess that couldn’t hurt if you had a sense of what the feel should be. And then I guess as far as driving traffic to the blog, it’s just reaching out and letting people know what you’re doing. If you’re going to be supporting what other literary journals are doing—you know, let those journals know that you’re doing that! I think we used to sort of put stuff up there and be like, “Yay!” but now that we’re contacting and letting them know, like “Look, we talked about one of your stories,” that’s actually creating more engagement.